Last time I wrote about my Great-great Grandmother Emily Keast. I’ll now introduce you to her third husband, Walter Glover.
None of my Devon family are rich, and like my Yorkshire family several of them worked as miners. Walter worked with stone too, but as a mason rather than a miner; he also worked in the tar pits for a while. Born c April 1851 in East Stonehouse, he was a stonemason’s apprentice by the age of 20 and worked as a mason all his life. Walter’s children would point out to his grandchildren the houses that he built in Plymouth.
Walter married his first wife Susan Smith in 1877 but she died shortly after the April 1881 census and I haven’t to date found any children for them He married his second wife Emily Keast (later Roston later Falkner) in St Peter’s parish in August 1883 and together they went on to have three sons, the second of whom was my great-grandfather Henry.
The family must have been going through a really rough time, or have generally lived in a really bad way. By April 1911 Emily was in the local asylum and identified as a lunatic. Her date of death is not known and I understand the records were destroyed in the war. Walter died a couple of years later, on 9 December 1913. It was a tragic end.
When I was down in Plymouth last year in the Archives I was looking through their catalogue and I came across a reference to one document which disconcerted me. It was a Coroner’s Report and I carefully unfolded the sheets of paper which were kept together with an old rusted staple.
His cause of death was noted as suicide whilst “temporarily insane” and he had been admitted in a coma to South and East Cornwall Hospital “taking a poison, to wit camphor or luminal”. In his son’s testimony it was reported he had been drinking heavily before this. It appeared that what had driven him to the drink – and despair – was a letter from the Retiring(?) Officer asking for money for his wife [presumably for her care?] and that had “affected his mind”. He’d been suffering from a medical condition for a while for which he’d been prescribed something [it was hard to read – perhaps codine?] to rub into his leg and I got the impression that’s what he’d taken.
It’s so sad to think of their lives. At first when I found out how many times they’d been married between them I thought it sounded like I’d found a really interesting story: my own family soap opera. But the more I found, the more tragic it appeared.
The family never mentioned this to their grand-children, it was obviously painful and their dark, possibly shameful, secret.
I’ve seen some positive posters recently [eg My son seemed quiet so I asked him…] encouraging people to bring up the subject of suicide in conversation if they’re concerned about their friends. It’s such a shame that a century after Walter’s death we still need to work to overcome the risk of stigma of being, or of knowing, someone with these thoughts and feelings.
One of my best friends, a first aider at her work, has also been given mental health first aid training. I’d never heard of that before but I think this is a great step forward.
© Text copyright Lynne Black 8 March 2014: