John Reuban Ledger had spent time in Salford Union Workhouse and decided to commit suicide at the age of 61, but at the Inquest, the ancient verdict of *felo de se sent ripples through the legal profession.
The Salford Reporter of 12th April 1890 reported, "The body of a man was found on Wednesday morning week (2nd April) lying on some vacant land off West High Street, Pendleton, with two gashes in his throat, which from the nature of them evidently indicated suicide. The Borough Coroner, Mr F.Price held an Inquest on Thursday, at the Royal Thistle Hotel, Cannon Street, Salford".
The first witness was John's nephew, George Coghlan, who lived in Blackpool. He said that he hadn't seen his uncle since last August. He was 61 years old and had been employed as a Guard on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. After trying his luck in America he had returned to become a general labourer for Mr W.Hale, Painter and Decorator, Howard Street, off Eccles New Road, Salford. John had also spent some time at Salford Workhouse and had complained about the way he had been treated and about the food.
The second witness, Annie Waterson, 6, Allan Street, Astley Street, Pendleton said that John Ledger had lodged with her family at different times between leaving and returning to the Workhouse. He came out of the Workhouse on Friday 28th March, looking very ill and lodged with her. He complained about the Workhouse food and said that he could not eat it. He would prefer to do away with himself. After paying for his lodgings he would spend the rest of his money on drink. On Tuesday morning he left saying that he was going to Newton Heath to search for his cousin. The witness did not see John again.
The third witness was police constable Milne who deposed to having found the body on a secluded piece of ground at the rear of Denbigh Street early on Wednesday morning. He had been alerted to it by a neighbour. A razor was lying on the ground near the deceased's hand and both were covered with blood. There were two wounds to his throat and he was quite cold. He found a notebook containing a suicide note, which was read to the court by the Coroner as follows:
"J.R.Ledger, memorandum book 1890. Late of 6, Allan Street, but not there now. I am homeless, penniless and friendless and I have no claim on anyone, as I have no relations or offspring that I may appeal to for assistance. I am taking this rash act with the full knowledge of what I am doing. I have no bad feeling against anyone and kindly thank those who have assisted me a little these last few days. I have no more, so God forgive me for committing this rash act. I have nothing else. I hope all my friends will forgive me for all the wrongs I may have done them, as I forgive them as the last dying wish of unfortunate, broken-hearted John R. Ledger. April 2nd 1890. Poor old John, I am now 61 years of age".
The foreman of the jury said it didn't appear as though the deceased was out of his mind at the time he committed the act. Another juror said that a man of unsound mind could not have penned words like that. The jury unanimously returned a verdict of "felo de se". The Coroner said that it was the first time, in his 34 years experience as a Coroner, that he had heard this verdict given. The deceased, by this verdict, would be deprived of Christian burial.
On Saturday 5th April 1890, the remains of John Reuban Ledger were interred in the Dissenters portion of Weaste Cemetery. The coffin was removed from the Silk Street Mortuary, Salford, and was met at the cemetery gate by nephew George Coghlan and two friends. Rev. Edwin Walker, the Nonconformist chaplain read the funeral rites at the graveside, but there was no service in the church.
*Felo de se means one who commits murder upon himself. The technical conditions of murder apply to this crime, and it goes back a long way in time. If one commits any unlawful, malicious act, the consequence of which is his own death, as if attempting to kill another, he runs upon his antagonist's sword, or when shooting at another the guns bursts and he kills himself, then he is a felo de se. The horror inspired by this crime led to the revolting punishment of an "ignominious burial on the highway, with a stake driven through the body". This was abolished by an Act of 1823, which ordered the burial of the body within 24 hours after the Inquest, between the hours of 9pm and midnight and without Christian rites. This act was again superceded in 1882 by The Interments (Felo de se) Act, which permits interment in the chosen churchyard or burial ground. The interment is carried out in accordance with the Burial Laws Amendment Act 1880. The act does not authorize the performance of any of the rites of Christian burial, but a special form of service may be used. Formerly, the goods and chattels, but not the land of a felo de se were forfeited to the crown, but this was abolished by the Forfeitures Act 1870.