Life story retold by Holly Guy, UROP Student, University of Reading
Joseph Smith Salmon Junior was born in 1846 in Reading. His father was a successful business owner (Joseph Salmon Senior) who owned a tea and coffee merchant business. It quickly became a family business. They sold wholesale as well as having a tea house on the premises. By the mid 1800s, the Salmon’s Teas had been available across most of Southern England. Business was booming and by 1860 they moved the business to more spacious and grand space at 33-34 Market Place! For more information on the Salmon & Son business, read the article by David Nash Ford on the Royal Berkshire History website.
When Joseph Junior was only eight, he fell very sick with scarlet fever. The 1871 census described him as ‘Deaf and partially Dumb’ due to this illness; that was a term used at the time to describe someone with hearing impairment. Having said that, neither the 1851 nor the 1861 census show Mr Salmon’s hearing loss. However, other later articles refer to his hearing loss, so it can be assumed that he was in fact Deaf and there may had been an issue in reporting it to the census.
Joseph ran a successful charity: A mission to the Deaf and Dumb of Oxford. He used to teach sign language twice a month. This started in 1885 and took place in a church in Oxford on George Street. It was very popular. Mr Salmon also employed deaf people to his tea company and offered them the opportunity to sell tea as their main source of income.
Joseph himself had been a pupil at the Old Kent Road Asylum from February 1857 until midsummer 1860 according to school records (information via @DeafHeritageUK) and learnt to lip read, which is how he would have known Dr. Elliott.
He had insomnia and tinnitus. Many of his friends and family reported that he heard strange noises in his head despite not being able to actually hear anything. He felt that the pain made life unbearable for him.
Tragedy struck on 12th August 1896 when Mr Salmon was only 50 years old. On that day he left home without telling anybody where he was going. His friends and family were worried sick. A newspaper article in the Reading Mercury of 1896 was published pleading for his safe return. The article described Mr Salmon as ‘5 feet 5 inches; dark hair and moustache; rather slight in build; totally deaf, but able to speak intelligibly’. Anybody who found him would have been rewarded £5 (which would have been around £800 today).
He was missing for four days before his body was found by Oliver Collins, a local man who stumbled across the body as it was washed up ashore. The body was sitting upwards, and his gold watch was stuck on the time of his death. When his body was investigated, an inquest described his death as ‘Suicide by drowning during temporary insanity’.
Despite being described as ‘a jolly man’, close friends and family members of Mr Salmon were not shocked by the revelation of his suicide. Mr Salmon had regularly complained of his pain and hinted at taking his own life a week prior. His father tried to talk him out of it to no avail. Mr Salmon Junior left behind his wife, Emmeline F Salmon, and his 18-year-old Son, Joseph H Salmon. In the household there were also, the nurse Eliza Weller and the servants Emma A Heathcote and Lydia Taylor.
Joseph’s brother, George Rand Salmon, took over the tea business but it was reduced in size. When George died in 1917, the tea company closed down.
Buried in Section 27, Row A, Plot 14