Shocking Death at Launceston

“Shocking Death at Launceston – A Young Lady Shot” with thanks to Nigel Jonas.

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“It has lately fallen to the lot of Launceston to receive many painful surprises, sickness and death having laid their relentless hands on not a few of its most useful and respected inhabitants in a sad and unexpected manner; but amongst them all the most distressing calamity is that which occurred at Carthamartha on Monday, and which greatly intensified the gloom which had already settled down upon the town and neighbourhood. Carthamartha, as is doubtless well known to many thousands of people who have had the pleasure of visiting it, is a romantic and lovely spot about 6 miles from Launceston, commanding extensive and charming views of the valley of the Tamar and the Cornish and Devonshire hills in the distance. It is the home of A.B.Collier, Esq., the gallant Major of the 2nd Duke of Cornwall Rifle Volunteers and a well-known artist, his keen sense of the beautiful in Nature made his home scenes particularly dear to him. But alas! like much else that is beautiful in this world, have for him and many sympathising friends been blackened by a great sorrow. Carthamartha was occupied by Major and Mrs. Collier and their two daughters, and on Monday afternoon the utmost surprise and dismay were caused in Launceston by the intelligence that the youngest, Miss Lilian, who was widely known as a clever artist as well as for her pleasant genial manner and her numerous deeds of charity, had been found in the library shot dead with a gun. It appears that the unfortunate young lady saw her father off to the hunt on the morning in question, and returned to the house, being seen by one of the servants to enter the studio specially set apart for her use. Her manner and appearance were in no way altered. A short time after, the report of a gun was heard from the studio, and on Mrs. Collier proceeding there she found the door fastened on the inside. In response to her calls, William Tickell, a general servant, came, and being unable to open the door, kicked in one of the panels. Inside he found Miss Lilian lying on the floor, apparently lifeless, and with a gun lying across her body. Tickell at once started off for the doctor, and meanwhile Mrs. Collier and the servants removed deceased to her bedroom. When Dr. W.F.Thompson arrived he saw at once that these services were of no avail, and gave it as his opinion that death must have been instantaneous. Deceased celebrated her 27th birthday on the 12th of December, was a niece of Sir R. Collier, Lord Justice of Appeal, of Mr. W.F. Collier, and of Lieutenant-Col. M. Collier. Very naturally rumour was busy in trying to find an explanation of the distressing occurrence, and the rapidity with which reports were manufactured bore testimony to the versatility of the authors’ imagination, and was only equalled by the absolute impossibility of entire contradiction, seeing that the young lady met with her untimely death unseen by any human eye.”

That’s just the intro. The Victorians never used one word where six would do. At this size of text, it would take another five pages to cover the description of the inquest, but I can tell you that the inquest “was held in Major Collier’s studio at Carthamartha on Tuesday afternoon by Mr. G. Graham-White, sen., county coroner. The jury was composed of the following gentlemen:–John Langman Littlejohns (foreman), Richard Pearse, Richard Francis Gubbin, John Whitford, John Kittow, Thomas Goodman, Robert Leverton, Isaiah W. Bright Dainty, James Maddever, Wm. Brawn, John Hocken, and John Bennett Hocken. Supt. Sherston watched the case on behalf of the police.”

At the coroners inquest a verdict of accidental death was recorded by the jury.

So the crosses on the Rezare “holy well” are actually in memory of only one person: Lilian Collier. However, the story doesn’t really end there. When my parents bought the mouldering, part ruinous old house at Carthamartha in 1961, one of the reasons they demolished it was that they thought it was haunted, though they had yet to hear of the tragedy 76 years earlier. Three years after that, in the new house built on the site, I lay in bed in the dark, in the very room where I now write this. I heard a voice saying, very quietly, “Help me! Please help me!”

But there was nobody there.

If anybody wants to see the account of the inquest, please ask (nigel@jonas.plus.com).

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