James Joseph Ovenden
Photo taken in 1884 following the award of the Long Service medal. (see below)
Medals: British Crimea (Sebastopol bar), New Zealand, Turkish Crimea & Victoria Volunteer Long & Efficient Service Medal)
A sad death occured on Wednesday last, Joseph Overdon, Boatswain's Mate on HMCS Nelson, while on board the ship on Tuesday, took a bottle of carbolic acid from his cabin in mistake for beer, a bottle of which was close by, and drank it. An emetic was promptly applied by the dispenser, but Overdon became unconcious and died at two o'clock on Wednesday morning.
Williamstown Advertiser, 9 October 1886
A very distressing occurrence took place on Wednesday last, on board HMCS Nelson when the boatswains's mate, Joseph Overdon, died from the effects of swallowing, by mistake, a quantity of carbolic acid. It appears that he had several beer bottles in a locker in his room, in one of which was some beer, while another contained about an equal quantity of carbolic acid, there being no mark or label to distinguish one form the other. About two o'clock on Tuesday afternoon he took a bottle from the locker, and, raising it to his lips took a draught therefrom thinking it was beer, but he soon found he had swallowed carbolic acid instead. He at once, went to the ship's chemist, and informed him of what he had taken.
Williamstown Chronicle, 9 October 1886
James Ovenden's snuff box.
photo from Museum Victoria website
(Information from: Pam Jennings, 72 Simons Rd. Leopold 3224)
James Joseph OVENDEN, the son of Anthony OVENDEN and Catherine (SMALL), was born at Folkstone in 1835. His parents had married here on the 22nd January 1815 and his father worked as a metalworker at the Chatham Navy Dockyards.
CHILDREN OF ANTHONY & CATHERINE OVENDEN:
Richard Arthur b.27.12.1818
Frances Elizabeth b.24.12.1820
George Henry b.4.3.1825
Ann Rebecca b.21.1.1829
During his teens, James joined the navy and served aboard the HMS Fury during the Crimean War and was in the Naval Brigade for its part in the attack of Sebastopol in October 1854. He was evacuated to Malta Hospital on the 11 October 1854. He was awarded the Khedives La Crimea 1855 Medal, Crimea Medal & Sebastapol Clasp 1855.
Other ships which he served on were the Stromboli, Geyser and the Cairngorm, a merchant ship, which is believed to have brought James to Australia in about 1857-58.
During the 1860's, James' cousin named Anthony OVENDEN? arrived in Australia hoping the climate would cure the tuberculous which he had. Unfortunately Anthony was to died soon after his arrival. No death in Victoria can be traced for an Anthony OVENDEN so perhaps the surname is not OVENDEN.
From the 18th April 1860 to the 13th April 1864, James served aboard the HMCS Victoria and was Captain of the Foretop (Chief Petty Officer) for the crew that served in the New Zealand Wars. He was awarded (and received) the New Zealand Service Medal, as did Samuel LONG Jnr. It is also known that James left a "wife" and son in New Zealand, as descendants from that union have been in contact.
August 1861 saw James aboard the same vessel sent to search for Burke and Wills. James was also awarded the Victoria Long Service medal.
James had married in England prior to his arrival in Australia, for he recorded in his diary (1881-1886) that his son, that he had deserted, had arrived from the U.K.
In 1862 James married Jane SPELLER, a teacher. Jane was the daughter of Andrew & Ann (HUMPHREYS) SPELLER. (Her sister, Susannah, was later to married Samuel LONG Jnr).
James continued to follow a naval career. The couple were to have one child, George Thomas. George was 11 years old when Jane died on the 12th March 1878 and was buried in the Williamstown cemetery.
In 1879 James remarried to Mary Emma MILLS, who was also a school teacher and his late wife's closest friend.
It is thought that James may have transferred to the Dockyard staff in later years. His Naval Discharge certificate, various ships' discharges and reports, medals, bosun whistle, watch, arm and cap badges and the Memorial for the Burke and Wills search, are held by family members today.
On the 8th October 1886 James died from poison ingestion while aboard HMVS Nelson.
What really happened to Petty Officer James J. Ovenden?
Crimean War veteran and New Zealand medal-winner James Joseph Ovenden, a HMCSS Victoria veteran of the First Taranaki War, died in October 1886 in unusual circumstances. He was then 55 years of age and a petty officer on HMVS Nelson. The death certificate showed that Ovenden died as a result of "accidental poisoning with carbolic acid".
Evidence given at his inquest showed he had drunk carbolic acid mistaking it for a bottle of bitters. He was sober at the time. Private speculation indicated that Ovenden was prone to an occasional `snifter', and that someone, either as a joke or for a sinister reason, had substituted poison for Ovenden's usual `refreshment'.
More than a century later, a descendant has speculated about the mystery. Utilising James Ovenden's diary entries leading up to his death and considering various strands of evidence, the descendant's interim conclusions can be seen below.
A sad death occurred on Wednesday last, Joseph Overdon, Boatswain's Mate on HMCS Nelson, while on board the ship on Tuesday, took a bottle of carbolic acid from his cabin in mistake for beer, a bottle of which was close by, and drank it. An emetic was promptly applied by the dispenser, but Overdon became unconscious and died at two o'clock on Wednesday morning.
A very distressing occurrence took place on Wednesday last, on board HMCS Nelson when the boatswains's mate, Joseph Overdon, died from the effects of swallowing, by mistake, a quantity of carbolic acid. It appears that he had several beer bottles in a locker in his room, in one of which was some beer, while another contained about an equal quantity of carbolic acid, there being no mark or label to distinguish one form the other. About two o'clock on Tuesday afternoon he took a bottle from the locker, and, raising it to his lips took a draught there from, thinking it was beer, but he soon found he had swallowed carbolic acid instead. He at once, went to the ship's chemist, and informed him of what he had taken.
Born 1835, Folkestone, Kent
HMS Fury, 9 Jan 1852
Hospital, South Malta, 11 Oct 1854
Service HM ships Geyser and Stromboli
Embarked HMCSS Victoria, April 1860
Service in New Zealand, 1860-1: Gulf of Carpentaria, 1861-2
Embarked on HMVS Nelson in 1866 as Boatswain's Mate
Residence: 13 Cox's Gardens, Williamstown
Died October 1886.
A descendant has added family details (April 2000) and corrected some errors in the newspaper accounts. James Ovenden was born at Folkestone but in 1831. Consecutively, he served on HM Ships Stromboli, Geyser and Fury, being wounded during the siege of Sebastopol and was evacuated to South Malta Hospital. He was awarded the Turkish Khedives 'La Crimea' medal and British Crimea medal with Sebastopol clasp. The other medals shown in the photograph (above) are the New Zealand medal and the Victoria Long Service Medal for 25 years service to the Victorian Navy. Treasured by the family are his snuffbox and bosun's whistle.
From Williamstown Advertiser, 9 October 1886, p.2
From Williamstown Chronicle, 9 October 1886, p.2
28 April - 17 Sept 1850 HMS Stromboli
15 Oct - 5 Dec 1851 HMS Geyser
9 Jan - 1 Oct 1854 HMS Fury
11 Oct 1854 - evacuated sick to South Malta Hospital
1859 - Australia (Victoria) on Cairngorm merchant clipper.
18 April 1860 - 13 April 1864 HMCS Victoria
- Captain of the foretop
- New Zealand Wars 1860/1 (Assault on Mata RikoRiko Pa
- Burke & Wills rescue mission
1868-187? - Chief Boatswain HMVS Nelson
1880-84 - Chief Boatswain HMVS Cerberus
- British Crimea "Sebastopol clasp"
- New Zealand war
- Turkish Crimea (Sardinian issue)
- Victoria Volunteer Long and Efficient Service medal
(as per HMVS Nelson Ship's Muster Book
Height 5 ft 6 inches
Dark Brown hair
Residential address 1864-86
13 Cox's Gardens
- George Thomas Ovenden 1868-1953
6 October 1886
Coroner's Report - Accidental poisoning.
Burried in Williamstown Cemetery.
Details courtesy of the Williamstown Historical Society.
Listed in The Argus newspaper on 8 September 1884 as having received the Victoria Volunteer Long & Efficient Service Medal on 6 September 1884.