The shot rang out in the quiet stillness of the farming community of Mt Thabor, just east of Warwick in South East Queensland. The cows in the paddock opposite were mildly disturbed and the native birds squawked off in alarm. Mary knew the sound, as after all, her husband Clement Parkinson was a farmer and such is the necessity of country life. However, this shot on 5 June 1909 was different and more importantly she could smell the gunpowder. The shot had been fired in one of the bedrooms of their family home and she’d only just got back to the kitchen after calling out to her brother John that breakfast was ready.
Clement had returned to the house on hearing the shot, and could see Mary was alarmed. He’d then gone to the door of the room and found his brother-in-law had shot himself with his revolver. It was a terrible scene, one he’d likely never forget and he immediately left for Warwick to fetch the police. On their return Constables Fox and Adams had found John on his bed in the sitting up position against the bedhead, with the gun in his hand. Notes were made and the inquest into John’s death was to be held ten days later in the Warwick Court House.
John Irvine’s death was certified by Dr. Phillips that day and the family had organised his funeral and burial at the Warwick Cemetery the following day. Following John’s death Mary and Clement were called upon to give their respective accounts of the fateful day, as was John’s widow, Eliza, and Constable Adams. The burial service was conducted by Rev G. Ross and at the graveside by Mr. Henry Martin, the Sydney Missioner, ‘who in the course of his discourse made kindly reference to the high character of the deceased, and bore warm testimony to his past labours among his brethren’. The suicide was reported sensationally in local papers in the following days.
In the period leading up to the inquest post mortem results, Mary had thought constantly about John’s life through the years. He was her eldest brother, born on 21 April 1841 who had emigrated to Queensland onboard the ‘Melmerby’ departing from Liverpool in 1865 when she was just 12 years old. Joining John who was then 24, on that voyage was her next youngest brother Francis, aged 21 years. She had missed them both but thankfully John had written often and glowingly about the opportunities available in his new country. He returned to the family home in Ballytrim, Killyleagh in 1882 to spread the word to the locals about the opportunities in Queensland. Swept up by her brother’s enthusiasm Mary, Clement and their young children had joined the exodus to Australia, along with her brother Hugh and Clement’s sister, Mary Parkinson.
Thinking again about his early days in this different land, Mary remembered both Francis and John had lived in Warwick or its’ surrounds, with John practicing his trade of boot-making in Yangan. Sometime later he moved south to Armidale in northern New South Wales. During these periods he had made a very comfortable living and frequently left his business to preach the Lord’s word. Like Mary and Clement themselves, who were members of the local Open Brethren church, John was a devout Christian and often travelled Queensland preaching. She remembered him frequently preaching at Jireh Baptist Chapel in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane as well as in nearby Ipswich and their own church at Warwick. She’d been told he even went to Townsville in 1873 to preach there.
When the remaining Irvine siblings in Ireland and also their elderly parents decided to journey to Australia, John had returned to Killyleagh yet again to escort them on their journey. They purchased their passage onboard the ‘Iberia’ and left Plymouth on an autumn day in 1888 for Australia via Albany and then Sydney and from there by coastal steamer to Brisbane onboard the ‘Fitzroy’.
No doubt it surprised them all, including Mary herself, when John announced his marriage at the reasonably advanced age of 58 years whilst in Bundaberg at the beginning of 1899. His new wife was Eliza Jane Marshall who was about 13 years younger than him and born in Ulster. Thinking about John’s marriage, Mary had tried to gauge if the couple were struggling, with his wife not realizing the depth of John’s problems. At the time of the shooting Eliza was occupying a separate room but had already left for town early that fateful day.
Eliza had said John’s state of mind was the reason they sold their furniture and belongings and left Armidale some nine months before. However, being in the midst of their family hadn’t cheered John up as they’d all hoped, so he travelled to Sydney to be treated in the Sanitorium there for a period, before returning to the farm near Warwick.
Did Mary’s thoughts then turn to how their local Doctor Phillips had been treating John for his ‘brain trouble’? He had seemed somewhat improved on his return from Sydney but lapsed into being depressed in spirits and melancholy in mind. Quite recently a diagnosis had been made of ‘congestion of the brain’, and John had been cautioned to take great care of himself. Mary had wondered what that term meant as John had often complained to her that he felt unwell. In the meantime, she knew John’s friends had told him that he would soon turn a corner and feel better, but should she have noticed more? The inquest post mortem was finally held by P. W. Pears, with his findings attributing the cause of death to bullet wound (supposed suicide).
John had died intestate, so his widow Eliza contested the claim against John’s next of kin being his natural and lawful brothers and sisters. They had each subsequently signed a release to their portion. As Francis, John’s eldest brother was deceased, his five children also each signed a release. John’s estate had assets consisting of a cottage in Warwick on 26½ perches valued at £330.0.0; Money on hand £ 92.15.0; a fixed deposit in the Union Bank of Australia £250.0.0 and Interest of £7.9.5d. This totalled £680.4.5d. Ten years later, when John’s widow Eliza died she was buried next to John, however one headstone was erected on the grave, with that stone mentioning only Eliza.
Authors note: As a regular GSQ blogger, this story forms part of my tales about my paternal line, the Irvine family from Killyleagh. John Irvine was my second great uncle. I’ve written this tale partly from what his sister, Mary may have shared with a confidante as she tried to grapple with the incident. It’s pure conjecture on my part, but my thoughts are that this sad episode would have been indelibly etched on her mind for the rest of her life. If you, or anyone close to you, suffer from depression please reach out to family, friends or Beyond Blue.
 Mt Thabor, Queensland is now spelt Mt Tabor
 QldBMD Deaths Ref: 1909/C3992 Name: John Irvine. Father: James Irvine. Mother: Sarah Gilmore
 Qld. State Archives file 1909 Film Ref. Z3355 (JUSN421) Inquest No. 270 Page 58
 Darling Downs Gazette (Qld 1881-1922). Wed 9 June 1909 Page 2 Sad Suicide in Warwick. Also in the Warwick Examiner and Times (Qld 1867-1919). Monday 7 June 1909 Page 2.
 Newspaper article by John Irvine Parkinson in The Leader, Dromore, Co Down on 3 July 1954.
 Q’ld State Archives. Southern District. Will Number: 1909/306. Item ID: 742527. QSA Location SCT/P724