Taunton Courier 24 Apr 1817 Murder and Suicide at Fivehead

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Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser Thursday 24 Apr 1817

Page 5 Column 1 & 2

Murder and Suicide at Fivehead. - The following account contains further details of the melancholy event, the outlines of which we communicated in our last. The statement respecting the manner in which FLEMING became possessed of the sword and pistols, we know to be not correctly given, and the presumption of his recovered sanity is ill supported by his alleged determination to reside in a madhouse. The other parts of the narrative are we believe accurately stated. The management of the house not long since attracted the attention of the magistrates, and as the keeper is obliged to renew his annual license at the next Midsummer Sessions, a proper inquiry into the truth of all the statements relative to this establishment will no doubt be thought necessary. A Lunatic Asylum in this county would be an Institution highly worthy of the public spirit and humanity which pervades it. Cornwall has very recently supplied the generous example, and we know that a project of this laudable nature, if the execution of it were attempted, would not want a very respectable share of patronage and support.

We are favoured with the following particulars of a fhocking catastrophe, which took place at a Lunatic Asylum at Fivehead House, near Taunton, on Sunday the 12th inftant. A Captain FLEMING, a half pay officer in the army, was placed under the care of Mr. GILLETT, the proprietor of this Afylum about five years ago, and remained a patient under his care about three years, when he was pronounced sane, and confequently fuffered to refume his functions, and at perfect liberty to go where he pleafed; however he prefered remaining a lodger at this place, because he faid he received great civility and refpect there, and he knew of no place where he could be more happy. Mr. GILLETT had an invitation a fhort time fince to go to Exeter, and to take Captain FLEMING with him, together with another gentleman, also a lodger there. Captain FLEMING made fome excufe, and declined accompanying them, and in the interim wrote a letter to an old brother officer, a Captain MILLER, late Payfster and agent to the Stafford Militia, then refiding in London, requefting the favour of seeing him; that he had many things to communicate to him, particularly of a pecuniary kind, that he was getting in years, and proposed making his will, that he wifhed him to be prefent, as he intended to give him a power of attorney to transact bufiness for him, and preffed him to come immediately. In confequence of this request, Captain MILLER arrived at the Afylum before mentioned, on Sunday the 12th instant about noon. We underftand that it was impoffible a more friendly meeting could have taken place, they dined together with the family, talk over their old campaigns (they were both advanced in years, Captain FLEMING 74, and Captain MILLER 65,) and both appeared uncommonly cheerful. Mrs. GILLETT knowing that FLEMING had written to his friend MILLER to come to him on bufiness, caufed them to be left alone; they remained only a fhort time, and then adjourned to FLEMING's bed-room. In about ten minutes afterwards (at about half-paft two) the keeper heard a noise which alarmed him, but he thought it might be a patient unftairs, who is fometimes very high, as he termed it; however he ran up ftairs, and when about half way, distictly heard the report of a piftol. On entering the room it was full of fmoke, and the firft thing he faw, was Captain MILLER lying on the floor in the agonies of death; he attempted to lift him up but he instantly expired.

A piftol lay within two feet of him. About five or fix feet from MILLER lay FLEMING on his face, and the vital fpark had left him alfo. Another piftol lay about the fame diftance from him, and a three edged fword on the bed clofe by. On a more minute examination, in which Mr. RICH, a furgeon, attended, it appeared that a piftol had been fired by FLEMING at MILLER, who had been fitting in a chair at a table in the act of writing, having his fpectacles on, and a pen in his hand; that FLEMING ftood behind him, as the ball entered a little below the left fhoulder blade; that the pistol not having had the immediate effect intended, FLEMING made ufe of the fword, and pierced his friend in the body, as many as feven or eight times, and then, with another pistol, fhot himfelf through the head. Wonderful as this may appear, it is a fact, that all this murder and felf murder was accomplifhed within ten minutes after they had left the dining room. It might naturally be enquired how came thofe deftructive weapons in the room. It appears that at the time Captain FLEMING was brought to the Afylum, all his trunks, &c. were depofited there, and the keys given to the proprietor, who, on his patient being pronounced fane, returned every thing to him again, without ever having examined the contents of his trunks, in which unqueftionably lay thofe deadly weapons. FLEMING wrote two letters on Saturday the 12th inft, and left them in a drawer in his bed room, addreffed to the Rev. Mr. GALE, a vifiting Magiftrate of the Afylum, which alone were fufficient to prove his infanity. Mr. CAINES, of Langport, helf inquefts on Wednefday laft, when the Jury returned a verdict of Murder againft FLEMING, and on his own inqueft that he was infane.


The Rev. J. GALE, one of the visiting magistrates, appointed to inspect the house at Fivehead, has requested us to communicate the following authentic particulars of this unhappy affair.

Angersleigh, April 22d, 1817.

Sir, - As I have myself erred, as well as the copier of my letter to my son, respecting the late murder of Captian MILLER, and the fuicide of Mr. FLEMING, I wift to correct such errors as appear in an extract from my letter in fome of the London papers.

In the extract alluded to, it appears, I wrote “that Mr. FLEMING firft murdered his friend, partly by a sword and lastly by a piftol fhot.” I think in the original it was “partly by a fword and partly by a piftol fhot.” It would have been more correct, however, if I had written partly by a piftol fhot and partly by a fword, becaufe circumftances prove that a piftol was firft ufed for the murder of Captain MILLER.

If the sword had been firft ufed for the murderous purpose, the public might reasonably suspect that a conteft or scuffle took place between Mr. FLEMING and his antagonift poor Captain MILLER. - It is due therefore to the memory of that unfortuate Gentleman, to endeavour to remove every suspicion which the circumftances of the case do not juftify – for which purpose I requeft you to insert in your Paper the fimple ftatement of the following facts.

The Chamber in which the bodies lay is about 14 feet in length, the window is in the eaft end, there was a table about eight feet from the window, placed oppofite the fide of the bed againft the north wall of the room, at the weft end of the chamber is a projection of the wall, upon which was a deal fword case, in which Mr. FLEMING's sword and piftols were usually kept; this sword case, however, was locked, but it was fufficiently deep to have concealed the weapons if they had been placed behind it. About seven or eight feet from the weft end of the room was a chair, in fuch a pofition at the weft end of the table, as a chair would moft probably be found in, if a perfon had haftily rifen from it. On the tale was an ink-ftand, a paper containing the heads of Captain MILLER's will, with blanks for names and fums, another paper containing the form of what I believe is called a power of attorney, and a third containing an unfinifhed copy of the fame in Captain MILLER's hand writing, Captain MILLER was on his back about five feet from the table, his fpectacles on, and a pen still in his hand. He breathed once when the keeper entered the room, and expired. A pistol fhot had entered his back, a deep sword would appeared in his cheft, and feveral flight ones on different parts of his body. Mr. FLEMING's body was found on the floor at the eaft end of the chamber, a ball had entered the right fide of his head, and paffed through on the oppofite fide. A discharded piftol lay a fhort diftance from his right hand. A fword and another difcharged piftol lay on the bed. There were no other weapons of any description found in the room. No altercation or noife of any kind was heard before the explofion of the firft piftol, when the keeper, after a very fhort hefitation proceeded towards the chamber, and whilft afcending the ftairs, heard the report of the second piftol, and Mr. FLEMING drop.

There were two looking glaffes in the window, which had they been in their usual pofition, would have fhown to Captain MILLER, as I fuppose him to have been seated at the table, the fword cafe and any other object in the weft end of the room – one of such glaffes, however, was turned on its face upon the window board, and the other with its face towards the window.

There were two letters found in the room dated the 12th inft. written by Mr. FLEMING, and addreffed to myfelf, the contents of which sufficiently proved his premeditation of self-murder.

I am, Sir, &c &c.


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