A very useful witness who could not remember dates – Illustrated London News 16 December 1899:
An amusing dialogue occurred at an inquest held in the Westminster Coroner’s Court, Horseferry Road, by Mr John Troutbeck.
An elderly female witness was giving evidence with regard to the sudden death of her mother, Mrs Sarah Costelloe.
The Coroner: How old was your mother?
Witness: I – we don’t know her age exactly. You see, she wasn’t born in London. (Laughter).
The Coroner: But surely you can tell roughly.
Witness: Well, she had a policy once, and her age on that was given as sixty-six, but I don’t know from that, because the policy has lapsed.
The Coroner: How long ago?
Witness: I don’t know. All I can judge by is that they used to say she was the same age as the Queen.
The Coroner: Now we may get at it.
Witness: But we didn’t believe it.
The Coroner (surprised): Why?
Witness: She was so nimble on her feet – (roars of laughter) – and she worked very hard in her time. (Renewed laughter).
The Coroner: Tell me this, then: What is the age of her eldest child?
Witness: I don’t know.
The Coroner (surprise): What?
Witness: Well, I’ve not seen him for four or five years. (Loud laughter)
The Coroner: But the fact that you haven’t seen him for that time makes no difference, does it?
Witness (tired of the cross-examination): I don’t know.
NOTE: The above could almost be a Monty Python skit. It is easy to imagine John Cleese as the coroner getting increasingly frustrated with the woman’s answers.