George Miles was an unhappy man.
In January 1860 PC 569 from the City police was patrolling London Bridge when he saw Miles ‘leaning forward on the parapet, with his hands clasped, as if in the act of prayer’. Miles then stood up and stepped forward as if he was about to throw himself into the river Thames below, saying (apparently to no one in particular) ‘Oh! There you are, are you? I see you and I’ll soon come to you’.
As he prepared to launch himself the policeman acted quickly and grabbed hold of his coat and pulled him back to safety. As he struggled with the officer he shouted ‘the Lord bids me come, the Lord bids me come!’.
He was quite drunk and the PC had to ask several bystanders to help him bring George under control. But the man was not easily subdued, as hands grasped at him him he grabbed at them and tried to force them into his mouth. It wasn’t until a second policeman arrived that Miles was finally subdued.
When he was back at the station and beginning to sober up he told the police that it was all his wife’s fault that he had tried to kill himself. The next day he was presented before the Lord Mayor at Mansion House Police Court charged with attempting his own life. Suicide was illegal until 1961 and ‘successful’ suicides were denied a Christian burial until late in the 19th century.
Miles admitted to being ‘tipsy’ at the time he decided to end his life and at the first the magistrate told he he ought to be ashamed of himself and asked whether he was a habitual drunk. ‘No, my lord, indeed I am not!’
Now a witness appeared to support Miles. A Mr Coombes told the Lord Mayor that he had employed George Miles as a superintendnent at a ragged school for 15 years. Throughout that time he had been a ‘strictly sober man’ but recently he had fallen into ‘despondency’ after a bad row with his wife.
The dispute had undermined the marriage to such an extent that the couple had split up, with Miles paying his estranged partner 5s a week from his wages. This was not enough for Mrs Miles however, and she had recently (and vindictively) spread a false rumour that Miles was robbing his master.
It wasn’t true and luckily Mr Coombes was happy to stand by his employee. The Lord Mayor told Miles that while his behaviour had been shameful he recognised the underlying reasons and added that ‘he need not fear anything his wife might say while he possessed the confidence of his employer’.
Gorge Miles was discharged and hopefully his failed attempt on his life had shocked him and alerted those that cared about him (including his wife who was in court).
[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, January 22, 1860]