57.64 – Sam and John Crowther

Here lies John Crowther, who died in 1864 at the age of 36. He laid plates for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. He lived at Bath Street with his wife and four children. He had married Rebecca Heyworth in 1855 and they had five children; Sam was the first, and Willie the last.

Not much has been discovered except what came out in the Coroner’s inquest about his death. He had apparently been talking “wild”, and the family became concerned about ‘mental derangement’. John’s brother in law, John Heyworth, stayed the night with him, thinking that John was possibly drunk. It sounds as if John’s wife summoned her brother after witnessing her husband trying to strangle himself. Rumour was that they had had to restrain him in his bed on Sunday night.

Mr. Heyworth left to go to work between 6-7 on Tuesday morning, saying that John had passed a restless night. He later heard that John had gone to work himself around 8. The Coroner questioned this, asking if indeed he had been in a fit state to go to work, a question that was not fully answered… only that they had thought him ‘much better’ on the Monday evening. Nonetheless, his wife was concerned enough to go and check on him, and was told he had ‘gone down to the line’.

A Mr. Greenwood, who knew John, and who lived at Lob Mill, saw him walking down the towpath that morning, around 11:30. He was alone, head down, and walking fast. A short time later, Mr. Heyworth went looking for John, as they had planned to go to Blackpool later that day. He was present when the body was pulled from the canal a short distance from Lob Mill. The verdict was that he had ‘drowned himself whilst of unsound mind’.
We have not been able to discover any contributing circumstances, except that he did have a son who died not quite 4 years before—little Sammy, who died at the age of 3, and with whom he is buried here.

Rochdale Observer, October 1st 1864

We cannot imagine what his wife went through, still being so young herself, with 4 children to raise on her own…what those 4 children experienced, too: confusion, abandonment, and possibly some stigma as well.

It is interesting that suicide in the Victorian era was more of a male problem. Also interesting that the male to female ratio went from 4:1 in the 1880s to 1.5:1 in the 1960s. Perhaps that is one type of equality we could have done without! Drowning was a common choice in the mid 1800s, as was hanging. What was more unusual about this case, was that in this era, John Crowther was rather on the young side of average for a suicide case.

Although attitudes to suicide were changing rapidly in the 1800s, they were still a matter for great debate and disagreement. As late as the 1820s they were still burying suicides at the crossroads with a stake and a mallet, but throughout the century more sympathetic attitudes were developing. In the 1850s and 60s, there was a great emphasis on trying to find a physical cause, which we see in Mr Crowther’s case. As a result, though, how literally we take the above testimony can be coloured with an understanding that suicide was seen often as a temporary insanity with a likely physical cause. A few decades later it was beginning to be seen more as a product of social factors. We suppose it depended whether you talked to a physician or a sociologist!

One last ominous statistic for you… depression does appear to have genetic foundations in some cases. A person who has a relative with depression is almost 5 times as likely to develop it compared to someone who does not. In fact, scientists believe that as many as 40% of those with depression can trace it to a genetic link.

This story formed part of our September 2023 Suicide Awareness Month tour, as did the story of one of John’s sons, Willie Crowther.

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