1859 Suicide of Harriet Slater

From the South Eastern Gazette of Tuesday April 5th, 1859


An inquest was held last week at the Nag’s Head public-house, before W. Carter, Esq., touching the death of Harriet Slater, aged 27. The enquiry was a lengthened one, and has excited considerable interest in the neighbourhood. The chief facts are as follow : —

Deceased is the wife of one William Henry Slater, who worked in what are called the “physic grounds” here. Before she was married she lived in the service of Mr. Abel Garraway, at Glebelands House, whose service she left when she got married. Towards the latter end of last August her husband formed an intimacy with the daughter of a beer-house keeper named Cresswell, and went away with her, and from enquiries made by the officers of the Odd Fellows Society at Mitcham, it is believed they went to Australia, he thereby deserting his wife and an infant child. Mr. Garraway again took deceased into his service, and with the exception of occasionally deploring tbe absence of her husband, and expressing a hope that she should once more see him, she appeared to be very happy. On Tuesday morning last a young woman named Mary Gould went with some milk to Glebelands House, as usual, shortly before eight o’clock, and rang the bell, but could not make any one hear. She went again about nine o’clock, and afterwards about half-past nine, but was unsuccessful in obtaining admission, and she then went and told Mrs. Slater (deceased’s husband’s mother) of the circumstance. Ultimately, by dint of throwing dirt up at one of the windows, Miss Garraway, who resides with her father, was aroused, and came to enquire what was the matter. Mary Gould, Miss Garraway, and another female, went into the bedroom of deceased, where they found the bed-clothes much disturbed, but deceased was not there. Upon looking in a passage which led to another part of the house, however, they discovered her lying dead, in her night clothes. Mr. Crouch, surgeon, was immediately sent for, and upon searching the bed-room, discovered a cup and spoon upon the table, the former haring a white sediment at the bottom. There was also a paper, without any label, containing a white powder. Under the pillow of deceased’s bed were found two sealed envelopes, the superscription of each being in deceased’s handwriting, and a portrait of her husband.

A woman named Susannah Spencer deposed that she went to Mr. Garrawav’s on Monday evening, to pay her rent. When deceased let her in at the gate, she was crying, and witness asked her what was the matter? The reply was that she was in trouble about her husband, and should like to see him once more. Witness stopped in the kitchen with deceased for nearly an hour, during which time deceased three times said “ she hoped if she went to bed that night, she should never get up any more and afterwards that if she did get up alive she would make away with herself in some way or another. Witness told her to cheer up, and think of her dear child ; and when she left the house she appeared to be in much better spirits.

Mr. Crouch, having, under the direction of the coroner, made a post mortem examination, proved that deceased’s death was caused by arsenic, and that the cup found upon the table in her dressing-room contained a solution of the same poison.

The Coroner said he was unwilling to cause any interference in private family matters, unless absolutely necessary. He therefore left it to the jury whether he should open the letters that were found under the pillow. The jury were unanimously of opinion that they should be opened. One envelope was directed “ For my dearly be loved husband, from his poor wife.” The enclosure was very closely written, and breathed a spirit of the most ardent affection of deceased for her husband. It was dated March 27th, and commenced by stating that her dear child was born that day twelve months, from which time its unhappy mother had scarcely known one minute’s peace of mind. She, however, had been a good mother to her dear child, a good wife to her husband, and she thanked God for it. She did hope to see her husband once more, and to live with him in a little cottage of their own, with their dear child by their side. If such should never be the case, she would never marry again, as she had given her heart to her husband, and she would never give her hand to another. Under the fold of the envelope was written “ Pray God protect my child.” On the other envelope was written “ From my dear husband.” Its contents were a brief letter from her husband, which it appeared had been forwarded by him to his mother, and thence to deceased. It was as follows:—“ Give my love to my mother, brothers, and sisters, and accept the same from your very wicked, cruel husband, Wm, Henry Slater.” It was headed Jersey Islands, and dated September.

Neither Mr. Garraway nor his daughter had the slightest idea of deceased contemplating self-destruction, nor could it be ascertained where the arsenic was obtained; The only assumption being that as deceased’s husband had been in the habit of stuffing birds, and as she had treasured up everything that belonged to him, the arsenic might thus have come into her possession.

The room having been cleared, the jury, after a short deliberation, returned a verdict that deceased destroyed herself whilst suffering under “ Temporary derangement.”

Eric Montague wrote on page 128 of “Mitcham Histories 14 : Upper Mitcham and Western Road”, that William Slater emigrated to Australia and

on the banks of the Koonung Creek a few miles out of Melbourne, he set up on his own as a physic gardener, and became one of the founding fathers of the township of Mitcham, district in the City of Nunawading. With pride he called the single story house with a corrugated iron roof in which he lived Mitcham Grove, inspired no doubt for the memory of banker Henry Hoare’s house on the banks of the Wandle back home in Mitcham, Surrey.

3 thoughts on “1859 Suicide of Harriet Slater

  1. Rafton Mail

    Ref this article on Harriet Slater deceased wife of William Slater – if anyone interested in William Slater I have done his biography – he was my Great Uncle.


  2. Pingback: William Henry Slater – An Australian Pioneer | Mitcham History Notes

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