Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Torrens Creek Poisoning Tragedy

Late in January 1928, two families who lived in the same house in Torrens Creek, western Queensland, became suddenly ill.  The sickness aroused the suspicion of the local police, who made arrangements for all those living in the house to travel to Hughenden to attend the hospital there.

Two people died on the 56-mile train journey - a railway fettler named Thomas White, and his three year-old daughter Florence Isabel White. Shortly after reaching the Hughenden hospital, nine year-old Dorothy Olive Windley died. Initially, it was suspected that the victims had consumed water contaminated by sheep dip.

A few days later, eleven year-old Florence Isobel Windley became the fourth victim.  Post-mortem examinations found that the victims stomachs contained arsenic. 

On the 24th February, Albert Roy Windley, the father of two of the victims - Dorothy and Florence - gave evidence in front of the Police Magistrate (Mr W.J. Wilson) at Torrens Creek.  Albert Windley said that,

on the morning of January 22, he obtained some arsenic and caustic soda, and boiled it in a kerosene tin of water. The mixture was for the purpose of killing white ants. The balance of the arsenic, in a tea tin, had been placed on the top of a cupboard in the kitchen. There were three 100-gallon tanks connected with the house. He made tea from the water in the No. 1 tank but it was bitter to the taste. (1)
Somehow, the poison used to kill white ants had found its way into the drinking water of the household, however the deaths were found to be accidental.  An accidental tragedy.

(1) Brisbane Courier, 25 February 1928, p. 13.