A Melancholy Suicide

Matthew COWTON was born in Reighton in 1808 but at some point moved to York where he was apprenticed to John DALE, Grocer and Tea Dealer. He married Jane JEFFERSON in York in 1830 and the first three of their children were born in that city. The next four opened their eyes in Scarborough, Jane’s home town before the family returned to York, where their last child and fifth daughter Frances was born in 1844.

Matthew gave his occupation as Grocer at the 1841 and 1851 censuses but also accrued wealth dealing in property. By some happenstance, he lost most of the property and, in some despair, turned to drink. Early in 1857, however, he managed to get some of his old properties back and was somewhat restored to health. In March he advertised the following Freehold Property in Reighton, near Bridlington:-

To be sold by Private Contract, Five Substantial Built COTTAGES, replete with every Convenience, and a Garden behind each; also a large Barn, Stable, and other Out-Buildings, with a Fold Yard adjoining the same, in the occupation of John Wood and others. The above Propery is situate in the centre of the Village. To treat for the same, apply to the Owner, Mr MATTHEW COWTON, 22, Goodramgate, York.

The following month, Matthew was appointed a Parochial Constable for Minster Yard with Bedern. In October he found himself accused, with several other policemen of assaulting two people he and a colleague were attempting to arrest – for being drunk and disorderly. Thomas and Mary Lyons put up a fight, using whatever implements came to their hands – a knife, a fender, a pan and a rolling pin. The constables called for reinforcements and eventually prevailed. By the time the Lyons reached the police station they were both bruised and bloodied and took out summonses against nine policemen, including Matthew.

The impending case must have driven Matthew back into depression and on Sunday before the case was to be heard, he got drunk by teatime, stumbled up to bed but hanged himself with a belt instead. Jane went up to check on her husband and found him awkwardly suspended. She called two men passing by the house and one pulled Matthew down. One of his sons saw he was still alive and a surgeon was called. Mr PROCTOR’s attempts to restore Matthew failed. After an Inquest in The Turk’s Head, the Coroner declared…

…the deceased hanged himself during a fit of temporary insanity brought on by anxiety about his property, and the habit of excessive drinking of intoxicating liquors.

A few days later three policemen were charged with assault upon Mr and Mrs Lyons and two others of damaging their property. Only Matthew’s colleague, HOLMES, was found guilty of assaulting Mary Lyons and was fined £2 plus costs. Matthew may well have been discharged with all the other defendants.

Only three months earlier, Matthew had witnessed the marriage of his eldest daughter, Christiana Matilda. He didn’t get to see the arrival of Joseph Edmund ELAND, his first grandchild, or to mourn the deaths of Christiana and her newborn fourth child a few years later. And, between these sweet and bitter events, his fourth daughter, Emily, died in Filey, aged 20. She is buried in St Oswald’s churchyard.

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Find Matthew on FamilySearch Tree.