Elizabeth Snedden

from Monet's garden (photo mine)

Living here in Copenhagen, I am surrounded by more scots than I ever have been or thought possible without actually moving to Scotland.  Thankfully I have not adopted their accent but understand them unless of course they try to say something tricky, like foot, and I am feeling tired.

The very strange thing is that many of them come from the Glasgow area which is close to where some of my ancestors came from in Lanarkshire.  Sometimes when I am having a coffee with them, I often wonder if this is the language (because its not quite english) my great grandmother’s parents spoke.  I don’t recall my great grandmother’s voice but don’t remember that she sounded any different to anyone else I knew.  A little distant and mostly grumpy but no strange accent.

My great grandmother’s name was Agnes Snedden.  She was the sixth child of eleven born to Robert Snedden and Eliza Johnston and was born in 1896.  The Snedden’s and the Johnston’s were miners and moved often throughout Lanarkshire.  I assume looking for work or moving between mines.  One of my hopes is that one day I will be able to access mine records over the internet and fill in some of these gaps.

Robert and Eliza emigrated to Australia separately and I assume met up in the Hunter Valley where they were married in 1887 in West Maitland.  I learnt yesterday that West Maitland is now Maitland.  They were married in the Wesleyan Parsonage which is now a Uniting Church.  I am making the assumption that they were Methodists.  Their eleven children were born in the Hunter Valley.  They eventually retired to The Rocks area of Sydney and lived in, what is now, the Susannah’s Place Museum.

Their fifth daughter, and Agnes’s elder (possibly closest) sister, was Elizabeth Snedden.  I thought of her yesterday when I was browsing through this branch of the family on Ancestry.com.  One of the best features of Ancestry is the hints feature.  Especially when the hints are accurate.  One of the hints I found yesterday for Elizabeth was to a register of Coroner’s reports for NSW.  Jackpot!

I knew that Elizabeth had died in 1912 at the age of 18.  A relative had mentioned to me that she thought that one of Agnes’s sisters had committed suicide and possibly over a man.  My memory tended towards drowning.  You can imagine how excited I was to read the Coroner’s report.

The report is dated 2 Feb 1912 and was held in Cessnock, NSW which is also where she died.  Cessnock is south of Greta where my grandmother grew up.   The verdict was, “effects of a certain deadly poison known as ‘lysol’ administered by herself.”  Originally I thought the poison was lybol (the cursive writing can be tricky to read) but a quick google search pointed to lysol and by squinting my eyes, I think google might be right.

Why would you try to poison yourself with lysol.  I am not the best housekeeper to ever draw breathe but I am under the assumption that it is used for cleaning floors.  So off I went to Wikipedia and further google searches.

In Wikipedia I found that Lysol was used as a feminine hygiene product, as a method of birth control and as a cheap form of alcohol.  A google search highlighted an article published in The Argus (Melbourne) on 10 Jan 1912 claiming that in 1911 it had been the fashion to take one’s life using Lysol.  This article was printed a month before Elizabeth’s death.

A similar article published in the Northern Star (Lismore) in Dec 1912 quotes the president of the NSW Department of Health, “As a poison [Lysol] is one of the deadliest of death dealers.  Its action is generally quick, at least, compared to some poisons and it is always accompanied by the most excruciating agony.  It literally burns the stomach away, and while that is going on, the patient is suffering untold pain.  Death generally occurs several hours after lysol is administered.”

In a search on the Trove website for February 1912, there are 31 articles relating to Lysol poisoning across Australia.  Unfortunately none relate to Elizabeth so I do not know what may have driven her to take her life beyond speculation based on family oral history.  The relative who first shared Elizabeth’s story with me said that she believed it greatly affected my great grandmother.  How could it not.

This entry was posted in Family History, Snedden and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Elizabeth Snedden

  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog. My grandfather’s cousin also committed suicide by drinking Lysol. He was a WW1 veteran and was suffering neck pain. Interesting to read how common it was to take this poison.

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