Tragedy of Drink: A Farm Labourers Crime.

A View of the Congregational Chapel, North Pertherton, 1909.  

On the 3rd of January, 1913 the town of North Pertherton was left in shock after a 'triple tragedy'. The man responsible for this tragedy was a relative of mine, Frank Atyeo.

Alice Atyeo (nee Foster) had been working in domestic service at a Mr Merson's where it is said she met Frank for the first time. In the early part of 1910 Frank and Alice became husband and wife. At the time of their marriage Alice was nineteen years old, she fell pregnant quite early in the marriage and gave birth to Frances on her twentieth birthday.

Frank was known to be a steady industrious man; and up until December of 1912 the Atyeo's had been living as a family at Farringdon where Frank had been employed for twelve months. He was employed as a labour under Mr. F. J. Merson of Farringdon and was credited as being a good worker with an excellent character.

On the 4th of November Frank was arrested under the charge of drunk and disorderly and assaulting a police officer. For this offence he was imprisoned for twenty-one days with hard labour. 
After serving his sentence Frank Atyeo was given the opportunity to return to his employment at Farrington. It was stated that due to his conduct and previous actions he was not to re-engage in his former employment. Frank had now lost his family home and this led to the demise of his being. 

Alice returned to her parents cottage at Mill Street, North Petherton with her daughter Frances, and Atyeo returned to his native Middlezoy.  At this time the pair had been married for a little over two years. Frank had visited his wife several times since the loss of their Farrington dwelling. It was known that they were hoping to setting up a home again when Frank had a steady job.

On Friday the 3rd of January, 1913 it is known that after a failed attempt to purchase a revolver Frank bought a saloon rifle and cartridges. He wrapped these in brown paper, tied it to his bicycle and rode off in the direction of North Petherton. At around eleven o'clock, Frank was seen arriving at the cottage in Mill Street. 

Shortly after the usual delivery of bread to the cottage Frank was observed sitting on the doorstep. He was seen to have fixed the child between his legs and immediately after a shot was heard. A Mrs. Strong heard the first shot, she ran down the stairs of her own home and toward the cottage – by this time, a second shot was heard. Mrs. Strong and a Mrs. Sellick were the first to discover the 'ghastly' scene. As they approached the front door of the cottage they found the lifeless body of Frances Atyeo with a gun shot wound to her head. She was found between the legs of her father. Frank was unconscious with a gunshot wound to his right temple.

An alarm was raised, the police and Dr. C. Hawkins were sent for at once. As they arrived on the scene, along with Mr. William Warren (a local baker) the full extent of the tragedy became known.
As they entered the property they made their way to the kitchen and found the lifeless body of Alice Atyeo. Alice was found quite dead on the kitchen floor. When examined by Dr. Hawkins it was found that she had a broken neck which was caused by a gunshot wound at the nape of the neck.

Frank was moved to a downstairs bedroom and was asked questions by many people but he did not reply. Later that day, at three o'clock Frank Atyeo died without saying a word about the tragedy he had committed.

The next day an inquest into the death of the family took place in the Congregational School-Room. This inquest was overseen by Mr. D.S. Watson who was the deputy coroner for West Somerset.

During the inquest John Spiller, the step-father of Alice Atyeo identified the bodies of both mother and child. At the time of death Alice was aged 21 – Frances was one year and eight months old. While being question Mr. Spiller tells the inquest that his step-daughter had complained of ill treatment and what now would be referred to as domestic violence at the hands of Frank Atyeo.
He goes on to say that the Farrington incident was fuelled by Franks jealousy of his wife.

Superintendent Wm. Henry Williams then gives evidence that sheds more light on why the tragedy took place. Supt. Williams tell the inquest that while visiting the offender in his cell, Frank said that his wife had given information against him which led him to be incarcerated. Williams attempted to reassure Frank that Alice has nothing to do with his conviction. 

Ateyo then inferred that his wife had been unfaithful to him and went on to say: “After this is over you will have me here for something more serious than this.”
Frank Atyeo

Supt: Williams ended by handing the coroner a note found in the pocket of Frank Ateyo.

This note was in Atyeo's own hand writing and read:

There the tears of earth are dried;
There its hidden things are clear;
There the work of life is tried
By a juster Judge than here.

Father, in Thy gracious keeping

Leave we now Thy servant sleeping.

The inquest sees various witnesses and goes on to discuss the postmortem examinations of the woman and child:

  • Alice Atyeo was found to have one small punctured wound in the nape of the neck. This was traced through the skull and through the base of the brain. It was also found that she had a bruise over he right eye – this injuring was received during life.

  • The child was found to have a similar punctured wound in the middle line of the forehead. The bullet had passed through the bone and lacerated the brain.

It is seen that there is no need for medical evidence in regard to the cause of death of Frank Atyeo.
It was found that Atyeo was not out of his mind when he ended the life of himself and his family.

The coroner gave a clear verdict of Wilful Murder and Felo-de-se. 

The inquest lasted approximately two hours and with this the jury agreed to give their fees to the mother of the deceased woman. 

The following Tuesday the funerals of Alice Mary Atyeo and her daughter took place at North Pertherton. The funeral procession left the cottage in Mill Street at half-past two and was said to have constituted one of the saddest processions seen in the town. The procession and funeral itself attracted hundreds of mourners – twenty of them being official/chief mourners. A service led by Rev. David Lloyd was held at the Congregational Chapel. After the service the funeral procession made it's way to the Nonconformist part of North Pertherton Cemetery. It was here that both mother and child were laid to rest.

The next day, the funeral of Frank Atyeo took place at Middlezoy. Before Frank was quietly laid to rest at the parish cemetery, a short service led by Rev. C. J. Leal was held at  Wesleyan Chapel.

(Sources: Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Western Gazette -

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