Sudden Death at the Railway Station

Some days just don’t go as planned, and 22 June 1869 was certainly one of those day for the Elphick family of Adelaide.

There’s certain words when researching that grab a researchers attention. One being the phrase ‘sudden death’ with another being ‘inquest’. Both of these we terms I came across in the newspapers on Trove, when looking for info on Mr Lonetester’s 3x great grandpa, William Kennard Elphick.

I imagine that Tuesday the 22nd of June 1869 started out as a fairly standard day for the Elphick family of Adelaide. William Kennard Elphick was out and about, and made his way to the Adelaide Railway Station on North Terrace by late afternoon, either to head out or head home. However that’s when tragedy struck.

While walking down the stairs William collapsed, and died …

On Wednesday, Mr. T. Ward, J.P., held an inquest at the Adelaide Hospital, for the purpose of ascertaining the cause of the death of William Kennard Elphick. A Jury of 13 having been empanelled, and Mr. J. M. Dowie chosen foreman, the following evidence was taken, after the body had been viewed:— James March Stacy, bootmaker, said yesterday afternoon about 4.20 he was at the Railway Station. Saw a crowd assembled carrying the deceased, whose body he had just seen in the dead-house. Recognised it as that of W. K. Elphick, late of the Burra Mine. Some females bathed his head with cold water. Felt his pulse, and found only one pulsation. Then placed his hand on the heart, which had ceased to beat. Dr. Phillips then came in. Left the deceased in charge of the police, and afterwards communicated with his friends. By a Juror—The cold water was applied whilst he was feeling the pulse of the deceased.

James Phillips, surgeon, said he had made a postmortem, examination of the deceased, and on examining the heart found certain portions of it in a greatly dilated state. One part in particular was excessively attenuated. There was fatty degeneration of the structure of the heart, and the arteries which supply the tissues of the heart with blood were ossified. Found also the surface of the brain in a congested state. There was a sudden cessation of the action of the heart from want of power to carry on the circulation. This was undoubtedly the cause of death.

Herbert D. Gouge deposed to being at the Railway Station on Tuesday, and seeing the deceased coming down the terrace towards the station. He came outside, and as witness was about to speak to him, deceased made a plunge forward. The messenger of the Hospital came up and helped witness to carry him into the waiting-room. He did not speak, but groaned heavily once or twice. Dr. Phillips arrived about 10 minutes afterwards. By a Juror—Deceased did not appear to have been walking fast. The Coroner then summed up, and a verdict to the effect that the deceased died from disease of the heart was returned. [The South Australian Advertiser, p. 3. 24 June 1869.]

It is obvious that William Elphick was someone of note, as every South Australian newspaper that is currently on Trove, has details of his death, and inquest. Mind you having lived and worked not only in Adelaide, but also at Burra, and in Western Australia as well, it’s not really that surprising.

But finding this info was a surprise, and a sad end to one of Mr Lonetester’s emigrating ancestors. William together with his wife arrived on the “Plantar” ship in 1839, after a unbelievable 6 month journey. It took longer than the regular 4 months, as the captain was incompetent as got lost on the way, missing a port, and then had to detour elsewhere to get supplies. Not only that, but the crew mutinied, so a new crew had to be found … and so on. It’s truly stranger than fiction tale, but it happened. Details of the voyage can be found in a shipboard diary that a fellow emigrant wrote.


Adelaide Railway Station, North Terrace, 1870 [From the State Library of South Australia, Number: B.....]

Adelaide Railway Station, North Terrace, South Australia, 1870
[Courtesy of State Library of South Australia, B 69476]

2 Responses to “Sudden Death at the Railway Station”

  1. Carmel G says:

    Another interesting find in Trove. Love the picture of the railway station too.

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