Attempted suicide

Hertfordshire Mercury, 29th May 1915


At Much Hadham, Alice Gould (21), a domestic servant, of Little Hadham, was charged with attempting to commit suicide on April 14, by taking spirits of salts, a corrosive poison.  The defendant, who had been arrested that day, looked very ill, and was allowed to be seated in court in charge of Mrs Lee, acting as wardress.

The father of the defendant said that on the 14th ult. he came home from work about 6 p.m., and found his daughter was not there.  He asked where she was and went to look for her, but could not find her.  She subsequently came home about 8 p.m., and said she had been up to the wood.  When asked why she began crying, and said she had taken some spirits of salts, but did not know why.

The witness sent for the doctor. His daughter had never attempted anything of this kind before, and he had not noticed anything amiss with her.  She told him when she was in bed where the bottle was, and he went next day to the place in the wood, where she had been picking primroses, and found it and gave it to Sergt. Lee.  (The bottle was produced in court.  It was an ordinary bottle used for containing poison, and was labelled ‘Not to be taken’.)  His daughter had been a housemaid in London for two or three years, but had only stayed at her last place two or three weeks.  He did not know why she left.

She was not very well, but did not appear unhappy or discontented, and there was nothing amiss with her mind.  She said she brought the bottle with her, and, though asked lots of times gave no reason why she had done it.

Sarah Gould, mother of the defendant, said her daughter seemed quite all right on the day in question.  She went to the butcher’s in the morning, and after coming home did the house up, and then said she would go up to the wood to pick some flowers and come home for dinner.  She saw no more of her till the evening when it was getting dark.  When she came home the witness said something was wrong, and sent for the doctor.

Her daughter had never threatened to do away with herself, and appeared that morning in her usual health and spirits.  Before this happened she had been home nearly six weeks.  Before the witness sent for the doctor she was crying and laid down on the sofa, and said she had been taking some stuff, and told her father where it was.  Dr E.B. Reckitt, of Little Hadham, said he was sent for on the evening of the 14th ult. to the cottage of Reuben Gould.

He there saw Alice, the daughter, lying down, and suffering a great deal of pain.  He prescribed for her and sent her to bed.  Her mouth and throat were white, and the latter was very much swollen so that for some time she was unable to swallow.  As she was now able to take nutriment she was gradually gaining strength.  He found she had been taking spirits of salts, which was pure hydrochloric acid, and its effect was such that a teaspoonful had been known to kill a person.  He believed persons had to sign for it in a book before they could obtain it.  It was largely used by plumbers, and was also sold in large quantities for cleansing metals.  He had never treated the defendant before as a patient.

She seemed to be suffering from extreme mental depression and low spirits, and only spoke in a whisper.  He was led to suppose that she got the poison in London.  Dr Reckitt added that the defendant seemed to have the idea that having got out of her situation she would be unable to obtain another.

The Chairman said any person attempting to take his or her life was liable to serious punishment.  The defendant did not seem to be aware that she would cause herself serious injury.  She had a perfectly good character, good home, and very respectable parents.  The Bench under the circumstances felt justified in dismissing the case, and would appeal to the parents to look after her so that she might recover her health.

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