The Warnes letter
The Times, 14 May 1845 p.6.
The following dreadful and truly disgusting letter I extract from a local journal. Few men can have sympathy with the writer of such an article, and I am told that it is the intention of the jury to have him up before them viz.:-
"The chains on the Yarmouth side broke and let it down, only on that side remember, while the other side still hung all right. You will have an exact resemblance by letting the leaf of a table down. Not a timber or bar of the bridge broke, but it shot us all into the water. There we were - the screams were horrible - they were heard for miles. To supernatural presence of mind and a strong arm I owe my escape. I felt an iron under me, and clung to it in a death-grasp, my mouth full of salt water, for the tide was up. I raised myself on the bridge, and got my head above water. I clung up the iron and looked around me, scarcely had I done so (I was not out of the water further than my chin), than a man grasped me round the neck, his head just above the water - I felt myself going - I drew my arm back, and struck him on the face - I hit him hard, for the skin is off my knuckles. A woman next seized me: I was forced to strike her, and her blood spurted from her nose all over her face, and dimmed her eyes. I was the only one above water, but the bridge gave another move, I was under. I rose again, but folks were under the water clinging to me. The case was now desperate; I felt my pocket, and holding by one hand, I opened my knife with the other, and cut all down my legs, but could not make them leave go. My knife and hands were covered with blood. A woman seized my waistcoat; she was young, and really handsome, a tradesman's daughter. I did not like to strike her, but necessity was imperative - I hit her, she rolled over and drowned. Never shall I forget her look at me. It seemed to say, 'You murdered me.' I once more used my knife about a man, and jumped to a boat, and was pulled in, with two girls clinging to me, and got safe on shore. The presence of mind that supported me during this trial instantly deserted me, and I was carried to the next public-house - I drank some brandy, and walked home, with my hands and face covered in blood. I went to bed and dreamt of it. I thought the woman whom I last struck came and reproached me for murdering her," &c.
Norfolk Chronicle 24 May 1845 p.2.
THE CORONER also called attention to the letter that appeared in the Bury Post. He stated, that a letter had been put into his hands respecting the writer of that communication, and he had been made acquainted with the name of the author of that horrible detail, whom he should feel it to be his duty to subpoena to give evidence on Wednesday next. They no doubt had read the letter to which he referred as well as himself; about a man, or something less than a man, who, whilst struggling between death and life, took a penknife from his pocket, and cut away several persons who clung to him for support, and amongst then a young and beautiful female, whose youth and beauty he represented himself as being able to observe in his perilous condition, and whilst she was under the water. Being able to relate in so statistical a manner all that transpired, this witness either could or could not throw great light upon this transaction; they must judge (if still adhered to his original statement) how much credit they would attach to it. The Jury, he thought, would agree with him as to the propriety at least of having him examined before them.
Mr. J.E. Laws enquired, if the Coroner would mention the name of the writer.
The CORONER had rather not until Wednesday.
One of the Jury present said he had understood it was a Mr. Warnes, Solicitor's Clerk, in the office of Messrs. Fisher and Lucas.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 21.
Charles Warnes was called, an articled clerk in the office of Messrs. Fisher, Lucas and Steward, Yarmouth, and the writer of the extraordinary narrative first published in the Bury Post. He came forward to the witness box, and appeared to be a good deal confused, by the awkward and unenviable position in which he had placed himself. Being sworn, he said, in answer to questions: - I am a lawyer's clerk, residing in this town. I remember the evening of the 2nd of May last. I wrote a letter that appeared in the papers relative to the late accident. I wrote it in a very excited state, having been drinking brandy. - The CORONER, Are the statements you made in the letter true? - Witness. Certainly not. - CORONER, Perhaps you were in such a state that you cannot tell us what happened. - Witness, I can tell you something that happened. There were many people beside me on the bridge. I remarked the shock which the witnesses have spoken of, three of four minutes before the bridge fell. It seemed as if some heavy body had fallen on the bridge. I did not hear anything like a cracking noise. I felt the bridge go down all at once; I have no idea what happened after. - The CORONER, Were you aware that the letter would be published? - Witness, Certainly not; it was treacherously published. I wrote to my brother, intending merely to let him know that I was safe. I did not know that the letter would be sent to the editor of a paper. The editor got hold of it through a taz-gatherer at Bury. It was shown to his daughter in whose hands it was left. - CORONER, Was the letter not addressed to the editor of the paper? - Witness, Certainly not. - The CORONER. I think you are under a mistake. - [Mr. J. Davey, one of the jury, said it was not addressed to the editor.] - Witness, It was written on the night of the occurence. I put it into the post on the following day. Why did you send it? - Witness, I did not open the letter to read it; if I had opened it, I should never have sent it. I am very sorry that such a thing happened. - The CORONER, Have you been reading novels lately, about a tradesman's daughter being under the water? - The witness gave no answer. - The CORONER, Why did did you conclude it was a tradesman's daughter being under the water? - Witness, I don't know anything about it. - The CORONER, Did you take out a knife, as you have stated? - Witness, I did not know that I had a knife. The letter was written when I was in a very excited state. - The CORONER, It is right the public should know what sort of letters are published every now nd then [addressing witness]. How much brandy had you? - Witness, Two sixpenny-worths. - The CORONER, How did you get out of the water? - Witness, I jumped into a boat and was pulled ashore. I am very sorry that the letter should have been published. - The CORONER, It was done with a very disreputable feeling. You almost criminate yourself in that letter. - Witness, I had no idea what I wrote. I'll take care that I never do so again. - The CORONER, You must contradict the whole of the letter, as it is not true. - Witness, I contradict it here publicly. The CORONER, I ask you, as you want to atone for this worst than falsehood, will you contradict the whole of it? - The Witness, I contradict it here; and whatever I say will be reported.
Some conversation here ensued, as to the manner in which the letter should be contradicted; whether only in Court, or through the same medium by which the statement has been circulated; when witness was again asked whether he would contradict it?
Mr. SAYERS, who appeared for the young man, said, I'll undertake that he shall do so. The letter was addressed to the editor. - The CORONER, The proper course to be pursued is, that he should sign a statement to that effect in presence of the court and jury. - Mr. SAYERS, I think it is quite sufficient, that I should undertake, that the statement should be contradicted. - Mr. SMITH, a juryman, said, he wished the Coroner's suggestion should be put into effect. - Mr. PRATT, another juryman, asked, whether the identity of the individual, as the writer of the letter, ought not to be clearly made out? The Editor of the Bury Paper says, the letter was addressed to him. - Witness, It was not addressed to him; and he had no business to publish it.
The CORONER, having procured a copy of the Bury Post, read the letter in question, which produced a strong felling of disgust in court.
Witness, in answer to further questions put by the jurors, said, I wrote the concluding part of the letter on the following morning. I did dream of what happened. - The CORONER, You told me, you did not look at that letter on the following morning. - Witness, I beg your pardon. I said I did not read it.
Mr. SAYERS, - Will you just identify the original letter? I should be sorry to stifle any investigation, but I undertake that the letter shall be contradicted to the satisfaction of the jury. - Witness, I am very sorry it occurred.
The CORONER here read the statement of the witness so far as he had proceeded.
Mr. GARROD [one of the jury]. Let the jury known what part of the letter is true and what part is false? - Witness, I don't know what part I wrote; I did not read the letter the next morning; I believe I wrote the last two paragraphs next morning. Part of the letter is true and part is false. - The CORONER, What part is untrue? - Witness, That part in which I said that I used a knife; but other parts are untrue.
Mr. SAYERS,- I submit you must identify the letter, - Mr. J.E. LAWS, - Why you admit the letter.
The CORONER, - Are your knuckles well now? The witness pulled off his gloves to shew his knuckles, by the direction of his professional adviser.
The deposition was then handed to the witness, and after various explanations and amendments, he signed it, after which the subject was dropped. - It appeared extraordinary, that a mere youth, moving in a respectable sphere of life, should fabricate such a series of falsehoods, respecting such a calamity out of sheer wantonness; and an apparent desire to show his contempt of human life.