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The Inquest on Eleanor McKay

The Ship and its grounds - the paddock highlighted in blue - in 1883
The Ship and its grounds - the paddock highlighted in blue - in 1883

Bedfordshire Mercury 21st July 1883 page 8: article on the murder of Eleanor McKay and suicide of Hubert Vere at the Ship paddock, Saint Cuthbert's 

THE INQUEST ON MISS McKAY

"At 2 o'clock, on Wednesday, Dr. Prior, Borough Coroner, opened an inquest at the Corn Exchange as to the death of this ill-fated lady. The following gentlemen were empanelled as the Jury: - Capt. John M. Glubb, foreman; Mr Leonard B. Jeffs, Mr William H. Byfield, Capt. Charles F. Fegen, R. N., Mr George Shaw, Mr. H. Adkin, Mr. Thomas Bull, Mr Samuel L. Kilpin, Mr William Gilpin, Mr S. Groom, Mr Edward Smith, Mr. Aequilla Smith, Mr Robert Evan Roberts, Mr Frederick Dines, Mr. M. Mountayne and Mr. John Allan. Mr. H. Tebbs, solicitor, attended on behalf of the mother and relatives of the deceased girl; Mr. Mitchell, solicitor, was present on behalf of Mrs Vere and relatives. It was found necessary to hold the inquest on the platform of the large hall upstairs, owing to the number of those who were present , and accordingly, while the jury and the Coroner were engaged in viewing the body, the requisite arrangements to this end were carried out by the hall-keeper. The Mayor was among the gentlemen who attended during the subsequent proceedings. On the return of the Coroner and jurors the taking of the evidence was proceeded with. On the jury being sworn in".

"THE CORONER said: Mr foreman and gentlemen, you are called together to investigate an unparalleled tragedy, or at least one to which a parallel has not occurred in this town for a period of 50 years past and I trust never shall be again. Most of you, no doubt, have heard of what has occurred. Yesterday evening, about 7 o'clock, this young lady and gentleman were alive and at half-past 7 both lay dead in the field where she had been playing at lawn-tennis. I was summoned by a hasty message from Mr Coombs to give some directions, and I simply ordered and removal of both bodies to the mortuary, but subsequently permitted that of the young lady to be conveyed to the home of her mother, at the earnest entreaty of Mrs McKay. After very earnest reflection I have thought it best to summon you for an inquest upon each of the two bodies. First we shall look upon the body of Miss McKay, and I apprehend that when you have heard the evidence you will find that your verdict is within very narrow limits, and will have no difficulty in coming to the conclusion that this young lady was feloniously slain. The learned Coroner now proceeded to state the nature of the law affecting homicides, and then accompanied the jury to view the body".

"On their return to the Corn Exchange the following evidence was taken: -

Mr COTTINGHAM GREAVES JOHNSON, surgeon, Harpur-street, formally identified the body as that of Eleanor Evelyn McKay, aged 20, daughter of the late Mr McKay, merchant, and Mrs McKay, of Harpur-street".

"Mr CHARLES STIMSON, solicitor, deposed: I reside in Mill-street, Bedford. Yesterday evening over to the Ship Inn paddock about 6 o'clock with Mr Edgar Kempson to play tennis. Soon after we began Hubert Vere came. He stayed a few minutes talking to Mr Kempson and then left all at once. While he was there Miss McKay and Miss Kempson came into the Ship yard. They did not come as far as the paddock, and I saw them turn back. Very soon after that Vere went away. Some few minutes afterwards Miss Kempson and Miss McKay came into the paddock, and I believe there were three little girls with them, but I saw no more of these little girls afterwards. I was playing at the farther end of the ground with Mr Edgar Kempson, and when we had finished the set I walked across the ground to speak to the two ladies, who were then on a form on the ground close to St Cuthbert's schoolroom. As I was going across the ground Vere was coming up from the Ship yard and made a signal to me, as I took it, to inquire if the Ladies were there. I beckoned him to go back. Notwithstanding that, he came forward just until he could see the ladies on the form, and then he turned back. Miss McKay turned round and smiled and said - "I'm afraid I shouldn't be here: I am keeping your friend away". She said this last to us generally, and I had been talking to her at the time. We then began a 4-handed set of tennis, and Vere had gone off the premises. Miss Kempson and I took the top corner, and Miss McKay and Mr Kempson the bottom one. We were looking towards the entrance. We had one game and commenced a second. The game took about 5 minutes but we did not begin directly he had left".

"In the middle of the second game I saw Vere walking up from the Ship. Mr Kempson made some remark to Miss McKay which I did not catch, but I heard her say - "Then I shan't play". Vere walked up to where she was playing. She had then her back to him but she faced him and pulled herself up as he came to her. I saw a motion of his arm and heard a report, Miss McKay said - "Oh! Oh!" twice then fell backwards. I saw Vere put his hand up to his head and saw a pistol in his hand. He fired, then partly turned round, and fell over. Mr. Kempson at once ran for assistance. Miss Kempson and I ran up to the two. I saw Vere was dead. He never moved. We lifted up Miss McKay. She wasn't dead. Miss Kempson held her head. We saw she was dying fast. She was not conscious. We remained there about 3 minutes, when Mr. Rowland Coombs came. Then I took Miss Kempson away to the rectory. Miss McKay was not then dead".

"To jurors: The tennis ground is a private ground but has been hired for the last three years by Mr. Edgar Kempson for lawn tennis. The only entrance is through the Ship yard. Miss McKay came by invitation. Vere did not come into the ground the second time he appeared; he was there three times really. The time Miss McKay pulled herself up was when he rushed to her, and she faced him as much as to say - "I think you are going too far". She pulled herself up in a dignified way. There were no words between them. When I made a sign to Vere not to come upon the ground, I did so because I had reason to believe that Mr. Vere and Miss McKay were not on speaking terms, and I thought their presence together would be disagreeable to each other. I had no reason to think that Vere was otherwise than sober. I had not the slightest reason to suspect otherwise".

"The Coroner: You say you had reason to believe they were not on speaking terms. You can give us a little more information than that?"

"Witness: I heard, as a matter of rumour, that there was a little unpleasantness between the two and I acted upon that; but I know nothing else of it. Miss McKay turned away at first as if she was going to sit down, but then turned back and turned her face to him".

"Mr. EDGAR KEMPSON deposed: I am articled to Mr. Piper, solicitor, and reside at St. Cuthbert's Rectory. I have heard the evidence of the previous witness and it is a quite correct statement of what took place, but there are several additions I could make to it slightly bearing on the case. When Vere came on the ground - in fact he had been in the habit of playing constantly with us - I said something like "Hallo Vere, are you going to play this evening?" That was when he came on the ground the first time. He said - "Well, yes, I don't mind if I do; I think I will". We had a few more words, and then he saw them (the two ladies) coming in. He uttered some exclamation of surprise on seeing Miss McKay. I fancy I said then that it was a matter of surprise to me, or something of that sort, and he said, "I'll clear out if that's the case". I replied - "Very well, I shall perfectly understand it". I think that's all the addition I have to make to that part of Mr. Stimson's evidence. I saw Vere come a second time, in about 10 minutes. He looked at me as much as to say - "Is she there?" I nodded my head as much as to say - "Yes". Miss McKay turned round and saw him, and she then looked at me and smiled. Vere then went away. Directly afterwards I went across home to fetch Miss McKay's tennis shoes. As I went I saw Vere in the distance beyond the turning into Grove Place (beyond Mr. Piper's house). He was walking slowly towards St. Peter's then, with his back towards me. When I was crossing back again from our house to the Ship yard I saw Vere a little nearer to me, coming towards me. I then went across and Vere came in, as Mr. Stimson has said, in about 5 minutes to 10 minutes' time. As I was playing with Miss McKay I turned round to pick up a ball and saw Vere come up the Ship yard. I said to Miss McKay - "Here he is again". She said to me - "If he comes I shan't play". I said - "Oh nonsense, never mind him; go on". She turned a little way to walk towards the base line of the court, and I hit the ball over the net to my sister, and while doing so I heard a shot. I looked round as saw Miss McKay falling and I think she recognized me. I then heard another shot and saw Vere fall over. There was not an interval of two seconds between the two shots. I ran at once for a doctor".

"The foreman: The last witness said that Mr. Vere and Miss McKay were not on speaking terms. It is not for us to go into the subject, but I would ask you if there was any reason for anticipating an assault or anything to justify it? - Witness: Do you mean if I had reason to expect an assault on the girl?"

"The foreman: Yes - Witness: No".

"The foreman: Or anything to justify it? - Witness: No. I knew nothing that could justify an assault".

"The Coroner: We have a murderous assault committed upon a lady and we know no reason for it whatever at present - Witness: I knew there had been a quarrel between them".

"Mr. Roberts: There was an estrangement, I suppose, or coldness? - Witness: yes. I knew there had been a quarrel between them".

"When Miss McKay said - "I shan't play", was that in the hearing of Vere? Witness: I should certainly say he could not hear. I could hear it plainly enough, but he certainly could not have heard it".

"Mr. E. Smith: Has Mr. Vere and Miss McKay been in the habit of playing on that ground previously? - Witness: Mr. Vere had, but I believe that was the first game of tennis Miss McKay had played in her life".

"Had she been present at any other game that he was playing at? - Not this year certainly. I cannot answer for last year. She had been on the ground but certainly had not played tennis before".

"Captain Fegen: Had Mr. Vere time to go home between the intervals of your seeing him leave the field and his return? - Witness: I should think there was time for him to fetch the pistol. He was beyond Grove Place, so evidently if he had been home he went between the first and second time and not between the second and third time. My second time is the second time that Mr. Stimson saw him, but my third time is not the third time that he was seen by Mr. Stimson".

"Mr. Tebbs: Might he during that game have had time to go to his place and fetch the pistol? - Witness: I think he might".

"When was this quarrel, Mr. Kempson? - Well, of course I only know it from hearsay".

"The Coroner: You are not to give hearsay evidence. You said there was a quarrel: did you know it from Vere? - Yes".

"Mr. Tebbs: they had never been engaged to be married?  - No to the best of my belief".

"Mr. A. Smith: Have you ever heard Vere threaten to injure her? - No I have not".

"Mr. Tebbs: was not the quarrel a week on the Monday previous? - Yes. I was present, but some distance off. I can say this, with truth, that Mr. Vere was attached to her".

"And didn't you know it from Vere and from being present at the entertainment that a quarrel was the cause of the estrangement: Yes, I know they had a quarrel".

"To Mr. Roberts: I know they had a quarrel a week last Monday. I have reason to believe that Mr. Vere's attentions were not favourably received either by Miss McKay or her family".

13 Saint Cuthbert's Street in June 2009 - this was William Jones' house
13 Saint Cuthbert's Street in June 2009 - this was William Jones' house

"WM. JONES, a by of 15, deposed: I am son of Mr. Jones, baker, St. Cuthbert's. Our back premises adjoin the Ship paddock. Yesterday evening, about 7 o'clock, I was sitting on the wall watching them play lawn tennis. Mr. Stimson was at one end with Miss Kempson, and Mr. Kempson was at the other end with Miss McKay. They had one game which lasted about 5 minutes, and commenced another. They had not been playing long before Miss McKay stepped on her side with her back towards me. Then I saw Mr. Vere come sharp round the corner and Miss McKay turned towards him. He stopped within a yard from her, drew a revolver from his outside right pocket and fired at Miss McKay's breast. (A six-chambered revolver was now produced). She hollaed twice and then fell. He then pointed the pistol to his own head and fired. He fell and died in about a minute. Miss Kempson ran and held Miss McKay up, and Mr. Kempson went for a doctor. I then got off the wall and ran and told my father".

"By the foreman: Mr. Vere did not address Miss McKay nor did she speak to him".

"ROSETTA DARLOW, servant at the Ship deposed: yesterday about 7.15 I was looking out of the window and saw Mr. Vere come down the street, apparently in a great haste, towards the Ship. All at once he stood quite still and then walked into the Ship. He called for two glasses of brandy in one glass, which I served him at once. It was 8d. worth. He just tasted it and that was all, and then set the glass down, asking if that glass would be all right standing there. I immediately said Yes. Then he laid his stick on the table saying - "I will leave my stick here". He then asked me how much the brandy was and I said 8d. He took some money from his pocket and gave me a 2s. piece, saying he would call for his change when he came back. I then got the change and on going to the door I heard the boys making a noise up the yard. I ran up and saw Mr. Vere lying on the ground. I went further and saw Miss McKay".

"To Mr. Roberts: Mr. Vere had a little water to the brandy, but he did not drink. He merely tasted it".

"To Mr. Smith: He appeared rather excited".

"Mr. ROWLAND H. COOMBS, surgeon, deposed: Yesterday evening about 7 o'clock Mr. Kempson came to fetch me. I ran with him to the Ship paddock. I found the body of Mr. Vere lying with the face upwards. Seeing him to b dead I passed onto Miss McKay. She was not quite dead. She breathed twice after I arrived. She was unconscious. The revolver now produced I recognise as the one that I then saw lying on the ground and subsequently in the hands of the police. I made an external examination of the body of Miss McKay this morning. In the dress I found a torn and charred hole in the right lappet of her dress and a large patch of bloodstain, about the size of the palm of the hand, surrounding the hole. The right busk of the corset at the top was twisted, and the material was torn, charred and blood stained. There was a similar torn, charred and blood stained hole in the chemisette. There was a recent circular wound of the size of a shilling exactly in a line with the nipple at the junction of the cartilage of the fifth rib with the breast-bone on the right side. The wound just allowed the forefinger to pass easily into the chest. The skin around the margin of the wound was much discoloured. There was no other wound on the body. The wound would have been produced by a revolver similar to that produced, and discharged very near the body. There were marks of gunpowder upon the clothing, and also of burning. The right side of the hearty was penetrated".

"This concluded the evidence, and the jury retired to a side-room for deliberation. After a very brief interval they returned into court, and the foreman announced that they had found a

VERDICT OF WILFUL MURDER

Against Hubert Wigram Veasey Vere. The formal inquisition was then duly enrolled, and the Coroner made over to Mr. Cottingham G. Johnson the necessary authority for the burial of the deceased lady".

Saint Cuthberts Court from Castle Road - looking towards the former Ship Paddock June 2009
Saint Cuthberts Court from Castle Road - looking towards the former Ship Paddock June 2009