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The death of Henry Hadden


A single dose of alcohol, if large enough, can be lethal.

Please don't take this as a personal challenge, or as your private mission to prove me wrong, but there is no such thing as an immunity to alcohol, acquired or otherwise. Anybody can die from too large a dose -- all that distinguishes one drinker from another is exactly how large "too large a dose" actually needs to be. In appropriately toxicological language, the World Health Organization, which estimates that there are some 140 million alcohol-dependent people worldwide,01 declares that a blood alcohol content of 400mg per 100ml of blood -- .40%, or eight times Victoria's legal limit for drivers -- is "LD50", or the point at which it becomes a lethal dose for 50% of those who achieve it.

A disturbing fact is that at this point, highly tolerant individuals, who will usually have developed their tolerance through long-term habituation and abuse, may nevertheless show only "moderate drunkenness". For half of those who reach that level, or somewhere slightly beyond it for the chronically alcohol-dependent, there's no return -- in most such cases, death will occur "because of alcohol's depressive effect on the respiratory centre" of the body's nervous system.02 Others who manage to avoid such a fate might die through any number of other misadventures (greatly facilitated these days by taking charge of -- or simply failing to avoid -- hazardous, swift and/or heavy machinery while their judgement and/or reflexes are impaired), or through an unfortunate coincidence of simultaneously executing two of the body's most common defence mechanisms against such abuse, namely vomiting and loss of consciousness, leading in too many cases to the common rock-star exit of choking oneself to death. In Australia, as in many other western countries, "alcohol is second only to tobacco as the major cause of drug related mortality".02 Far less spectacular than some of the means of departure already mentioned, however, is the paradoxical fact that "the most common alcohol related cause of death is cancer".02

Once considered the exclusive domain of the dyed-in-the-wool alcoholic, binge drinking is now an insidious habit being fostered by the alcohol industry and readily adopted and absorbed by eager young, impressionable, "learner" drinkers, and not only in your town. Even the refined French, supposedly a model for the world in moderate consumption of alcohol, now have a word of their own for it. It is no longer simply that disgusting Anglo-Saxonism,"le binge-drinking"; its official name is now “la beuverie express”, according to a recent article published in Le Monde.03 Americans recognize the risk of what they term "alcohol poisoning" resulting from drinking large quantities of alcohol in a short time with the specific intention of becoming as legless as possible, as quickly as possible. They record roughly 50,000 cases of alcohol poisoning per annum, and note that "although ethanol poisoning leading to death is rare",04 in the United States, roughly one person per week nevertheless dies from alcohol poisoning.05

A final grave risk to health that's associated with drinking too much, and one that's largely reserved only for those who have done so for some time, oddly enough lies in not drinking, or rather, in stopping altogether, too abruptly. For most of us, sudden "ethanol withdrawal" will result in nothing worse than a bad to very bad hangover (there's never a good one), and a soon-forgotten resolution never to do it again. For a small number of very hardened cases, it will result in delirium tremens, or DTs, which can also kill, although not so often these days. However, in Henry Hadden's day, before rapid intensive-care salvage and the modern application of more benevolent forms of chemistry, "mortality was as high as 35%", usually from cardiac or respiratory failure.06

With that somewhat-less-than-cheery background, we finally come to the end of Henry Hadden's road.


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:

A melancholy case of sudden death is reported by the Gipps Land Guardian, as having occurred on the Melbourne-road on Saturday night. Dr. Hadden, of Walhalla, was returning from Melbourne by the coach in company with Mr. Akehurst, solicitor, and two other gentlemen from the same place. Immediately after leaving the Bunyip the doctor fell asleep, and no notice was taken of him by his companions, until the coach stopped to deliver the Crossowa [sic] mail, when the prolonged quietude of the sleeper roused the attention of the other gentlemen. A light was procured, when it was discovered that the unfortunate gentleman was quite dead. The immediate cause of death can hardly even be conjectured, as deceased appeared in his usual health and spirits at the Bunyip. It was fortunate that deceased was in the company of respectable men who knew him; had he been alone, or had his fellow-passengers been strangers, it might have been very unpleasant for the driver or the fellow-passengers.07

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:

Henry Hadden as midwife
Extract from Walhalla Register of Births, April-May 1869
W H Hadden "Accoucheur" to Mesdames Patterson (22nd April) & Tiernan (16th May)
W H & D L collection

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 ...
"Return Coaches leave Melbourne at noon, arriving here the following day at noon."10

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 Inquest

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.

Henry Hadden inquest depositions

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:

  • William Callow (Foreman), by now, Walhalla's undertaker;
  • Richard Richards;
  • Richard May;
  • John O'Brien;
  • Charles McGrath;
  • August Hartung;
  • Josiah Hamilton;
  • Neil Leitch;
  • Peter Wilson;
  • David Rahall;
  • Mounted Constable John O'Connor, first policeman assigned to Rosedale (from 1863); and
  • Mounted Constable W O'Brien Smyth.

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".


Henry Hadden's unnoticed death in the dark led some Cobb and Co. agencies to modify the design of their coaches to include a small window high on the back wall of the coach which would admit at least a little light into the dim interior, even when roll-down shades -- not fitted on the model shown here -- were lowered to keep out inclement weather or dust, or to allow passengers some rest at night. Any time you see a coach that's being represented as an authentic, period Cobb & Co. vehicle, you should be able to date it as pre- or post-1870 according to this "field upgrade" to the basic Concord design, as shown in the Melbourne Museum's beautiful example in the photograph below ...

Cobb & Co coach showing rear window and jump seat

Detail of Melbourne Museum's Cobb & Co. coach
Note: (i) the rear window (ii) the occasional "jump seat" over the central luggage well
Private collection



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":


[Tuesday] 1st June, 1869.

Another esteemed neighbor has also been taken from us -- Dr. Hadden, returning from Melbourne, whither he had been on private business, was found to have died in the coach; two of his Walhalla neighbors, who were with him, brought the intelligence to Walhalla. On Monday it was debated whether it would be practicable to bring the remains here for interment. Delegates of the various friendly societies proceeded to where the body was left; they are to act according to their discretion.

On Monday evening a meeting of the various benefit societies was held, Mr Rosales in the chair. Mr Hartrick proposed, Mr Kelly seconded, "That each of the friendly societies pay an equal quota of the expense incurred in the interment of their late medical officer." Then it was proposed and carried, 'That a committee be appointed of two members of each society to furnish all the data possible towards getting a competent medical practitioner in Walhalla and the district." Various members were then elected to the committee. 14

    * ! *   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:

There have been several accidents here during the last few weeks; ... but we have also lost by sudden death two of our neighbors. Mrs Cornelius Murphy, the wife of Mr Murphy, Shamrock Hotel, died last Sunday afternoon; she was in delicate health, but no one anticipated such a speedy death. A very large following of her friends and neighbors attended the burial. Another esteemed neighbour ... (etc)15

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:


An inquest was held at Shady Creek, by the district coroner, Mr H. Luke, on the 2nd June, upon the body of Dr. Hadden, who was found dead in the coach between the Bunyip and Crossover turn-off on [Saturday] the 29th May. The evidence merely proved that the deceased was in a state of intoxication during the greater part of the journey from Melbourne. The verdict of the jury was "that Dr. Henry Hadden was found dead in the coach, that there was no evidence to show cause of death, and that there were no marks of violence upon the body."17

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.


11th June. 1869.

Nothing can be more unsatisfactory than the coroners inquest held on the body of the late Dr. Hadden. As recorded in the Guardian, it appears that an attempt was made in vain to induce a medical man to come and make a post mortem. The facts of the case are patent to all. The late Dr. Hadden left Melbourne in a public coach, and to all appearance in his usual health, he was not a strong man, but he was apparently a healthy man. He was accompanied on the journey by some friends, strangers also were fellow travellers with him during the journey, that is in a very few hours after, it was found that he was a dead man.

Now what do the public expect as the result of a coroners enquiry? Surely we expect that the cause of death shall be carefully sought, that no impediment be permitted to exist in the way of a complete and satisfactory explanation, that the deceased died of natural causes only, that no private means had been employed to remove him from life. We have no evidence to show that Dr. Hadden was not hocussed, not poisoned, that he was not assassinated, from private motives. I do not for a moment believe that any thing of the sort occurred, but in this instance, the coroners inquest has not shown any cause for this awfully sudden death.18

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".



SIR, - My business for some time has taken me to Walhalla nearly every week, and for the last two trips I am surprised to hear the remarks passed about the interment of the late Dr. Hadden without a post mortem examination being held on the body. The deceased gentleman was an old and respected resident of Gippsland, and enquiries as to the cause of death naturally make his numerous friends anxious to ascertain why the coroner did not send for some legally qualified gentlemen to ascertain the cause of death. It was not very likely that his partner, Dr. Boone, would perform the unpleasant operation, but the best thing that could be done was for the resident surgeon at Rosedale to be called in by the coroner, and a full report taken of the cause of Dr. Hadden's death. How the jury could arrive at a verdict surprises every one acquainted with the deceased gentleman.

- Yours &c.                     

Sale, June 25th. 1869

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:

9th July, 1869.

Dr Hadden's death is evidently intended to remain an unexplained mystery as to its cause, and the important functions of a Coroner and a coroner's jury, are nullified. There can be no question, but that local circumstances may render it highly inconvenient for a surgeon to travel thirty or forty miles through the bush, to perform a post-mortem examination, for his duty to the living who require his care may be a sufficient reason for such refusal, but that is no reason to say a post-mortem should not have been made. Why not have conveyed the corpse to the nearest place where a surgeon resides? There could be no difficulty in that, and thus all necessary requirements could have been satisfactorily made.

In this case an extraordinary circumstance is, that a coroner's jury, summoned to examine into the cause of the death of a man who was found dead in a public coach while on its journey, the deceased having entered it in his usual state of sound health, and that the jury which was sworn to discover how, when, where, and by what means the deceased met his death, have so betrayed their office, and their oath, and have returned some verdict, but without discovering how, or by what means, death ensued. The entire history of the case is eminently unsatisfactory. It is not possible to invent anything more so.

A sworn Coroner, and a Coroner's sworn jury, have in this instance shown that, given some certain local inconvenience, private assassination may easily escape detection. Our friend and neighbour Dr Hadden, was with his friends at the moment of his death, and though we have no moral doubt but that death arose from natural causes, that does not render the conduct of such pretended inquest less discreditable to the men who made a solemn oath that they would ascertain how, and by what means, he ceased to live amongst us. The jury, in fact, realised an old reading. "Hurry his bones under the stones, he's only a stranger, whom nobody owns" - poor Hadden!20

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):

       Rattle his bones
       Over the stones
       It’s only a pauper
       Who Nobody owns
               – Traditional Nursery Rhyme

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

The curator of intestate estates obtained administration of the goods of the following deceased, intestate :
Name of Deceased Residence
Hadden, Henry Walhalla21

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.

Shady Creek cemetery in 2009

Henry Hadden's gravestone in Shady Creek cemetery reserve in 2009
Few other signs of the graveyard or hotel remain today
Photo courtesy Tamara Alink

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:

The second object of this night's enacting
Is for an hour or two to entertain you,
Naught to present, which might annoy or pain you,
And, and all we ask is — don't be too exacting.

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:

We therefore claim your heartiest aid,
And, as we're not at all afraid.
To plainly call a spade a spade,
      We ask you for your money!
Assist us from your golden store,
Give us your kindly words, and more;
And Stringer's Creek (in metaphor)
      Shall flow with milk and honey!

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's summons to the Supreme Court
James Boone of Walhalla, Surgeon, to appear at the Supreme Court
from The "Argus", April 27th, 1869 (p 7)
W H & D L collection

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:



James Boone, Sandhurst, surgeon. Causes assigned - pressure of creditors, issue of writs of fi. fa.*, and general depression and losses by quartz speculations. Debts, £718 3s. 11d. Assets, £353 17s. Deficiency, £364 6s. 11d.30


[* = "fieri facias", or "cause it to be done" -- a judicial writ to satisfy a judgment for the late or non-payment of a bill]


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:


(Before his Honor the Chief Commissioner.)


Second meeting. Present-Mr. Jacomb, Official Assignee; Mr. Bayne, solicitor for the Assignee; and the insolvent.

Insolvent examined : Has been practising as a physician at Sandhurst since 1853. Had about £200 when he came into the colony in June, 1853. When he first went to Sandhurst commenced as a digger. Was unsuccessful, and after a few months began the practice of his profession, in which he was successful. In 1854 and 1855 began quartz mining. Had three men working at £5 a week for nearly a year. This speculation was a loss. The drain occasioned by this expenditure obliged him to borrow money, and produced his difficulties. It was his agreement with the men, that if the mining proved successful they were to have certain shares, and to be charged with their proportion of the expenses. Is surgeon to the gaol and lock-up at Sandhurst; his pay £12 10s. per quarter. Continues to practise his profession. His earnings are from £10 to £15 a week, a large proportion of it credit ; but his expenses are heavy - as much as £10 a week. Mr. Ward prepared his schedule. Paid him £16 10s. for preparing it - £4 in money and an order for £12 10s. due by the Government for his attendance at the goal and lock-up. Was driven into this Court by the pressure of his creditors. Several sued him for small debts in the Magistrates' Court, and he was arrested by one of them for a debt of £9. The arrest took place immediately after the insolvency. He was not taken to prison. He paid the debt by the advice of his lawyer.

The insolvent was directed to furnish the usual accounts, to keep the Assignee informed of the amount of his earnings from week to week, and, if he had any surplus after expenses, to pay it in.31

Keen to discharge his obligations to his creditors, Boone applied to be appointed to the following government public health position:

- J. Boone, Esq., M.D., to be public Vaccinator, Sandhurst.

... which was soon followed by his winning application for the following government tender::

- Supply of medicine to gaol at Ballarat, £50, James Boone, M.D.

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:



James Boone was summoned to shew cause why the sum of £12 4s 6d had not been paid to Mr Allester in accordance with an order of the Court. A further order was made for the payment of the amount, and 16s 6d costs within fourteen days, or in default, three weeks imprisonment. 34

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:

Friday, May 29, 1868.
(Before Messrs. Bell and Eccles.)

Rigby and Co. v James Boone — Settled out of 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:

Wednesday, June 10th, 1868.
(Before W. H. Foster, Esq., P.M., and Messrs Gairdner and Eccles.)

James Boon v Michael Hickey — Settled out of Court.

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.

Friday, Sept. 11, 1868.
(Before Messrs. Gairdner, Bell, and Chumley, J.P's.)

Same v James Boone.—Debt, £[indecipherable], Mr Emerson for the plaintiff. Mr Akehurst for the defendant. Verdict for the amount [?with con-]sent of Mr Akehurst.

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:

4th November. 1868.
(Before W. H. Foster, Esq., P.M., and A. Bell. Esq., J.P.)

DEBTS. Cornelius Murphy v. James Boone.- £11 12s. Mr Emerson appeared for the plaintiff, and stated that defendant had paid £5 that morning, but plaintiff seeks an order for the balance due. Cornelius Murphy, sworn : I know defendant; he owed me £11 12s; this morning he paid £5; it has been due four or five months. The case was postponed until next day.38

... 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 ...

Henry Porter v. James Boone.- £3 4s 6d. Mr. Emerson for plaintiff; Mr. Akehurt for defendant. Mr. Emerson, on applying for costs, said that Mr. Akehurst had not the right to appear or to speak for defendant, that he himself was only permitted to speak by courtesy.
Amount was paid into court just before the case was called on, costs 10s 6d.

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.



A meeting of this board was held on Wednesday, the 22nd inst, when the following amongst other matters were dealt with :


The undermentioned appointments as officers of health were duly confirmed :-
Shires -

    Flinders and Kangerong, A. F. Shaw;
Wimmera, T. H. Steel:
St. Arnaud, James Boone ...

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:


The curator of intestate estates has obtained rules to administer the estates of the following deceased persons:-

    Charles Rolfe, Kerang, 8th August, 1877, £21 ls;
James Boone, Donald, 20th August 1877, £38 ...

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.

Henry Hadden's gravestone

Henry W Hadden's gravestone
Note: "Henry W Hadden, M.D.", not "William H Hadden, L.A.H."
Photo courtesy Tamara Alink

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.




  01 Wikipedia entry on “Alcoholism”, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcoholism (retrieved August 15th, 2013).  
  02 Transcript from ABC TV's "Quantum" series episode, “What's Your Poison?” (retrieved July 15th, 2013)  
  03 “Dites désormais 'beuverie express', pas 'binge drinking'” (“From now on, say 'beuverie express', not 'binge drinking'”) in Le Monde, (retrieved August 14th, 2013). This article quantifies the practice as "more than four to five glasses in less than two hours", consumed very quickly.  
  04 Sanap M & Chapman M J, Department of Critical Care Medicine, Flinders Medical Centre, Adelaide, South Australia: “Severe ethanol poisoning: a case report and brief review”. from an abstract in "Critical Care Resuscitation", June 2003 (retrieved August 15th, 2013).  
  05 C. Nordqvist, “What is Alcohol Poisoning?” in Medical News Today, February 2011 (retrieved July 21st, 2013). This article makes the further point that heart rhythm can also be jeopardized by sudden, heavy drinking; and also notes that among those groups who are at greatest risk from alcohol poisoning are those it classifies as "chronic alcoholics".  
  06 M J Burns, MD, “Delirium Tremens” (revised February, 2013) on Medscape website (retrieved September 2nd, 2013)  
  07 “Argus”, Wednesday, June 2nd, 1869, p 5.  
  08 Y, Reynolds, “Walhalla Graveyard to Cemetery”, 2007, p 14.  
  09 ibid., pp. 188-190.  
  10 “Gippsland Times”, Tuesday, 15th June, 1869, p 1.  
  11 John Sutcliffe was “an accommodation house keeper on the Sale road near Shady Creek”, according to the report of a court case over the theft of one of his horses in the “Gippsland Times”, Tuesday, 16th February, 1869, p 3.  
  12 From PROV's "Courts and Criminal Justice – Inquest Records", we note that "In Victoria up until mid 1986, inquests were held before a Coroner, in a Coroner’s Court. ... Up until 1986 an inquest could also act as a committal hearing. ... an Inquest was held where a person:
  • Died suddenly
  • Was killed
  • Died whilst in prison
  • Drowned
  • Was executed (1864 to 1975)
  • Died whilst a patient in a lunatic asylum / mental hospital
  • Was an infant Ward of the State and died under suspicious circumstances in a registered house.
The presiding officer at the Inquest was the Coroner, who could be a police magistrate, barrister, solicitor or a doctor. The Inquest may have been held before a jury and the Coroner could call witnesses. When an Inquest was held it was generally held locally and the registration of the inquest and storage of the records was carried out centrally by the Registrar General."
  13 Inquest Deposition Files 1869-449 Male in series VPRS 24/P00-223 at Public Record Office Victoria  
  14 “Gippsland Times”, Tuesday, 8th June 1869, p 3.  
  15 ibid.  
  16 Y. Reynolds, op. cit., p 189.  
  17 “Gippsland Times”, Saturday 5th June, 1869, p 2.  
  18 “Gippsland Times”, Saturday 12th June, 1869, p 3.  
  19 “Gippsland Times”, Tuesday 29th June, 1869, p 3.  
  20 “Gippsland Times”,Tuesday, 13th July, 1869, p 3.  
  21 The “Argus”, Saturday 17th July, 1869, p 3  
  22 “Gippsland Times”, Tuesday, 8th June, 1869, p 3.  
  23 “Gippsland Times”, Saturday, 12th December, 1868, p 4.  
  24 “Gippsland Guardian”, Monday, 12th August, 1867, p 3.  
  25 John Adams, “Mountain Gold” (Narracan Shire Council, 1980), p 55.  
  26 “Gippsland Times”, Tuesday, 14th June, 1870, p 3.  
  27 “Argus”, Tuesday, 13 June 1876, p 8. Joan Hunt, of PROV (and a FRHSV), was able to confirm my suspicion that Alfred Cephas was kin to -- in fact, was the younger brother of -- Arthur Purssell Akehurst (1836-1902), who by some accounts failed to exactly cover himself in glory in the immediate aftermath of the Eureka Rebellion at Ballarat in December, 1854. Drafted from his position as a Clerk of the Peace in the Ballarat Police Court into an emergency role as a special constable for the duration of the uprising, 18-year-old Arthur Akehurst was alleged to have shot dead a certain Henry Powell, an unarmed 23-year-old non-participant bystander who had come to the diggings to court the daughter of a digger. Powell was shot at point-blank range without offering any provocation or resistance during the roundup the morning after the insurrection. Accused only of manslaughter in the highly-charged atmosphere that followed, Akehurst was later acquitted in Melbourne based on a technical flaw surrounding the swearing of the dying Powell's deposition implicating him.  
  28 “Digger” database of Victorian Births, Deaths and Marriages on CD, Macbeth Genealogical Services. Order online or check your local (Victorian) public library.  
  29 “Argus”, Wednesday, 1 October, 1856, p 5, "Domestic Intelligence" column.  
  30 “Argus”, Monday, 22nd March, 1858, p 6.  
  31 “Argus”, Thursday, 10th June, 1858, p 6.  
  32 Bendigo “Advertiser”, Monday, 14th February, 1859, p 3.  
  33 Ballarat “Star”, Thursday, 22nd December, 1859, p 4.  
  34 “Gippsland Guardian”, Monday, 15th July, 1867, p 2.  
  35 “Gippsland Guardian”, Tuesday 2nd June 1868, p 2.  
  36 “Gippsland Guardian”, Thursday, 18th June, 1868, p 3.  
  37 “Gippsland Guardian”, Thursday, 17th September, 1868, p 3.  
  38 “Gippsland Times”, Tuesday 10th November, 1868, p 3.  
  39 “Gippsland Times”, Tuesday 23rd February, 1869, p 2.  
  40 Y. Reynolds, op. cit., p 57.  
  41 “Argus”, Friday, 24th December, 1875, p 7. Oddly, an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, retrieved March 20, 2014, notes that Arthur Purssell Akehurst (Alfred's brother) "was a surprising non-medical choice in 1884 as chairman of the Central Board of Health", the body charged with the duty of ratifying such appointments as that of Dr Boone. At the time of Dr Boone's appointment, William McRae still held the post of chairman, which he occupied until his resignation in 1879.  
  42 “Argus”, Thursday, 4th October, 1877, p 5.  

© 2013 Bernard Bolch for the Walhalla Heritage and Development League.

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