Corpse retrieved

Corpse retrieved
‘Saturday evening from the canal here, the corpse of Frans Phlips, living near the Ezelpoort, brewer’s servant, living in the Raamstraat, who since some months had been giving signs of insanity, was retrieved by L. Bondt.’ – Gazette of Bruges, July 8, 1912

Frans Phlips’ death certificate

Frans Phlips, or according to his birth certificate “François Jacques Phlips,” is my five-time great-uncle. When I found his death certificate dated July 8, 1912, I read that he”died yesterday at five o’clock in the morning along the open road in the City Waters near the Ezelpoort. Somewhat surprised at this extraordinary mention, I thought, “I must investigate that further!” This could have been mentioned in the local newspapers of the time, since such a death does have some news value.

Death certificate of François Phlips to illustrate 'Corpse raised' from blog Eva's Tree
Death certificate François Phlips, July 8, 1912

Frans Phlips’ life

François Jacques Phlips was born in Bruges on March 3, 1856, the last child of Carolus Phlips and Catharina Petit. Father was a blue dyer and mother a lace maker. Frans became a brewer’s servant, most likely at Den Os Brewery on Raamstraat, where he lived. He entered into marriage quite late. In late September 1897, at age 41, he married widow and lace maker Ludovica Bruynooghe. She was ten years younger than him. The couple remained childless. In her previous marriage, by the way, Louisa had not had any children either. Frans and Louise lived together as a couple in Raamstraat D. 61 in Bruges.

Den Os Brewery

Inner courtyard brewery Den Os in Raamstraat, Bruges - illustrating 'Corpse raised' from blog Eva's Tree
Inner courtyard of the Den Os brewery in the Raamstraat, Bruges, 1905 – Source: City Archives of Bruges

This 1905 photo shows great activity at the Den Os brewery, where Frans Phlips worked all his life. In the courtyard you can see the brewers’ servants with the beer carts, the big cart, the horse, and the gable gas lantern. On the left behind the malting tower and on the right the inscription “Brewery Den Os”. The brewery was operated by the Van Houtryve family.

Tragic death

Now what had happened on Saturday night, July 6, 1912? His corpse was pulled up from the water at the Ezelpoort. What brought Frans into the City Waters? What do you mean“insanity”?

Ezelpoort in Bruges (Ostend Gate) - old postcard - illustrating 'Corpse raised' from blog Eva's Tree

This old postcard shows the Ezelpoort in Bruges. In the past, this gate was sometimes referred to as the Ostend Gate because it opened onto the road to Ostend. It was built in 1297 and is completely surrounded by water. – Source: Beeldbank Stadsarchief Brugge

If we include the newspaper articles below from the local papers “Gazette van Brugge” and “Burgerwelzijn,” we read that his corpse was pulled up from the water at the Ezelpoort. Two things stand out in these articles. His body was found on Saturday night, while the death certificate speaks of Sunday morning as the time of death. Presumably, the official determination of his death by the law doctor did not occur until the morning after his body was found. Even more striking is that one speaks of “some signs of insanity” which he “has been giving for some months”.

Corpse raised - Frans Phlips, Gazette of Bruges, July 8, 1912 - to illustrate 'Corpse raised' from blog Eva's Tree
Corpse raised – Gazette of Bruges, July 8, 1912
Drowned - Frans Phlips - Burgerwelzijn, July 8, 1912 - to illustrate 'Corpse raised' from blog Eva's Tree
Drowned – Burgerwelzijn, July 8, 1912

Death of spouse and excessive alcohol consumption?

So Frans seems to have been not quite himself for some months and not in his right mind. Of course, he worked in a brewery, where beer was readily available. Had he drunkenly drowned in the water? It is certainly possible.

Route plan from Raamstraat to Ezelpoort in Bruges - illustrating 'Corpse raised' from blog Eva's Tree
Raamstraat – Ezelpoort (Porte des Baudets) within walking distance – Source: selection from ‘Plan général de la Ville de Bruges, Service Technique’, 1904-1907, Erfgoed Brugge

The place where Frans Phlips’ body was found, in the City Waters near the Ezelpoort in Bruges, is close to his home and his employer in the Raamstraat. It is only 500 meters away. So he must have walked there after work or just from home.

‘For some months.’ Seven months earlier, on Jan. 3, 1912, his wife Louise had died. This emotionally heavy blow may have contributed to the signs of insanity he’d been showing for several months. It may also have given rise to increased or excessive drinking. Was this the case? It seems plausible to me, but we will never know the true facts for sure.

François Jacques Phlips
° 3/3/1856, Bruges – † 7/7/1912, Bruges


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