Attempted Suicide by Local Leamington Resident

Mary Hart, aged 31 years, caused quite a stir on Saturday 2 July 1870 at10.15 p.m. when she tried to drown herself.  She was hauled before the magistrates for the crime of attempting to commit suicide by jumping off Castle Bridge, Warwick, into the River Avon.

Originally from the village of Steventon, Berkshire, Mary Maria Huggins had met and married Thomas Hart on 25 February 1861. Although Thomas was local, being baptised at St Nicholas, Warwick on 9 February 1840 and brought up in the area, he relocated to Appleford, Sutton, Berkshire, where he worked as a Railway Policeman. At some point before 1870, the couple had reason to move back to Warwickshire. They set up home at 98 Brunswick Street and Thomas gained employment as a labourer at the Foundry.

Mary was adamant and open about the fact that she intended to drown herself, in spite of this being illegal. She went on “hands and knees” in front of the two young men, Messrs Barnet and Cox who saved her, shouting “Fare thee well, leave me.” She then ran away from Police Constable Bickley towards the meadow but was caught and escorted to Jury Street Police Station. On hearing the chimes at 12 o’clock, she declared: “Oh let me go, I will not hear the chimes play again.”

To the rage of her husband,  appearing in the dock with a black eye, Mary, spoke of her unhappy marriage and his threats to murder her. Mr J Moore, Deputy Mayor and Magistrate told her that it was “very rash for you to attempt to destroy yourself,” to which a very unrepentant Mary replied, “I wish I had done!” Moore did suggest though that anything against her husband could be brought before the magistrates!

A desperate but brave Mary told the court that, “[Thomas] had done something in the place where he came from, and had repeatedly told her that if she disclosed it to anyone he would murder her; but she would out with it someday.” When Moore committed her for the Summer Assizes, Mary exclaimed “Thank you, I shall be away from him then; I shall have my revenge on him yet!” But sadly, this was only a short reprieve. Within a fortnight (16 July 1870), her case was thrown out and she was returned to living with Thomas at number 98 Brunswick Street. Six years later,1875, she was dead at the young age of 36 years.

Uneducated and without the potential to support herself economically, Mary was reliant on her husband and staying in an unhappy marriage. Mary’s story not only highlights Victorian society’s attitudes towards suicide but also a woman’s relationship with her husband, her inferior status and the risk of domestic abuse. And of course, key questions remain. How did Mary die? What terrible thing had Thomas allegedly done in his past? How did Mary get her black eye? Did she get her revenge? And what happened to the elusive Thomas, after Mary’s death?

Stella Bolitho

Autumn 2019