Ann Jones and John Parcell -A case of two “suicides”, both of whom were judged to be insane.


Ann Jones a young 27 year old lady died by swallowing cleaning fluid, and John Parcell hanged himself – both within the space of twelve months. They have no known grave. They are both also recorded in St David’s burial register as having received full burial rites, their names recorded for posterity. Had the Coroner found them to have committed “suicide”, they would have received no such accolade under church and canon law as it existed at the time and would not have been recorded in the register and not been given any burial rites, which did occur on a number of occasions. Being judged to be “temporary insane” by the Coroners jury was in many instances an outcome that was the better of two evils. Those who sat in deliberation of such occurrences knew full well that a decision of suicide would bring shame on those families concerned and would not entitle them to have a proper burial and so by being judged as “temporary insane” was in some way a more satisfactory outcome for all concerned. People took their own lives in desperation then as now, but we remember them all with compassion. What follows then are their stories, briefly reported on in the “Welshman” newspaper of the day. May they rest in peace.


On Tuesday last, an inquest was held at the Carmarthenshire Infirmary, before John Hughes, Esq., coroner, on the body of Ann Jones, who died on the previous day. The following evidence was given. William Jones said I live in the parish of Newchurch. I am a schoolmaster. The deceased is my sister. She is 27 years of age, and a single woman. She was employed as a servant with Miss Evans, Picton terrace. She had been there for some months. She was generally in good health. As far as I know she was quite comfortable in her service. She seemed to be of a cheerful disposition. The last time I saw her was about the middle of May, in the street, and she was in her usual health and spirits then. I do not know whether she had any trouble. I heard that she was taken ill on the 26th of June. I saw her at the Infirmary. I did not speak to her at all as to her illness, and of my own knowledge I know nothing about it. The Coroner remarked that the next witness ought to be Miss Evans, but as she was away from home she could not be present. If the jurors were not satisfied with the evidence they could adjourn the hearing. Dr. Lewis said: I am a physician, practicing in this town. I was called to see Ann Jones, the subject of this enquiry, on the 22nd of June last. I saw her about twelve o’clock at noon, at Miss Evans’s, house in Picton terrace. When I saw her she was on the bed partially undressed. She had frequent vomit. I saw a surgeon there and he gave her oil, eggs, and water. When I came to the house I took charge of the patient. The surgeon told me that he gave these as antidotes to something the deceased had taken. I gave her chalk and water, and after she had vomited several times I had her put in bed. Her mistress showed me a bottle containing Sir William Burnett’s disinfecting fluid, which I believe contained chloride of zinc, and I smelt the ejected contents of her stomach, which smelt of chlorine. Her mistress told me that she had taken some of the contents of the bottle. About an ounce of it was missing. The quantity that she had taken could produce the effects I saw. In a few days after, as she continued very ill, I had her removed to the Infirmary, and attended her until her death, yesterday morning at eleven o’clock. I have subsequently made an examination of the body, and found that the cause of death was the ulceration of the lower end of the stomach, and the contraction of the lower opening of the stomach. I have no doubt death was the result of her having taken some corrosive poison. I cannot say what, but I believe it to be a solution of chloride of zinc. I did not notice any particular feeling about her. I never saw her but once before. She was living alone in the house, her mistress being away from home. Catherine Bevan said I am the matron of the Carmarthenshire Infirmary. I knew Ann Jones a patient; here, and formerly a servant with Miss Evans, of Picton terrace. She was admitted in June last, and continued until her death yesterday. I had a conversation as to the cause of her illness about five weeks ago. She said that she had a great wish to take the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and then said she had taken the disinfecting fluid, knowing it to be a poison. I asked how she knew it was a poison, and she replied that it was a given by a gentleman, by mistake, to his wife in Swansea, and produced death. She said she had no reason for taking it, but that she had been ill for about six weeks before that. She said she had felt very queer, and could not account for her feelings. During her illness in the house I noticed she was depressed, and used to cry. I did not notice any wildness in her whilst in the house.  Mary Davies, a nurse at the Infirmary, said I knew Ann Jones as an in-door patient. About a month after admission into the house she asked me to sit down, and said she had taken some disinfecting fluid purposely, and it was because she was miserable. She was very cheerful when free from pain but I saw her cry one day after coming from religious service in the house.  William Jones said I am a confectioner. Ann Jones was a servant of mine about nine or ten years back. She remained with us about a twelvemonth, and during that time she was very gloomy and used to cry very often without any reason. The jury, after a short deliberation, returned a verdict, “That deceased died having taken Burnett’s disinfecting fluid** whilst in a state of temporary insanity.”





















** In 1848, Sir William Burnett (1779-1861), Surgeon and Director-General of the Royal Navy’s Medical Department, developed, patented, and marketed zinc chloride (zincane or ZnCl2) as a disinfecting agent. Burnett was granted a patent for its manufacture on the ground that the compound had routinely demonstrated its worth as a preservative of timber, canvas, cordage, cotton, wool and other articles, all of which were subject to rot, mildew, and insect damage (“Sir William Burnett’s Disinfecting Fluid”). The chloride solution was, foremost, a deodorizer of sick-rooms, clothing, linen, drains, cesspools, bilge-water, stables, ship’s-holds, kennels, sewers, and other locations; and, because it preserved, anatomical specimens, it was widely employed in natural history museums and for anatomical instruction.

Sir William Burnett (1779-1861)





An inquest was held at the Council Chamber on Tuesday evening last, before J. Hughes, Esq., coroner, touching the death of John Parcell, shoemaker. Elizabeth Parcell said I was the wife of John Parcell, who lived at Tabernacle Row. He was 64 years of age. He was charged about three weeks ago with stealing a coat, and the magistrates committed him to take his trial at the ensuing Quarter Sessions. Since then he has not eaten much food. He used to earn his livelihood by working at his trade. The charge of stealing was made at Llanelly. He was drunk on Saturday but was sober on Sunday, and on Monday until about 7 o’clock. On Monday evening he came home about 11 o’clock, and was then very drunk. I was in the house when he came in. The children told him to go to bed. He did so; but did not sleep, and got up in about two hours afterwards. When he got up about 1 o’clock, he tried to catch me, to beat me. I do not know what for. I ran out to Ann Evans’s house, and she went into my house and spoke to my husband, and he threatened me. He went to bed again after Ann Evans went in. In a little time afterwards I returned to my house, and I went to bed with one of the children. He afterwards got out of bed about 3 o’clock, and beat me with his fist, and called me shocking names I ran out again, and he came after me with the poker, and struck me in Ann Evans’s house. Ann Evans seized the poker. I ran away to Pentrepoeth, and he came after me; but did not find me. I returned home about a quarter to 5 o’clock, and sent Elizabeth Evans into the house to see if my husband was sleeping. I then heard the children scream, and I ran away thinking that my husband was after me, until I heard one of my children cry out mother. I stopped and the child said that her father was dead on the floor. I went to the house and saw my husband lying dead on the floor. He never attempted to commit suicide before. Since this charge of stealing was brought against him, he said that he would not see the Quarter Sessions. He used to get drunk very frequently, and has beaten me many times. I was quite sober last night; but I had been drinking some beer during the day. My husband never threatened to commit suicide.—Howell Evans, an under ostler at the Ivy Bush, said he got up about quarter to 4 o’clock that morning as he was disturbed by deceased and his wife quarrelling. Elizabeth Evans was sent to see if deceased was asleep, and he went after her. He saw her open the door and she cried out. He went up to her and asked what was the matter, and she said that deceased was hanging. Witness went in, found that deceased’s body was hanging to the ceiling, and cut him down immediately. Deceased was quite warm at this time. He knew that deceased’s wife got drunk sometimes. Ann Evans gave evidence as to what were the habits of deceased and his wife. She thought deceased was quite mad for the last three weeks, and he complained of a thumping in his head. He did not appear the same as a drunken man.  The Coroner having summed up the evidence, the jury retired for a short time, and afterwards recorded a verdict that deceased “hanged himself under the influence of temporary insanity.”


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