Grisly Gawler - Part IFelo-de-se
In 1879, the township of Gawler was dealt a double blow when two very well known gentlemen, Ernest Neville and John Adamson, decided to end their lives in their home on the banks of the North Para River.
Ernest Neville was a well educated man, he could speak French fluently and was also a very well studied Botanist. His friend, John Adamson was also very well educated and was a very talented musician.
The men lived together in Gawler, but previously lived in Victoria together, and before moving to Gawler, had been employed as gardeners at the very lush house of Mr Dutton, just outside Kapunda, Anlaby homestead
Ernest, when the two men had moved to Gawler, took a job working within the Town of Gawler Corporation (what we would now call “A Council Position”). Ernest was sacked for “incompetency”, but was also facing embezzlement charge from the Corporation for large sums of money had gone missing with the Townships Insurance Agency. The unaccounted for monies was the sole responsibility of Ernest.. Neville didn’t take these accusations well, and blamed the local Methodist community, who he believed had a particular aversion to himself and his friend John.
The men were in a bad state, their house had monies owed for their mortgage, and a Bailiff was appointed to collect the interest due on their home.
From that time forward, it seemed as though the two men had already decided that suicide was their only option, and in studying how to end their lives painlessly, they undertook research in a business like manner.
Firstly they got hold of a bottle of chloroform, under the pretence of suffering from Neuralgia ( A painful nerve injury). They tested the drug on their much believed Bull-Terrier “Mammy”, who the two men referred to as the third part of their “trinity”, the three of them being inseparable. Mammy passed away from a drug overdose.
John, the next day, took Mammy's puppies into town and distributed them amongst their friends.
The following day, Sunday, Ernest did not appear for breakfast where the two men dined with other gentlemen, John accounted for Ernest's absence by telling those present, that Ernest had been up all night and was very tired, and would indeed sleep for most of the morning.
Ernest had, however, been running more experiments, and described some of what he had been up too in a letter to the local medical authority, Doctor Popham, which came to light after their deaths.
In that letter Ernest described taking large amounts of “Laudanum” (also known as Tincture of Opium - is an alcoholic herbal preparation containing approximately 10% powdered opium), up to an ounce in one sitting – it's effects were not very dramatic on him, sending him off to sleep for about an hour.
When Ernest awoke, he them opened up a wound in his arm and drew three pints of blood (3.5 pints of blood loss can cause organs to begin failure). Ernest passed out, and when he awoke he removed another pint of blood – that did not conclude his experiments, and he expressed to that he regretted not owning a pistol.
Ernest them nursed himself through to Tuesday night, and the two men decided to proceed to the wine cellar below the house, they suspended two ropes from the ceiling: “The ropes which the men used were suspended from the ceiling, and were originally used as ring trapezes. They cut off the rings, tied loop-knots, soaped the ropes, then got on a case together and jumped off it, leaving their bodies about eighteen inches apart.”
The Bailiff, who was residing in the house with the men until the monies was paid, heard a dog whimpering at about 3 am, and went outside to see what the noise about, but could not see anyone about.
He found the two men the next morning after they didn’t come down for breakfast, and he began to search for them.
Doctor Popham brought forward the letter that had been address to him at the Inquiry into the two deaths and stated, He Could not find a reasonable explanation for why John Adamson would kill himself as well as Ernest Neville, other than the extreme regard he felt for his companion, spoken of in his letter.
The suicide was one of passion, two men who loved each other so much, they could not live a day without each others company.
As stated at the inquest: “The affair is altogether most mysterious, and one of the most remarkable occurrences that has ever happened in the colony. At an inquest on Wednesday the Jury returned a verdict of felo-de-se.”