“Overdose” verdict in Guernsey farmer’s death inquiry

Guernsey farmer Hilary Rougier’s death was ruled an overdose at an inquiry that concluded on the 31st May 1928. It brought a partial conclusion to a long-running investigation into how he had died.

Rougier had moved to the mainland from Guernsey, and lodged with a Mr and Mrs Lerwill. In summer 1926 they all moved to Surrey and, on 24 August, the Lerwills called the doctor to attend to Mr Rougier. Upon arrival, the doctor found him in a coma. Rougier never recovered, and the doctor ascribed his cause of death to a cerebral haemorrhage.

Extravagant spending

Rougier had been in his late 70s, so his death wasn’t entirely surprising, which perhaps explains why the doctor had enquired no further. However, when executors started to process Rougier’s estate, they discovered that his considerable fortune had disappeared. At this point, the authorities started to get suspicious.

Had Rougier been cremated, there might have been no possibility of finding out that the doctor had been mistaken. However, Rougier had been buried in Woking, allowing the police to exhume his remains in March 1928. A Home Office pathologist performed a post-mortem that revealed the presence of morphine in Rougier’s organs. Considering it was by then almost two years since he had died, this indicated that he’d taken or been given a very large dose – potentially enough to kill him.

An inquest was opened at which the jury ruled, on 31 May 1928, that the poison had not been self-administered. The police took no further action.

Lerwill’s demise

The newspapers suggested that William Lerwill may have killed Rougier but, because no police charges had been laid against him, he successfully sued them. He moved to Canada, but returned when his money ran out, and stayed in a series of hotels, some of which were in the west country, despite being unable to pay his way.

When a policeman challenged him about an outstanding bill, he swigged from a bottle and fell down dead. It was later discovered that the bottle had contained prussic acid.

This was the same method of suicide chosen by John Hutchinson, who killed himself at a St Peter Port boarding house when police caught up with him following the poisoning of his father.

No charge was ever laid against any member of the Lerwill family, and although the inquiry stated that the morphine had not been self-administered, it would not have been possible for the inquiry to judge that Rougier had not actually wanted to die.

Occupation stories occupy the mainland papers

The Channel Islands were the only British soil occupied by Germany during the second world war. Having been cut off for so long, it took time for the mainland papers to catch up.

By the end of May 1945, the month of liberation, they were regularly printing what news they could find about how life had been during the occupation. Many stories were excerpted from letters received by their readers. Several appeared on 30 May 1945 in particular.

The Gloucester Citizen recounted the story of EH Orchard, one of 3000 who had been deported from Guernsey to an internment camp in Germany. “He had been living on swede soup and a loaf of black bread a week, in concrete huts that were so damp that he could wring the water out of the two blankets he had to sleep in… No one has been able to fathom why they deported us from Guernsey but they were proud of the fact that it was the first time the Germans had moved British people from British soil.”

From famine to feast

The Lancashire Evening Post reprinted news from a Guernsey publisher who was looking to establish business with a Preston publishing company. “Conditions in Guernsey… were not too bad for four years but last August things took a change for the worse and the food position became increasingly serious. Happily, the Red Cross came to the assistance of the islanders in December and saved many lives.”

A letter quoted in the Coventry Evening Telegraph outlined the fact that even ordinary German soldiers were on starvation rations towards the end, but would share their food with the locals if they could. “The British troops came only just in time to save the civilians from starvation, but [she] adds that the long years of semi-starvation followed so suddenly by an abundance of food has cause many people in the island to have stomach trouble.”

They were then waiting for medicine to arrive to deal with the newly developed stomach complaints.

Guernsey woman advised to leave for her safety

Guernsey police advised a local to leave the island for her own safety.

Frances Laszczak, who was Frances Brewster until 1946 when she married a Polish man in Brighton, was accused of betraying a fellow islander. She and her mother had been taken to Berlin during the war to give evidence against John Ingrouille, who was accused of organising armed resistance against the Germans.

Laszczak denied having given any evidence against Ingrouille, but some on Guernsey didn’t believe her. Ingrouille had been held for four years after his trial, and died upon his release before he got back to Guernsey. As reported in the Daily Herald, “Some islanders still believed her to have been a collaborator. They began to threaten her. ‘Clear out before we get you,’ they said”.

No choice but to leave

With Guernsey police advising her to heed the warning, there was little she could do but head back to Brighton with all the money she had in the world – four shillings.

But mainland authorities didn’t want her husband to settle in Britain. They said he should return to Poland, which he was unwilling to do as it was then in the Russian sector. Guernsey authorities wouldn’t let him settle and find work in Guernsey, either.

Speaking to the Press in May 1947, Frances Laszczak said,

For a long time now, people have accused me of being responsible [for giving evidence against Ingrouille], but they are wrong. It was only my mother who gave evidence, and she was forced by the Germans to go to Berlin to do this. Had I wanted to speak in the Court, the Germans told me I could not do so as I was under age at the time.

John Ingrouille

John Henry Ingrouille was 20 years old when accused by the German occupying force of organising an armed resistance force of 800 men. His parents claimed that the accusation was first made by Laszczak and her mother, who then testified against him, first in court in Jersey, and then at a second hearing in Berlin.

Ingrouille was taken from his home on New Year’s eve 1941. After his trials, he was sentenced to five years hard labour in a concentration camp.

Upon his sentencing, the Bailiff, Victor Carey, wrote to the German Feldkommandantur asking that it be reduced. He argued that the statements Ingrouille had made claiming he would take action against the occupiers were the result of a less than average intelligence. The plea was rejected three months later.

Ingrouille survived his incarceration but died of tuberculosis on 13 June 1945 in the Third British General Hospital, Brussels. He was buried briefly in Brussels, but exhumed on 4 October 1946 and re-interred at Vale Cemetery 20 days later.

There is a stained glass window to his memory in Vale Church.

Frances Laszczak died of tuberculosis following childbirth, two years after the death of John Ingrouille.

Guernsey’s first paid constables were hired

Guernsey has had “constables” since the 13th century. Yet, it wasn’t until 1853 that it started paying them. Four men were appointed to the position in St Peter Port and the posts have been maintained ever since. It could even be said that this, technically, marked the official start of the Guernsey Police force.

Police on trial

Although the constables were hired on 28 May, they didn’t actually begin performing their duties until 1 June. A budget of £160 had been approved for a year’s trial by a vote in the States of Deliberation. However, almost a third of the Deputies had been against the move. The vote was passed by a margin of 45 to 22.

At the end of a successful first year, the four constables were hired on a permanent basis. Although it’s impossible to know for sure, their success in convicting John Tapner for the murder of Elizabeth Sujon likely played a part in the renewal. Tapner was the last person ever to be executed in Guernsey.

An expanding team

The force grew slowly over the next few years. In 1881 a further two paid constables were hired, and the number increased again – to 12 – in 1902.

A dozen constables might not sound like many, but it should be remembered that in the early days the force was still a local affair covering only St Peter Port.

The States of Guernsey Police Service proper was established in 1915. Again, it had been brought into existance following a vote in the States of Deliberation. It had an inspector, two sergeants, two corporals and eleven constables. Six further constables were transferred from the St Peter Port force to perform island-wide duties.

Work started on the Victoria Tower

When Queen Victoria made an unannounced visit to Guernsey in 1846 (see 24 August), she was the first reigning monarch to step foot on the island. Naturally, it was something to commemorate, so William Colling was commissioned to design a red granite tower in her honour.

It was built on the site of a windmill, which had been positioned high above Town to take advantage of its elevation. The resulting tower is 200m above sea level, and stands 100m tall, offering commanding views across St Peter Port.

Guernsey’s governor laid the foundation stone on 27 May 1848, and a time capsule containing Guernsey coins was set into the base.

Royal approval

If the intention had been to attract a second visit from the monarch, it worked. She and Prince Albert returned to Guernsey in 1859 to inspect the finished tower, which had cost £2000 to build.

Had she come much earlier, she might not have been amused. The cost of the works was high for the times, and it was only through public donations that the workers were finally paid all they were owed and were convinced to make good the site. Until the mid-1850s it had remained full of construction detritus.

Head of Guernsey CID is shot in St Peter Port

Chief Sergeant Harry Dyson was shot in the side in St Peter Port. It was 12.45am on 27 May 1949. He had been questioning a youth, accompanied by PC Robert West, at Ville au Roi.

Dyson had only taken over as head of Guernsey CID two days previously. He was rushed to the Princess Elizabeth Hospital, which by then still hadn’t officially been opened.

Fortunately, it was in use, though, as Dyson was in a critical condition. He had a bullet lodged in his left side, and was bleeding heavily.

Inquiries and an arrest

The following morning, Guernsey Police intercepted a 17-year-old. A student of St Peter Port College, he’d been boarding the mail boat to Southampton. Although he wasn’t initially arrested, they did ask him to help them with their inquiries into the shooting.

Those enquiries led to an arrest. On the Monday after the shooting, a 16-year-old student was charged with attempted murder. When he was brought to trial at the Royal Court, John Michael Bennet Lawes-Wittewronge, the son of a baronet, said that he always carried a weapon on him to give him confidence. In this instance, he’d been carrying a Luger, loaded with eight rounds. Lugers were used by the German troops that had occupied Guernsey during the second world war.

Secret testimony

Lawes-Wittewronge was allowed to give his evidence in secret after the court had been cleared. He stated that, as a boarder at St Peter Port College, he shouldn’t have been out of the college building when he’d been caught. He insisted he’d fired the shots in the hope of creating a diversion, which in turn would allow him to escape. His intention had not been to hit either policeman.

On 30 June, he was found not guilty of attempted murder, but guilty of wounding Dyson with intent to resist arrest. He was put on probation for three years. The verdict was delivered by a split jury that had voted eight to two in favour of the eventual decision.

Game of Thrones actor Roy Dotrice was born

Probably Guernsey’s most famous son, Roy Dotrice was born in 1923. He died in October 2007, aged ninety-four, having been awarded an OBE for services to drama in 2008. His father, Louis, had been a baker.

Roy Dotrice

When war broke out and German forces invaded the Channel Islands, Dotrice escaped in a small motorboat with his mother, brother, and some friends. They made it safely to the British south coast.

As soon as he was 16, and therefore old enough to sign up, he joined the RAF, where he served as a wireless operator and air gunner. He was shot down, taken prisoner and sent to a German prisoner of war camp in 1942. He remained there until the end of the war.

The acting life

It was in the camp that he was bitten by the acting bug. He initially played female roles, but when the war was over he embarked upon a career in theatre, television and film. Dotrice trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (Rada) and earned £4 a week playing at the Stockport Hippodrome.

In 1955, he founded the Guernsey Rep, and both acted and directed there for two years.

He was cast to play the part of Grand Maester Pycelle in the US TV series, Game of Thrones. However, he had to withdraw on the grounds of ill-health before filming could begin and replaced by Julian Glover. He later played the part of Hallyne the Pyromancer in the same series.

Double world record holder

He is well known to Game of Thrones fans as the narrator of the first three audiobooks of the series. This work earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records for playing the most characters in a single story – in this case, 224.

This wasn’t his first world record, though. He had previously been listed for his theatre work: specifically, his 1,782 appearances over nine years as diarist John Aubrey, in the play Brief Lives.

He played Leopold Mozart in the 1984 film Amadeus, and appeared in TV series including Babylon 5, Angel and Life Begins. His daughter Michelle found fame opposite Michael Crawford in the series Some Mothers Do Have ’Em. She played Frank Spencer’s wife, Betty, in the BBC comedy.

Image of Roy Dotrice by soldier2005 (Michelle & Roy Dotrice) CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Elizabeth College is founded in St Peter Port

Elizabeth College was founded on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I. Yet even with such grand patronage, the St Peter Port college that bears her name had an uncertain beginning.

The first head teacher lasted less than five years. Belgian-born Hadrian à Saravia, more commonly-known as Adrian Saravia, was appointed to establish and lead the school. However, he became so frustrated by the job that he left in 1568. He’d been there less than five years, and later assisted in the translation of the original King James Bible.

Slow growth

The pupils were so few in number at its founding – and for more than the next 200 years – that there were times when they were outnumbered by the teachers. It took until the 1820s for its to really find its way. It was then that a committee put together by the Lieutenant-Governor wrote a new curriculum, hired new teachers and enrolled more pupils. In order to push through their changes, they had to get rid of the headmaster, Daniel Durand. Fortunately, they bribed him with the promise of a pension, and he went.

Since then, it has never looked back. Over the years it has grown from the single building it initially occupied to the point where it now consumes a full 69 acres.

Elizabeth College during the war

The school premises were used by the occupying forces as a headquarters building during the Second World War. Its roll of 150 students had been evacuated en masse to Derbyshire before the forces arrived.

The Germans built a large, strong bunker in its grounds, which they used as an ammunition store. This is now the foundation of the school’s tennis court. When the island was liberated in 1945, the official announcement was made from the school steps, further cementing its position as a historical focal point for the island.

The Imperial Hotel opened for the first time

The Imperial Hotel has been a feature of Rocquaine Bay since 1895. It opened in time for the start of that year’s summer season, on 24 May.

It had 17 rooms for guests and a pavilion for picnic eating to one site. The Star described it as being “a considerable distance from town [but] placed in direct communication with it by the many cars that run daily around the island during the season”.

Just like old times

Getting to and from Town may now be easier, and the hotel has been extended over the years, but otherwise many features remain the same. It still has just 17 guest rooms, all of which have en suite bathroom facilities. In an age when bathing facilities might have been a second thought, The Star did comment on “its sanitary arrangements being perfect” at the time of the hotel’s opening.

One thing has disappeared since the Imperial opened more than a century ago, and that’s the stable. This housed the horses that were used to take the aforementioned “cars” up and down the steep hill to Pleinmont.

The hotel was established by Henry Shirvell, whose father – also called Henry – ran the Channel Islands Hotel.

Another Imperial Hotel

The name Imperial was a popular one. This wasn’t the first Imperial Hotel in the Channel Islands: an establishment with the very same name had opened in Jersey almost 30 years earlier – in September 1866. Sadly, though, that Imperial hadn’t lasted. With a downturn in business it shut its doors before Guernsey’s more modest equivalent opened up.

The building that once housed Jersey’s Imperial Hotel is still standing, and in fact re-opened as a hotel in the 1950s, albeit under a different name. St Helier’s four-star Hotel de France, as it’s now known, remains one of the largest hotels in the Channel Islands, with 129 rooms and a 17,000 sq ft wellness spa.

John Doyle was appointed Lieutenant-Governor

The name Doyle is synonymous with Guernsey. Just think of the Doyle Monument, Fort Doyle, and Doyle Road, among others. Despite being credited with a massive series of civil and military improvements made to the island during his tenure, John Doyle himself was actually born in Dublin.

Guernsey should think itself lucky that he was appointed its Lieutenant-Governor on 23 May 1803. His elevation to the post was announced in the press upon the resignation of his predecessor, Sir Hew Dalrymple.

A soldier in situ

Doyle was a fighter. He had been at the American War of Independence, and fought in the Netherlands and Egypt. He had then taken a commission to command troops in Guernsey, so was already on the island at the time of his appointment.

Britain and France went to war and, thanks to his military background, he immediately understood the potential of a French invasion. Thus, he set about fortifying the island.

With a budget of £30,000, he built Route Militaire, 60 gun batteries and several forts around the coast (including Fort Grey). He drained the Braye du Valle so as to join the northern and southern parts of the island. Until then, Guernsey had been split along a line running from St Sampson to Grande Havre. By his reckoning, any French landing on the northern part would otherwise have been difficult to repel.

The land that was reclaimed in this operation was sold off, and the proceeds used to fund the laying of roads from St Peter Port to L’Eree and Vazon.

Opposition and acceptance

Doyle’s plans had been radical, and not without opposition at times. He had also instituted a state of emergency across the island in 1804, which remained in force until Napoleon’s death in 1815.

Yet, when the time came for him to leave there were protests from locals. They saw the value of what he had done and petitioned for him to stay. He was succeeded by Henry Bayly.

Doyle died in August 1834, aged either 77 or 78. Nobody knows for sure as his exact date of birth has been lost.

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The Author

The Sarnian series is written by Nik Rawlinson, who was born in Guernsey and, although he doesn't currently live there, returns regularly. He is a journalist, author and broadcaster working for a wide range of lifestyle titles in the UK and beyond. Find out more at nikrawlinson.com.

The name

The name The Sarnian has two distinct meanings. It's up to the reader to decide which they prefer:

  1. It's the name of the newspaper for which Ollie works
  2. The Latin name for Guernsey was Sarnia. Thus, Ollie could be considered to be the Sarnian of the series title

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