Richard BROWNING SMITH faced his manslaughter charge in March 1840, almost nine months after he had killed Michael COOK. On the advice of his counsel and friends, he withdrew his Not Guilty plea, pleaded Guilty instead and awaited his fate. His defence called a number of “witnesses of character” and the Learned Judge chose not to commit Richard to prison but to impose a fine of £20 instead. This was immediately paid and Richard walked free. The life of Michael Cook was clearly worth less than the proverbial sheep or lamb.


I looked for Richard on FamilySearch Tree. I knew from the Coroner’s Inquest report that he was a butcher in Coggeshall and thought he would be easy to find. I soon happened upon a Richard BROWNING and a Richard Browning SMITH, both born in the town about 1814, and both butchers. You can find them on FST. This Richard seems the one more likely to have ended the captain’s life. His wife Sophia died in 1864. At the 1871 census, Richard’s 79-year-old mother in law, a nephew and niece were living with him in East Street. Ten years later he had “Mary B” to look after him – a second wife almost 30 years his junior.

I’m not sure what to make of Lucy COOK marrying a butcher in Filey.

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?

Kicked to Death

On this day 1894, at about seven o’clock in the evening, thirteen-year-old Samuel Dixon STONEHOUSE ran to his half-brother, William PROCTER, for help. When they reached the cottage in Barnett’s Yard, off Queen Street, accompanied a relative, Amos DANBY, and Police Sergeant CLARKSON, William was shocked to see his mother’s bruised and bleeding face. Maria said to him, “He has kicked me to death, I am dying.” William rushed away to seek medical help. Dr. ORR came quickly with parish nurse, Frances JENKINSON, and attempted to revive the woman, but she died within twenty minutes. All the while, Maria’s husband, Samuel STONEHOUSE, sat in a corner chair, proclaiming his innocence.

He was initially charged with wilful murder but at trial the jury quickly arrived at a verdict of manslaughter and the judge handed down a 14-year sentence. Samuel was not a stranger to prison. He had served a six-month sentence for battering his wife, not long before the final assault. He must, however, have behaved himself inside because he was released after nine years, initially into the care of the Filey “Church Army Society”, if the official documentation is a reliable guide. (Source: Prison Register, via Find My Past.)


I have never had any truck with men hitting women, even though there ain’t no limit to the amount of trouble they bring (B. Dylan), and had imagined Samuel to have been a hulking brute. I was surprised to see he was a “short-arse”.

Before his trial, he wrote to his mother, Elizabeth, and sister Elizabeth Annie, from his cell in Hull Prison:-

Dear mother, and sister and all, – Just a few lines to you, hoping to find you all well, as it leaves me well at present. Thank God for it. I hope my two children are both well. Remember me to them, and by God’s help I hope I may soon be with them again. My aunt was here yesterday, and told me that mother had gone to Filey, and I hope you will all do what you can for me. Will you write and let me know what you have done for me? I do not know whether I shall have anyone to help me at York or not, but I hope that I shall. I do not know when I shall be going from here, but I have been told that they (the Assizes) do commence next Wednesday. Will you let me know if my brother William or Abraham is going to York, and who is going to look after my children this year? It might be a long job for me at York, but I hope it will not. – Your son, SAMUEL STONEHOUSE.

At trial, the children gave evidence. The boy said his mother had asked for his assistance to help her on to the couch and his father had said that if he touched her he would “kick his bowels in”. But this exchange followed:-

Mr. Mellor: Your father was kind to you?

Witness: Yes, a lot better than my mother. Drunk or not, he was always kind to me.

Mr. Mellor: Have you ever seen her lying on the floor before?


In what state?

She had been drunk. (Some sensation was caused in court by this statement, and the Judge said he must have silence or he would have the gallery cleared.)

Witness said on this occasion he supposed that his mother was drunk. She had formerly cursed his father when he came home to dinner, and she had thrown pots at him. (The poor lad burst into tears as he left the box.)

Born in Scalby, just outside Scarborough, Samuel Snr returned home after leaving Portsea  Prison. (He may also have spent time in Dartmoor.) His death was registered in the last quarter of 1920. He was 73 years old.

He outlived his son by four years. Samuel Dixon STONEHOUSE was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme and is remembered in Fricourt New Military Cemetery.

Samuel Jnr had married before he went to war. Maria Louise was living at 32 St James Street in 1916 and at 44 James Street when the Second World War began. She died a Stonehouse in 1960, aged 82. I haven’t been able to find the marriage record or any children she may have had. Sam Jnr’s sister, Sarah, has eluded me too.

The Wayback Machine seems to be working again – it should be safe to access The Woman Who Cried Murder.

The blighted family can be found on Filey Genealogy & Connections and FamilySearch Tree.