Wednesday, 25 November 2020


“Medicine” was not the cure for miner who died at Mercury Bay hotel

When James Glew died in his bed at the Mercury Bay Hotel, it was a sad end to the strange deterioration in health the 54-year-old miner had experienced over several days in June 1875.

James had been boarding at the hotel and as was common with many hard working miners, was now on a drinking spree. Although he was known to stay sober for three or four months, he inevitably ended up on a bender for a week or two. Alexander McLeod, barman, served James his customary port wine and water. Unusually, the generally healthy man began complaining of shortness of breath. When the hotel licensee, John Bunyan Ferguson, returned from a trip to Tairua he noticed James was, as usual, drunk but complaining of pain in his stomach.

A few days later, on the Wednesday, William Cuthbert came into the settlement looking for James, who he had lent a pound to the week before, and found him in bed at the Mercury Bay Hotel looking very bad. Despite this, William told him to get up and come down and have a glass with himself and William Sharp. The three men then started walking down to Thomas Carina’s Whitianga Hotel.

There were only two hotels in the Bay and a track led directly from one to the other. At night, a light could be seen from one place to the other. On the short walk to Carina’s, James had to sit down at White’s boatshed for quarter of an hour. 

They reached Carina’s about 10:00am where James drank his usual port wine and water. James was obviously unwell and once back at the Mercury Bay Hotel, barman Alexander McLeod gave him chicken soup.

Anne McLeod, servant, stayed with James until 1:00am or 2:00am on Thursday morning attending him. He was breathing very heavily. Before daylight she had a cup of tea, and bread and butter sent up to him. At 9:00pm on Thursday night Anne returned to James’s room. He was quite sensible and knew who was in the room, but he inexplicably died at 10:30pm.

An inquest was held at the Mercury Bay Hotel where it was revealed that James was known to drink chlorodine to make him sleep. William Sharp had witnessed him drink a bottle of it several days earlier and after that he seemed to be in a bad state. Despite this, Sharp considered that, as James had been in the settlement around 10 days drinking freely, the liquor was the cause of his death, not the chlorodine. Barman Alexander McLeod said James was only really sick for two days and he did not expect his death.

A vague verdict was given that James Glew died, but from what cause, for want of medical evidence, the jury could not say, but they appeared to blame alcohol. They unanimously agreed that any publican that kept or encouraged a man to remain on his premises in a state of intoxication should forfeit his licence.

James Glew, from England, had for 20 odd years been a miner both in Australia and New Zealand. He was likely buried at the Mercury Bay cemetery, his grave now unmarked.

Pictured: Chlorodine was once a patent “medicine” used to treat cholera, insomnia, neuralgia, migraines, etc. Its main ingredients were laudanum (an alcoholic solution of opium), cannabis and chloroform. It effectively relieved pain and acted as a sedative, but its high opiate content made it very addictive. Deaths from overdoses were a frequent occurrence.


Latest business rest of site

Rekha Percival Marriage Celebrant

A wedding is such a special time, not only for the bride and groom, but all of their friends and family as well. I believe that a wedding ceremony should be a reflection of a couple and the…


Are you in favour of the installation of water meters at private residences in the Thames-Coromandel District?

The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.