The New South Wales, Australia, Registers of Coroners Inquests and Magisterial Inquiries, 1796 – 1942 contain over 173,000 records and provides a fascinating insight into some of the more unusual causes of deaths of many Australians in colonial times.
The collection reveals that the most common causes of death were by drowning, apoplexy (or stroke) and ‘visitations from God’ (otherwise known as natural causes), though on occasion there are also cases of murders and thieves who were killed during the course of a robbery.
Typically, coroner’s inquests were undertaken for suspicious deaths – homicides, of prison escapees, unexplained deaths and for unidentified bodies.
Just in time for Halloween, we have uncovered records linked to mysterious stories of ghosts and murders enough to make your spine tingle, such as the case of Emily Bollard of Picton, NSW, who suffered a gruesome end in 1916 when she was tragically hit by a train in a railway tunnel. To this day, ghost hunters allegedly still see lights and shadows which have been explained as sightings of Emily’s ghost.
Adding to the ‘supernatural’ feel of this collection are links to domestic tragedy and unsettling deaths of children:
- Studley Park House, Ray Blackstone – On 15 October, 1909, in the grounds of the then Camden Grammar School, 14-year-old Ray Blackstone drowned in the dam after failed rescue attempts by his school mates. His body was placed in the cold, dark cellar of the school until his burial. 28 years later, whilst living in the transformed school house, 13-year-old Noel William Gregory passed away from appendicitis. It’s believed that the spirits of both boys play together and remain in the house as a constant reminder of their tragic lives.
- Tank Street, Morpeth, Stephen Cantwell – Local residents believe that the ghost of 10-year-old Stephen Cantwell, who drowned in an unfinished well behind Campbell’s Store on Tank Street, can be seen around the well. In the house next door, while the spirit of his distraught mother Eliza, who lost sight of him just before he drowned, remains at her vantage point overlooking the well as if still searching for her beloved son.