Captain Cook

At the Coroner’s Inquest upon the body of Michael COOK, on Friday 19 July in Coggeshall, Essex, two witnesses referred to the deceased as “captain”. At her wedding to Robert CHEW in Filey on 22 December 1845, Lucy Cook informed the vicar that her father’s name was Michael, his Rank or Profession “Mariner”.


(One transcription of this entry gives”Huchel” for “Michel”, and it is interesting that he isn’t noted as being deceased.)

Before the witnesses were called at the inquest, the jury went to the home of Michael COOK to view his corpse.

On entering the room where lay the unfortunate deceased, the effluvia arising from the body, (which although not 2 days had elapsed since death ensued was in a highly decomposed state) was insufferable, and had diffused through the whole house…The deceased…presented a frightful wound on the frontal bone of the skull, 3 or 4 inches in extent, which in one part was laid open, leaving the interior of the head visible. The pillow of the bed was deluged with blood from the wound, and the various surgical operations to which deceased had been subjected: taken as a whole it was one of the most appalling spectacles that can be imagined…and many that entered the house to gratify their curiosity, upon hearing the description given refrained from the sight.

Chelmsford Chronicle 26 July 1839

The final surgical operation had been an attempt by Dr Samuel Baddely STROWGER to relieve pressure on Michael’s brain by trepanning his skull. Michael died during the procedure at about five o’clock on Wednesday afternoon.

I have been unable to discover any of the places this Captain Cook visited during his time at sea. In his final months, he was the landlord of the Black Boy public house at Coggeshall. It seems strange that he should spend the evening of 15 July getting drunk in The King’s Arms in that town, but in his inebriated state he took exception to a fellow imbiber, Richard BROWNING, also known as SMITH. Several witnesses at the inquest described their sightings of Michael and his large black water dog chasing Richard through the streets. It seems the quarry didn’t want to fight (or be bitten by the dog) and reached his home just before the men engaged in combat. One witness declared that Michael struck the first blows, another that things went quiet after two loud noises were heard. Michael was found, slumped and incoherent, having little idea what had happened. He thought someone in an alley may have thrown a pewter pot at his head. Samaritans helped him home and a doctor was called.

The inquest found that the final blow had been delivered by a “broom handle”, wielded by Smith. This item was also described as a “hair broom”. Neither implement would seem capable of fracturing a man’s skull so severely that death ensued.

The Coroner explained the distinction in law between manslaughter and justifiable homicide and after two hours of deliberation the jury returned a verdict of manslaughter. A warrant was immediately made for the arrest of Richard Browning Smith. I have been unable to find a report that names Michael’s wife or explains his family circumstances but the Chelmsford Chronicle ends one piece thus:-

The unfortunate deceased was about 45 years of age, and has left a widow and six children to deplore his loss.

The GRO Index records Michael’s death in Witham District, which contains Coggeshall, in September Quarter 1839, age at death 45 years, (Volume 12 Page 176).

It is terrible to think of the children, ranging in age from one to 13, sleeping in a house where their father’s body lay.

A case can be made that Susanna and her offspring were “pushed” away from a place of dark and stinking memories. But were there “pull factors” in play, too? If yes, why Filey?

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