In 1895 Edward and Alice Young were living on a property called Lennonville, located on North Bruny Island, just off the south-east coast of Tasmania. The Aboriginal name for the Island is lunawanna-allonah.

It seems Edward was managing the farm for its owners, as his father Charles had done before him.


In August that year Alice Young went to stay across the island at Trumpeter Bay, with the couple’s only child, two and a half year old Oscar.

On Saturday, August 17, Edward went to collect his wife and son. They arrived home in the evening of the following day and little Oscar was given some weak, sweetened tea with milk as refreshment. He immediately spat it out, saying; ‘It’s nasty Mamma.

His mother took a sip and realized he was right, the drink was very bitter. With the best of intentions she then made a decision she would regret for the rest of her life. She gave her son a teaspoon of sugar to take away the unpleasant taste.

Almost straight away the child screamed in agony, clutching his stomach. His father suspected some sort of poison and administered an emetic to induce vomiting. Unfortunately the boy’s condition worsened. Realizing how serious things had become the parents wrapped Oscar in a shawl and set out for a neighbour’s property to get help. Tragically, the little boy stiffened and died in his father’s arms on the way.

The District Coroner John Grove J.P. left the mainland on the following Wednesday to preside over an inquest.


Evidence was given that the sugar in the bowl at the family’s home was heavily laced with strychnine; a deadly poison. Strychnine is an odorless, white crystalline substance. But how did it get there? It was confirmed that strychnine was kept at Lennonville, probably for killing rats. However, it was stored in an outhouse some distance from the residence. The poison had not been used on the property for over twelve months. Another point; surely the container was labelled.

Edward Young had breakfasted with the servant girl, named Whittoson, on Saturday morning. Both had used sugar from the bowl without ill-effect and without either noticing a bitter taste. The house was locked up when Mr Young left to collect his wife and child. Miss Whittoson was told to return on Sunday evening, and she was waiting when the Young family returned.

The seven jury members (all male in those days of course) returned an open verdict, ‘There is no evidence to show how the strychnine got into the sugar.’ This seems such an unsatisfactory outcome. It is difficult to see how the death could have been an accident.

Although not stated in the official inquest, the Mercury newspaper wrote as follows;

In the painful case of poisoning at Bruny Island, where a child died from the effects of strychnine mixed with its food, the inquest elicited the fact that the error was one of inadvertence on the part of the mother, and so an open verdict was returned. (Mercury, Sept. 7 1895.)

How could that be, when she wasn’t even there until Sunday evening? Was bulk sugar stored in the outbuildings, and whose task was it to replenish the supply in the house? If these questions were asked at the inquest they were not reported on.

Hopefully, something positive did arise from the family’s dreadful loss. The matter of distinguishing strychnine from other chemicals and foods was raised in Parliament. From the Tasmanian House of Assembly on August 30;


We can only hope the motion was acted upon.

Twelve months after Oscar’s death Edward and Alice had a daughter, Vera. A second daughter, Irene, was born in 1898.

Edward died from cancer just a year later, aged 42. Oddly enough he passed away on August 18, the same date he had lost his son. How precious Vera and Irene would have been to a grieving Alice.

She did not remarry and raised her surviving children alone. She died in1949 aged 86.

Her home, Heimath at 83 Main Road Newtown, still stands.

Much of the information for this piece came from the free Australian newspaper archive TROVE. The future of this wonderful research tool was in doubt, but news has just come through that its funding will be continued.

For more information on beautiful Bruny Island, CLICK HERE

  1. Hello, I read with interest the “A Bruny Island Mystery” and I believe that the servant girl Whittoson (sic) mentioned in the story would be one of the Wittison family that were on Bruny island at that time. I knew Louis John “Jack” Wittison who came to Victoria in the early part of the 20th century and married Alice Trenfield. His grandmother, Ellen Gertrude Wittison nee Johnson, died on Bruny Island in 1891. Four young men from Bruny Island were drowned at sea when fishing about 1927. 2 of them were Wittison sons. Much about this event can be found on trove. Hello to Sue Cooper, a relly of mine, hope you are well Sue.

    • Pauline

      Thanks so much for this Bob. I will do some research.

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