114 years ago

A troubled life

On this day 114 years ago John Francis Benedict O'Dea died in the Parkside Asylum in Adelaide, South Australia. An article in Trove alerted me to the reason why his death may have taken place there.  He had been wrestling with his demons for several years before being committed as a patient in January of 1900.

This 1897 article provides a glimpse of his difficulties and of the family's efforts to deal with those issues. In 1897 he was about 27 years old, his father John was 62 and his younger brother Patrick mentioned here had not yet turned twenty.

1897 'MONDAY, JULY 26.', Bunyip (Gawler, SA : 1863 - 1954),
30 July, p. 4. ,  viewed 12 Jan 2017,

Monday, July 26,
[Before Messrs W. H. Cox and J. W. R. Croft, J.P.'s.]
John Francis O'Dea, of Hamley Bridge, a young man, was charged with being a dangerous lunatic. 

John O'Dea, the father of defendant, said his son was very dangerous at times, and caused his parents anxiety. On Saturday last he invited him to wrestle with him. 

Patrick O'Dea, a brother of defendant, said the latter was always talking to himself and was very violent on Saturday night, when he struck witness. 

Alex Kain also gave evidence. Defendant asked him to come outside and said 'Would you like me to be murdered?' 

Dr. Maher said that 'defendant was quite rational in his replies to witness's questions. In the conversation he showed no signs of irritability. He complained of loss of memory, which he attributed to a time when be lifted a heavy weight. He could not believe he had done it. Did not think that was a sane man's statement. Attended him about three years ago for melancholia and this might lead up to the conditions that the witnesses described. Melancholia might lead to insanity. Dismissed.

I cannot help but wonder if the loss of his playmates, a young brother aged 5 and sister aged 3 in 1878 may have contributed to his melancholia. He was only 8 years old when they died within twelve days of each other.

On his admission form to Parkside in January of 1900 it is noted that he was 31 years of age, a farm labourer, single, Roman Catholic and well nourished. It is stated that his first attack had taken place at age 25. Further details are added that he claimed "others want to injure him and are plotting against him." In subsequent years he was transferred to the Adelaide Asylum on North Terrace but when it was closed in 1902 he was rehoused back in Parkside.

John wrote numerous letters during his time in the institution, often rambling with a mixture of concerns over matters governmental, religious, family and law related.  Inside Glenside: A history of mental health in Adelaide provides a glimpse of this life.

The Glenside Hospital Historical Society provides a doorway to the records and I am grateful for their assistance in providing John's records which fall outside the 100 year quarantine period.

How sad his family must have been that their eldest son did not recover and died on Jan 16th 1903. Their sentiments were expressed in the death notice and several In Memoriam notices in the years that followed.

John was buried at Pinkerton Plains on January 18th, 1903. His parents John and Maria (my great-grandparents) were also interred there in 1922 and 1929.


  1. I have included your blog in Interesting Blogs in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at


    Thank you, Chris


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