suicide_coverSuicides and Settlers

Their place in 19th Century West Australian social history

by Claire McIntyre

ISBN 978-0-85905-446-1, (2008 New), 223pp, Soft Cover, illustrated, 295grams

$30.00. + POST

This book is a social history of 19th Century Western Australia told through the 315 suicides recorded here from the towns of the Swan settlement, Fremantle, Perth and Guildford. They also reach from the Kimberley to Esperance and the distant deserts. Many of the founders of this vast colony are recognised and honoured for their ability to overcome the extreme hardships they endured and their foresight to develop the potential wealth they imagined. Those who are seldom remembered or acknowledged are the pioneers who committed suicide, often without issue to carry on their names. Their contributions also helped to build the States foundations.

Police: The hardships of the 153 policemen named, sometimes travelling 100s of miles by horseback to investigate a scene, already months old because of the time taken for notification to arrive. They dealt with the bodies, burials, notified coroners, attempted to find and notify families, often overseas and dispose of or return the victims effects. The first telegraph line connected Perth and Fremantle in 1869 but not until the 1890s was the colony’s telegraphic network complete. The telephone linked Perth and Fremantle in the late 1880s but had only reached Geraldton by 1901.

Poor communication systems and the vast distances made life difficult for all settlers as well as the police.

Hoteliers: In town and country alike, many men lived and died in the hotels and the landlords played an important role in nursing the sick and notifying the police, often acting as jurymen. Numerous hotels throughout the colony are mentioned.

Medical: In all 67 doctors are recorded. They worked in isolation in tent or brush hospitals, without sanitation or running water. They coped with problems such as typhoid fever, mining accidents and the complications of childbirth. Medication and equipment was limited in this pre-vaccination, pre-antibiotic and pre-forensic age. Pharmacists often served as doctors in very isolated areas. Judicial: Whenever possible inquests were conducted. Magistrates or Justices of the Peace, often ill equipped to do so, acted as Coroners. The first Coroner appointed in the colony was a military man with no knowledge of medicine or the law.

Suicide is not selective. Prospectors, doctors, miners, builders, schoolteachers, domestics, explorers, barmaids, accountants, housewives, labourers and clerks were driven to kill themselves. Many nationalities are recorded and all played a crucial part in the building of the colony. This indexed book will be of interest to historians, genealogists and all interested in Western Australia.