Thursday, 21 April 2016

Week Sixteen: Who Has the Finer Qualities of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson?

Every time there is a new newspaper added to the findmypast collection I will do a quick search for any Palins therein listed.  One of this week new newspapers was “The Barnoldswick & Earby Times”.  I felt like I had won the jackpot when there were over 200 listings in this newspaper.  But almost all of those results had a common name and a common theme.

Dr. H. C. Palin said that the cause death was asphyxia due to the inhalation of coal-gas.

Dr. H. C. Palin, of Brierfield, who carried out a post mortem examination, told the Coroner…

Dr. H. C. Palin stated that condition of the body was consistent with death from drowning….

Dr. H. C. Palin found evidence of cerebral thrombosis and slight abrasions to the forehead….

So just who is this H C Palin and is he connected?

He sure is connected! 

Hubert Culliford Palin was born February 16 1908 to Reverend Canon William Henry Farnes Palin and Ada Emily Culliford near Macclesfield, Cheshire.  There were six children blessed to this union and Hubert was number four in the pecking order.  (I was number four out of six as well)  I could easily do a blog entry on his father and his older brother because they also had interesting lives and may just do so.  Stay tuned!

Hubert graduated Medicine from University of Manchester in 1933 and he married Marjorie Alice Pitchford in 1937.  They had two children.  Hubert died in 1998.

What really caught my eye about Hubert was he was invited to give a talk about his job to the Goodwill Club in October of 1954.  This talk was covered in the “Barnoldswick & Earby Times” and I have taken the liberty and transcribed it for you.

The Work of a Police Surgeon

In the hardboiled chronicles of crime, the police surgeon usually appears as a tough, monosyllabic character equipped with a nice touch of cynicism and a faculty for making a split second diagnosis.  To those members of the Goodwill Club whose acquaintance with the species is limited to fiction, the address given by Dr. H. C. Palin recently must have come as quite a surprise.

The speaker, who is police surgeon for the Reedley district, gave a detailed account of police work and proved that his task is by no means as easy as the edge-of-chair writers would have us believe. 

Dr. Palin emphasised that although many people were of the opinion that too many postmortems operations were performed, any death likely to be unnatural had to be investigated in the general interest.  “In America” he continued, “the majority of deaths are investigated.  This is the only way to establish the true cause of death and it may help science to check and curtail the spread of disease.”

As a small boy, the speaker confessed, he was apt to picture the police surgeon as a metaphorical first cousin to a butcher.  This impression was wrong.  The dead were respected and examinations were not conducted with irreverence.

After outlining the duties of the coroner, Dr. Palin said that where the cause of death was uncertain a postmortem would precede cremation for obvious reasons.  The speaker cited the Merrifield murder as a case in point.  Three doctors had been called to the victim prior to the poison being given in order that they might ascertain her general weakness.  The doctor who appeared after her death was unable to agree with his colleagues; a postmortem examination of the body and traces of rat poison were discovered.

“A police surgeon must be observant, have his wits about him and be able to make accurate deductions,” reflected Dr. Palin.  In fact, a single unit made up of the finer qualities of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  “Yet,” he continued, “we are still unable to say why so many old people of eighty plus have perfectly healthy organs but some are completely played out in the people of forty and fifty.”

When the speaker moved on to the vexed topic of tests for drunkenness the audience participation could be almost felt.

“It is my duty,” said the doctor, “to see that a suspect’s symptoms are indicative of alcohol and are not caused by disease.”  Very few mistakes were made in this direction, but a policeman could not be expected to know as much as a medical man and could, consequently, find himself in an awkward predicament.  A case had occurred in his experience of a motor cyclist who after an accident was brought to him with a broken collar bone and alcohol laden breath.  Although this man exhibited many signs of drunkenness, it was later discovered that he was suffering from a fractured skull.

“It is always advisable to take a summary of all the tests for drunkenness,” continued Dr. Palin, “before making a charge.”  The speaker demonstrated one of the two tests, which were duly noted with the appropriate degree of wonder.  After pointing out that the blood test’s accuracy varied with individuals, the speaker parted with the surprising information that in Norway and Sweden one was not allowed to drive if one’s blood contained over 50 milligrams of alcohol.  This explained the old Scandinavian custom of going to parties in taxis.

Speaking of assault, Dr. Palin said, “We must determine the gravity of the wound for a very particular reason.  There is a difference between common assault, and grievous bodily harm – the latter is indictable and must be tried at the sessions.”

The speaker answered many questions and was warmly thanked by the president for his interesting address.

A couple of things jumped out at me while reading this article.  One was when it mentioned that they were not able to understand why the organs of 80 years looked better than some at 50 years of age.  I am sure that medical sciences has grown enough over the past 60 years, they now have a better idea on those differences.

The second thing that jumped out at me was how some things stay the same.  Drinking and driving was discussed back then and it still is today.  It is like taking two steps forward and one back.

There have been so many TV shows about forensic medical examiners.  I remember many, many moons ago watching Quincy with Jack Klugman with my young daughter and she stated that she wanted to be just like Quincy when she grew up. The solving of the mystery appealed to all age groups.   I like that expression as seen in the newspaper article that a police surgeon was made up of the finer qualities of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

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