Before Christchurch had a morgue, the gruesome task of storing a dead body was left to Christchurch’s public hotels. On practical terms, they had the space to hold a coroner’s inquest and the basement cellars to keep the bodies cool.
For two years, c. 1858-60, there was a public morgue at the Lyttelton Gaol which provided a venue for all of the city’s post mortems and inquests. But the distance from the city was too far to transport bodies as well as expect doctors, the city coroner and a jury to attend an inquest each day.
Dead bodies were then taken to the police depot on Hereford and Montreal Streets where there was a morgue with limited facilities but it soon proved too unhygienic and impractical, so it fell back on the city’s hotel proprietors to provide the space. A dead body had to be taken to the closest licensed house for the purpose of holding a post mortem and inquest. In 1867, it became law under the Coroner’s Act.
From November of 1875 to June of 1878, the city’s publicans won a respite and Christchurch Hospital was forced to accept the dead bodies. However the close proximity of the medical wards to the morgue brought fears of contaminating the patients or hospital with diseases and germs from decomposing bodies. The hospital morgue was soon closed down and city hotels were used again.
To the relief of the city’s hotel proprietor’s, a new city morgue was finally built at the Police Depot in 1879. It was a small building of just 33 feet by 19 feet and was sited in the south-western corner of the station’s enclosure. It was inadequate in storage facilities and the sanitation of housing dead bodies without refrigeration became a focus for concern to the forty police who slept in a dormitory only twenty five feet away from the morgue.
The Star reported:
“Should one of our prevailing sou’westers be blowing, and the morgue contain the remains of one or two unfortunates, any fumes arising from it (before and after post mortem examination) will be blowing in a direct line into the cook-house and men’s mess room,,, being in such a thickly populated part of the city… Christchurch will be the only city in the Australasian Colonies where a dead-house forms a portion of the police quarters.”
The dead bodies were brought down an access lane off Montreal Street and went along the militia parade ground which later became King Edward’s Barracks to the Police Depot’s enclosure. The morgue’s building was hidden behind a high cast iron fence but it’s close proximity (two and a half chains) from people walking along the busy streets of Montreal and Hereford caused public consternation.
“It is not improbable that before next summer the Board of Health may find it necessary to exercise its jurisdiction in the interests of the public.”
As predicted, it was not long before the police morgue was closed down by the government. For a short time, there was a morgue at the Contagious Diseases Hospital in Addington.
In 1881, the Licensing Act’s Section 136, and a revised Coroners act in 1888 clarified more around this; the refusal to accept a corpse imposed a fine of five pounds, and hotel proprietors should be paid one pound for the inconvenience and cleaning up after the post mortem was completed.
While council advocated for a new city morgue, the hotels still had to deal with the incoming bodies. However, on September 6th, 1891, Mathew Sherwin, proprietor of the Star Hotel on Lincoln Road, Addington refused to allow the police to bring a dead body into the hotel. The headlines in the Star ran,
“REFUSING A BODY.-Mathew Sherwin, licensee of the Star Hotel, Addington, was charged that on September 6th, he refused to admit, into his house a dead body brought there for the purposes of post mortem examination.” (The Star, September 19th 1891)
It appears that the coroner ordered Sergeant Briggs to take the body of Mr Williams from his cottage in Crewe Town to the closest hotel which, was the Star Hotel on Lincoln Road.
On arrival, the proprietor, Mr. Sherwin refused to allow Sergeant Briggs to bring the body inside, so Briggs asked him if he could put the body in a shed in the yard. Sherwin still refused and Sergeant Briggs warned him that as there was no public morgue in Christchurch, he was obliged to let the body be kept at his hotel as it was the closest by half a mile. Sherwin still refused on the grounds that last time his hotel was used for a post mortem, it was left in such a mess he would not allow it again.
After conferring with the coroner, Sergeant Briggs told Sherwin that he could face a fine of up to £5 for his refusal. But the Star was a new hotel, and Sherwin remained adamant so Sergeant Briggs was forced to take the body to the Addington Gaol where it was stored in a cottage at the back. There were no conveniences or water there but the post mortem and inquest went ahead inside the cottage.
Later at court, Mr Sherwin’s lawyer argued that Wallace’s Hotel was actually closer to the deceased’s cottage by five chains and that under the law, the police were bound to go to the nearest hotel. He also argued that the Licensing Act in section 136 stated that publicans were exempt from such demands within the radius of any morgue and that as the hospital had a public morgue, it could have been taken there.
However this was argued against by using the amended Coroner’s Act of 1888. Sherwin’s lawyer still thought that the case was that a hospital morgue was only sixty nine and a half chains and if the body had been taken across the railway bridge the distance would have been considerably shorter.
The court ruled that there was no public morgue in the city, and there was nothing to compel the hospital board to take the body. Sherwin was fined £3 and costs “as would be a warning to other publicans.” (The Star September 19th, 1891).
The Christchurch City Council continued to deliberate as to where one could be sited and by 1896, Parliament passed an act stating that all communities with a population of 1000 or more had to provide a public morgue. Some pressure was on the council to provide one but by 1898, many ideas had been put forward for the siting of a morgue. Sites such as Mill Island could be made “very attractive by covering the building with climbing roses”. Another option was on the banks of the Avon near Chester Street and close to the Fire Brigade Station. but no one wanted a morgue to be near their premises or even have to look upon it. No sooner would the city council bring up a suggested site at any one locality, petitions strongly objecting to the presence of a morgue in their neighbourhood were put forward by the residents in the vicinity. There were so many who strongly objected to a new site, leaving hotel proprietors unrelieved of their duty.
For a while, the council revisited the idea of using the Police depot or the hospital morgue. They sent a deputation from the Sanitary Committee to the Hospital Board to propose enlarging the hospital morgue. The council offered to provide up-to-date appliances, including a disinfection tank, and promised that there would be no cost to the board or menace to public health or nuisance. One councillor called Morris thought that the number of dead bodies brought to the hospital would only amount to twelve per year and it would be an advantage to the hospital to have their morgue improved.
Tthe chairman of the hospital board, however, believed the morgue was too close to the wards. The bodies stored there at present, all came from the hospital and were fresh. If the hospital made their morgue a public one, badly decomposed bodies that might have been buried for three weeks would have to be accepted which would pose a health risk. He felt the hospital was being pressured to provide the city with a morgue because it was the easiest solution for the council, so the council’s hope for a public morgue at the hospital was declined by the hospital board. The practice of taking bodies to the nearest hotel in the city was continued again – much to the annoyance of the licensees and their “inmates”.
On December, 1897, a petition was read from 62 hotel keepers and others, praying the Council provide a suitable morgue and pointing out the great nuisance to which publicans and residents in the neighbourhood of hotels were subjected to.
The petition was received. The Town Clerk said that the government had given the Council notice some time ago to provide a morgue. The council had replied , pointing out that there was a morgue at the police station but he Government had not replied. Councillor Gray moved – “That the attention of the Government be drawn to the fact that there is a suitable morgue at the police station and that they be requested to give instructions for that morgue to be again brought into use.” Councillor Morris seconded the motion, which was carried unanimously.
The city council’s options were only solved by finally building it in their ‘own backyard”. During 1901, the decision was made to build the city morgue on their new corporation yard on the corner of Manchester and Armagh Streets. The council stated strongly in the press that,
“it was in the best interests of Christchurch that a morgue should be erected, and the protests of a few interested persons was not going to halt its construction.”
Christchurch architect, Hurst Seagar was commissioned to begin drawing up plans for a large brick building which would be hidden from the street, behind a ten foot brick wall. It was to be fitted with the most up-to-date appliances and connected to a plentiful supply of water from large tanks in the yard. Drainage would be connected to the main sewer. (Star, 18 February 1901)
Although the morgue was constructed under some secrecy, its high pitched roof was visible over the ten foot brick wall. It had a long, enclosed verandah to run along the length of the building’s frontage. The entrance was accessed by double doors which lead into a 21 foot by 12 foot chamber. There were two concrete slabs for the laying bodies out. Above each slab, was a water spray so that the bodies could be kept cool.
At the rear was a 21 x 13 foot dissection room. It had a concrete bath of about three feet in depth, which would hold dead bodies in an advanced stage of decomposition. A tray operated by a windlass hoist was able to lift the bodies up and down into the disinfectant which was poured into the bath. There were also slate slabs where more minute dissecting work could be carried out, which were fitted with a high pressure water supply. There were enamelled ware tubs and a gas geyser was also fitted up for supplying hot water. The floors of both the rooms were concrete and the drainage was connected to the main sewers. The rooms, by necessity, were extremely well lit. At the north end of the building was an inquest room and at the rear were the offices.
The Star berated the council about the morgue being under a cloak of secrecy during its construction. It was completed in such secrecy that another article reported that the city still had no morgue at the time of the morgue’s completion:
“The need of a public morgue has been keenly felt in Christchurch, but for various reasons the city has had to manage without one, and consequently to suffer a great deal of inconvenience.”
The article went on to say that a Doctor William Diamond and the coroner, Mr Bishop who had performed at the recent inquest of Mrs Caroline Kennell, strongly believed in the need for a city morgue. There were extreme difficulties in carrying out a full and proper post mortem examination in such cramped and unsuitable quarters as those provided in a hotel. Mr Bishop reiterated that the complaint was an old one, and that it seemed no one was taking responsibility to provide a proper morgue.
The council answered back by saying that if the doctor and coroner had asked for the key to the new morgue they could have used it irregardless that the public health officer, Dr. Symes was still endeavouring to arrange a temporary table on which to carry out the dissecting until the special anatomical weighing table was completed. They had yet to employ a manager in charge of the morgue as well as a small fund for the morgue’s upkeep and expenses for post mortems.
The Star, July 11th 1901;
THE CITY’S MORGUE SITE IN THE CENTRAL YARD A MEDICAL PRACTITIONER’S OPINION
That a morgue for the city was wanted goes without saying. In fact, a morgue ought to exist in every centre of population and doubtless would but for the unreasoning opposition that all sanitary reforms are met with by interested and unthinking people. The latter may be educated up to the sensible point, the former can only be ignored or fought down.
Interviewing an experienced medical man, the Star Special obtained his opinion about a morgue and the site for it.
The doctor said, “By all means let us have a morgue, and if the City Council had elected to put it up in its new yard, well and good, no fault can be found with the site – no fault that is really a fault…Every house in the town is a morgue. Why? Because life is so uncertain, and may cease from so many causes and at any time that one never knows when, in what house or from what cause, a person may die. Yet the friends of the deceased would feel greatly scandalised if the remains of their loved one were removed to some common rendezvous of the dead. Human nature prefers to see the last of its own dead; to keep the sacred dust within its own walls until it is borne, according to Christian ideas of decent burial, to ‘that bourne whence no traveller turns.’ Thus every house may be at any moment a morgue.
Then in times of epidemics every house may be worse than a morgue, for where infectious illness is, there is always danger to the mass.
The question has been raised as to having the morgue at the hospital. I am not in favour of that but very much against it.
For the simple reason that to be suffering from disease in the hospital is bad enough under any circumstances. To be sick at all is bad enough even if one is not in the hospital but at home. but in the hospital one wants of the gruesome in his surroundings the veriest minimum, and not even that. And if you put down a morgue in the vicinity of the hospital, then right throughout the wards will go, with the speed that ill news always travels, the story that there is “One more unfortunate, Weary of Breath, Rashly importunate, Gone to her death.
No. We want a little of the added gruesome at the hospital as we can. There is plenty of that in the wars already. The hospital – all hospitals – should be kept sacred to the sick. Let the outside dead be taken somewhere else. The dead cannot be affected by environment, but the living sick may be and dangerously so.
Erect it on the city Council’s new bit of ground opposite the Chambers?
Why not? For years and years that section was a receptacle for dead dogs, cats, rats and rubbish and nobody found fault with the fact except the doctors, and they were laughed at. But the dead animals and the rubbish stank all the same.
No. the morgue on the city council’s new yard will not be offensive at all, for it will have all the appliances to prevent it from being so; and it will be shut out from sight. If I had my own way I would have the morgue on the Councils’ ground near the City Chambers. It is the best and nicest spot that could be selected.
The public morgue at present is the public house – the hotel – the places which hundreds, even thousands of the people frequent, and if there is danger from a dead body, what risk do those bread winners of the people run?
Why should the licenced houses be saddled with the reception of every dead human thing that may be found within their radius? I could give you lots of instances in this city that have come under my notice, of bodies being taken to hotels – horrible masses of corruption – and lying here while inquests were held. The customers came in and had their drinks just the same, but if they had known what was lying not many yards off they would have left the place in a hurry.
There are no appliances at a hotel. You know the kind of appliances I mean. But at the morgue, all these would be at the hand of the doctor. And the absence of these appliances at a hotel where a dead body had been brought may defeat the ends of justice, whereas their presence at the morgue may satisfy justice in every way. The doctor’s work without appliances is apt to be slummed over.
“It is an uncivilised act to take a body found in the park or the river to a hotel, where the whole people have a right to go for refreshment, and thousands and may go in a day. But no matter what the condition of a body so found, the hotel must take it in if the coroner so order. Why should the hotel – the people’s house of call – be saddled with this horror?
The proper place for a dead body that is liable to an inquest is the morgue where there is no danger to the great mass of the people. and yet after all, I have no record in all my long experience of any real injury having been done to the people by dead bodies that have been taken to hotels for inquest, and that being so, the chance of injury must be reduced to vanishing point by the institution of a morgue, and those who may be neighbours to it, would be in no danger at all.
But about the City Council’s new yard for a site. What do you really think about i? Is there any danger to anybody?
It is as good a site as could be chosen” the place is enclosed by a brick wall, and is fairly large. The outside world need not know even that anything dead is inside those dead walls, and as all the appliances that medical men need for the safety of the public would be there, the safety of hte public would be secured, and a thousand times better at any rate than it is at present wtheh bodies at hotels. yes, the yard as a site for hte morgue is as good as any.
The Star, February 19th 1901
Infanticide in Christchurch
In the first few years after the Public City morgue was built, a run of sad cases involving the death of newborn baby girls shamed the Edwardian residents of the city.
The first death occurred in January 19th, 1902. A twelve hour old baby girl’s body was found lying on newspaper and covered with brown paper, in the gutter on Elizabeth Street, Linwood. The man who discovered the tiny baby’s corpse was Mr John Slattery, a cab driver, who was heading into the city early that morning to start work. He immediately alerted the police and the body was removed to the city morgue where an inquest was carried out.
Chief Detective Chrystall, who headed the enquiry, believed the baby’s parents lived in the vicinity and made extensive inquiries as to who the parents of the child could be and to the circumstances surrounding its death.
Eight months later, on September 26th 1902, the body of a newborn baby was discovered in North Park. The inquest held in the City Morgue the next morning, before the District Coroner, Mr. R. Beetham concluded it was impossible to say whether the baby had breathed or not. There were no marks of violence on the body and if the child had been born alive it could not have lived long. The coroner thought the death was accidental and the jury returned the same verdict.
Eighteen months later a horrific discovery of a newborn baby girl’s body was made in the lavatories of the railway station in April 19th, 1904;
STARTLING DISCOVERY DEAD BABY IN LAVATORY FOUND AT THE RAILWAY STATION
A startling discovery was made yesterday morning, when a dead baby was found in one of the lavatories in the ladies waiting room. The child was apparently prematurely born, was quite naked, and was stuck firmly in the pipe that leads from the closet to the sewer.
The discovery was made by Mrs. Mahoney, the caretaker of the station. She arrived to take up her duties as usual at about 9 a.m. and about a quarter of an hour later noticed that one of the pipes appeared to be choked up. An examination showed that the naked body of a baby was blocking the pipe. She did not attempt to pull the body out, but at once informed the station master of what she had found. The station master telephoned to the police station and several detectives were soon upon the spot.
Until their arrival, the door of the lavatory was kept locked by the station officials in order that no possible clue might be destroyed or lost. The detectives found the body to be firmly wedged into the pipe but with the assistance of a couple of the station hands it was removed and taken to the City Morgue.
The dead body was quite naked, and had clearly been born close to where it was found. A careful examination showed nothing that would help towards identification, and it was, of course, impossible to get any description of the many persons who had used the lavatory. None of the station employees could throw any light whatever upon the matter.
Mrs Mahoney who is constantly about the ladies rooms, stated that she left the station on Saturday evening between five and six o’clock. A last examination showed her that everything in the rooms was as it should be, and she was quite satisfied that the body must have been placed in the lavatory between that time and the time when she found it yesterday morning.
Dr. W. H. Symes this morning conducted a post mortem examination at the Morgue and it is understood that he found the child to have been prematurely born. Probably it never breathed, so the mother was not directly responsible for its death.
Detective Fahey is in charge of the police inquiry, and a careful investigation is being made. So far, however the police have been unable to gain any clue as to the identity of the person or persons concerned in the matter.
An inquest was held at the Morgue this afternoon.
That same month the Star reported on April 6th, 1904 of a gruesome discovery at New Brighton Beach;
A GRUESOME DISCOVERY THE HEAD IDENTIFIED
The human head found on the New Brighton beach near the mouth of the Waimakariri on Monday evening was this morning identified as that of the old pensioner James Nolan, who disappeared from Christchurch about three months ago. The head had very little flesh or hair remaining but Nolan’s friends were able to identify it by means of some peculiarities in the teeth. The coroner had been informed, and an inquest will doubtless be held at the Morgue, where the head now lies.
Nolan was a well known figure in the city, through his habit of going about in uniform with his medals displayed on his coat. He was an Imperial pensioner, and has seen much service. he left his home just about the time of the new year with the stated intention of going fishing at New Brighton, and he must have got into the water by some means. Careful inquiries were made by the police and his friends at the time of his disappearance, but without result.
In the Star February, 17th 1902;
About twelve o’clock today a very small boy named Sydney Parsons jumped on to the step of the St. Albans steam roller, which was being driven past the St. Albans Council Chambers. The driver did not notice the boy on the step, and when he reversed the engine the boy jumped off with the result that one of the wheels pinched his leg. The sufferer was at once taken to Mrs Pope’s Private Hospital, which is close by.
Below, February 18th 1902 Star;
The little boy named Sydney Parsons who was run over by the St. Albans steam roller yesterday died at Mrs Pope’s Private Hospital last night. The body was removed to the City Morgue today. An inquest will be held before Mr R. Beetham, District Coroner at 4.30pm.
In the Star, June 16th 1905 page 3, a report stated that a pauper’s body was left to rot in the city’s morgue;
A PAUPER’S CORPSE UNBURIED IN A MORGUE A SCANDALOUS CASE
A scandalous position seems to have risen in connection with the burial of a pauper’s corpse, upon which an inquest was held on Wednesday. The body was that of a woman who died early on Tuesday. When the Coroner, the doctor and others went to the Morgue this morning to hold an inquest on the body of a child, they found to their horrified amazement that the pauper’s corpse was still there. No steps had been taken to have it buried, even in a pauper’s grave, and it was lying there in a truly shocking and dreadful condition, being green and rotten. Mr Bishop, the coroner, was indignant at the scandal that had obviously arisen, and after making inquiries from the police waited upon the Mayor, before whom he placed the facts, pointing out that the presence of the body was a menace to public health and that the smell from it made the duty of those who had to be in attendance at the Morgue, an exceedingly unpleasant one. The town clerk communicated with the police authorities, and steps were then taken to have the body buried.
THE CHARITABLE AID BOARD’S POSITION
There is an idea abroad that the duty of burying paupers rests upon the Charitable Aid Board. Mr T. C. Norris, secretary to the Board, however says that the Board has no responsibility in that respect. He informed a reporter who waited upon him that the Board could not undertake the burial of paupers. It was the duty of the police to do so. The Board had not known the woman in life. The police and the municipal authorities had communicated with him that day, and he practically said to the police,
“Go and do it yourselves; that was the plain English of it.”
The fact was, the Government set aside a sum of money every year to meet the expenses of such cases. The police had to undertake the burial and send the account for the expenses to the Colonial Treasurer in Wellington, and it could be paid out of the allocation. In the Estimates for 1904, for instance, there appeared a sum of one hundred pounds to meet such cases. The Board did not even know that the person was destitute. It was absurd to ask the Board to undertake the duty. The position of Charitable Aid Boards was clearly defined as long ago as 1886, when the subject was brought before the House of Representatives by the Hon. G. F. Richardson, who asked by what authority the police claimed on local Charitable Boards for the burial expenses of person found drowned or who had met their death by accident? Such a claim, he said, had been made by the police on the Southland Charitable Aid Board who declined to entertain it, and was confirmed by the police that if the amount claimed was not paid, it would be deducted from the susidy due to the board. The board declined to pay.
Sir Robert Stout who was the Minister of Justice, said that formerly the vote called the “Charitable Aid” vote, in the Colonial Secretary’s Estimates, used to cover a great many smaller items, that one among them. The police then paid, and were repaid by the Colonial Secretary’s department. Of course, if the deceased left any effects, whoever had the administration of those effects defrayed the cost of the funeral, but if there were no effects, the cost used to come out of the “Charitable Aid” vote. Charitable aid was now administered by local bodies and claims for funerals had been made on them there had, however been some considerable difficulty in getting the matter arranged and the Government proposed to put a small sum on the Supplementary Estimates to meet such cases. Mr Norris added that he would not undertake to have corpses then out of the Morgue, nor would he instruct the Board’s undertaker to do so.
THE POSITION OF THE POLICEThe police authorities maintain that the duty involves upon the Charitable Aid Board. They say that it has been customary for the Board to undertake the work. The Board should bury all destitute persons. It had a contract with an undertaker to attend to those cases. The body, they explained was that of a woman, and she had died under distressing circumstances. A man, who had no legal responsibility, but was interested in the woman, informed the Board the that the body was at the Morgue. The man was himself destitute. Yesterday, the watch house keeper communicated with the Board, and a second communication was sent by the Sub Inspector , so that the Board had been firmed of the circumstances three times. This morning the town clerk had spoken to the police through the telephone, and the police had had the body buried. In any case, not much time had been lost, as even the undertaker would not have buried the body much earlier than yesterday. It was certainly the opinion of the police that the Board should have attended to the burial of the woman. She had been a resident in the Board’s district. She had been living here for years, and it was not as if she had come from another district. At any rate, the burial had now taken place. The police had attended to it, but the expenses would be debited against the Board.
THE MAYOR’S STATEMENT
In reply to an inquiry the Mayor said that the facts, as he knew them, were that an inquest was held on Wednesday and the body was attended to in the ordinary way by the person employed to lay out bodies for burial. Yesterday the assistant town clerk mentioned to him that the body was said to be still unburied as nobody had claimed it. The Mayor thereupon told the assistant town clerk to ring up the police and ask what had been done. This morning he had gathered unofficially from Mr Bishop and Dr Russell that the body was still in the Morgue. Mr Bishop had said that there was a very bad smell about the body, and he strongly represented that steps should be taken to have it buried. The Mayor promised to see to the matter, and within ten minutes of his learning the facts the town clerk had communicated with Mr Barrell the undertaker. He promised to arrange for the burial as early as possible in the day. Incidentally Mr Barrell stated positively that the body, though discoloured, was no in the slightest degree offensive.
The Mayor further pointed out that he had caused arrangements to be made for burial as soon as the case was reported to him. Afterwards, on looking up the Public Health Act, 1900, he had discovered that the local authority, the City Council, and the police were the responsible parties. Section 44 of the Act apparently covers the case. An extract from the section states: “Where,whatever the cause of death, the body is in such a state as to be dangerous to health, the District Health Officer, or any inspector, or on the certificate of a medical practitioner, any Justice of the Peace may order the body to be buried forthwith, or within a time limited in the order or to be removed to the nearest mortuary forthwith or within a time limited in the order, for the purpose of being then buried. If the order directs the burial of the body or its removed to a mortuary and the friends or relatives of the deceased do not bury or remove it in terms of the order, it shall be the duty of the local authority to cause the body to be buried forthwith or to then removed to a mortuary for the purpose of being thence buried, whichever course is the more convenient. Such duty may be performed on behalf and at the cost of the local authority but the Inspector or any member of the police force. If the body is removed to the mortuary, it shall be the duty of the local authority to cause it to be buried.” Mr Gray remarked that the Charitable Aid Board appeared to be relieved of any liability and it was therefore unfair to lay any blame on the board, which had been mentioned as a responsible party.
A neighbour states that deceased was about sixty years of age, and had often said that she was born and brought up at Akaroa where she is supposed to have a sister living. Deceased also stated that she had children alive, but nothing is known of their whereabouts.
Star July 21st 1902 sad case of young woman killing herself in Avon;
THE AVON DROWING CASE
An inquest touching the death of Elizabeth Mary Smithson, the wife of Mr M. H. S. Smithson, who was found drowned in the River Avon, near the Madra Street Bridge, on Sunday morning, was held in the City Morgue before Mr. R. Beetham, District Coroner, at 9.30 am this morning.
Mr Beetham, in addressing the jury, said that he did not think it was necessary to ask a doctor to make a post-mortem examination of the body, as the deceased was found drowned in the river only a short time after she was missed.
John Watson Smithson deposed that the deceased woke him up at five o’clock on Sunday morning saying that she was going to get up and warm some food for the baby, and he (witness) went to sleep again. When he woke again about 5.30 he called out to his wife, and as he got no answer he rose and looked everywhere about the house for her. As he found the front door open, he went to her mother’s house, which is close by, to see if his wife was there. As witness did not find his wife there he went to the Police Station and reported the matter. A constable accompanied him back to his house, and they both searched everywhere for Mrs Smithson, finding her at length in the middle of the river near the Madras Street Bridge. He wife had been confined three weeks previously, and on Thursday last, as she did not appear to be very well, he sent for Dr. Thacker, who had attended her during her confinement. the deceased has always beee on best of terms with witness.
In answer to a question from the Coroner, Mr Smithson said that the deceased as thirty one years of age and had had one child.
Constable McKay stated that at about 7 am yesterday he proceeded with the last witness to help him to find his wife. they found the body about fifty yards below the Madras Street Bridge in the middle of the river. The time was then about 7.15 and it was daylight. There were no marks of violence on the body. It was a quarter of a mile from the deceased’s house to the place where the body was found. The deceased was clothed in a night dress, a dressing gown and a pair of stockings. Witness had the body taken to the Morgue.
In answer to a question, Smithson said that he and his wife went to bed on Saturday night about 11.30 o’clock. Before retiring, he had cup of tea and deceased drank a glass of milk.
At this stage, in answer to a question from the foreman of the jury as to what was the doctor’s opinion of the patient when he called to attend her on the Thursday, Smithson said ththe doctor merely gave him a prescription, which he got made up at Wallace and Co.’s.
the corner then asked if the jury would like to have Dr Thacker sent for to see if he could throw any light on the matter.
Dr. Thacker said that he had attended the deceased in her confinement on June 29 last. She had quite a good recovery from her confinement, and he attended her for a fortnight afterwards. On Thursday, Smithson asked him to call and see his wife as she didn’t seem so well. Witness called and examined the deceased, who seemed to be distressed about the child. She had been crying but otherwise she was quite well. He told her that ther child would soon be well. he thought that the deceased had drowned herself while suffering from a fit of melancholia.
The jury returned a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence.