Fusion: Deakin Exhibits Online

Suicide by gunshot

‘Quite overwhelmed; mind gone; no hope; friendless.—W. Clarson.'

Clarson shot himself with his own gun at about 7.30am on 31 December 1890, in his office at The Mildura Cultivator. He was found soon after and attended by a doctor who stated it was clear that Clarson’s wound was fatal. Although described as a crack shot, he had missed his heart and shot himself instead, in the abdomen. He died approximately five hours later, after admitting that he had meant to kill himself. A magisterial inquiry concluded ‘That the deceased died from the effects of a gunshot wound inflicted by himself, while in a state of mental depression.’

James Matthew JP of Mildura took part in the inquiry in an official capacity, knew Clarson personally and was present when he died. He was also a pall bearer. In Clarson’s obituary he reflected on Clarson’s state of mind.

About four months ago he came forth from a few weeks retirement much broken and depressed. He had a strong feeling of having failed in life. Amongst his last words were that he had “made nothing.” He needed cheering and appreciation. Incurred responsibilities fretted him. The freedom from the strain of work that a few days holiday gave may have allowed more of brooding than was healthy for a hard worked brain. And the sad end came.

The Mildura Cultivator wrote that Clarson, ‘In his own lines had no equal in Australia. A good linguist, a botanist of great repute, a clever journalist and stenographer, a crack shot, and a man of untiring energy, he was endowed with qualities that fall to the lot of few men.' Although the lawsuit and scandal had occurred years earlier the paper reported the 'the failure of a law suit threw him into financial difficulties which brought on a fit of despondency.’ Perhaps in light of the recent plagiarism embarrassment, in a report on the funeral, the Mildura Cultivator, also sought it prudent to displace the impression that the paper was about to dismiss Clarson from their employ, stating that they had in fact promised an increase in salary.

William Clarson was buried in the new Mildura Cemetery and later the Mildura Horticultural Society organised a petition to have a memorial stone made. The Mildura Cultivator suggested that the short notice of Clarson’s funeral accounted for the modest ‘cortege of sorrowing friends,’ and while they believed he had relatives he was ‘very reticent’ about his family affairs which accounted for why no family was in attendance.