In my genealogical surfings I have come across this account of the death of my grandfather’s eldest brother, John Nicholas Whyte (1864-1906), which I knew from family lore had been quite a scandal at the time. Bizarrely enough it comes from the archives of a New Zealand paper, the Hawera and Normanby Star, from July and August 1906.
[under “Home News Brevities”]
At Westminster, London, the inquest was resumed on Major J. N. Whyte, of the Lancashire Fusiliers, who died while undergoing Christian science treatment at Eaton Terrace, London. Captain Douglas D. Baynes, of Clanricarde Gardens, Bayswater, a practitioner of Christian science teaching, said he first met Major Whyte in September 1904. The witness was previously told Whyte was in a serious condition, and was anxious to have the Christian science treatment. Witness wrote that if Major Whyte wanted Christian science treatment he would do his best for him if he were willing to abandon all recourse to the use of material means as a cure for disease or sickness. Witness’s charge was one guinea a week. He continued to treat Major Whyte down to [missing line] by witness himself. At the first Major Whyte was paralysed and suffering great pain, but from the time the treatment commenced the pain ceased. It was denied that Christian Scientists had ever promised that he would have the use of his legs in a fortnight. It was admitted that deceased while under science treatment also received material treatment. The inquest was again adjourned.
5 July 1906
THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE SECT.
INQUEST ON MAJOR WHYTE.
VERDICT OF MANSLAUGHTER
At Westminster, on May llth, Mr John Troutbeck resumed the inquest on the body of Major J. N. Whyte, D.S.0., of the Lancashire Fusiliers, who died whilst undergoing Christian Science treatment at Eaton terrace, London. The deceased major was a member of the Roman Catholic Church. In February, 1903, whilst hunting at Hinckley, he broke his spine. Sir Victor Horsley and several other prominent physicians attended him, and he was also treated in various nursing homes. Later he underwent the Christian Science treatment, which consisted mainly, it was said, in reading prayers. The Court was crowded, mainly with fashionably attired women.
On the Coroner taking his seat he said Dr Henry Huxley would go into the witness box with regard to a statement attributed to him in the evidence of Nurse Jones. Dr Huxley said he desired to say that the statement that he influenced Major Whyte in favor of Christian Science was absolutely without foundation, and was a pure invention.
Mrs Esther Maria Grant, recalled, and questioned by Mr Hempson, said she saw Mrs Whyte, the mother of the deceased, in March last.
Mr Hempson: I will read what Mrs Whyte says: “I thought he was very seriously ill, and I wished he should have proper medical advice.” — I do not remember it.
Questioned by Mr Kingsbury, witness said if a wish had been expressed that deceased should have medical advice she would have retired from the case.
Dr Freyberger said he found a number of bed sores on the bodyone of which comprised an opening to a large cavity which had superficially destroyed the lower end of the hip bone. In his opinion the immediate cause of death was exhaustion in consequence of general blood-poisoning and that death was accelerated by want of proper medical care and attention.
Dr George Robert Adcock said he ceased to practise a year ago last February. He had suffered from ill-health, and was cured by Christian Science. He was a student of Christian Science, and was asked to see Major Whyte, and recommended him to use Ektagon powder for his wound, which became better.
Did you attribute that to the powder? — I thought Christian Science was doing it.
Witness added that deceased did not wish to use anything that was likely to be antagonistic to Christian Science. He explained to Mrs Grant that the powder was not a curative agent, and t&en Mrs Grant allowed him to use it.
How would you treat bed sores? — Medically.
Is antiseptic treatment contrary to Christian Science treatment? — I am not far enough advanced in Christian Science to answer that question. It was not allowed to be used.
Then why did you use the powder? — For cleanliness. I will not say it was altogether scientific.
The Coroner, in summing up said he could not help being struck by the fact that what had been done by Christian Scientists had been done for money, but he could not say that the evidence tended to make them amenable to the law unless a conspiracy could be proved. But the point came in as to the responsibility before the law of Dr Adcock. There was a statement that when asked by Mrs Whyte if he would attend the deceased as a doctor he said he would. The jury, after deliberating in private for a quarter of an hour, returned a verdict of manslaughter against Dr Adcock, who was committed for trial. They also wished to give the strongest possible censure on Captain Baynes, Mrs Grant, Mr Smith, and Nurse Jones. On the application of Mr Kingsbury bail was granted to Dr Adcock, two sureties in £100 and himself in £200.
POLICE COURT PROCEEDINGS.
As a result of the verdict of manslaughter returned by the Coroner’s jury, Dr George Robert Adcock (39), described as of Ebury street, Pimlico, was charged at Westminster with feloniously causing the death of Major John Nicholas Whyte by wilful neglect.
After his arrest, said a police inspector, several small glass tubes containing tabloids of morphine, sulphate, and a compound of strychnine, an empty tube, and a hypodermic syringe were found on the accused. The doctor stated that he was taking the tabloids for indigestion. He (the inspector) informed defendant that they were marked “Poison,” and he could keep them.
In reply to the Magistrate, the Inspector said he did not know much about the doctor. He had given an address in Ebury street, but he had not been there recently. Witness thought be was a well known man among the Christian Scientists, but be was a properly qualified medical man, and one of some standing.
The Magistrate said he would like to know a little more about these drugs before he granted bail. The Inspector stated that the little tabloids were a strong poison. Four to six would kill anyone.
The accused, was remanded, the Magistrate refusing bail.
[A cable which came to hand on Monday stated that the jury had disagreed at the trial of Dr Adcock.]
23 August 1906
THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE CASE
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDING JUDGE.
On taking his seat at the Old Bailey on July 3, Mr Justice Bigham made an important announcement with reference to the Christian Science case tried before him the previous week and which ended in the jury disagreeing on Saturday.
The accused was George Robert Adcock, a Christian Scientist, of Ebury street, Pimlico, and he was charged with the manslaughter by neglect of Major John Whyte, of the Lancashire Fusiliers.
Addressing Mr. Charles Mathews, who was one of the counsel for the prosecution, his lordship ‘ said that he had carefully considered the evidence in the case, and had come to the conclusion, that a conviction would be undesirable.
In his opinion, the evidence was not sufficient to support a conviction. He added that he did not wish to interfere with the course the Treasury might think fit to adopt in regard to the case, but he thought it desirable that they should know his opinion.
Mr Mathews replied that he was quite sure that the views of bis lordship would receive every consideration from the authorities.
His lordship, we understand, was influenced by the attitude of the jury in the remarks he made. Only three – and of these one was doubtful — were in favor of a conviction.
Several members of the jury were seen yesterday by a Daily Mail representative, and they were each emphatic in their declaration that they had acted entirely on their own initiative in disagreeing. After the judge’s appeal they had hopes that they could have returned a verdict and would have done so but for the opposition of two men who were thoroughly opposed to any consideration of Christian Science.
“It was mere prejudice,” said one of the jurymen. ‘”I have no sympathy with Christian Science, and think it a very mistaken notion. I am a plain man and could describe it as absolute nonsense. But what were we to do? The prisoner had met the dead man at church, or whatever you like to call it. They had got friendly, and most of us were convinced that the offer of a guinea a week simply was pocketmoney.”
The case was sufficiently visible to give rise to a parliamentary question and debate in the columns of the New York Times; clearly there were competing narratives of a moral panic about Christian Science cultists, and a unjustified witch-hunt against a retired doctor who was following his patient’s instructions. (I am quite sure that my great-grandmother was contributing to the first of these.)