Found drowned

Found drowned

In Brief

The phrase "Found drowned," which appears in several chapters of Ulysses, was a stock formulation in Victorian and Edwardian newspapers. Thornton observes that its use derived "from the fact that 'found drowned' is the official coroner's jury's verdict when a person is so found and no foul play is suspected. Such an instance occurs in the Freeman's Journal for March 29, 1904."

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Bloom's thoughts about the dayfather in Aeolus suggest how common the phrase was in contemporary newspapers: "Queer lot of stuff he must have put through his hands in his time: obituary notices, pubs' ads, speeches, divorce suits, found drowned." In Eumaeus the narrator speculates about what the old sailor may be reading in the newspaper: "Thereupon he pawed the journal open and pored upon Lord only knows what, found drowned or the exploits of King Willow, Iremonger having made a hundred and something second wicket not out for Notts." Stephen too calls the phrase to mind in Proteus when he thinks of the corpse that is expected to surface soon in Dublin Bay: "Found drowned. High water at Dublin bar." The latter phrase too was a commonplace. As Gifford notes, it was used in the tidetables published in the 1904 issue of Thom's directory.

It would appear from other literary uses of the expression that Victorians associated it with people presumed to have committed suicide. The allegorical painter George Frederic Watts tried his hand at social realism in several striking oil paintings that included Found Drowned (ca. 1850), a response to Thomas Hood's poem The Bridge of Sighs (1844). The canvas shows a woman who has been pulled from the Thames after committing suicide to escape sexual disgrace. Charles Dickens' Bleak House (1853) acknowledges the frequency of such suicides. When Esther Summerson and Mr. Bucket are searching for Lady Dedlock, Esther sees the detective talking with some policemen and sailors against a slimy wall that holds a bill with the words, "'FOUND DROWNED;' and this, and an inscription about Drags, possessed me with the awful suspicion shadowed forth in our visit to that place" (ch. 57).

JH 2020
Brief article in 22 April 1892 issue of the New Zealand Herald, noting the jury verdict on a drowning case. Source:
Found Drowned, oil painting ca. 1850 by George Frederic Watts, held in the Watts Gallery, Compton, Surrey. Source: Wikimedia Commons.