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Eythorne Doctor’s Downfall -Walter Dixon

Walter Dixon was born 9th January 1849 in Adelaide, Australia. His father, John Coleman Dixon was born in Canterbury in 1808 and his mother, Emma Barnes Knight, was probably born in Bristol. In 1875, aged 26, he married Anna Melena Glyde (who was 23 and born 6th November 1852). They must have more of less left immediately for England as their first child, Geoffrey Walter Dixon was born in 1875 in Surrey (Balham), followed by Cuthbert Lavington Dixon in Shepherdswell in 1877 and Oscar Glyde Dixon in Canterbury in 1878.

Walter Dixon started as the Doctor/Surgeon for Eythorne in 1877 whilst still living in Shepherdswell. By 1886 or earlier, however, he had moved to West End House (which still exists and is illustrated) in Eythorne, situated on the road to Coldred, thus ending the previous association of Eythorne Doctors with Park End House on The Street.

On 31st of March 1879, Walter’s wife, Anna Melena, died aged 26. She is buried at St Andrew’s, Shepherdswell. On February 25th 1885, Walter Dixon (now 36) married his second wife, Flora Austen (born 1860 and hence 25 at her wedding) who was the daughter of the Rev. E.T. Austen of Barfrestone Rectory, a very well respected member of the community. The wedding took place at St George’s Church, Ramsgate, with only a passing reference to it in the press.

Initially, Walter Dixon’s tenure as Eythorne Surgeon seems unremarkable with few newsworthy medical events capturing attention, just the occasional inquest and attendance at routine injuries. In early January 1886, however, the newspaper headline was “Death of a Surgeons wife by poisoning”.

The events leading to the death of Flora Dixon, Walter Dixon’s wife, were described in detail at the inquest. The Inquest was held “on the body of Mrs Dixon at the residence of Dr Dixon at Eythorne on Tuesday afternoon of the 12th January by the Coroner for East Kent, Mr Mercer. The deceased who was about 27 or 28 years of age was the wife of Dr Dixon. During her confinement she was attended by Mr Richard Leggatt at Eastry (Richard Shocklidge Leggatt Jr was the Medical Officer for Eastry and the workhouse and he succeeded his father, who had the same name, in 1844). Since her confinement, sometime since about two months ago, she had suffered considerable pain. In December 1885 Richard Leggatt was sent for and found Mrs Dixon suffering from severe spasms. On Monday morning (believed to be the 4th of January) at about three o’clock this pain became more acute”. According to the testimony of Burchill of Shepherdswell, who was employed as a nurse and attended Mrs Dixon and whom she had known all her life, “Mrs Dixon’s manner became very peculiar and she admitted to Burchill that she had taken a bottle of poison from the surgery but had replaced it without swallowing any”. Burchill then roused Dr Dixon who took his wife to the surgery. She said she had taken a little out of two bottles and stated that she did so because she wanted to die. She was again taken upstairs and the doctor stood watching her but said she did not bear any appearance of having taken poison. He gave her an emetic and she was sick but there was still no trace of poison. Soon afterwards however a change came over her, an antidote was administered but it had no effect, and Mrs Dixon died very peacefully a few minutes later. The jury, after hearing the evidence, returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased died accidentally through taking an overdose of narcotic poison for the purpose of relieving pain and composing herself to sleep.
Interestingly, the inquest gives scant information about Mrs Dixon and neither does it inform as to whether a living child was the outcome of the confinement. In fact, as we shall see later, it did. It is possible that Flora may have been pregnant at the time of her wedding. This would explain why the wedding was not held locally, it had scant announcement, and why it was an Eastry doctor that attended her confinement, since all these actions help cloud the details of date of conception. Since it is stated that Flora was in confinement at least two months before her death, then that would be less than nine months after the wedding.

There is a grave in Ss Peter & Paul, Eythorne, for Flora Dixon, who was buried 8th January 1886.

After Flora’s death things seem to return to an unremarkable normality with only a minor accident gaining the attention of the press. On the afternoon of Thursday the 19th August 1886 “Dr Dixon of Eythorne was drawing past Lydden Church when he collided with a vehicle belonging to Mr Fox of Coldred. Both shafts of the Doctor’s trap were broken and the vehicle upset throwing its occupant to the ground. The horse bolted but was captured a short distance along the road. Dr Dixon escaped with a few trifling contusions”.

In 1890 Walter Dixon (now aged 41) married his third wife, Marian Emily Wade (aged 26), in Dover. The 1891 census shows Walter Dixon and family are living in West End House in Eythorne and provides other useful information. It confirms Water Dixon was born in Australia and informs that Marian was born in Kidderminster, Worcestershire. Walter’s eldest son by his first wife, Geoffrey Walter Dixon is present (now age 15), but the two younger sons Cuthbert and Oscar are not. It’s possible they may have been away at a boarding school or living elsewhere as live in servants or apprentices. There is a son present, Austen Clavell Dixon, aged 5 and this has to be Walter Dixon’s son by his second wife Flora. His birth was registered in Eastry in December 1885. A girl named Evelyn Graves is given as a visitor aged 10 but the relationship between her and the Dixons is unclear. Walter Dixon must have led a comfortable life at this juncture as he is able to employ a coachman, housemaid and cook as servants. According to the census return, also present is William King whose occupation is given as general practitioner and an employee of Dr Dixon.

In March 1891 Walter Dixon wrote a letter to the press complaining about the high handed manner of the Guardians of the Dover Union suggesting he may have been the Medical Officer for Shepherdswell in the Dover Union at this time. Who the Medical Officer for Eythorne was at this time I have yet to discover.

In June 1895 Mrs Dixon was advertising for a tutor for 3 hours on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons to teach a girl aged 14 (possibly Evelyn Graves) English, French, Music and Elementary Drawing and a boy aged 9 (assumed to be Austen Clavell) the rudiments of English. The advertisement stated that the tutor “must be able to walk to and from the station (that would have been Shepherdswell) and stay to tea”. They were asked to “state terms (inclusive of rail) which must be moderate”.

In October 1895 Walter Dixon was declared bankrupt. This was very publicly reported in the list of bankrupts in both the London Gazette and the Edinburgh Gazette (October 15th 1895). A receiving order in bankruptcy was made in the Canterbury Bankruptcy Court against Walter Dixon of West End House, Eythorne on his own petition. Debtor’s solicitor was Mr H Broughton and the Official Receiver was Mr Worsfold Mowll. The debtor attended for public examination and the case was heard in the Canterbury Bankruptcy Court in November 1895. “Debtor stated he had been at Eythorne 18 years. Debtor attributed his failure by having, during the last four years, to be largely dependant on housekeepers and also through the alleged misconduct of an assistant. Both had run him into debt. His annual income had been £600. He kept a horse and trap and that of course involved keeping a man. The conduct of his assistant had affected his business very seriously – in fact Debtor claimed it was the main cause of his failure. Before that time however he was in financial difficulties and he had borrowed £100 from Mr Martyn Mowll. That was years ago and the money was borrowed to pay off old debts. In 1891 he had borrowed £100 from Mr Delahaye and £100 from Mr Windsor. He did not tell either of these persons that he had borrowed money from Mr Mowll because Mr Mowll, not being a money lender, he did not think it necessary to do so. He had repaid Mr Delahaye £50 and Mr Windsor was still outstanding Among his debts were two large wine and spirit bills due and one from a brewery house, amounted together £130”.

In December 1895 the Trustees of the estate of Dr Walter Dixon in bankruptcy put up for auction at West End House any of Walter Dixon’s goods of value including “the whole of the excellent furniture, bedsteads, bedding”, and brass, iron and mahogany goods etc.

In June 1896 the Dover Union refused to refused to re-elect Dr Dixon as Medical Officer for Shepherdswell within the Union, thinking it right to choose someone who resides at Shepherdswell within the Union and Walter Dixon was still living in Eythorne. Thus Walter Dixon was deprived of a much needed, albeit small, income for the position.

In January 1898, Walter Dixon applied for discharge as a bankrupt. The testimony at the hearing reveals more about the circumstances leading to the bankruptcy. “Debtor came to Shepherdswell in 1877 and with £400 of his own money purchased the practice at which, according to the debtor, was not of great value. His income was about £600 a year and after paying expenses, including rates and taxes of £150, he had £450 left which to maintain himself and educate his four children (three with Anna Melena and one with Flora). Having regard to his indebtedness and the money advanced, he lived beyond his means for a considerable period. In 1890 he borrowed £100 which he expended on paying debt he was liable for. In 1894 he borrowed a further £100, some of which had been paid back, and in March 1895 he was indebted to another money lender for £100 with interest. He justified his action by thinking that he would thus be able to tide over his difficulties. The Official Receiver pointed out that there were three separate accounts/debts, amounting to £130 altogether, for wine, spirits and beer but debtor said that these were accumulating debts and he had patients and illness in the house which had necessitated use of spirits. Debtor had received £800 from his sister for which she had practically no security. (The sister is likely to be Fanny Dixon, born Adelaide 6/10/1840. She married Robert Dixon, born Islington 17 December 1832, in Ramsgate in 1881). It was trust money and debtor said beneficiaries agreed to his borrowing the money. The charges against debtor were insufficient assets and fraudulent breach of trust. There are two sort of breach of trust. Those that were fraudulent and those that were only breaches of trust. It appeared perfectly plain that the bankrupt did that which was breach of trust, and might have been responsible for, but when it came to the question of fraudulent breach of trust, the matter was different. The facts went to show that whatever was done, was done with the consent of the co-trustee, and the tenant for life, with the knowledge of the children. The facts are quite sufficient to negate the charge of fraudulent breach of trust.” At the end of the hearing however Walter Dixon did not obtain the discharge from bankruptcy he wanted and the magistrate suspended the discharge for a further two years but was granted leave to apply again earlier on payment of a further sum of money.

In July 1898 Walter Dixon made a second application for discharge as a bankrupt. Mr H Broughton who appeared for the debtor, said that “on 16th January last, debtor applied for his discharge and Honour suspended the discharge for two years but gave debtor leave to apply again on payment of £100, that being anticipated on the realisation of the sale of the medical practice. That had now been sold and the £100 paid to the Official Receiver. Under those circumstances he (Mr Broughton) asked for debtor’s immediate discharge”. The application was granted.

What immediately happened to Walter Dixon and his wife and family, now he had no business to generate an income, is not known. However, in March 1907 it was reported that “Walter Dixon, formerly of Eythorne and Medical Officer to the Eastry workhouse, has been removed, by order of the Justices, from Newport, Monmouthshire to Eastry as a pauper. He told magistrates that he took his degree 37 years ago in Edinburgh and had practised at Eythorne. When he was ill, he engaged an unqualified assistant who imported another medical man to the district and the practice so suffered that he had to leave. While staying at a lodging house in Newport his testimonials were stolen. Mr Griffiths, Relieving Officer of the Eastry Union, told the Magistrates that Dr Dixon had become a pest to the Freemason’s Almoner (the contact for charity in a lodge) who at last not only refused to help him but also to see him. He had since been living on charity. The Doctor seem quite relieved on being told that, though he was ordered back to Eastry, he could claim his discharge from the workhouse in 24 hours and then be among friends”.

By 1911, Walter Dixon was in the Dover Workhouse, a widower, and he died April 12th that year aged 62. He is buried like his first wife Anna, at St Andrew’s, Shepherdswell.

Walter Dixon’s son by Anna Melena Glyde, Oscar Glyde Dixon, was born and resided for much of his time in Shepherdswell. The 1901 census, however, shows that he was a boarder at the home of Percy Miles, Hanover Place, Canterbury and is recorded as being a tanners clerk. He died 21st March 1918, aged 39 serving in the 7th Service Bttn Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) He is one of the missing fallen and he is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial, Somme, France.

(Note: If Walter Dixon obtained his degree from Edinburgh (the Infirmary building at that time is illustrated below), a leading European centre of anatomical study in the early 19th century, 37 years before his appearance before the magistrates in 1907, he would have graduated in 1870 at the age of 21. The age of graduation is reasonable for the course then that was probably three years in duration. Therefore, we have to assume Walter Dixon was in the United Kingdom sometime after his birth in Adelaide in 1849 but that he returned briefly there for the marriage to Anna Glyde). Walter Dixon used the letters M.B., C.M. After his name. M.B. stands for Medicinae Baccalaureus, or Bachelor of Medicine, and C.M. for Chirurgiae Magister, or Master in Surgery. It is the primary medical degree awarded by medical schools in the United Kingdom. Most of Walter Dixon’s predecessors in Eythorne had MRCS after their name. MRCS (Member of the Royal College of Surgeons) is a postgraduate qualification.)

Vince Croud

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