Review: Murder, Misadventure and Miserable Ends by Catie Gilchrist

Title: Murder, Misadventure and Miserable Ends: Tales from a Colonial Coroner’s Court

Author: Dr Catie Gilchrist

Published: February 18th 2019, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read December 2019


My Thoughts:

I added Murder, Misadventure and Miserable Ends to my reading list for #NonficNov but it only became available at my library this week. The subjects – crime, Australian colonial history, and social history, are intriguing on their own, in combination, I find them near irresistible.

Catie Gilchrist draws extensively on the records of Henry Shiell, who was the Sydney City Coroner from 1866 to 1889, to provide unique insight into the lives, and deaths, of Sydney residents in the 19th century. During his career, Shiell presided over roughly 200 inquests a year, mandated to investigate sudden, unexpected or suspicious deaths.

Surprisingly murder was rare in colonial Sydney, but when it occurred it caused a sensation amongst the populace, reported upon excitedly by the newspapers, often with little regard for facts. Jurors were paraded by the remains of the victims before listening to witnesses and experts, and then as directed by the coroner, rendering a verdict as to cause of death.

Death most often occurred due to misadventure as a result of hazardous workplaces, household accidents, crowded streets, and unregulated poisons, amongst other things. Alcohol and opiates were often contributory factors.

Infants and young children were particularly vulnerable to not only accidents, but also illness, and disease, and tragically were too often victims of ‘infantcide’.

Women suffered violence at the hands of their partners, and strangers, though less often than they died in childbirth, or in a desperate attempt to end an unwanted pregnancy.

Gilchrist presents the cases in fairly comprehensive detail, complemented by information gleaned from other sources, and Gilchrist’s own commentary. While I think a casual reader might find it a little dense, anyone with genuine interest in the period will be enthralled.

I found Murder, Misadventure and Miserable Ends to be absolutely fascinating reading.


Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Amanda Barrett
    Dec 14, 2019 @ 10:12:41

    This one looks really interesting! Thanks for an enticing review!

    Liked by 1 person


  2. whatsnonfiction
    Dec 15, 2019 @ 00:11:19

    I’ve been really curious about this one! Like you I found the combination of factors behind the premise pretty irresistible together. I’m even more excited to read it hearing what all it covers and that it’s such engrossing reading. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person


  3. Trackback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #SundayPost #SundaySalon | book'd out
  4. Tracey (Carpe Librum)
    Dec 28, 2019 @ 21:31:57

    Great review, sounds interesting.

    Liked by 1 person


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