The Builders of Canberra-Power House by Ann Gugler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://canberracamps.webs.com/.
Copyright Ann Gugler © 2012
The Queanbeyan Age 4 December 1914
SUDDEN DEATH – CORONER’S INQUEST
On Tuesday last the Coroner was informed of the sudden death of a man named Harry McEwan, a plasterer working at the Power House Canberra. The Senior Sergeant at once sent Mounted Constable brown out to take charge of the body and procure what evidence would be necessary for the investigation of the case. The Coroner fixed 3pm on the same day for the inquest and accompanied by the Government Medical Officer and Senior Sergeant proceeded to the Power House. Viewing the body which appeared to be that of an elderly man of powerful physique and bore no signs of external injury the Coroner directed Dr Richardson to pursue a post-mortem examination of the body and directly thereupon opened his court and took evidence material to the case. The testimony tendered was very voluminous and from the following history of the affair is compiled.
Deceased was a leading plasterer working at the Power House since 16th September last. Two other plasterers were working with him on Tuesday morning; they were RP Jones, and WJ Hatchett. Mr G Franklyn, clerk of the works at the Power House shortly after the day’s work had begun, asked the deceased to come down from the scaffolding where he was at work to look at some sand brought there for plastering and which lay about 27 yards distance; from the inspection of the sand deceased at Mr Franklyn’s request went down to the river, about a quarter of a mile away to inspect some gravel which lay there. About half past nine o’clock deceased got up on the scaffolding to resume work. Jones, one of his co workmen was working about 9 feet and Hatchett, the other, about 3 feet distant from where decease’s work lay – all on the same scaffolding which was about 5 feet from the ground. Both of them saw deceased in the act of falling. Jones called to Hatchett to catch him, and Hatchett from being the nearer succeeded in getting hold of the falling man when he was within a foot of the flooring of the scaffold, and thus eased his fall. They laid him down, believing he was in a fit of some kind, and tried in vain to revive him. The only sign of life he gave was a faint moan, and within a few seconds it was plain to them that McEwan was dead. They called to Mr Franklyn who had only just gone to the back of the building, the scaffolding where the three men were working being at the front and when he came round to the front he saw Hatchett and Jones attending to the deceased as he lay on the floor of the scaffolding. Believing McEwen was in a fit, he directed them to raise him to a sitting posture and at once telephoned for Dr Thompson, who was soon on the spot. Dr Thompson at once pronounced McEwant dead and by the doctor’s directions he had the body removed to the watchman’s room. It was there that the body was inspected by the Coroner and post mortem operation was performed.
In the course of his evidence the witness Jones stated that he had known the deceased for the past 25 years and had met him in Melbourne, Perth, and Natal and the Transvaal in South Africa, also in several parts of new South Wales. Deceased by a plasterer by trade and went by the name of Harry McEwan. He had told witness that he was a single man and that he was born in Melbourne. Witness had been working with the deceased at the Power House for about five weeks, and during almost the whole of that time deceased had been constantly complaining of pains in his chest, which he attributed to indigestion. Some short time ago (he told witness) he had consulted a doctor in Sydney about the pins, but he did not say what the doctor said they arose from. Deceased was a man of temperate habits. He had told witness he had some considerable means; but never told him anything about his friends or relatives, or whether his life was insured or not.
To Hatchett: On his return from the river that morning he made the remark that the walk had knocked him out, by which the witness understood him to mean that he was exhausted. Deceased had just commenced to wet the wall he was at work on with his brush when he fell back, as already described. This witness knew no relative of the dead man, but he knew an intimate friend of his a man named McKean, residing on the Hawkesbury River. Witness also bore testimony to the fact that deceased had recently been frequently complaining of what he called indigestion.
Mr Franklyn said he knew nothing of deceased’s antecendants. He had, however told him that he had a brother-in-law named Barry, an architect residing Kangaroo Road Oakley near Melbourne. He had wired to that gentleman announcing deceased’s sudden death; and while giving evidence a reply had come signed William Barry stating that he would be at the Power House next (Wednesday) morning. Witness had no knowledge as to whether the deceased left a will.
To obtain further information if possible, the Coroner adjourned the court for an hour to enable the police to search deceased’s tent for documents or any other things that might throw light on the case, the result being the production of the following: Tow £5 notes, two £1 notes, 4s 8½d in silver and copper, and four 1d postage stamps; three Savings Bank Books (two State and one Commonwealth) the latter numbered 7363 and showing credit of £41 12s 8d and with it a bank deposit receipt for £300 and one of the State Savings Bank books numbered 153385, showing a credit of £319 17s. There was also found several letters bearing the signature of Mr barry and a letter written by Mr Barry, but never posted bearing the signature of Harry McEwan.
Bearing of the cause of this awfully sudden death, R JRM Thompson, medical practitioner of Canberra and officer in medical charge of the Federal Capital Territory, stated that he knew nothing whatsoever of the deceased, who was dead when he examined the body, on which there were no marks of violence or other external signs which could lead him to form an opinion as to the cause of death, but the circumstances were such as to be consistent with death as the result of heart failure. But Dr Richardson’s evidence, as the result of an autopsy may be given thus: Deceased was an elderly man about 60 years of age. I found no marks of violence on his whatsoever. By the order of the Coroner I proceeded to perform a post mortem examination on the body. I examined first the abdomen, but found nothing wrong on any organs except that the stomach appeared small and unused. I found the lungs to be very much spotted and congested, the heart was very much enlarged and full of blood, there was very much fat about the heart. I opened the brain and found only venous congestion. I am of the opinion that Harry McEwan died from enlargement and engorgement of the heart.
The Coroner’s finding was death from natural causes as defined by the medical evidence.
The funeral took place on Wednesday the remains being interred in the Canberra Cemetery [St John the Baptist Church Reid]. The deceased’s fellow employees and a number of other residents of Acton followed the remains to their last resting place. The Rev Mr Berry officiated at the graveside and Mr H Lazarus conducted the funeral arrangements. Deceased leaves four sisters and two brothers who reside in Victoria and Tasmania.
There appears to have been some error in the message that it was Mr Barry, deceased’s brother-in-law who was coming from Victoria as wired. The gentleman who arrived was deceased’s own brother. Mr Wm McEwan from Melbourne and who to-day accompanied Senior Sergeant Wood to the Power House to further investigate into deceased’s affairs. It is believed he died intestate, though the search may possibly reveal the will or other important papers connected with the estate. – Editor.
This is a story written by Frank Dunshea - his memories of working at the Power House in the 1940s as an apprentice until his retirement.