Fanny Dyson's end was horrible and no-one comes out of this event looking good.

Fanny Dyson’s end was horrible and no-one comes out of this event looking good.

Part 3

Post Mortem

As a rule, I’m not a huge fan of conspiracy theories. I believe it’s a mistake to attribute to planning what can just as easily be explained by laziness, apathy or plain forgetfulness. In the case of the death of Fanny Dyson, James Dyson’s first wife, I make an exception; there has been a calculated attempt to cover up the true circumstances of her death, and the State was complicit in this cover-up just as much as Fanny’s family were. Both family and state had failed to save her life.

Within weeks or days of Fanny’s suicide in 1854, her newly widowed husband was negotiating with entrepreneur and Colonial financier George Shenton to buy the property later to be known as “Dyson’s Swamp.” Around the time of Dyson’s eventual marriage to Mrs Jane Edwards in 1862, Shenton presented the family with a bible (which he had a reputation for doing, for people he felt needed it). Shenton senior was an extremely complicated individual and it is impossible to judge what his attitude to Dyson was or how much he knew of events (It’s hard to believe he didn’t know everything). I am in no way implying that Shenton was involved in any way in the cover up of Fanny’s death, but that family bible he donated was the original means the family employed to obscure the circumstances of her death. It is within it that Fanny Dyson’s death is recorded as 12 May 1850, which, of course, is not possible. A later custodian of this bible also backdated the wedding of James and Jane from 1862 to 1852 which was not a senseless act only if it was wished to make it appear that the four children born to the couple before 1862 had actually be born to a married couple.

Who gained custody of the family bible (and who has it now) is unknown to me, but Drewy Dyson and his family must be prime contenders for no other reason that it was Drewy who had the means, motive and opportunity to erect the headstone in the Old East Perth Cemetery in 1899 after the death of his father’s second wife (Drewy’s mother). The motive: As the second of those four illegitimate children, neither he nor his two elder full-brothers (and sister) were issued formal birth certificates. Maybe the shame of being illegitimate was too strong? Although shame and Drewy Dyson are two words that don’t fit easily together when examining Drewy’s life— his relatives might have be ashamed of him, but Drewy gave every sign of (outwardly at least) having the hide of a rhino.

The champion male malaprop is Drewy Dyson, some of his howlers being guaranteed to put a kink in the side of a curry-livered misanthrophist. Last week he was asking as to the health of a friend’s wife, remarking that he hadn’t seen her lately. “I dare say you haven’t,” said the friend, and he whispered something in Drewey’s ear. The latter assumed a shocked expression. “You shouldn’t call it that,” he said in a mock remonstrance. “That’s vulgar. You should put it in French and say she’s eccentric” !!

Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954) Sunday 3 April 1904 page 4

Being a funeral director gave Drewy both means and opportunity to erect that troublesome headstone.  Frances Dyson was unlikely even interred in the same plot. The Wesleyan Methodist portion of the cemetery where the family grave site is located was not opened until after Fanny’s death. But in Drewy’s defence his step-mother died before he was even born. Who knows what stories he was told about her by those around him? Was he given the same answer that one of his future distant nephews would have when asking a relative who remembered Drewy:

“Who was Drewy Dyson?”

[THWACK] (the sound of a hand hitting a little boy’s ear)

That the family were able to so successfully distort the record for so long is ultimately due to the failure of the government to maintain the standard of record-keeping that they demanded of others (and required from themselves). Where are the statutory death certificates for Fanny Dyson, or her infant daughter Hannah (died 1850); where are the birth certificates for Thomas, Hannah (Janes’s daughter), Andrew and John Dyson? Where is the inquest into Fanny’s suicide?

Here is a contemporaneous report made by a police magistrate to the colonial secretary.

SRO CSR 36/308/93
SRO CSR 36/308/93

There should be a letter like this about Fanny’s case but there is not.

I spent several days in the State Records Office (WA) going through the microfilm of ingoing and outgoing correspondence for the Colonial Secretary’s Office from 1852 to 1854, searching for any mentions of any of the Dysons, the Perth Lunatic Asylum or Police business that might relate to Fanny’s death. Other than the conversation between the Assistant Police Magistrate for Perth, the Colonial Surgeon and the Colonial Secretary on behalf of the Governor, all I have found is what I have presented in Part II: the Evidence. Outside the Colonial Secretary’s correspondence— which is considered to be largely intact—there are no repositories in the State Archives relating to the activities of the Police Magistrate, the Colonial Surgeon, or any Lunatic Asylum of this period that are not concerned with government convicts.

It is hard not to conclude that from the time Western Australia became a convict colony in 1850, the sole interest of the government was the management of the convict establishment and civilian matters were an inconvenient distraction from this work. At the same time as the convicts made their appearance, there was an upswing in the number of government-sponsored free immigrants to the Colony, for which the local economy was ill-equipped to absorb. (This does begin to explain how Dyson could be short of timber-cutting work in the midst of a construction boom) The convicts had their own hospitals and mental institutions, but the existing civilian services also had to absorb the immigrant influx. Only the convict establishment (funded directly by the Imperial Government) maintained proper record keeping practices.

Governor Fitzgerald ordered the construction of a new Colonial Hospital (i.e: a civilian one) with a custom-built Lunatic Asylum for Perth. This building, (which remains at the core of the existing Royal Perth Hospital) was not opened until 1855, and replaced numerous temporary structures before it. The absence of clear records makes it near impossible to work out where its predecessors stood or which ones Fanny was incarcerated in.

There was a predecessor of the Colonial hospital next to the site occupied by the Perth Town Hall. It was demolished soon after the Hall was constructed in the 1870’s. This may have been where the mentally ill of Fanny Dyson’s time were imprisoned. However, there is also mention of a Female Lunatic Asylum in what became an immigrant depot at the end of William Street, but this was closed in 1852 before Fanny could have been admitted, which raises an unanswered question: Were there two Asylums buildings differentiated on sexual grounds, or were they one structure? Fanny was under the care of a Matron who appeared to hate her guts. I would very much like to know the name of this individual.

There is mention of an Asylum on Wellington street in the converted stalls of a stable next to the old racecourse. Not being able to precisely identify this location, it seems at odds with a newspaper report from 1852 which implies that the Asylum was next to the office of the Inquirer newspaper.

There are too many unanswered questions for me about Fanny Dyson’s last days and death, and we may never know the true circumstances of her end, however


Her husband, James Dyson, who assaulted her, made it impossible for her to live in her own home. I always knew he was a bit of bastard, but this crossed a line for me that I cannot forgive. I cannot know whether his wife— my great-great-great-great-grandmother— really was insane or not. The Colonial Surgeon and the Police Magistrate didn’t think so, but they admitted her anyway. There’s a word for making someone believe they are insane when they are not—”gaslighting“. I’ve battled clinical depression much of my adult life. That fact has been used against me on more that one occasion. I have been “gaslighted“. I don’t forgive those who took advantage of me for their own petty purposes and I don’t forgive my ancestor for what he did and allowed to happen to Fanny.

But James Dyson has been dead for 130 years. I now know what he couldn’t have know back in 1854 when it must have seemed that all the obstructions in his way were lifted. James Dyson would pay for what he did to his first wife. Only the veil of silence cast by the awfulness of what had gone down before obscured the magnitude of his failure.