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December 23rd 1893: Distressing Domestic Tragedy at Witheridge

The wife, son and daughter of Mr Richard Thomas of Leat Farm, Witheridge, where they had lived for two years since moving from Whippenscott Farm, Rose Ash, were found drowned in the River Dart.

Mrs Thomas, who was 48, and the two youngest children of seven, Rosetta aged nine, and Albert aged seven, were missed at around 3.30pm and were discovered after a short search. The father and four elder sons had been threshing in the barn, and adjourned for lunch between 10 and 11 when all was well. Some hours later the father sent one of his sons to see if dinner was ready, but he returned to say that the time was 3.30pm, that there was no dinner ready, and no sign of Mrs Thomas and the two children. A search was immediately begun, and the eldest son was "astonished to see lying in the river his mother, brother and sister. At this part of the river the water is only 15 to 18 inches deep, and all three were found face downwards, the mother with one child grasped under each arm". They got them out and summoned Dr Pollock, who pronounced them dead. Police Sergeant Parker and Police Constable Grist arrived and examined the river bank, but could find no sign of a struggle. It was considered that they had entered the water higher up where it was 3ft deep, and "there is a deep stickle", and had been washed down to where they were found, only two hundred yards from the barn. There had been no previous hint of trouble, the family was well, known to be happy and industrious, and Mrs Thomas as a very pleasant woman. The evening before Mr Thomas said they had all been as "happy as chicken". around 12 noon on the day of the tragedy, a retired farmer, Mr Hill, passed along the road and chatted to Mrs Thomas, who "seemed to be in good spirits"

At the subsequent inquest it was reported that Mrs Thomas had sometimes complained of "not being up to her work", and after the birth of her youngest "went out of her mind", but nothing similar had occurred since then, detailed evidence was given by the family, police, Dr Pollock, and Mr Hill. The jury took only 5 minutes to follow the indication given by the Deputy -Coroner, and "found that the three deceased came to their death through drowning, but how they came in the water there was no evidence to show. An open verdict of 'found drowned' was accordingly entered".

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