For some years we have been intrigued by a
comment in a letter from a first cousin once
removed of my husband's grandfather:
'what wonderful ages all our ancestors
and ancestresses attained. All of them over
or near 80 except my grandfather, Stephen,
who in afit of religious mania stepped out of
a window when talking to St Paul and broke
his neck in 1864 aged 59'.
But how did anyone know he was talking to St
Paul and, indeed, why was he talking to St Paul?
At last curiosity got the better of us. It was
easy to get a copy of his death certificate which
gave the cause of death as a fall from a window
whilst in a state of insanity. The informant was
the Coroner of Torquay. This raised other
questions. What was Stephen Spurling, a London
stockbroker who lived in Camberwell, doing in
Torquay? The inquest should give the answer but
unfortunately the Torquay inquests have not
survived. This left newspapers as the only
possible source of further information and the
Devon Studies Centre was very conveniently across
the corridor from the Exeter Record Office. The
Studies Centre had no copies of the Torquay paper
for that period but was very helpful in
suggesting where else to search. Luckily for us,
news was sparse around Christmas and we found the
following short report in a West Country weekly1:
Stephen Spurling, Esq., a member of
the Stock Exchange, London has committed
suicide. He was advised to leave London a
fortnight since for the benefit of his health.
Accompanied by his wife and two children and
his brother, Mr. Spurling went first to
Sidmouth for afew days - thence to Exeter,
where he became very excited, and Dr Budd
advised that he should be strictly watched.
Leaving Exeter they went to Torquay and
lodged at No. 2 Sulyarde-terrace, and the
next morning the unfortunate gentleman, who
was apparently asleep when the person in
attendance upon him left the room,jumped out
of the window -some thirty feet in height. He
was killed on the spot. Verdict -'Temporary
insanity'. The cause is said to arise from
the recent death of a favourite child.
It was relatively easy to track down the
recent death of his favourite child: four year
old Hubert had died in early September after 55
days suffering from typhoid fever. We don't know
if the brother accompanying Stephen was Percival,
my husband's great grandfather.
1. Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, Devon,
Cornwall, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire and
Gloucestershire Advertiser. Vol Cii, No. 5, 142,
Exeter, Wednesday December 28, 1864. Seen on
microfilm at the Devon Studies Centre, Exeter.