Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Grisly Gawler - Part III - Death in Custody

Grisly Gawler - Part III
Death in Custody




Life was hard in the late 1800's, but, just like now, there was no excuse for crime, and if you were caught, you'd sit in a police cell until it was your time to be judged and sentenced.
In Gawler, you would visit the police cells on Cowan street. In it's day, long before the modern Police Station we see now, there stood a stone building ( as shown in photo's below)
Much like now, back in the day there were rules and regulations Police had to follow whilst they had prisoners in custody, but those rules and regulations didn’t take in to account the human factor. If someone really wants something bad enough, they will find a way to do it, and with that, there were quite a few deaths in custody in the Gawler Police station in the late 1800's.
I am going to touch on one briefly in this article.

In 1872, a man by the Surname Docherty had been arrested in front of his own home for suspicion of stealing horse saddle three months earlier. The arrest was made by Sergeant Woodcock at 5am on
the 16th of October 1872 . He took the defendant back to the Gawler Police station on cowman street and placed him in the cells.
Precautions were taken to make sure the prisoner had no weapons upon his body and he was left alone in the cells, checked upon on a regular basis by the station officers, as was customary.
He was last seen alive at 9pm Saturday night when his dinner was brought to him by Constable Farrell.
Docherty had been totally sober and of no nuisance to the Police officers, not complaining about his situation nor offering any objection to his treatment.
He was found hanging from his belt the following morning by constable Farrell, who called on Sergeant Woodcock to come and assist in cutting down the man .
Docherty had climbed up on his night bucket, and slipped his belt loop through the top rails above the doorway, then fastened the belt,. He then made a makeshift noose, and hung himself.
Due to the extreme summer heat at the time, it was decided to make an inquest into Docherty's death that same day. His friends and Wife were called to the courthouse to offer witness statements as to the mental condition of the man. His wife told officers as of late, her husband, who was usually a quiet man who took no alcohol, had become much keen to drink, and was often out drinking and doing things in the scrub, but she was not aware of what, as he did not say.
The Police had to make a report and report Mr Docherty's suicide as 'The deceased, being of weak intellect, committed suicide in a fit of temporary insanity”!

There were many more reported suicides and attempted suicides in the Gawler Police Station, as well as many other Stations around Australia. In the era, for most people, being arrested was a much more serious thing than it is now. People liked to keep good reputations intact, and being arrested, or worse, gaoled, was the kind of thing that could cost not only livelihoods, but also social status and Church Status in serious jeopardy. Often people once released would move on to new areas to try and wash those old stains from their past.

The link below shows statistics for deaths in custody across Australia in the last few years: http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/current%20series/mr/1-20/20/08_prison.html

The following link shows statistics for crimes over various decades.