Found drowned

In Brief

Thornton notes that the phrase "Found drowned" was a stock formulation in newspaper headlines of the day. Gifford adds that "High water at Dublin bar" likewise comes directly from the popular press: it was the phrase used in the tidetables published in Thom's 1904 (p. 5 ff.).

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Newspapers' use of the first phrase, Thornton observes, 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."

[2018] The phrase was commonplace in other vehicles of 19th century British culture. At mid-century, the English painter of allegories George Frederic Watts tried his hand at social realism in several striking works, including an oil painting titled Found Drowned. The canvas shows a woman who has been pulled from the Thames, presumably after committing suicide to escape sexual disgrace.

Charles Dickens' Bleak House (1853) acknowledges the frequency of such suicides. In chapter 57, when Esther Summerson and Mr. Bucket are searching for Lady Dedlock, she sees her companion 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."

JH 2015
Front page of the Freeman's Journal, 16 June 1904. Source: liberateulysses.com.
Found Drowned, oil painting ca. 1850 by George Frederic Watts, held in the Watts Gallery, Compton, Surrey. Source: Wikimedia Commons.