An intriguing entry occasionally catches the eye of our transcribers - and raises all kinds of unanswered questions.
One such entry was recently unearthed by Ian Slater, a volunteer transcriber for FreeREG, when working his way through the burial register for Broadway Cemetery in Peterborough.
When transcribing records, it is unusual to find one with an unconfirmed name; an age ‘range’; and an unknown address. So, when I found the following entry, it literally stopped me in my tracks:
“Name – Hipolito Finat (supposed to be);
Address – Unknown;
Buried – 17 August 1885;
Age – about 40-50 yrs”.
Why was his name “supposed to be”? And why was his age in doubt, and his address unknown?
Today, some 130 years later, we have the benefit of access to digitised records on the internet and, naturally, my first thought was to search for the name online.
My search revealed a sorry and puzzling tale – reported in several newspapers* nationwide during August and September of 1885.
The reports revealed that Count Hipólito Finat was a Spanish nobleman, born in Madrid in 1838, and married to Leonor de Carvajal in 1870. He was a member of the Spanish Cortes, Deputy for the Province of Seville - and, sadly, he had shot himself in the head in King Street, Peterborough on the morning of Wednesday 12th August 1885.
The first problem was identification – and, as the record shows, at the point of burial (five days after his death) they were not even sure they had got his name correct!
The newspapers reported that Finat was found with nothing in his pockets that would lead to his identification. But from the quality of his clothes (made by outfitters in Paris) and, from his appearance, it was thought that this was “a gentleman from Spain or France”.
So, the City Mayor contacted the Spanish and French Consuls in London. And, having found that the waistband of Finat’s trousers had the maker’s name of Robert Cumberland with an address in Paris (together with the name Finat and Madrid), the Mayor also contacted M Cumberland. In the telegram reply, it was confirmed that Hipolito Finat was a well-known gentleman from Madrid.
The newspapers reported that he had, in fact, left Paris on 10th August, with 600 French Francs (about £24) and a gold watch and chain in his possession, although this was missing when his body was found.
For some time, it seems Finat had been under the care of a Dr Barbet, Rue Boileau, Paris, and in a telegram received by the Mayor of Peterborough from Finat's bankers in Paris, it is stated that he was "temporarily mad". It was also reported that Finat had expressed an intention to commit suicide as he had thought that he would lose his fortune.
At the inquest on 24th August 1885, an open verdict of Found Shot was returned.
With the identity confirmed and some context gathered, attention now focused on repatriation.
On 19th August, the Consul-General of Spain based in London contacted the Mayor by telegram asking that the body be preserved. However, of course, the burial had taken place in the Broadway Cemetery two days earlier by the city Poor-Law Officials (after a photograph had been taken).
Subsequently, on 10th September 1885, the Peterborough Mayor received an order from the Home Secretary for the exhumation of the body of Count Finat. This took place on 14th September at 4am in the presence of a group that included the Mayor, a Catholic priest, a doctor and the head-constable.
Four days later, the body was sent to London (after being encased in a lead shell and an oak coffin with silver mountings), where it was shipped on board the SS Lope de Vega, and forwarded to Madrid, accompanied by the priest.
The question remains: Why did an important Spanish Count depart Paris and travel to Peterborough in England to commit suicide?
While searching on the Count’s name in the newspaper archives, Finat’s name was found listed as a director on a 'prospectus' for the Union Bank of Spain and England Limited in 1881. This gives him a reason for having been in England – but the bank was headquartered in London, so why Peterborough? Maybe a branch was being considered there. Further searches show the bank went into voluntary liquidation around 1895, so it’s possible that Finat had good cause to fear he might lose his fortune.
A noble link
Peterborough does have one other link with Spanish nobility: some 350 years earlier, Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, was buried in Peterborough Cathedral (1536). So, Finat was not the first important Spaniard to be buried locally – although he was probably the only one to have been exhumed and taken back to the country of his birth!
At Free UK Genealogy, we naturally champion using free resources for our research. Although most newspaper archives are behind 'paid' walls these days, it is possible to search some newspaper archives for free and extract information. A search on ‘Count Finat’ in the newspaper archives (see sources below) brings up several pages of headlines and extracts, from which it has been possible to ascertain several facts about the incident, as Ian has related in this article. The Welsh Newspapers online site is, however, completely free!