Thursday, 4 July 2019

The Body was conveyed to.......

One of the unusual uses for Hotels in the past was their use as a temporary morgue and  a place to carry out autopsies and Inquests. There are accounts after accounts of this in newspapers and often the newspaper uses the term 'and the body was conveyed to [name of Hotel]' so I thought we would have  a look at some of these reports.

It seems surprising that Hotels would be used for this purpose, but I assume it was because they had space, access to water and perhaps a solid table for holding the autopsy. It was, however, a practice that was frowned upon by the authorities. As early as 1867,  the Legislative Assembly in Victoria had this issue brought to their attention by Mr Cook - To call the attention of the Chief Secretary to the practice of the police of conveying dead bodies to hotels for the purpose of holding coroners' inquests; and to ask if he will give instructions that in future such bodies may be conveyed to the nearest public morgue as may be available. (The Argus December 13, 1867) The Chief Secretary may have given instructions to the police, and it may have altered the practice in the City, but it was  a less practical idea in rural areas, due to logistical issues and the lack of morgues. There are accounts of Hotels being used as temporary morgues up to the 1920s.  Here are just a few local examples of this happening.

WARNING - newspapers were much more graphic in their reporting than they are today, so these excerpts may contain information that is upsetting.

A fatal accident occurred near the Eumemmerring Creek bridge on Thursday morning last, between the hours of twelve and one a.m., by which a farmer named George Ritchie, residing at Lyndhurst, lost his life. It appears that he had been at Hennessy's races [at  Eumemmerring] and had imbibed, rather freely during the day. On the way home George challenged his companion to  a race (they were both riding horses); his horse fell and George hit his head and he sadly died. The body was taken to Taylor's Half Way House Hotel in Lyndhurst, where an enquiry was held the same day and the verdict given to the effect that the deceased had met with his death on the morning of the 27th December by accidentally falling from his horse whilst in a state of intoxication. (South Bourke & Mornington Journal, January 2, 1884, read the full report, here)

Here's a report from The Argus, July 20 1900 - which gives lots of information about the deceased and his last movements - Yesterday afternoon, at Cranbourne, Mr. J. F. M. M'Millan, of Ballarto, dropped dead while marking at the rifle club ranges. It was at first believed that Mr. M'Millan had been shot, but this was found to be incorrect. He had been shooting at 600 yards, and had made 21. He became somewhat excited, as this was his highest score at this range, and he suddenly dropped down. The services of Dr. Park were requisitioned, and on his arrival he pronounced life extinct. The body was then conveyed to Nurse's Hotel, [Mornington Hotel] Cranbourne, where the doctor made a careful examination of the body to see if there were any bullet marks. He could find none however, and he came to the conclusion that death was due to heart disease. A post-mortem examination will be held. Mr. M'Millan was the second son of the late Mr. Alexander M'Millan, of Caldermeade Estate, of which he was part owner with his brothers at the time of his death. He had a few months ago purchased the Ballarto property from Mr. James Gibb, of Berwick, and had had extensive improvements carried out to the buildings. Since his arrival in the Cranbourne district some two years ago he had entered heartily into all public movements, and he was very highly esteemed. He leaves a widow and one child.

The Mornington Hotel, Cranbourne, here the autopsy of Mr McMillan was held in July 1900. The Mornington Hotelwas renamed The Motor Club Hotel in 1911 - now almost universally known as Kellys.
Image: The Good Country: Cranbourne Shire by Niel Gunson.

This report is about 21 year old George Gilchrist - Whilst riding from Kooweerup to the Iona St. Patrick's day sports this after noon a young cyclist named Gilchrist was killed. From the particulars to hand it appears his bicycle encountered a rut on the road near the Iona Roman Catholic Church. and Gilchrist was thrown forward on to his head, his neck being broken. The body was conveyed to the Railway Hotel, Bunyip, and the parents of deceased came over from Kooweerup this evening. (The Age, March 18, 1910)

The death notice of George Gilchrist, the son of William and Margaret Gilchrist of Koo Wee Rup. 

On the 22nd inst. it was reported to the local police that a man named James Little, a laborer, had shot himself at Kooweerup. Constable Cole proceeded to the place and had the body removed to the Palace Hotel [Lang Lang] where an inquest was held before Mr Cohen, P.M., Coroner. There is then a graphic account of what happened , which we won't repeat here and then the Coroner returned a verdict that the deceased died from gun shot wounds self inflicted. (South Bourke & Mornington Journal, April 2, 1914, read the full report, here)

Iona Hotel, Garfield c. 1915. The location of the autopsy of Peter Lynch in 1916. 
Image:  Berwick Pakenham Historical Society

A resident of Garfield named Hull was walking along a lonely track on Thursday when he came across the dead body of a man.Word was sent to Constable Anstee, at Bunyip, and the remains were conveyed to the Iona Hotel at Garfield. The body was decomposed, and Dr Cowan, who conducted the inquiry, was of opinion that death took place fully a month ago. From letters found upon the body it is thought the man's name is Peter Lynch, from Cork, Ireland. The remains were buried in the Bunyip Cemetery on Friday. (The Age, July 1 1916) I wonder if Peter's relatives back home in Ireland ever heard of his death or if his disappearance always remained a mystery.

I came across another report of a man who had been found after many weeks and again I wonder if his relatives ever head of his fate - BEACONSFIELD UPPER, Thursday. - A post-mortem examination was held at the Pine Grove Hotel on Wednesday by Dr Griffith, of Berwick, on the body of A. McMillen, who was found dead on the main Gembrook road near Beaconsfield Upper, on Tuesday midday by school children. Dr. Griffith found that death was caused by the effects of drink and exposure. There was no injury likely to have caused death. The body was that of a healthy man, aged about 50. Evidently the body had lain where it was found for about a fortnight. (The Argus September 7, 1917)

I have created a list on Trove, of articles that report on Post Mortems and Inquests being held in local hotels, you can access it here. All the articles referenced here, are on the list.

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