The Laudanum Habit – A Denaby Victim – Fatal “Two-Penn’orths”

November 1910

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Saturday 05 November 1910

The Laudanum Habit

A Denaby Victim.

Fatal “Two-Penn’orths”

Curious Case

The death, under curious circumstances, of William Ashcroft, a Denaby miner, who succumbed to laudanum poisoning on Saturday night, was investigated by the Deputy Coroner, Mr. J. Kenyon Parker, at the Denaby institute Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. A. Peace was foreman of the jury.

The body was identified by Mrs. Davison, of 43 Everart street, East Hartlepool, as that of her brother, William Ashcroft, aged 49, a miner. She last saw him alive 12 year ago in East Hartlepool. She did not know that he was in the habit of taking laudanum.

 Not Drunk But Drugged.

Mary Powell, wife of Isaac Powell, Woodger street, said she was at present attending her daughter-in-law at 43, Barnburgh street, Denaby Main as the result of a recent confinement. The deceased man lodged with her son, Cecil Powell, and had done so for three months. On Saturday afternoon she saw him at about 4 o’clock, and he was cheerful and apparently in good health. He went into the house next door, but when he returned at about 3-30, he went and sat on the stairs until 7-30. He was apparently dizzy. When he got up he reeled and struck his head against the chimney-piece. He seemed to have had a lot beer. He was placed on a chair in front of the fire but he fell on to the floor.

She went into the next door and said, “Come and look how yon have served poor Billy.” thinking that he was drunk. They gave him some water, but he could not take it, and be was afterwards taken to bed. No bottles which had contained laudanum were found in the house. There were four children in the hone, and one —the must recently born—was lying dead. She had only known deceased for a fortnight, sad she had no cause to suspect that he was in the habit of taking laudanum. He was a very healthy man.


Cecil Powell, 43 Barnburgh street, Denaby, said the deceased had had lodged with him for three or four months. He did not know that deceased in the habit of taking laudanum. He saw the deceased at past three at home on Saturday afternoon, and he was all right. At half-past seven he found diseased sitting on the stairs. He was shivering, and witness put him in front of the fire. He did not speak when witness asked hint what am the matter. He went out to do shopping and returning at quarterpast eleven, found the doctor there. He had the impression that Ashcroft was suffering from ague and he also thought he had had some beer.

Answering a juryman, witness said that deceased sated for some laudanum from a neighbour a week ago, but witness forbade him to have it in the house on account of the danger to the children. He said he wanted it to make him sleep. That was the only occasion upon which he had heard laudanum referred to by the deceased.

Medical Testimony.

Dr. J. McArthur said he was called to deceased on Saturday evening and saw him at 10.20 . He had been urged to come to a man who had been taking opium. He found Ashcroft apparently suffering from opium poisoning. He was lying on the floor on his back, breathing stertoriously. His pupils were contracted to a pin point. Artificial respiration was tried. He was in to comatose a condition to render emetic treatment practicable. He had since made a post-mortem examination which confirmed his opinion that the man had died of opium poisoning. He proceeded to describe the internal symptoms which he bad discovered. The bottle which had been produced would hold eight fluid drams of laudanum, and one dram would be sufficient to kill a man. He stayed with the man until he died at twenty minutes to twelve.

Dr. McArthnr said the symptoms showed that the man was commencing with Bright’s disease and it would take a smaller dose to kill him than an ordinary man.

The Chemist’s Story.

Walter James Ward, chemist and druggist, 10, William street, Denaby Main, said he remembered putting two-pennyworth of laudanum into the bottle produced between three and four o’clock on Saturday afternoon. He explained that then were four drams of laudanum in two pennyworth. It was applied for by someone who gave the name of the lodger, Ashcroft. He did not remember filling that bottle more than once. After be sold that two-pennyworth, he might have sold seven ounces before the night was out in small purchases.

Husband and Wife.

Alice Keats married, 45, Barnburgh street, Denby Main, said that on Saturday afternoon William Ashcroft ran in her house intermittently from three o’clock to half-past five. Her husband and some neighbours were in, and she fetched six gills of beer for them. She fetched two-pennyworth of laudanum from Mr. Ward. At the request of the coroner. Mr. Ward stepped forward, glanced at the witness, and said he did not recognise her.

She took a caster oil bottle for the laudanum and Mr. Ward put a label on it. Mr. Ward asked if she was aware that it poison and she said “yes.” and told him who it was for. She bought it with Ashcroft’s money. When she took it to Ashcroft she as I hked him what he used it for, and he said he look it for a cold. She had only known him a fortnight and she did sat know whether he had taken laudanum before. Her husband at that time was away at the football match. Ashcroft left at past five and looked the worse for beer, though as far as she knew them had only been six gills of beer consumed by four persona. She was in when her husband went for some more laudanum for Ashcroft. Ashcroft told him that he had already had two-pennyworth.

The Coroner: Have you ever bought laudanum before for other people? —No, sir.

Shall you do so again? – No, sir.

This will be a lesson to you? — Yes, sir.

Thomas Keats, husband of the last witness, said he came home after the football match on Saturday about five o’clock, and found Ashcroft there.

Ashcroft said “Will you go and fetch me ten-pennyworth of laudanum:wife has fetched me pennyworth but I have overdone it with water, and have thrown it down the sink.” He fetched the laudanum from Mr. Ward’s shop and be was asked no questions. He asked Ashcroft if was used to laudanum, and he said he had taken it for years. He had been drinking but was not drunk, and was in a condition to be trusted with a bottle of poison. At 5-15 he put the bottle in his pocket, went outside for a minute or two return. 10 minutes later he left for good, saying to witness, “Wake me up between seven and eight and we will go down to the bottom for an drink.”

He last saw deceased at his lodgings, where he was very ill.

A juror: Was there any gambling that afternoon — No, sir.

The foreman: Were you playing at cards for money?—No sir.

A Laudanum Victim.

Geo. Smith, of Clifton street, Denaby Main, said Ashcroft formerly lodged with him for two years and three months, and left him about six months ago. He had known him take laudanum several times. He had seen him drink it out of the bottle straight from the chemist. He did not know why Ashcroft took it, or whether he liked the taste of it. He used to talk of someone who took it, and would tell him how much it was possible to take without injury. Only once did he know Ashcroft take it to soothe actual pain. He had seen him take it almost every week-end, but never more than two-penn’orth at one period. He had also seen him take Fryer’s Balsam, whisky and brandy when he had a cold.

No Blame

The Coroner summing up at some length, said that as he had expected the evidence was rather extraordinary. Going over the points of the case, there was no question of suicide, though there could be on doubt that deceased took the poison himself, and had taken it by misadventure. He was probably the worse for beer at the time and did not know what he was taking, or how much of it. So far as the chemist, Mr. Ward, was concerned, he did not think any blame could be attached to him. He had kept the law, and there was nothing illegal or imprudent in his conduct. He did not think it was necessary to censure Mr. and Mrs. Keats either, though it seemed to him that they had acted very imprudently, and he hoped that the death of the man and the subsequent inquiry, would he a lesson to them, and that they would be shy in the future of going out to buy laudanum for other people unless it was a case of necessity.

The jury returned a verdict to the effect that Ashcroft died of laudanum poisoning, self-administered by misadventure, and that no blame was attacked to anyone.