Hospital attendant Thomas Fuller meets tragic end

Thomas Alexander David Fuller 1895 – 1955

Thomas Alexander David Fuller started employment at the Beechworth Mental Hospital in June 1940 as an attendant. Beechworth on the 14th July 1955 was experiencing heavy rain with 228 points of rain being recorded at the Beechworth Police Station by 9.00am and a further 93 points of rain being recorded by 9.00am 15th July 1955. The morning of the 14th July 1955, Thomas awoke at 5.30am, his wife, Florence, spoke with her husband and he appeared quite well, he fed his fowls and his horse. Regarding the horse, Thomas said to Florence that he had fed the fowls and the horse and “that you need not feed it again, I will feed it when I come home.”

At 6.25am, 14th July 1955, The Beechworth Milkman, Clarence Edwin Boys delivered milk to the Fuller’s home in Crawford Street, he noticed that Thomas was dressed in a uniform that he knew was worn by attendants at the Beechworth Mental Hospital, He noticed that Thomas was not wearing an overcoat. Clarence offered Thomas a ride to work, but he replied “I’m not quite ready; I’ll be another five minutes”. Thomas always walked to work and despite a suggestion from Florence that they get a car, he said that he preferred to walk as it was good for him. Thomas left their home in Crawford Street for work, on foot at 6.40am, 14th July 1955.

At 6.55am, 14th July 1955, as Thomas approached the sewerage dam in the grounds of the Beechworth Mental Hospital, in the early morning half light, a very heavy fog and possibly raining. Thomas fell in to the sewerage dam and drowned. The path at the point where Thomas fell was only three feet (1 mt) from the edge of the dam and the drop in to the dam was ten feet (3.5 mt), the bank of the dam was clay.

By 8.00pm, 14th July 1955, Thomas had not returned home from work at the Beechworth Mental Hospital, Florence presumed that Thomas had been detained for duty at the pictures with the patients. When he had not returned home by 12 midnight, Florence saw her neighbour and reported Thomas missing, the neighbour called the police. Friday, 15th July 1955 at 1.30am Constable Thomas Francis Naughtin was informed that Thomas was missing. He made enquires at the Beechworth Mental Hospital and was informed that Thomas had not arrived at work and had been marked off for the day. Constable Naughtin walked the track from Kerford Road, around the dam up to the Mental Hospital; he found no trace of Thomas and abandoned the search at about 3.30am. At 7.00am when visibility was better, Constable Naughtin, together with Clarence Boys (The Milkman) resumed the search, but still no sign of Thomas.

At around 9.30am a search party was organised, later Constable Herbert Crossman found Thomas’s felt hat in the sewerage dam and dragging operations commenced in the sewerage dam.

At 2.00pm, Edward Walter Huggins, an Attendant from the Beechworth Mental Hospital was using a grappling hook from the rear of a row boat when Thomas’s body was recovered from about six feet (2 mt) of water.

The body was nine feet (3 mt) from the southern side of the dam. Thomas was fully dressed in his attendants uniform, heavy rubber soled shoes and a full length Gabardine coat. There were no visible injuries.

3.00pm, 16th July 1955, after the body of Thomas was recovered, Dr William Leembruggen pronounced life extinct in the presence of Constable Naughtin. 9.00am 17th July 1955, a post mortem examination was conducted by Dr Leembruggen, Constable Naughtin and Mr Ronald Gladstone. Constable Haughtin searched Thomas’s pockets and found a pocket watch which had stopped at 6.55, Constable Haughtin shook it and the watch started again, he also found a small torch.

Thomas Alexander David Fuller is buried at the Beechworth Cemetery.

20th January 1956, the State Accident Insurance Office requested a certified copy of the Post Mortem notes from the coroner’s inquest into the death of Thomas Alexander David Fuller on the 14th July 1955. There was a suggestion that the death of Thomas may not have been an accident, but suicide.

Thomas was admitted to the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital from the 23rd December 1954 for four weeks, suffering from War Neurosis. He was again admitted to the Ovens and District Hospital, Beechworth as a repatriation patient, suffering depression on the 29th May 1955 and following treatment, was discharged on the 27th June 1955. Thomas resumed duty at the Beechworth Mental Hospital on the 4th July 1955.

Despite the investigation from the State Accident Insurance Office, with support from the union, the death was deemed to be accidental and the insurance claim was honoured.

Thank you to Rex Stubbs for providing this story
Download the Thomas Alexander David Fuller 1895 – 1955 PDF here

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