Melancholy Case of Poisoning

Hello Readers,

Well, we have had time to settle our website down and work out what direction we want it to go.  We have chosen “to promote our local history”.  So each month there will be a story from the “Olden Days”.  Here is the first.

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On Friday Dr. Mc Nichol, District Coroner, held an inquest at Campbelltown on the body of Henry Bacon, a child seven years of age, who had died on Thursday morning from arsenic accidentally administered by the father.  The following evidence was taken.

Henry William Case said:- I am a chemist residing at Yandoit.  On Wednesday last I called at the house of Mr Bacon and saw the deceased.  He was suffering from simple fever.  I said I would give him some powders.  The powders consisted of two grains of “James Fever Powders”.  The powders were directed “to be taken every four hours”.  Mr Bacon came to my place and took the powders with him.  About 10pm the same day, Mr Bacon came to my place and said he had given his child “poison”.  I gave him an emetic to be taken immediately and said I would follow directly.  I went to Mr Staley and asked him what poison he had given Mr Bacon.  He showed me a packet labelled “arsenic” and said he had some of that.  I soon arrived at Mr Bacon’s and found the deceased had been made sick by the emetic.  I told Mr Bacon to go at once to Daylesford for a doctor and bring a stomach pump with him.  I stopped with the deceased.  He died at five o’clock next morning.  I distinctly told Mr Bacon that I was not a medical man.

Henry Bacon deposed:-  I am a storekeeper residing at Campbelltown.  I am the father of the deceased.  About 3pm on Wednesday last I went with Mr Case to get some medicine for the deceased.  While Mr Case was getting the medicine ready I went over to Mr Staley’s.  I asked him if he had got poison for mice.  He said “Yes, I have some arsenic”.  He gave me a little.  I should guess that it was about half an ounce.  I then went and got the powders from Mr Case.  I got home about 6pm.  I had put the packages in my pocket.  I took a package out thinking it was the powders Mr Case had given me and told Mrs Bacon there were six powders, and that she was to give one directly.  I was away about three quarters of an hour.  I then found the package Mr Case had given me.   I then knew that the deceased had got arsenic.  At this time I had had a glass or two, but was not drunk.  I told Mrs Bacon to give the deceased some linseed oil for an emetic.  I then rode away for assistance and Mr Case came.  I then went into Daylesford for a doctor, but on my return with one the deceased was dead.

Sarah Bacon deposed:-  I am wife of Henry Bacon and mother of the deceased.  On Wednesday last the deceased was unwell, and Mr Case calling, I asked him to look at him and he did so.  Mr Case said deceased had fever and he would order him some powders.  My husband went to Mr Case’s for the medicine and he returned about 7pm.  I did not see any drink on him.  He gave me a package.  I cannot read and did not therefore know what was written on the paper.  My husband said “Here are six powders”.  I found it was only one powder so I divided it into six and gave one to the deceased.  My husband went away before I gave the powder, and returned in about three quarters of an hour.  He asked had I given the powder.  After my husband had his tea, he found that he had got the powders Mr Case gave him in his pocket.  He then said “My child is dead” and ordered me to give him an emetic.  He then got on horseback to go for assistance.

David Greg Staley deposed:-  I am a storekeeper at Yandoit.  On Wednesday last about 3pm the father of the deceased came to my store and asked me if I had any stuff to destroy mice.  I said I had some arsenic.  I took some out of the package.  I then put it in paper and wrote on it “arsenic”.  The quantity was about as much as would cover half-a-crown.  I served Mr Bacon, having known him for years.  He was for some time my assistant.  I did not receive any money for the arsenic.  Mr Bacon was quite sober when I served him.  I never sold any arsenic in my life.  The arsenic I had was for my own private use, to destroy mice.

James McGregor McIntyre deposed:-  I am a duly qualified medical practitioner residing at Daylesford.  At the request of the Coroner I have made a post mortem examination of the deceased, in conjunction with Dr McGregor.  Externally we found no marks of violence.  Upon opening the chest, the heart and lungs were found healthy.  On examining the stomach we found a quantity of greyish fluid and some white powder.  The lining membrane of the stomach was much inflamed.  We tested the fluid by a solution of the sulphate of copper, and it immediately yielded arsenite of copper, showing that there was a large quantity of arsenic in the stomach.  I consider the cause of death to have been poisoning by arsenic.

John James McGregor, resident surgeon to Daylesford Hospital, generally corroborated the evidence of the preceding witness.  The stomach and small intestines were highly inflamed and congested, while all the other organs were healthy.  He considered the cause of death was arsenical poisoning.  The Coroner having summed up, the jury after a consultation, found that “Henry Bacon died on the 6th May, 1869 at Campbelltown from Poisoning from arsenic which was accidentally administered”.

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