Monday, October 29, 2012

Trove Tuesday: In which Isabella drowns

This is the story about what happened to Isabella Brown*. When she was about 15 years old she went to work for the Stack family who were farmers at South Purrumbete and she had been there for almost a year. Her older brother, David, had drowned a few years earlier in the same district. (I told his story in a previous blog.)

On Christmas Day, 1880, Isabella went out to the well to get some water and apparently fell in and drowned. She was 'quite dead' when her body was brought up from the well. The local newspaper published the proceedings of the inquest in great detail and I was able to access it on the Trove website. Isabella's mother had been widowed five years earlier and Isabella was the fifth of her twelve children to die. This was the fourth inquest held for a member of her family. I'll write about the others another time.

Camperdown Chronicle, 31 Dec 1880
This is the full transcript of the newspaper report.
A magisterial enquiry was held at South Purrumbete on Sunday, the 26th of December, on the body of Isabella Brown, domestic, servant, who was drowned on Christmas Day by falling down a well.
The following evidence was taken:
Bridget Fitzgerald Stack deposed :—I am a married woman living with my husband at Purrumbete. I know the deceased, Isabella Brown; she has been living with me as a servant for the last eleven months. I last saw her alive between 4 and 5 p.m. yesterday (Christmas Day.) I had occasion to go into the garden, as the pigs had got in and were damaging the garden; the gate was left open. I called out for deceased, as I did not see her. Looked round by the well, which is about 50 yards from the garden gate. I saw but one bucket at the well, when it is usual for the deceased to take two for water. The bucket was full of water. I looked down the well, and saw the deceased's bonnet floating in the water. I then ran for my husband, who was about 200 yards, away in the paddock driving calves to water. He came, we looked down, but could not see her. He went for help, and I remained. Deceased must have been about 30 minutes gone for the water from the time she went to the well till I went to look for her. She is about 15 years of age. Her parents reside at Scott's Creek, near Cobden.
John Stack deposed :—I am a farmer residing at Purrumbete—husband to the previous witness. I know the deceased; she has been living with us for the past 11 months. I last saw her alive about 4 p.m. on Christmas Day last. About this time I went into the paddock to drive the calves to water, when I heard my wife screaming out that the deceased was drowned down the well. I looked into the well, which is covered with loose slabs, and is about 25 feet deep, and contains at present fifteen feet of water. I could not see anything of the deceased but her bonnet on the top of the water. I then ran for assistance to my nearest neighbour, Michael Nehill and James Forster, farmers, and then assisted to get her up with a long pole. Mr. Forster put a nail through the top, and hooked her dress by the side. She was quite dead, and in my opinion must have been drowned half an hour.
Michael Nehill deposed:—l am a farmer residing at Punumbete, near Mr. Brown, since she came to Mr. Stack's. I last saw her alive two days before Christmas Day last. About 5 p.m. yesterday John Stack came to my place, and appeared to be in a depressed state. He said the girl was in the waterhole. I told him to go and get James Forster, and I would go across to the hole or well. I did so, and saw Mrs. Stack standing there. I saw no sign of the deceased except a bonnet. Stack and Forster came, and I assisted them to get her up. She was quite dead.
James Forster deposed:—l am a farmer residing near Stack's, at Purrumbete. I have known the deceased for the past eleven months. I last saw her alive about three weeks ago. Between 5 and 6 p.m. yesterday John Stack came to my place and said the girl was drowned in the well—that the bucket was on the bank and she was not there. I immediately went with Stack, and tied three poles together and put a large nail at the top, and pulled her up out of the bottom of the well. She was quite dead. We did not use any means to restore life, as I knew from experience that she had been drowned too long.
The presiding magistrate (Mr. Thomas Shenfield, J.P.) returned a verdict that the deceased was "accidentally drowned,'' and at the same time drew attention to the unsafe condition of the covering of Mr. Stack's well.

Camperdown Chronicle, 31 December 1880, p2

*Isabella BROWN, daughter of John BROWN and Mary Ann HOWE was born on 11 Nov 1866 in Cobden, Victoria, Australia. She died on 25 Dec 1880 in Purrumbete, Victoria, Australia. Inquest: 31 Dec 1875. (On Christmas Day Isabella, aged 15, drowned in a well when she was getting water. She was working as a domestic servant at John and Bridget Stack's house at Purrumbete. She had been working there for eleven months.) Father: John BROWN was born in 1815 in Tyrone, Ireland. He died on 29 Dec 1875 in Scotts Creek, Cooriejong, Victoria, Australia. Mother: Mary Ann HOWE, was born in 1834 in Dublin, Ireland. She died on 13 Jan 1907 in South Ecklin, Victoria, Australia.

1 comment:

  1. That's so sad. I feel for the family, losing so many children.


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