6th March 1899

Mystery man’s fatal fall at Fort Regent

Mystery surrounded the death of John Edward Redden, who had died shortly after falling on steps at Fort Regent. The doctor who attended him when he’d been brought home refused to issue a certificate explaining how he’d died.

Redden had been a signal man at the fort, so it’s no surprise that when he fell passers-by had taken him to the guard room to recover. Other soldiers stationed there had assumed that Redden was drunk, and it was true that he had met a friend for a single pint of beer before coming to the fort. However, when the soldiers returned to the guard room several hours later, they were mistaken in assuming that the unconscious man was merely sleeping off the effects of his drinking. They left him there until the following morning when they carried him home, still unconscious.

A medic arrives

By that point it was obvious that something was seriously wrong, and the doctor was called at last. Declaring that it was too late for him to save the signal man, he criticised the guard who had brought him in and, later, criticised Redden’s wife for laying him out so that friends and family could pay their respects when, in fact, he shouldn’t have been touched for fear of disturbing any evidence.

What “evidence” there was, was quite obvious. Redden’s hands were bruised from the fall but, more curious than that, he also had an old wound on the back of his neck, which had been stitched up some months before. This, explained the wife, had happened when Redden had fallen down some stairs the previous January, on account of having weak ankles.

There was also some confusion over exactly what Redden’s movements had been after the drink he’d had with a friend. He had allegedly been with his eight-year-old son who claimed that Redden had left him at the top of the steps to Fort Regent, but this was disputed by another signal man who claimed Redden had not been seen at all that afternoon, despite his apparent presence in the guard room.

Who was the victim?

After that came the question of who – exactly – John Redden was. Although he was recorded as being 37, his wife had papers showing that he was a native of Tipperary, Ireland, who would have been 40-years-old in 1890, making him not 37 but 48 or 49 at the time of his death.

The initial inquiry into his death was adjourned for a week to give time for a post mortem, the verdict of which was that he had died from his fall, which had caused a brain haemorrhage that had compressed his brain. Had the guards recognised that it was the fall and not drink from which he was suffering, doctors might have been able to save him, they said, by drilling through his skull to relieve the pressure.


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