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Trove Tuesday - A Gallon of Wine per day, and the death of the Toper.

The inquest into the circumstances surrounding the death of my 4th Great Grandfather Thomas Battey is the subject of my Trove Tuesday article this week.

 Source: A GALLON OF WINE PER DAY, AND THE DEATH OF THE TOPER. (1870, October 27). Queanbeyan Age (NSW : 1867 - 1904), p. 4. Retrieved June 11, 2013, from



An inquest was held on last Saturday forenoon by Dr Blake the district coroner, and a jury, touching the death on that morning of a man named Thomas Battey, a carrier by trade, who by a three weeks indulgence, first in excessive quantities of brandy, followed by the consumption of at least a gallon of colonial wine per day, drank himself into his grave.  A singular circumstance in the case is, that for a fortnight of the period mentioned, the deceased kept to his bed, and during the whole time, up to the moment of his death, the liquor was procured and given to the unfortunate man by his wife.  The callous and unfeeling manner in which this woman gave her evidence, the dead body of her husband lying at the time within arm's length of her - indeed, she was almost standing at the side of the bed on which the body lay- was most marked, and we should hope, unusual.  Never before in this town, during an experience of nearly fourteen years, have we witnessed anything approaching to it, and we trust never again to have to do so.  The following was the evidence taken:-
Mary Ann Battey deposed: I am wife of the deceased, Thomas Battey ; he was sixty-eight years old on the 13th September last : he was a carrier, and resided in Yass : this night three weeks ago the deceased was finishing up work for Mr Howard, his employer ; on that night he began, drinking, and on Monday following he came home tipsy : he continued drinking from then up to this morning ; about a fortnight ago he took to his bed, and never got up except to reach for the bottle ; he drank brandy for the first four days he stayed at home, and drank wine afterwards ; I was forced to get any person I could to fetch the brandy, for he would take my life, for he was a very violent man ; above a week ago he made me fetch the drink to the bed to him and I was obligated to continue to give it to him afterwards ; he used to drink colonial wine about a gallon a day and night ; he spoke as sensible all the time as if he had never tasted ; last night I noticed a change, he seemed so much milder ; about half-past five this morning my son Austin was about leaving for his work at North Yass ; I called him and said, "Come and speak to your father, you might never see him again alive ;" he came, shook hands with his father, and his father blessed him, and said, "God bless you, my boy, I love you as  I love my life ; my son then left ; the deceased then began to speak to me ; he said, "God bless you, you have been a kind wife to me, and I have been a bad man all my life ; God bless you, and I hope He will be kind to you when I am gone ;  I continued cleaning up the place, and so soon as I finished, believing he had fallen asleep, I went into the bedroom on tiptoe ; he looked strange to me, and I said, "Battey, are you asleep ;" I noticed his eyes where half open, and on further looking I saw that he was dead ; the deceased continued sober for one and two years at a time, but when he commenced drinking he did not know when to leave off ; the reason why I did not send for a medical man when I saw deceased in this state was because he said he wanted no doctor ; I had no idea he was going to die ; he continued drinking on one occasion for sixteen weeks ;  at the time I told Austin to come in deceased had a strange look ; I did not send for a medical man then because I had no person to send ; I did not send my son because deceased spoke so sensibly to him ; I intended, if he had got worse, to send Mrs Hennessy for a medical man ; I do not think my son had gone for a quarter of an hour when I discovered that my husband was dead ; deceased had about half a pint of soup some days, and on others he took no nourishment at all ; his bowls and functions of the body were regular during the past fortnight; deceased slept little during the night, but slept an hour or so between breakfast and dinner ; during each twenty four hours I do not believe he slept more than a couple of hours ;  he had no cough or cold, and complained of nothing ; he had no medicine.
By jurors ; I did not think the quantity of wine he drank day and night was injurious:and ifi it had been I would have been obligated to give it him ; on a former occasion when deceased was drinking at Liverpool, Dr Watson attended him.
Austin Charles Battey deposed : I am son of the deceased Thomas Battey, and reside next door to him ; about this night three weeks I first noticed signs of drink on the deceased, and on the following Monday he began to drink a excessively ; he continued to do so for a week and drank brandy ; he then left off drinking brandy, and took colonial wine ; he took to bed then ; I only saw the deceased at night, as I was at work during the day ; during the whole time he appeared to be in his right senses ;  I saw deceased last night ; my mother asked me to come in to see if my father was any lower in spirits, and if there was a likelihood of being compelled to send for a medical man ; I told her I thought she might rest easy until the morning, as he did not appear to be any worse than on the previous night ; this morning my mother asked me to come in to see father ; I did so ; he shook hands with me and said he was glad to see me, and also said God bless you ; I then left to go to work, and between quarter and half an hour after I left he died - I was told this by my mother ; I thought this morning that deceased looked rather worse than before, but did not think he was dying ; I did not advise my mother to send for a medical man.
Dr O'Connor deposed : I am a duly qualified medical practitioner, and reside at Yass ; I have viewed the body of the deceased ; there are no marks of violence externally on the body ; from the evidence I have heard I believe the deceased died from alcoholisation and want of sufficient food, to sustain him during the last three weeks,
The jury returned the following verdict :- That the deceased Thomas Battey, died from excessive indulgence in drink and from the want of sufficient nourishment.


  1. What amazing lives some of our ancestors had. The poor wife had to put up with a lot - I hope she was able to live more comfortably after his death.

    1. They certainly did! After such a public denouncement of her character (the story was picked up by newspapers around Australia) you do wonder if her life got better or worse. She apparently died aged 80 at North Yass in 1888, so I really hope that she enjoyed some happier, safer and easier times in her final years.

  2. Both his parents were convicts, I wouldn't have thought he had a good life. Great story


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