Sunday, April 18, 2010

An Elderly Woman's Sudden Death

The West Australian, 12 December 1899, page 2.
Available online at http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3240361.

Alen Gunn, electrician, saw the woman approach his shop at 242 Little Collins Street and sit in the doorway. She was obviously gravely ill, unable to take breath. Alen did not pause to speak to her as he went for help. By the time he fetched Constable Quinn from Bourke Street, the woman was lying in the doorway, black in the face, with froth around her mouth and nose.

Constable Quinn immediately took the unconscious woman by cab to nearby Melbourne Hospital, where she was attended to by Dr William Ambrose Spring. She died just a few minutes later, her cause of death determined after post mortem to be toxacemia following an acute haemorrhage of the pancreas.

The woman was not of an age we would consider elderly today. Constable Quinn estimated her age to be about 55. She was 5'4", very stout, and her black hair was turning grey. The woman was wearing a wedding ring but while her petticoat was white, the rest of her attire was black. A black skirt, bodice, and a cape which was trimmed with jet. On her feet she wore elastic sided boots and black stockings. On her head, a black widow's bonnet, complete with a black veil. The only clue to the unfortunate woman's identity that afternoon was a white handkerchief, initialled "E.M.".

The next day, Minnie Black identified the body as that of her mother, Fanny Black. Fanny had been in good health, her daughter said, and not complaining of any pain.  Fanny had been visiting the City that day, as she occasionally did, to transact some business with a lawyer.

Fanny Black was the married name of Frances Gertrude Lewis, my great-great-grandmother. Her husband, James Black, had died in unusual circumstances four years earlier. The daughter "Minnie Black" who identified the body was probably Mary Black. It's also possible that she was my great-grandmother May Black, who was just eighteen years old at the time.

As for the monogram E.M. on the the hankerchief... I've no idea!

If you think you are related to this family, that would make us cousins. Please do get in touch with me!



Inquest papers for Frances Gertrude Lewis are available from the Public Record Office of Victoria: VPRS 24/P, Unit 712, File 1899/1455

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