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James McCormack

James McCormick/McCormack was a Crimean War veteran who died from strychnine poisoning by an unknown hand - perhaps his own - in Jane Alvarenga's boardinghouse in Pakenham Street in 1888. His full profile is on Diane Oldman's page on her CW Vets site. A comprehensive report in a Perth paper (below) gives all the details of his last hours.

Inquirer and Commercial News:

On Monday morning, at the Fremantle Courthouse, before Mr. Fairbairn, coroner, an inquest was held upon the death of a shepherd, named James McCormick, who died somewhat suddenly at Alverenga's boarding-house on the previous day. The following jury were sworn: — Messrs. R. Birch, A. W. Armstrong, and J. Waldron.

Jane Alverenga, licensee of the Coffee Palace in Packenham-street, said : I did not know the deceased; he came to my house, had tea, and slept there on Friday night; I think he had been drinking a little on that day; he was not much the worse for liquor; he came in on Saturday, about noon ; at 4 o'clock in the afternoon he told me he was going to bed, and he then retired ; I saw no more of him till 7.30 on Sunday morning; he was then apparently in a dying state; he has left 10s. to pay for what he had on Friday and his bed that night and two additional meals; I have 1s. 6d. balance in hand ; I think he came from the North-west. Deceased was of a very jovial temperament.

Thos. Tomlinson said : I lodge at Alvarenga's; I went to bed at 12 o'clock on Saturday night, and the deceased asked me to give him a drink of water; I was sleeping in the same room with him; I gave him the drink of water and he drank it. On Saturday evening I went into the bedroom about 6 o'clock to wash myself; deceased was still in bed his trowsers were on and his boots off I did not speak to deceased. On Sunday morning, at 6 o'clock, I heard him shouting. He shouted a second time and I told him not to make such a noise, as I wanted to go to sleep again. I heard no more then. About 7 o'clock one of the men in the same room was standing beside his bed and drew my attention to the deceased. I advised him to send for a doctor. I thought he was in the horrors from drink. The police were brought by my friend. The deceased seemed not to be able to keep himself still. He could not speak. The police remained with me till Dr. Barnett arrived, about 8.15 o'clock. I did not see deceased take anything except the water. By a Juror: I did not notice anything different with deceased after he had taken the drink of water. I have been in his company before.

Dr. Barnett deposed : on Sunday, the 8th April constable Gee came to my house about 8 a.m. and reported a case of poisoning at Alverenga's. I went down and found the deceased cold and speechless and exhibiting strong muscular spasms. I could not introduce the stomach pump on account of the rigidity of the muscles of the mouth. I tried to administer an emetic, but I could not from the same cause. I drove home to obtain other remedies, leaving instructions what was to be done in my absence. I returned immediately but he was then dead. A very small bottle, marked "poison," was handed to me as having been taken out of his pocket. I also found another small bottle, containing white crystals. I gave them to Dr. Hope.

Dr. Hope deposed: Yesterday, between 11 and 12, forenoon, I made a post-mortem examination of a man of apparently about 50 years of age. The post-mortem rigidity was very marked, and appearances strongly favoured the conclusion that the man had died during an attack of spasms. The hands were clenched, there were no external marks of violence. I examined the stomach and found that it contained a large undigested meal. The organs were all healthy in the chest. The heart was congested with the blood-fluid. I turned out the contents of the stomach, and although I examined them very carefully I could not detect positively the presence of any drug. I believe (from my manipulation) I felt some grittiness, such as would be a part of an undissolved crystal. I saved the stomach, in case it might be thought necessary to analyze it. Dr. Barnett handed me two bottles yesterday. One was labeled "poison" and the other contained white crystals. I examined the white crystals, and I should say from the condition of the body — the clenched hands and the contracted heart— that death had been probably caused by strychnine.

Rossell Jones deposed: The first time I saw deceased was on Friday night. He came to sleep at Alverenga's. I slept in the same room with him. On Saturday night I went to bed at 12.30.1 heard him ask Tomlinson for a drink of water. I saw him get it; was in a glass. I saw the man drink it. He then laid down and went to sleep. I saw no more of him till about 6.30 I heard him shouting. I did not get up then. About 7.15 a.m. Williams called me and I went for the police. The police searched his pockets and found a small bottle. I saw deceased in bed on Saturday afternoon. He was then lying on the bed. I did not speak to him. I saw him at 3.30 p.m.; he was quite sober and seemed rather jovial when I spoke to him.

P.C. Nicholson deposed that at 7.20 on Sunday morning be was called into Alverenga's Coffee Palace and told there was a man staying there who had the horrors. I went in and found the deceased in convulsions. I spoke to him, but he could not answer. I found his coat and waistcoat under his pillow and I searched his pocket and found the small bottle produced, marked "poison." I showed it him, and though he could not speak I understood him to indicate that the bottle contained eye water. The second bottle was on the dressing table, close by. The table was about one and half yard from his bed. He could not reach it without getting up in the bed. I gave him two spoonfuls of the staff. Dr. Barnett left and deceased soon afterwards died.

Alfred Edward Williams deposed: I am a sandalwood cutter; I came to Fremantle on Saturday. I did not know deceased. I lodged at Alverenga's on Saturday night. I heard deceased ask for a drink of water. I did not speak to him. I went to bed about midnight. I heard him ask Tomlinson for the water. He was the nearest to deceased. The water was brought to him in a cup. I did not see the cup taken out of the room. I don't know where it was taken from. I did not see deceased drink the water. Tomlinson fetched me some water afterwards in the same cup. I asked him to bring me a drink. He did so and I drank the water.

— Taaffe deposed to the deceased being James McCormick, who had been a passenger with him from the North-west.

After a short consultation the jury found that the deceased died from the effects of strychnine, but how it was administered there was no evidence to show.

References and Links

Inquirer and Commercial News, 11 April 1888: 3.

Diane Oldman, Crimean War Veterans in WA, page for McCormack.

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