Drowning death of John Francis Hawken

Event Dates:

24 October 1860

[From a Correspondent]

On Wednesday 24 October 1860 a sad accident occurred to a fine little boy, aged two years, named John Francis Hawken, son of William Hawken, who was found drowned in a well of water in his father’s garden, not over eighteen inches deep. On Thursday an inquest was held on the body, before Dr. Mackintosh, J.P., and a highly respectable Jury of the inhabitants of the township. The Coroner, in opening the enquiry, remarked that he would scarcely have troubled the Jury to meet at this busy season of the year were it not that this was the third occurrence of a similar nature within twelve months in this neighbourhood, resulting from the dangerous practice of leaving wells open and uncovered.

The first witness examined was the mother, Jane Ann Hawken, who deposed that she last saw her child alive about noon the preceding day he was then playing in the garden. She went into the house to put the baby to bed, and in about five minutes she came out again and immediately missed the child in the garden. After searching for him at a neighbour’s, she returned again by the garden-gate, and found her son floating in the well of water. She screamed aloud, giving an alarm; meantime taking him out of the water by the arm which was uppermost. She remarked he was floating on his side, his face and head being under the water. He was immediately stripped of his clothing, carried into the house, rubbing and friction of the body being used by the neighbour’s until the doctor arrived, which he did very soon after. The child, up to this period from his first being discovered, never exhibited any signs of life. She had often cautioned the child not to go near the open well of water, but not on the day in question.

Richard Gardiner Jay, legally qualified medical man, being sworn/deposed that he was called yesterday, about 1 o’clock to a child said to be drowned. He went directly, and found the child lying on a sofa dead. He tried by artificial means to restore respiration. Also used the warm bath, friction with the hands, and Dr. Marshall Hall’s method of exciting respiration, and carried on for at least an hour, until, seeing the increased rigidity of the extremities, he felt assured his efforts were useless, and left. He thought the child must have been at least five minutes in the water before ceasing to live, but persons drowned recovered sometimes after a much longer immersion, the result depending greatly on the vitality of the child or individual.

After a careful consideration of the evidence, and due deliberation, the Jury, by their foreman, returned a verdict of accidental death by drowning; and at the same time begged to express their censure of the parents’ want of care in not having the well of water so guarded as to prevent such a calamity; and that as there are many places of a similar character in the neighbourhood the public be acquainted that, in event of a similar accident, the owners of such wells shall be held responsible.


1860 ‘FATAL ACCIDENT FROM DROWNING AT WILLUNGA‘, South Australian Register 27 October, p. 3. , viewed 13 Feb 2024,

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