Inquest of Robert Best

From the Northumberland and Durham Court Records fonds
Series E: Inquests (1832-1914)

Name Best, Robert
Adress Hope Township
Age 20
Sex Male
Date September 18, 1867
Cause of death Excessive quantity of alcohol, subsequent exposure and want of care.

According to Joan Dench, a great-great-granddaughter of Robert's parents, George and Martha (Elliott), Robert was born in Port Hope in 1847. At twenty, he was found dead at the side of County Road 10, some 15 miles north of Port Hope.

The following is a transcription of the documents produced at Robert's inquest. For easier reading, we have corrected the grammatical errors (punctuation, capital letters, etc.) and paragraphed where appropriate. The spelling is as in the original documents.

United Counties of Northumberland and Durham. To wit:

Information of Witnesses, severally taken and acknowledged on behalf of our Sovereign Lady the Queen, touching the death of Robert Best at his late residence in the Township of Hope in said Counties on the eighteenth day of September in the year of Our lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven before me, George Perks Esq., one of Her Majesty's Coroners for said United Counties, on an Inquisition then and there taken on view of the body of the said Robert Best, then and there lying dead as follows, to wit:

(i) Jacob Atkins Sworn [signed by making his mark]:
          Deceased left home with me on Sunday last [15 Sept], about eleven o'clock in the forenoon. We went together to my father's place in Cavan. Deceased asked me for the loan of some money. I got some money myself and went with him to Nugent's Tavern. When I got there, I treated him to whiskey, which he drank, so far as I saw only about half a tumbler-ful. This was the first time he drank.
          I treated him again, when he drank rather less than before. I then saw John Bee treat him. I do not know what kind of spirits he drank when John Bee treated him, but I suppose and believe it was some kind of spirits he drank when John Bee treated him. Thomas McComb then treated him when he drank gin. After this Charles Nugent treated, I think to gin. That is all I saw him drinking.
          By this time he staggered to a bench. I started out and asked him if he was going home. He started out after me. He stood against a post holding it. I asked if he was coming home. He said, "after a bit." Thomas McComb tried to take him home but he was not able to go. We, that is McComb and myself, took him back to Nugent's Tavern when he lay down on the steps outside the door of the Tavern. After this we carried him into the log stable, placed some hay under his head and placed two blankets over him. After this I left him. This was the last time I saw him alive.
          I did not leave Nugent's Tavern until after dark. I don't know what time, but it was not long after dark. Deceased took his dinner at my father's house about three o'clock. We did not go to Nugent's until about one hour before sundown. I did not hear Nugent refusing to give him liquor. When deceased left home on Sunday morning he appeared in good health.

(ii) James Robinson Sworn [signed by making his mark]:
          Deceased left my place on Sunday morning last in good health, so far as I know. He ate a hearty breakfast. He asked me to give him a quarter as he wanted to go to Cavan. I did not give him any money. I was told by my wife that he went away with the witness Jacob Atkins soon after I left home on Sunday morning. I did not see him again until Tuesday night about eight o'clock.
          When in consequence of information I received, I went out towards Nugent's Tavern. I found him lying on the side of the road in a dying state, about a quarter of a mile from Nugent's. I went to Nugent's where I saw some women who told me they had taken some mutton soup to deceased a short time before I saw him lying on the road. When I came up to deceased, I went to the Tavern to get help. When I got him into the waggon, I gave him a drink of weak whiskey and water. I brought him home in my waggon, and he died soon after this.
          The woman alluded to as giving the soup to deceased was Mrs. Thorn Ock [Oak?] and it was today she told me she had given it. She was on the Port Hope Road when she told me.

At this point in the proceedings, in consequence of the absence of material witnesses, the Inquest was adjourned until 19th September.

On September 19th, the inquest met according to adjournment at one o'clock in the afternoon at the house of Mr. William Guy near deceased's late residence.

(iii) Thomas McComb Sworn [signed by making his mark]:
          I was at Nugent's Tavern when deceased came there on Sunday evening last about five o'clock. I saw him drink two glasses of liquor. He did not appear to be under the influence of drink when he came to Nugent's. I paid for one glass of liquor for him. I did not see him drink more than two glasses of liquor. I was not in the house all the time deceased was there. I assisted Jacob Atkins to take him into the stable. We put some hay under him and covered him with some horse-blankets. I then left him for the night.
          I saw him again between six and seven o'clock next morning [16 Sep]. He spoke to me sensibly enough. I carried him, about this time some bread and butter and a drink of water. He took both. I did not see him again until the evening of Monday when he said he thought he could walk home. He started towards his home followed by Charles Nugent. Both deceased and Nugent soon returned. Nugent gave him some cakes and bread. He also drank some water. I did not see him again until next morning [17 Sep], when I saw him lying in the same place he had been on the Sunday night in the stable. He came out of the stable and said he thought he felt able to walk home. He ate some cakes before starting for home. Mr. Nugent asked him if he would take anything to drink. He took a glass of beer and started on towards home.
          I next saw him again about dark that evening. He was lying against the fence about half a mile from Nugent's Tavern. He could not speak. Mr. Robinson and his father came at this time and took him away in a waggon. I did not see him again alive. I did not go down the road south of Nugent's Tavern late on Monday night with Nugent and deceased. So far as I know, deceased was not prevented from getting into Nugent's house on Sunday night. He was in such a state that he had to be carried to the stable. He was carried to the stable from the house.

(iv) Emily Coats Sworn [signed with her mark]:
          I saw Mr. Nugent and the last witness, Thomas McComb, going down the road south of Nugent's about twelve o'clock on Monday night last. Deceased was staggering. I saw Nugent return alone in about fifteen minutes. I did not see McComb again until next morning.
          I saw deceased again early on Tuesday morning, as he passed my house. I spoke to him but he made no reply. He staggered and appeared very weak. I next saw him in the afternoon of the same day. He was lying in a fence corner, about half a mile from Nugent's on the Perry Town Road. I spoke to him, but he only moaned in reply. I then went to his employer, Mr. Robinson, and informed him of the state deceased was in. I did not see deceased again alive.

(v) William Nugent Jr. Sworn:
          On Tuesday evening last, after dark, I was informed that deceased was lying in a very bad state on the road side, near my brother's Charles Nugent's Tavern. I went to where he was lying and found him in a very low state. I saw him taken away by Mr. Robinson. I do not know where he got his liquor. Deceased was very much addicted to drinking.

(vi) John Bee Sworn:
          I was in Nugent's Tavern on Sunday last. I saw a person there whom I have since been informed was deceased. I treated the persons in the bar-room and most of the persons there came up and drank. I suppose deceased was amongst the number.

(vii) William Nugent Sr. Sworn [signed with his mark]:
          I saw deceased after he was removed from the fence corner on the Perry Town Road. He appeared very ill. I have known him to drink spirits when I have treated.

(ix) James Henry Sworn [signed with his mark]:
          I saw deceased on Sunday evening last both outside and inside Nugent's Tavern. I saw him drink a glass of gin. I did not see him again until Tuesday morning about eight o'clock. He was on foot and going south from Nugent's Tavern about forty roads [rods?] from there. I did not see him again alive. He was alone when I saw him.

(x) Charles Nugent Sworn:
          I am a tavern keeper at Springfield on the Millbrook Road. Deceased came to my house on Sunday evening last. Jacob Atkins was with him. Atkins treated him to whiskey. He was next treated by John Bee to gin. He was again treated by Jacob Atkins to whiskey. Then Thomas McComb treated him to whiskey. He then asked if I would let him have a treat for the four persons who were there. He said he had no money. I gave him the treat. He drank whiskey then. That was the last liquor I gave him that night.
          By this time, he was not able to walk. He came back with McComb's help to my house. He lay down on the floor of the kitchen for some time, about fifteen or twenty minutes, when McComb and Jacob Atkins took him out as he appeared about to vomit. They took him to the stable. I did not go with them, but told them they could take the two horse covers and put over him.
          I saw deceased next about five o'clock Monday morning. He was lying on his back. The sweat was rolling off him. He appeared quite warm. He said he was sick. At his request, I gave him a drink of water. I saw him again at dinner time this day. I gave him a drink of water and gave him water in a pail to wash with. He washed himself but said he was sick and wanted to get straightened up so that he could go home. He remained in the stable until evening, when he came out, walked around and went back again to the stable.
          Some time after dark he left the stable, saying he was going home. I followed him for some distance and seeing he was not in proper state to go on, I induced him to come back with me. He did so. I gave him some cakes of which he ate two and drank some water. He sat some time talking to me, after which he got up and went to the stable. I followed him and covered him with the covers.
          I next saw him about five or six o'clock next morning. I asked him to take some breakfast and wash himself. He would not eat anything, but drank a glass of beer. He said he could walk home. I told him, if he could not, some of us would go with him at dinner time if he liked to wait. I gave him a stick to walk with and he started to walk home alone. As I was going to my work a short time after this, I passed him on the road. He still said he was able to get home. There were three other persons with me when passed deceased. As I returned from my work on Tuesday evening, I saw him lying on the road side. His mother and Mr. Robinson were with him and Mr. Robinson took him away in his waggon. After taking the liquor I have mentioned on Sunday, he sat down some time before he was taken to the stable.

(xi) R. Astley Corbett, MD Sworn:
          I made a post mortem examination of the body of Robert Best this day and on examination found two small bruises or ecchymotic spots on the right temple. The body was pale and exsanguinous. On opening the head, the cerebrum and cerebellum were found gorged with venous blood. The medulla oblongata was softened throughout. The ventricles of the brain contained a small quantity of sanguinous fluid.
          On opening the chest, the lower and back part of the lungs were congested, completely filled with venous blood. The heart was healthy and the pericardium contained the usual amount of fluid. The bowels and stomach were empty, contained nothing except gas. The bowels were healthy. The omentum was congested and presented an unhealthy appearance.
          From the result of the examination I have no hesitation in saying that the deceased, Robert Best, came to his death from exposure, want of food, and taking an excessive quantity of alcoholic liquor. I was called to see deceased last night about eleven o'clock. He breathed twice after I saw him, had two slight convulsions. The pupils were perfectly dilated. Lived about one minute after I saw him.

I certify that the above information was taken and acknowledged the day and year above mentioned before me.
George Perks, Coroner
Province of Ontario
United Counties of Northumberland and Durham. To wit:

An Inquisition taken for our Sovereign Lady the Queen, at the house of William Guy in the Township of Hope, in said United Counties on the eighteenth and nineteenth days of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty seven before me, George Perks Esquire, one of the coroners of our said Lady the Queen, for the said Counties on view of the body of Robert Best, now lying dead at his late residence Township of Hope, upon the oath of Thomas Gray, James Hamel, William Guy, James Robinson, Edward Swanson, John Gray, John Vint, William Gardiner, John Pedlar, James Little, Warren Haskell, Robert Hamel, good and lawful men of the said Counties, duly chosen, and who being then and there duly sworned, and charged to inquire for our Sovereign Lady the Queen, when, how, and by what means Robert Best came to his death do upon their oath say -
That deceased came to his death from drinking an excessive quantity of alcoholic drinks in the Tavern of Charles Nugent on Sunday last and from subsequent exposure and want of care.

In witness whereof as well the said coroner as the persons aforesaid have hereonto set and subscribed their hands and seals the day and year first above written.

Inquest jury signatures George Perks, Coroner
Thomas Gray, Foreman
James Hamill
William Guy
James Robinson (his mark)
Edward Swanston
John Gray
John Vint
William Gardner
John Pedler
James Little
Warren Haskill
Robert Hamill

Peter and Barbara Bolton - Port Hope, Ontario