Wednesday 3 June 2009

The Bridge of Sighs


Suicide by drowning was, I think, more common in the Victorian era - perhaps because fewer other methods were available - and bridges over canals, rivers etc. were danger areas. Even Hyde Park was not immune, as this excerpt from Andrew Wynter's journalism shows:-

"A little farther on stands the boat-house belonging to the Royal Humane Society; and in it are seen the awful-looking "drags" with which the drowning are snatched from Death's black fingers. Across the road is the establishment for recovering those who have been rescued from the water. Over the door is the bas-relief of a child attempting to kindle with his breath an apparently extinguished torch, and around it is the motto: "Lateat forsan scintilla," — Perhaps a spark still lingers. Baths, hot-water beds, electrifying machines, and mechanism by which artificial breathing can be maintained, are ranged around the rooms. .
The majority of poor creatures carried beneath these portals are persons who have sought their own destruction. The bridge across the Serpentine is the Westminster "Bridge of Sighs." Who would think this bright and sunny spot could be the haunt of suicides? They are mostly women of the better order, who have been brought to shame and abandoned —at least five women to one man being the proportion. The servants of the Society, who form a kind of detective water-police, and are always on the look-out, scarcely ever fail to mark and to watch the women who contemplate self-destruction. They know them by their usually sitting all day long without food, grieving; towards evening they move. When they find they are watched, they sometimes contrive by hiding behind the trees to elude observation, and to find the solitude they desire. The men, less demonstrative and more determined, escape detection, and but too often succeed in accomplishing their purpose. Those who have been restored to life, after hours of attention in the receiving-house, frequently repay the attendants with, "Why should I live against my will?" Nevertheless, it very rarely happens, here, at least, that a second attempt at suicide is made."

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