SHEFFIELD DOCTORS TRAGICAL DEATH - Sheffield February 1900
In the Births Marriages and Deaths of The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent there is the following entry for a death that occurred on Saturday 3 February 1900
A report on Monday 5th February 1900 added the following
"A sad poisoning fatality occurred in Sheffield on Saturday morning. A surgeon named HARVEY residing in Pear Street knocked at the door on his housekeepers bedroom and exclaimed "If you want to see me alive again, come, for I shall be dead in ten minutes" He immediately relapsed into unconsciousness, and died before medical assistance arrived. On the surgery table was a bottle of poison, which it surmised deceased had mistaken in the dark for an innocuous sedative"
On the face of it there is nothing remarkable about the entry, but on 6th February the same newspaper carried a report of an Inquest into the circumstances surrounding Dr Harvey's death.
February 3rd 1900
There was a certain degree of mystery attaching to the death of Mr. F. C. B. Harvey, surgeon, which took place in the early hours of this morning at his residence, in Pear Street, Ecclesall Road. Mr. Harvey, who was about 34 years of age, has been in practice for about five years, and prior to that was an assistant to a Sheffield doctor. He was unmarried, a man and his wife keeping house for him. Fond of company, the deceased was a frequent visitor to the Ecclesall Conservative Club. He was there last night until a somewhat late hour, and was apparently in his usual good health and spirits. His housekeeper heard him come home after midnight. He shouted out “It’s all right; it’s me!” The couple upstairs hearing Mr. Harvey in conversation knew that he had brought a friend in with him, and later on they heard the “Good nights” said, and concluded that the visitor had departed. Shortly afterwards they were alarmed by the conduct of Mr. Harvey who, coming to their bedroom, called out “If you want to see me alive you had better come, for I shall be dead in ten minutes.” As quickly as possible they came on to the corridor, and finding their master in a fainting condition they took him into his bedroom, and sent for Dr. Furniss, of Ecclesall Road, but the doctor was in a dying condition, and no assistance of his professional brother could save him. Death took place within a few minutes; it is supposed from poisoning. There was a bottle three parts full of liquid, and labelled poison on the table. A small portion of it was left in a phial and the supposition is that the doctor either wilfully or inadvertently drank that which caused his death. The matter has been reported to Inspector Jackson of the Highfield division, who is arranging the inquest at which doubtless more light will be thrown on the matter.
February 6th 1900
The inquest on the body of Frederick Charles Bottom Harvey, of No. 1, Pear Street, Ecclesall Road, who died in singular circumstances on Saturday morning last, was held yesterday afternoon at the Pomona Hotel, Ecclesall Road, Sheffield. Mr D. Wightman, City coroner, conducted the inquiry. Mr. A. G. Gunstone (solicitor) represented the family of the deceased.
The first witness was John Henry Furniss, physician and surgeon, who said he had known deceased about twelve months. He had been a healthy man as far as witness knew. Witness was called to see deceased at 6.20 a.m. on Saturday. He went at once to the house, but deceased was dead when he got there. He was lying on the sofa in the consulting room. His face was very livid, and his hands were clenched. The features were not drawn. Witness saw a bottle (produced) on a table in the room, and a glass measure beside it. The bottle was labelled “strychnine”. He knew no reason connected with deceased’s health which would lead him to take a preparation containing strychnine.
The coroner: Is it not taken in any shape as an antidote for anything?
Witness: I am not aware of it.
Can you imagine why he should take it for any reason whatsoever? – He might take it as a tonic, certainly. It is one of our most powerful tonics.
And he might take it for any purpose for which tonics are used? – Certainly.
Did you know that he had ever done so? – I was not aware of it.
Had you known him take anything at all medicinally? – No.
Witness, in reply to further questions, said he was of opinion the cause of death was strychnine poisoning. The spinal cord was not curved at all. It would curve in strychnine poisoning, but after death the muscles would relax.
Mr. John Knowles Lister, a butcher, of Sheffield, brother-in-law of the deceased, said deceased was 34 years of age. He was a surgeon, and had been a healthy man. Witness saw him alive the morning before his death, and he then seemed to be as well as usual. About half-past six on Saturday morning witness heard that he was dead. He was insured for £500.
The coroner: Had he been in the habit of taking more drink than was necessary?
Do you know of any trouble he was in? – No, sir.
James Frederick Barraclough, of Sheffield, said he had known Dr. Harvey five or six years. He had not known him to ail anything. He thought he had been in the habit occasionally of taking too much drink. On the 13th December deceased and himself arranged a friendly billiard match, and it was decided to play it at the Ecclesall Conservative Club on Friday last. It was arranged that a supper should take place afterwards. About 30 or 35 others took part in the supper, and they left the club about 2.30 a.m. They came up the road, left several others on the way, and about half a dozen of them walked up to the corner of Pear Street, where deceased lived. Deceased asked them to go in, and witness demurred, but eventually he and one other – a policeman – went on and they had drinks. Witness stayed in the house about 20 minutes or half an hour, and deceased said he would get his cap and walk home with him. Witness did not wait for him, but came down and out of the door, and went home alone. When he reached home, which was about three minutes’ walk away, he fastened the back door, and prepared to go to bed. When he was at the bottom of the stairs he heard a knock at the door. He put the chain on, unlocked and opened the door. And said “Who’s there?” The reply was “It’s me, Dr. Harvey. You ran away and never bid me good-bye. Won’t you bid me good night?” Witness replied: “Certainly, I will bid you good-bye,” and putting his hand through the door he shook hands with him, without withdrawing the chain. Deceased then went out of the gate, and that was the last he heard of him until 10 o’clock next morning, when he heard of his death.
The coroner: Was he sober?
Witness: He was not perfectly sober, but he was not drunk.
How far was he over the dividing line? – I should not say he was not drunk, but he was not perfectly sober, because he had had something to drink.
Cannot a man be sober if he has had something to drink? – Tea-totallers say not.
Had you any reason to believe he was low-spirited from any cause whatsoever? – Not the slightest; neither from what I saw of him during the night, nor from anything I heard.
Have you heard of his threatening to commit suicide? – Not before yesterday.
Clara Bush, housekeeper to the deceased, said she had known deceased for four years. She had been his housekeeper for two years and a half. He had been a healthy man with the exception of occasional touches of influenza. Deceased came home at half-past three on Saturday morning, and was accompanied by one or more of his friends. About ten minutes past five he called for witness’s husband to go down. On going down herself witness saw him in the kitchen under the influence of drink. Witness advised him to go to bed, and he said he would when they went. About ten minutes past six he called at the bottom of the kitchen stairs, and witness’s husband went down to him again. When asked what he wanted, deceased said he didn’t call, and told Mr. Bush to go back to bed. Directly after the husband had gone to bed again, deceased went to the bottom of the staircase, and called out “Tom and Clara, do you want to see me die?” Both Mr. and Mrs. Bush jumped out of bed, and went down to him. They found him at the top of the staircase, and they helped him down the stairs, and put him on the couch. He then gave Mrs. Bush his watch, and said “I shall be dead in ten minutes.”
The coroner: “Did he die in ten minutes, Mrs. Bush?”
Witness: “Yes, sir.
He died on the sofa? – Yes, sir; in great agony, he was.
Have you ever seen him take anything? – No sir; I have seen him mixing something from a bottle.
For himself? – Yes, sir.
The coroner (pointing to the bottle containing strychnine): Have you ever seen him mix anything for himself from that bottle?
Witness: No, sir, I can’t say I have seen him take anything from that bottle.
What has he taken these mixtures for? – He said he was taking them to pull himself together.
You have never known him take any strychnine? – I don’t know, sir.
The coroner: Of course, you would not know what he was mixing.
The coroner, in summing up, said deceased seemed to have been in a habit of taking “pick-me-ups”. He (the coroner) had made some inquiries as to whether strychnine was ever taken or administered by a medical man for such a purpose, and he was told that it was. He thought that justified them in returning a verdict that it was possible that the poor fellow might have taken an overdose of strychnine without the intention of committing suicide.
The jury returned a verdict that deceased had died from an overdose of strychnine, and that there was not sufficient evidence to show for what purpose the strychnine was taken.
It is apparent that there was no intention to commit suicide but the effects of this "pick-me-up" are devastating. Wikipedia notes
" It produces some of the most dramatic and painful symptoms of any known
toxic reaction. For this reason, strychnine poisoning is often portrayed in
literature and film...
Ten to twenty minutes after exposure, the body's muscles begin to spasm, starting with the head and neck in the form of trismus and risus sardonicus. The spasms then spread to every muscle in the body, with nearly continuous convulsions, and get worse at the slightest stimulus. The convulsions progress, increasing in intensity and frequency until the backbone arches continually. Convulsions lead to lactic acidosis, hyperthermia and rhabdomyolysis. These are followed by postictal depression. Death comes from asphyxiation caused by paralysis of the neural pathways that control breathing, or by exhaustion from the convulsions"
Dr Harvey must have died in agony!
The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent 5 and 6 February 1900
Thanks to Matthew Bell for the transcription and additional information
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This page was last updated on 23/01/18 15:13