Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The Mysterious Death of Edward Shann

The Mysterious Death of Edward Shann


 Edward Shann was born on the 30th of April 1884, in Hobart Tasmania, the youngest child of schoolmaster and journalist Frank Shann and his second wife Frances (nee Wood).
 Shann was educated firstly by his father, and after moving to Melbourne in the late 1880’s, via attendance at Wesley College, Queens College and University of Melbourne. He was a gifted young student, and despite set backs during the depression period of the 1890’s, of which he overcome by winning various scholarships, he achieved honours in History and Political Economy.
 Shann went on to become a much sought-after lecturer, finding work at the University of Melbourne lecturing on constitutional history, and later in Adelaide as an acting professor of philosophy at the University of Adelaide.

 In 1908, Shann left Australia for England, where he would study at the London School of Economics and broaden his knowledge by learning from various scholars of the day. He returned to Australia in 1910.
 He became a lecturer at the University of Queensland (1911-1912), teaching history and economics.

In 1912, Shann moved to Western Australia and became a professor of history and economics at the University of Western Australia.

Shann’s career spanned the continent of Australia, and his influence on students at the time, was vast, directly influencing many great minds of the future, including Historian and Rhodes Scholar, John A. La Nauze.
Shann, despite his heavy workload, still found time to write numerous books and essays about history and economics, including;

  • ·         An Economic History of Australia
  • ·         Bond or Free?
  • ·         Cattle Chosen: The Story of the First Group Settlement in Western Australia, 1829 to 1841
  • ·         The Boom of 1890 – and Now

 In 1930, Shann was invited by the Bank of New South Wales to become its economic consultant, a first of its kind position in Australia. Shann would go on to establish an economics department within the bank, another first for any bank in Australia.

In 1933, Shann accepted a chair of economics at the University of Adelaide, but he spent 1934, working in Perth, returning to Adelaide in 1935.

On the 23rd of May 1935, Shann gave his last lecture for the term, and collected his student’s papers and hurried off to his office. It is not known exactly what happened next, but 20 minutes later, at 7:40pm, Edward Shann was found by a student, Shann was lying in a pool of blood, on the ground, directly below his first-floor office window.

Shann’s watch had stopped at the time of impact, 7:35pm. His gold rimmed spectacles were laying nearby. An ambulance was called, and Shann was taken away, dying from the trauma of his fractured skull on the way to the hospital.

A coroner’s investigation led to a finding of suicide, based on the finding of a note in Shann’s home, that should any tragedy befall him in the near future, that his finances be taken care of by his will executor. Not a suicide note, but enough for the police at the time to conclude this was the case.

The police report of the incident noted that inside Shann’s office, which he shared with his assistant, John A La Nauze, there were no signs of a struggle. Shann’s coat and other belongings were exactly as they should be, the only things out of order were two pens found on the floor.
During interviews with staff and students that had interacted with Shann that day, and in previous weeks, it was established that Shann had been suffering form some form of exhaustion, that often led to dizzy spells, but for the most part, he was his normal cheerful self.

So, the question remains, did Edward Shann suffer from a dizzy spell, and accidentally fall out his office window, did he jump and end his own life or was it something more sinister? We will probably never know, but, if you would like to learn more about the circumstances and mystery surrounding Shann’s death, please read the essay “The Mystery of Edward Shann” by Alex Millnow (found here: http://www.freepatentsonline.com/article/History-Economics-Review/176776085.html).

Edward Shann was survived by his wife and three daughters. He was cremated in Adelaide, with memorial services provided in Adelaide and Perth.

The Edward Shann Memorial Lecturer, an annual event, was established in his honour in 1961. The University of Western Australia also erected the Shann Memorial in his honour.

Researched and written by Allen Tiller © 2017



The following assets were used to research and write this blog:

1935 'OBITUARY.', Northern Times (Carnarvon, WA : 1905 - 1952), 29 May, p. 3. , viewed 18 Dec 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74879584

1936 'EDWARD SHANN MEMORIAL FUND.', The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), 22 September, p. 10. , viewed 18 Dec 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17278523

1936 'EDWARD SHANN MEMORIAL.', The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954), 28 October, p. 6. , viewed 18 Dec 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article40972224

1937 'MEN I REMEMBER', Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 - 1954), 6 June, p. 13. (First Section), viewed 18 Dec 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article58781399

G. D. Snooks, 'Shann, Edward Owen Giblin (1884–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/shann-edward-owen-giblin-8395/text14741, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 18 December 2017

Millnow, A, 2005, The Mystery of Edward Shann, History of Economics Review, History of Economic Thought Society of Australia, viewed 18 December 2017, http://www.freepatentsonline.com/article/History-Economics-Review/176776085.html

Stuart Macintyre, 'La Nauze, Andrew John (1911–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/la-nauze-andrew-john-575/text25044, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 18 December 2017.