Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Masons and their neighbours in Currie Street, Adelaide.

Currie Street ca 1861
State Library South Australia B4545
We know from the newspaper report on Susan Mason's first court appearance in August 1865 that she lived in Currie Street in Adelaide, and was familiar with the Ship Inn. The death notices for Margaret Atkin and Rose Morris (both sisters of Susan) also mention Currie Street.

I thought it would be interesting to see if there were any other reports mentioning members of the Mason family in Currie Street, so I've done a bit of hunting on Trove. ( Here's what I found. Note that I'm not claiming that any of these people called Mason are definitely related to Susan - they might be, but they might not.

The first report comes from the South Australian Register, 20th June 1849. (I've edited it slightly to make it easier to read)
An inquest was held yesterday, by William Wyatt, Esq., Coroner, at the 'Ship Inn,' Currie-street, on the body of Joseph Penfold, baker, in that street, who met his death on the preceding night. A post mortem examination had been made by Dr Nash, at the house of deceased, and after the jury had been to view the body, the examination of witnesses commenced.  
Dr. Knott sworn— Said he was sent for on Monday night to attend deceased. A little fluctuation about the heart was the only remaining sign of life. Had at tended him before in apoplexy. Was not surprised to find him so near death upon the recent occasion, for he had noticed in the course of the day that he was not only paralytic and imbecile, but evidently in a dying state. Witness had expressed that opinion to a Mr Mason [my emphasis]. 
He was found the previous night in a hole into which he had fallen. It was three or four feet deep, and made near a house which was building on his (Dr. Knott's) account. Deceased had for years been a remarkably sober man, but had become paralytic, and at length given way under the pressure of old age and disease. Dr. Nash, Colonial Surgeon, had made a. post mortem examination on the body of Joseph Penfold. [A detailed description of the post-mortem follows which I'll spare you from reading] 
 Fanny Moyle, spinster, heard quarelling at about 6 o'clock the night before, between deceased and his daughter. Saw his face bleeding, and that he wanted to go away. She would not let him, but said she would fetch a shoemaker to put a stitch in his wound. A short time elapsed, when all at once witness heard a scream from Dr. Knott's building. Presently she met Matilda Penfold, who said her father would insist upon following her, and in doing so he had fallen into a pit and killed himself. When witness approached, several persons were removing deceased from the cellar into which he had fallen. It was a cellar near Dr. Knott's house. Matilda had had too much to drink. The father and daughter were always quarrelling. In her hearing, Mrs Edwards, a neighbour, said she (the daughter) had killed her father with a jug. The mother seemed to take no notice of what was said. She was in the same state as her daughter [More descriptions of the wounds etc snipped for the sake of brevity].
From a member of the Total Abstinence Society who was on the jury, we learned that deceased, who was in his 67th year, had been a water drinker during 47 years of his life, and although he had latterly indulged to a certain extent in strong drinks, he had done so under the sanction of medical prescription, and certainly not to any injurious extent. The unfortunate deceased appears to have had a most unhappy home ; and if the fatal termination were attributed to mental excitement alone, there seems to have been reason enough for the assumption; but when we state that the unguarded excavation into which he fell, in the dark, was not less than five feet deep, and deceased a heavy man, there can be no doubt his death was at least accelerated by the fall. This want of caution, and the serious accidents thereby occasioned, of which we have so many instances, cannot be too much deprecated, and ought no longer to be without legislative interference.
Whether or not the Mr Mason mentioned here was John Mason (Susan's father), the article still reveals some interesting things about the type of people and activities that were to be found in Currie Street. I was fascinated to see that a shoemaker was to be sent for to put a stitch in Mr Penfold's wound.
Currie Street ca 1871
State Library South Australia B1871
The next article, from the South Australian Register, on 28 November 1853, also mentions the Ship Inn* as the place where inquests took place. I found several other references to it being used for this purpose. This article doesn't have any reference to the Mason family, but does give more insights into life in Currie Street. Again I've edited it to make it shorter and easier to read 

Mr. Stevenson held an inquest on Friday, and, by adjournment, on Saturday, at the Ship Inn, Currie- street, on the body of John Grayson, an infant six weeks old, who died on Thursday last, as mentioned in the Register of the following day.    
The Jury having been sworn, The Coroner told them there were some circumstances of suspicion attending the death of the child, inasmuch as it had happened rather suddenly, and no medical aid had been called in. It would be their duty to enquire into the particulars, and it was quite possible they might find it had arisen from natural or accidental causes. The Coroner and Jury then proceeded to a house of disgraceful repute, next door to Mr. Wadey's, butcher, Currie-street. The body of the child was lying on a table in the front room. It had the appearance of having been tolerably healthy; but there were very visible marks of pressure: its nostrils were distended, its mouth open, and the tongue slightly protruding.  
On the return of the Jury, Eliza Quinlan, the mother of the child, was called into the room. She was crying bitterly, and seemed much distressed. The Coroner, kindly, had one of her female companions brought in to sit beside her. She was then sworn, and duly cautioned to answer no questions which she thought might criminate herself. She is a young woman of about twenty five, and, for one of her class, tolerably decent in appearance, though her gaudy tawdry dress harmonized as little with the occasion as with her own uncontrollable emotion. [There follows a long description of the trial, detailing who was in the house at the time and so on, which you can read at the link provided.]
 The Jury, after some consultation, returned a verdict of "Accidental death," believing, apparently, that the child had been suffocated by overlaying, and not, as alleged by the mother, that it died from the effect of illness in her arms. Dr. Baruh then asked the Coroner if there were no means of closing the house kept by Corbis and Ward, as it was an intolerable annoyance to the neighbourhood. The Coroner said that any respectable neighbours might lay an information at the Police-office, and there was no doubt the Magistrate would take the necessary steps for abating the nuisance.
This, and many other articles from the time, suggests that "houses of ill repute" were common in and around Currie Street. Note the condescending tone of the newspaper towards the poor mother in her "gaudy tawdry dress".
The next article describes another tragedy, and includes mention of a Mr and Mrs Mason. It appeared in the South Australian Register, 2 August 1852.
 — A poor woman named Wyburn, who has for some time resided with her daughter (aged 16), in Currie-street, was, during the early part of this week, nearly driven to distraction by the disappearance and continued absence of the girl from her home. After many enquiries, the anxious mother obtained a clue to the girl's retreat, and on Wednesday last, discovered her in a house of 'ill-fame', which the misguided creature refused to leave. The poor woman returned to her now cheerless home in a state of dejection, that no doubt hastened an epileptic attack, to which she was occasionally subject. A kind neighbour, named Mason, [my emphasis] observing that the poor woman was, on her return home, quite incapable of ministering to her own wants, supplied her with some tea and other matters, and left her in some degree composed and apparently preparing to retire to rest.  
In the course of the night, Mrs. Mason heard screams in the residence of Mrs. Wyburn, and induced her husband to get up and enquire into the cause of the outcry. On entering Mrs. Wyburn's house, Mr. Mason found the poor creature lying on the floor near the fireplace enveloped in a sheet of flame. The loose portion of her attire was entirely consumed. before the fire was extinguished, and even her stays were in part consumed. Dr. Baruh, who was called in immediately, applied the usual remedies; but, as the case was one of great danger, he took prompt measures to have the sufferer removed to the Hospital, where she now lies in a most precarious state. It is supposed that the poor creature sat by the fire absorbed in grief, until she fell down in a fit, and that she lay helpless while the fire raged around her, until she was rescued from instant death by the active humanity of Mr. Mason.
I'd like to think that the kind-hearted Mr and Mrs Mason were Susan's parents.

*The History Girl blog has an interesting article about the Ship Inn, which apparently changed it's name to the Bedford later on. 


You can find out more about the Mason family in my book Susan: convict's daughter, soldier's wife, nobody's fool.
It's available on Amazon and other online books stores


  1. I don't think Currie street has much changed, to be honest!

    Do you know much evidence you would need to say a Mr X mentioned in one place is definitely the same person as the Mr X you're interested in? For example I would think having a same birth date/place would be very good evidence, whereas having fathers of an identical (common) name not so much - just wondering if there are any "standards" in family history? :-)

    1. With a name as common as John Mason, you really would need at least a date and place of birth. But even that isn't proof - in the past cousins of the same age and born in the same village would often be named after their (shared) grandfather and trying to distinguish them is very difficult. So the more evidence the better.