The death of Henry Hadden
The bald facts of Henry Hadden's death are that on the night of Saturday, May 29th, 1869, he was returning to Walhalla on a Cobb and Co. coach from a trip to Melbourne on unspecified “private business” when, somewhere between Bunyip and Crossover, he was found to have become unresponsive and, upon further investigation, was in fact observed to have died. By the middle of the following week, the Melbourne "Argus" was reporting the event as follows:
Up to this date, he had been living to the south-east of Walhalla in the hilltop community at Happy-go-Lucky, and riding down Little Joe hill each day in order to serve the emerging township as its first resident medical practitioner and a respected member of the community. He was enjoying a well-earned and long-awaited, brief moment in the sun -- after the successful quarantine of William Hanks in March, "there were no further cases of smallpox and the leading role of Henry Hadden in averting an epidemic was applauded."08
During the three years of Henry Hadden's tenure in Walhalla, forty people had been buried in the town's hillside cemetery, 24 of them under the age of 18 months, many of them having died from diseases like dysentery and diarrhoea that might well have been water-borne. In the three years following his death, admittedly with a growing population in the booming town, no fewer than 68 people died, 44 of whom, under the age of 18 months, died from the same sorts of causes but with an additional wave or two of whooping cough thrown in for good measure, to help move things along.09 His services, in other words, were neither more nor less markedly effective than what prevailed after his death. Henry Hadden could never have hoped to fully escape the public ignominy of his trial fourteen years earlier, but any accrued baggage that might have besmirched his reputation following his gaol sentence clearly did not prevent the people of Walhalla from calling upon his help for routine care as well as medical emergencies, or entrusting the fates of their wives and newborn infants to him, even as late as two weeks before his death, as the following extract from Walhalla's register of births shows:
If (as we might conclude) his drinking remained a problem, it was one that he was successfully able to contain or more likely, to conceal -- if you have ever lived or worked with an alcohol-dependent person, you will know how skilled (up to a point) they can become at such manoeuvres. At the very least, it was a problem that never brought him any further public notoriety right up to the time of his death, although newspaper reports of drunken behaviour, domestic violence, brutal assaults and even occasional homicides in the town during that period make it abundantly clear that there were more than enough people living in Walhalla who drank more (and sometimes much more) than they should have. After all, Walhalla didn't acquire its reputation as a "frontier" town for no apparent reason ... There is nevertheless not even a veiled or anecdotal reference to his public behaviour in any single surviving item of documentation. For that reason, it is equally plausible to conclude that he simply fell quite dramatically and irreversibly off the wagon on this fateful occasion, though on balance it seems more probable that there is perhaps a little more than meets the eye in the comment above that he had appeared to be "in his usual health and spirits at the Bunyip".
For whatever reason, Henry Hadden went to town on "private business" and in all likelihood, would have boarded the Gippsland coach in Melbourne at noon on Saturday, May 29th for the return journey. By about this time, the local Cobb & Co. franchise of Robertson, Wagner & Co., of Sale, were advertising in the "Gippsland Times" that ...
Perhaps as much as anything else, this was a nobly worthwhile business objective, but one that seasoned passengers would have realized was nevertheless possibly not always going to be achieved, especially in mid-winter, and with the infamous "Gluepot" to be negotiated in the dead of night.
The only account of the coach trip is the one that was presented at the inquest into Henry Hadden's death, where only one of his fellow passengers, James Lewis, gave sworn evidence. The following quotes are all drawn from that document.
Depositions from Henry Hadden's Inquest
VPRS 24/P00-223 1869-449 Male
Courtesy Public Record Office Victoria
The coach had left Melbourne for Gippsland at noon that day, and Lewis testified that "when the deceased came into the coach in Melbourne he was very drunk ... when the coach jolted he would say I am so ill, I want something to drink". He did, however, say of Hadden that "he had not much drink on the road -- he only took some soda water and weak brandy and water". When the coach arrived at Buneep, "the passengers had supper but deceased did not take any".
The coachman, William Moorhouse of Moe, testified that "I saw the deceased Henry Hadden at Buneep about between 8 and 9 pm. He was not sober. He appeared to have been drinking. I saw him drink some brandy at Buneep." Although James Lewis was to testify that "I did not see him drink anything at the Buneep", he may simply not have noticed, because he -- Lewis -- also declared of Hadden that "he was drunk when he got into the coach there", and that "he did not complain of any illness, but when the coach started, he was not able to get in without assistance" (which may well have been what prompted Moorhouse to form the opinion that he did of Hadden's condition).
Again according to the driver, "After the Coach left there, I heard some person in the Coach snoring heavily -- I believe it was deceased. Nothing occurred until the Coach reached the Crossover turnoff". Inside the coach, James Lewis surely would have disagreed: "after leaving the Buneep, the deceased appeared to roll about very much. I told him to keep steady, and he put his head in one of the passenger's laps. I did not hear him move after that. When we got to within about three miles of the Crossover turnoff I remarked to the passengers that he (deceased) was dead. The passengers said that he was not dead."
But sure enough, he continued, "When the Coach stopped at the Crossover turnoff I struck a match and found he was dead. We then took the body out of the Coach and left it at Sutcliffe's hut."11 The coachman recalled it slightly differently: "One of the passengers told me that he thought the man was dead. I then got a light and looked at him, felt his pulse, and found he was dead. I carried him into Sutcliffe's hut and drove on with the other passengers", having first taken custody of the dead man's personal effects.
Moorhouse, who was engaged only to drive the stage between the "Buneep" and Moe, further testified that -- presumably on the Sunday morning, since the object of his comment was a regular on the Bench at Sale Police Court -- "Mr Guthridge JP took the deceased's effects, consisting of a gold watch and chain, pocket book, some silver, pipe, etc". In turn, Mounted Constable William O'Brien Smyth, stationed at Traralgon and no stranger to keeping the community peace in Walhalla, testified that later that day, "on Sunday the 30th, Mr Guthridge JP came to my station and informed me that Dr H Hadden had died in the Coach between the Buneep and Crossover turnoff, and that the body was lying at Sutcliffe's hut. He handed me property which had been taken from deceased, consisting of gold watch, chain, locket, pocket book, pipe, +c., and purse and 17/10 in money".
He continued, "On [Monday] the 31st, I proceeded to the Crossover and on [Tuesday] the 1st inst., I removed the body to Shady Creek. I examined the body -- there were no marks of violence on it. There was a slight abrasion over the left eye as if the deceased had been jolted against the Coach side. I found a gold pin in the deceased's handkerchief. I reported the circumstance to the Coroner". Unable to obtain the services of a doctor to conduct a post-mortem on the body, the Coroner, Henry Luke of Rosedale, hastily convened the inquest at Shady Creek for the very next day, Wednesday, 2nd June.12 His jury mainly consisted of Walhalla residents, as follows:
The "slight abrasion over the left eye" clearly prompted a moment's speculation, because James Lewis has replied to the Coroner's explicit question on this matter by saying that "there was no accident to the coach after leving [sic] the Buneep while deceased was in it".
The Coroner duly completed his report and submitted it to the Crown Law Department, where it was received on June 5th, 1869.13
News of Dr Hadden's demise had arrived with the disembarking passengers at Walhalla on Saturday night, but the following report took more than a week to appear in the summary of Walhalla events published in the "Gippsland Times":
* ! * In today's vernacular, you might well imagine that you just heard someone ask, "So what was James Boone, MD, then, a block of flats?" Well, we will shortly see that there might have been a little more to Dr Boone than met the eye, also ... In fact, it turns out to have been quite a dramatic weekend all round. When the report above mentioned the loss of "another esteemed neighbour", it wasn't just the reporter extemporizing about others in the town dying over any substantial period of time. The introduction to the report, omitted above as not being immediately relevant, reads (in part) as follows:
Bridget Murphy died, suddenly and unexpectedly from cardiac disease, and at only 29 years of age, on Sunday, May 30th, less than 24 hours after Henry Hadden died. She was buried in the Walhalla Cemetery on Tuesday, June 1st.16 Her death is mentioned here because it probably occurred at the Shamrock Hotel, which as previously noted stood where the Heritage League's gold-era Corner Store stands today, at the top of the Main Street hill, surely almost literally in the absolute centre of the town ... and the question therefore inevitably arises, "Where was James Boone, MD, to promptly administer that little miracle dose of nitro-glycerin that featured in all the old movies and stories at such times?" He may, indeed, have been there, although the outcome suggests that he wasn't; but IF he was in the town at all, he may have been unable, or even disinclined, to attend, for reasons which will be outlined below.
The sad news of Henry Hadden's death had, in fact, been published [only] a little more promptly in the same newspaper, a week after the event:
On reflection, and possibly heeding the mutterings and misgivings of the general public in Walhalla, the writers subsequently found cause to take exception to the inquest's findings.
Perhaps as a result of this article, and in an attempt to head off any further unwelcome questions on the findings of the inquest, the Secretary to the Law Department had almost immediately questioned the Coroner's failure to obtain a medical verdict by insisting on a post-mortem. On June 23rd, he returned the report to the Coroner, Henry Luke, with a handwritten note saying, "Will the Coroner be so good as to state why no medical evidence was thought necessary in this case." Coroner Luke's handwritten reply to this note, lodged on June 28th, was that "I did think it necessary to have a post mortem examination and tried to secure the services of Dr Simmons of Rosedale and subsequently Dr Boone of Walhalla neither of whom could attend without risk of life to their patients. The passengers in the Coach being all friends and neighbours besides men of respectability there could be no suspicious circumstances, consequently I did not think it justifiable to detain fifteen men in such a place and at such an expense on the chance of getting a medical man from Sale, a distance of seventy miles."
(Note, by the way, that Dr Boone was claimed to be unable to perform the post-mortem due to the risk to the lives of his patients ... although he could surely not have been asked to perform this duty before Bridget Murphy died, if the Coroner himself was only notified of Dr Hadden's death by Constable Smyth on the Tuesday.)
Several people, however, remained unsatisfied with the verdict, and at least one voiced his feelings by means of a letter to the editor of the "Gippsland Times".
Warming to this theme, the Walhalla correspondent for the "Gippsland Times" had by early July ratcheted his indignation up a further notch or two, to write as follows:
The Gippsland Times had adapted its editorial versifying from what was apparently common 19th century doggerel, which was in turn based on the following "traditional nursery rhyme" dating back to at least 1842 (in the days when such ditties were intended to terrorize as much as to teach the tinies):
However, the case was to be very effectively laid to rest, along with Henry Hadden's body when, on July 17th, 1869, the Melbourne "Argus" advised in a "Public Notices" advertisement that was headed "UNADMINISTERED ESTATES OF THE DEAD" that
Only of course "poor Hadden" wasn't altogether unowned. Through their friendly societies, an immensely grateful Walhalla community that had adopted him as one of their own had funded the headstone shown below, which for most of the 20th century stood as the only remaining vestige of Nicol Brown's local graveyard, which had never been gazetted, and which fell into disuse following his imprisonment and release from gaol in 1887.
Alfred C Akehurst (1840 - 1897)
Before I even started on this last 19th-century chapter, dealing with Henry Hadden's death, I couldn't help wondering why there had been so much fuss in the press of that time over his inquest. These were Victorian times, after all, when it wasn't done to speak ill of the dead, so when the "Gippsland Times" report of June 5th spoke unambiguously of Hadden as having been "in a state of intoxication", it clearly wasn't intended as a particularly censorious comment so much as a simple statement of fact; but what else might not have been said?
Why, for example, would people who didn't really appear to know him all that well feel compelled to write to newspaper editors about the inquest? What "private business" had led Henry Hadden to abandon his patients and taken him to Melbourne so soon after Walhalla's smallpox outbreak? And above all, who else was in the coach with him that night? The inquest depositions nominated James Lewis as the only passenger present at the time of Hadden's death who was called on to testify. We know that there were other passengers, possibly travelling to other destinations, but we don't know how many there were, nor who they were, nor where they were heading, with one exception -- several sources agree that the doctor had been travelling in the company of prominent Walhalla citizen and solicitor, Alfred Cephas Akehurst. If the name rings a distant bell with you, it may be because he was earlier noted as one of the group of Walhalla citizens who by the end of that year would be lobbying for a more direct route to Melbourne via Shady Creek, in our previous discussion of Gippsland's early roads. You could be forgiven for thinking that laying the groundwork for this deputation could have been the reason for his trip to Melbourne, but while it may have played some small part, it was clearly not his major objective, as we shall see.
As noted above, the second-hand report in the "Argus" from the "Gipps Land Guardian" (which was to print its final edition in July of 1869), said that he was travelling "in company with Mr. Akehurst, solicitor, and two other gentlemen from the same place". However, without necessarily contradicting this statement, a later report in the "Gippsland Times" says that "two of his Walhalla neighbors, who were with him, brought the intelligence to Walhalla".22 Nor is either statement at odds with the assertion in the inquest deposition of the coach driver, William Moorhouse from Moe, that when he found Hadden dead, "I carried him into Sutcliffe's hut and drove on with the other passengers."
Thus we already know of the presence of Alfred Akehurst (who newspaper reports confirm was busy back in the Walhalla Police Court and Warden's Court early the following week); the miner from Happy-go-Lucky, James Lewis, was obviously also one of the other passengers, summoned to depose his statement before the inquest, but if either Akehurst or the supposed third man "from that place" were likewise summoned, they failed to appear, possibly arguing the pressure of professional engagements and/or prior commitments.
It is difficult to find many court reports from Walhalla that do not include Alfred Akehurst's name -- he had appeared for William Hanks, for example, in the case that Hanks brought against John Buchanan in the Walhalla Police Court for allowing his goat to damage Hanks's property in November, and again in early December, of 1868 (the latter case was dismissed).23 Naturally, he was also quite heavily involved as legal counsel to the mining companies, and appeared frequently on their behalf before Walhalla's Mining Warden's Court, often on the same day that he was representing people who had been brought before the Walhalla Police Court. He was one of Walhalla's earliest and most prominent identities from the time of his arrival, yet at that time he was only in his mid-twenties. He had written a light-hearted prologue in the form of a poem that was read at the inaugural meeting of the Walhalla Debating Club, held at the Mechanics Institute on Wednesday, August 7th, 1867. Its overall tenor is suggested by this verse:
On a more serious note, in the following year his legal qualifications led to him being appointed secretary of the town's first attempt at forming a municipal council early in 1868.25 His cultural inclinations were again called into service in 1870, and saw him similarly pen a further ode to the future prospects of Walhalla's new Dramatic Society, which was launched on Friday, June 10th, 1870 at the "spacious hall recently erected by Mr J A Yarra". The society was intended as both a recreational outlet for the hard-working community and a benevolent charity for the widows and dependent children of those who had died in mining accidents. The most telling of his verses for this event was perhaps the following:
Given the already-documented toxic character of the creek, the last line in particular must have prompted more than a few wry smiles among the audience. By 1876, Alfred Akehurst and his young family had left Walhalla, and he was practising in Echuca, where he also served as a Police Magistrate.27 He died at Yarrawonga in 1897 at the age of 56.28
I wanted to know more about Alfred Akehurst. I was idly curious to know what had taken him to Melbourne, for him to be returning to Walhalla on the same stage-coach as Henry Hadden, and on the off-chance that Trove, the National Library's scanned newspaper database, might be able to throw some light on this question, I searched for his name in any articles that might have been published in the years leading up to Henry Hadden's death, and was quite surprised to find -- among very many such articles -- this public notice in the "Argus" from April 27th, 1869, barely a month earlier:
James Boone, M D (18?? - 1877)
"JAMES BOONE, of Walhalla, in the Colony of Victoria, Surgeon" -- Dr Boone -- had, of course, been the other Walhalla doctor managing the unlucky Sarah Hanks's case, and Henry Hadden's erstwhile colleague in containing the threat of smallpox within the endangered community only two months earlier. Up until this point, it hadn't occurred to me at all that he might have warranted a similar background check in his own right, but a little investigation revealed an unenviable reputation that must have been public knowledge in the township throughout his tenure in Walhalla. In such times, when bankruptcy wasn't the growth industry it has become today, insolvency was a matter of some considerable shame, although it was a condition to which James Boone -- and, it should be added, many others caught up like him in the remorseless turmoil of a wildcat gold-mining economy -- was clearly no stranger. While it is not apparent how he arrived in the colony in mid-1853 (that year again!), much of his subsequent career can unfortunately be traced through the press.
First registered as a medical practitioner in the Colony of Victoria under Licence 461 on October 7th, 1856, he had come to wider public attention when he was practising at Sandhurst (Bendigo) in 1856, according to a letter that was published in the “Argus” in October of that year to confirm the identity of a recently-exhumed body, which he co-signed as "James Boone, of Sandhurst, doctor of medicine".29 Before too long, however, he found his income failing to live up to the cost of living on the goldfields:
You might well be wondering why a doctor was suffering losses through "quartz speculations", but this was not at all an uncommon phenomenon. Like Henry Hadden on his arrival, everybody thought they could strike it rich, especially, it seemed, those who arrived on the flood tide of gold seekers in mid-1853, as becomes clearer in the following newspaper account of the subsequent examination of Dr Boone's financial affairs in early June:
Keen to discharge his obligations to his creditors, Boone applied to be appointed to the following government public health position:
... which was soon followed by his winning application for the following government tender::
Little more is heard of him from that point, until after he arrives in Walhalla, when once again his name is appearing in the local press for the wrong reasons:
It seems curious that he should have been summonsed on a charge of fraud for what appears to be a simple commercial debt, but it's not the last time he will be charged with this offence, or with other, unspecified offences that brought him before the court:
It was at about this time that his name was listed in the Register of Medical Practitioners published in the Victorian Government Gazette in mid-1868. His qualification were cited as "M.D., Philadelphia, US 1847", and he was included in the supplement to the 1868 list "in accordance with the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown". Still his creditors continued to pursue him into the courts, although occasionally, the shoe was on the other foot, when he had recalcitrant debtors of his own:
But then again, that was decidedly not always the case ... in this next report, "Same" was meant to refer to the same plaintiff as in the previously-reported case, which on this day's sittings meant a certain Cornelius Murphy.
A particularly curious aspect of this day's court reporting, tailor-made for the tinfoil-hat conspiracy-theorists, was the fact that the first case reported from the day's sitting on September 11th was that of Edward Jenkins, Deputy Official Agent, against Henry Luke, the Coroner from Rosedale who would later convene Henry Hadden's inquest. Mr Emerson appeared for the Deputy Official Agent, and Mr Akehurst for the defendant, in what the context of the following case suggests was a matter of unpaid calls and/or pledged capital owed by Mr Luke for mining company shares held in his name, probably one of the most common types of cases on court calendars in the district around that time. The case was adjourned to the next sitting day's Court, with 21 shillings in costs awarded against Mr Luke, pending the re-hearing of the case.
Cornelius Murphy was to find that he would soon have further accounts to be settled with Dr Boone:
... and if you thought the name Cornelius Murphy looked familiar, he was the proprietor of the Shamrock Hotel, at the top of Walhalla's main street, where his young wife, Bridget, died at the age of 29 from heart disease, the afternoon following Henry Hadden's death -- literally within a matter of hours -- on Sunday, May 30th.
Now, here comes that troublesome "F" word again ...
Mr Akehurst's appearance on behalf of Dr Boone in the above case suggests either that they were close enough friends that he would put himself forward in a manner that could be expected to be challenged; or (less likely) that he was perhaps not a particularly good solicitor, after all; or that Dr Boone engaged him unwisely, or perhaps too late, in the faint hope that he could cause some part of his troubles to go away.
Going by the press record, little more is heard from James Boone in Walhalla following Henry Hadden's death. Other doctors arrived in the town to share the onerous load of caring for the community, although it has been noted that as early as 1866, Doctors James Howard Eccles and John O'Connell also "availed themselves for consultation", albeit not as residents of Walhalla.40 As professional colleagues,working in isolation in a very hostile environment at the very least, it seems not unreasonable to suspect that Doctors Boone and Hadden might have been very close friends, with an intimate understanding of one another's failings. It's perhaps not even altogether out of the question that Henry Hadden might have been funding some of Boone's last-minute, courtroom-door settlements of his debts along the way. Whatever the case, judging by the following report, Dr Boone had left Walhalla and taken up residence in the north-west Victorian district of St Arnaud, pretty much as far away from Walhalla as it was then possible to get without actually leaving the Colony of Victoria, by 1875.
In 1877, he died at Donald, a town straddling the confused boundary between western Victoria's Mallee and Wimmera regions, and variously classified as being part of both. Like Henry Hadden, he left no will to direct the distribution of his relatively meagre worldly assets:
These days, when I drive home to Melbourne from Walhalla via Shady Creek, I'm usually passing through there within about 45 minutes without needing to hurry unduly. In 1869, however, it was still a trip which on horseback, across primitive tracks, would have taken most of a day, each way, which of course is precisely the reason that Alfred Akehurst was agitating for a direct road between the two townships by the end of that year. It was certainly not possible to simply "duck into town" for the day, as we might consider a trip between Walhalla and Melbourne these days. It was a minimum of two or three days for the round trip.
If James Boone was required to present himself at the Supreme Court in Melbourne at 11 am on Friday, May 28th, as subsequent press reports confirm that he did, it stands to reason that his legal counsel would also attend (and may even have been expected to be there, as well). It also seems likely to me that both men made the trip to town together, and probably returned together on the Saturday coach. Henry Hadden may well have had other "private business" matters of his own to attend to in the city, but equally may have felt obliged to provide further moral support for a friend, or possibly even to furnish a character reference for him should that have been asked for. Whatever the case, it seems quite strange that the movements and motivations of these players at this time are so obscured. For example, after Walhalla's narrow escape from the dire threat of deadly smallpox, it seems almost negligent for both doctors to have abandoned the town for the weekend, as Bridget Murphy unfortunately discovered. For Dr Boone to have refused to participate in a post-mortem on his associate (and possibly his friend) is perhaps understandable, but this was not the reason he gave for failing to attend. If anything, in the context of Mrs Murphy's death, it seems quite disingenuous of him to have pleaded professional responsibility for the welfare of the patients he could not temporarily leave to their own devices as his excuse, given his absence, together with Dr Hadden, at the end of the previous week.
So the question of whether or not he was even on the coach, possibly as our mystery third Walhalla passenger who may or may not have been on board, must remain unresolved. If he was, surely Victorian proprieties could have been preserved without revealing the reason for his trip (which after all had only been advertised in the metropolitan press). The coroner, the doctor and the solicitor all had prior associations with one another that were not voluntarily disclosed in any of the documentation surrounding Henry Hadden's death.
It has been tentatively suggested by some that his headstone was paid for by his grieving sisters back in Ireland, but the evidence all too clearly supports the alternative explanation: a local attempt to honour his memory -- without too much detail, in the hope that nothing much could be all that wrong -- that nevertheless fell quite a bit short of the mark. His sisters might have felt a little more inclined to offer some fittingly flowery, poetic epitaph, and would probably have insisted on the headstone commemorating the brother they always knew as "William", rather than "Henry" (and in fact, William Henry, rather than Henry William, a mistake they certainly would not have made). Of all people, they would surely have known that he was not in fact an "M.D.", as explained earlier, but rather a "Lic. Apoth. Hall [Dubl]", or even just "LAH [Dub]". And finally, they would have known, of course, that he was born in 1827 and could therefore not possibly have died "aged 47 years" in 1869, although they might have been more readily forgiven for getting the exact date of his death (May 29th, and certainly not July 25th) so badly wrong.
Such as it is, however, it speaks volumes not only about the esteem in which he was held by his community by the time of his death, but also about the lonely and friendless life that Henry Hadden had spent tending to a vibrant but rugged, isolated and primitive goldfield community on the opposite side of the world and thousands of miles away from his home, friends and family.
© 2013 Bernard Bolch for the Walhalla Heritage and Development League.
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