French - Dog Rescuer


  • An interesting gravestone at St Pancras Cemetery in North Finchley (as seen in the early 2000s).


  • I found William French quite difficult to trace when I first looked through the normal records (this was pre-2010).

  • Access to the British Library scanned newspapers proved fruitful. I have transcribed article in full below:

Hampstead & Highgate Express - Saturday 18th July 1896


On Wednesday, Dr. G. Danford Thomas, coroner for Central London, held an inquiry at the St. Pancras Coroner’s Court with reference to the death of William French, aged fifty years, a horsekeeper, lately living 8, Flowers-mews, Archway-road, Highgate, who was drowned in one of the ponds, Parliament-hill-fields, on Monday afternoon. Samuel French, painter, living at Bathstreet, Stoke Newington, brother of the deceased, gave evidence of identification, and added that deceased was a good swimmer.

Thomas Hankins, a horsekeeper, of Cornwallis-road, Upper Holloway, stated that Monday afternoon he, company with a man named Wright, who had a dog, went to the ponds in Parliament-hill fields, and on the way there met the deceased, who bad his dog with him, and consented to accompany them. Ou arriving at the ponds they sent the dogs into the water by throwing pieces of wood in for them to fetch out. The dog belonging to deceased, when out in the water, seemed to be struggling, and deceased, thinking that his dog was going to drown, took off his coat and vest and jumped into the water, swimming to his dog to get it out. getting near to the spot where the dog was the dog went under the water, after which it reappeared on the surface and swam to shore. The deceased swam to return, and suddenly he called out, ”I am knocked,” and sank. The drags were procured, but the body was not recovered for an hour afterwards, and then he was quite dead. William Wright, a horsekeeper, living at 8, Flowers-mews, gave confirmatory evidence, adding that the deceased was a good swimmer, and that it seemed to him that the deceased was seized with cramp, which caused him to sink. He called assistance and every endeavour was made to rescue the deceased. They were all perfectly sober the time they went to the ponds.

Thomas Adkins, a constable of the London County Council, said that he was standing by the place where the drags were kept when be heard that there was man in the water, on which he went at once with the drags to the pond, being there within a minute, and once dragged for the deceased, but could not find him, not knowing the exact spot which he had gone in and no one was there to tell him. The companions of deceased had gone away. Was told that the deceased and his companions had all been drinking. A gentleman dived into the water but could not find the deceased, after which the boat was procured from another pond, and about an hour afterwards the body of the deceased was found some seven feet from the edge. In answer to the coroner the witness said that he did not see the deceased’s companions, so did not know if they were drunk or not. The coroner remarked that the witness was only speaking from hearsay. The witness Wright said that he wished to distinctly state that none of them was the worse for drink, and that directly the deceased went down they told other persons about it.

Detective-Sergt. Brown, of the S Division said that he had made enquiries with regard to the matter and found that the deceased and his companions had been in the Duke of St. Albans Tavern. They were perfectly sober and further that they gave information about the matter. The coroner said that unless person's could swim and know how to handle drowning persons, it was highly dangerous to attempt to rescue, so they might be drowned themselves, especially if not quite sober. Dr Nathaniel Goodchild of Highgate Road said he found that death was due to suffocation by drowning. The coroner said it It was a foolish thing for the deceased to have gone into the water with his heavy boots and trousers on after a dog. It was not as if it was a human being he was anxious to save. Other evidence having been given, the jury returned a verdict of “accidental death”.

We understand that Mr George R Sims ( “Dagonet” ), a well-known lover of dogs, has undertaken to provide a decent funeral for the deceased.


  • George Robert Sims was a prolific English journalist, dramatist, novelist and poet who was known for his humour and satirical takes.

  • He used the pseudonym 'Dagonet' after the supposed court-jester in the Arthurian tales.