THE official verdict was 'Found drowned.' True, the body of Emily Lucas was retrieved from a creek but how did she really die? Could she have been the victim of foul play and was she the woman heard coughing in a nearby empty house ? The coroner certainly had his suspicions.

The solid facts are that six days after chatting to an acquaintance, she was found by a boy pulling a boat under the railway embankment at the rear of Mount Pleasant, Southampton, on Saturday, October 21, 1882, within sight of her mother's home.

She had evidently been lying in water for some time as police surgeon Henry Palk, who carried out the post mortem, confirmed her body was heavily decomposed.

Quiet and self-respecting, she had once suffered a serious head injury which her mother feared might have affected her.

Lucas, 27, left her employers on October 14, the morning after she had been sacked.

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Two days later, she met an acquaintance, general dealer Mark Barton in Spring Place, Bevois Valley. She was alone and after a short conversation about the showery weather, she walked on in the direction of Northam.

Barton, who had known her for seven years, said of her demeanour: "She looked in her usual state of health and good tempered."

He was the last person known to have seen her alive.

Borough coroner Edward Coxwell adjourned the inquest, which opened the day after her body was discovered, in the hope publicity would aid the police in their investigation, but nothing materialised.

Lucas was last seen in the kitchen of her employers, Charles and Mary Adamson, who lived in Westridge Road, at 20.45 on Friday, October 13.

Another maid Clara Horton expected to find her there the following morning when she got up at 6.30am but she wasn't. She told Mrs Adamson who searched her room and unable to find her, assumed she had returned to her mother.

Horton said she and Lucas had been well treated. "She had nothing to complain of in her situation."

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But Mrs Adamson admitted she had more than once scolded Lucas for being "dirty" - a remark which brought an instant hiss from the deceased's relatives which was immediately suppressed by the coroner - but her lack of cleanliness had twice been the reason why she had been sacked by previous employers.

Adamson, described as "a man of independent means," said he had told Lucas she was not a child and must improve her appearance. After she had vanished, he found her bed made and her clothes packed but with no sign of a letter indicating she had quit her job of two months, he wrote to her mother complaining of her "strange behaviour," saying he was going to place the matters in the hands of their solicitor. But when her mother visited them the same afternoon, she told them she had not come home.

Adamson confirmed his wife had given her notice to leave on the Friday morning and though she had intended to retract it, she never had the opportunity to do so.

His wife said she did not appear despondent when told she was to be dismissed and simply replied: "Yes, ma'am."

The deceased's sister, Sarah Jane Lucas, said she had last seen her two days before her dismissal.

Daily Echo: Mount Pleasant Road, Southampton.        Picture: Chris Moorhouse.                Tuesday 2nd February 2016

"I noticed nothing peculiar in her manner but she told me she was very unhappy at her situation. She said Mrs Adamson was very unkind to her and she did not like her fellow servant. She could not trust her with anything. She appeared to be in a desponding state and not in good health."

But Ms Lucas admitted under questioning from Mr Adamson that she had never complained to them about her sister. Adamson was furious about what her evidence implied but Coxwell stepped in to allay his fears, reassuring him: "I don't think the jury for one moment believe she was being unkindly treated."

In his summing up, Coxwell said Lucas had certainly been alive three days after quitting her job.

"But the mystery is what became of her afterwards," he remarked, significantly adding: "I cannot help think there is suspicion somewhere for it is most extraordinary that from the Monday until the following Sunday she was not seen by someone."

Deepening the mystery, he invited jurors: "If you believe she destroyed herself, it must have been on the 16th, immediately after leaving the witness Barton or someone must know more about her movements and must have made away with her.

"It is for you to say to say whether you are satisfied on the present evidence to return a verdict of 'found drowned' or have an adjournment in the hope that further evidence being obtained to clear up the mystery of her death. The police have made enquiries during the last few days as well as the relatives, and I am sure Mr Adamson is also anxious to trace where she went after leaving his house."

In response to a question from a juryman about their investigation, Superintendent Breary revealed a mystery voice had been heard near the death scene. An employee in the engine works had told them he was passing any empty house when he heard a woman coughing but he had not told anyone until he had been seen by the police.

"This was on the Monday morning and Miss Lucas's home was within sight of where she was found drowned. Another person was with Mr Barton when he saw her on the Monday so there can be no doubt about that."

After retiring, the jury returned a verdict of 'Found drowned."