During a visit to the Mount Morgan Cemetery in 2017 I came across the grave of EMMETT BEAUMONT McSWEENEY, an infant who died in 1921. At the time I was looking for the grave of my aunt THYRA GRACE BEAUMONT, also an infant, who died in 1920 and who was also buried there (read A Lock of Hair: A Treasured Keepsake). Since that visit and delving further into the Beaumont Family history, I’ve learnt that Emmett Beaumont McSweeney was my mother Evelyn’s and little Thyra’s second cousin, consequently my second cousin once removed!

This is his story.

The historic Mount Morgan Cemetery. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2017.
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The historic Mount Morgan Cemetery. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2017.

Little Emmett’s Shocking End

“Scalded to Death. An Infant’s Shocking End” and “A Scalding Fatality”: These were two of the headlines that appeared in Queensland newspapers in the days following the untimely death of Emmett Beaumont McSweeney. He died in the Mount Morgan Hospital on Christmas Day, 1921. Emmett, the third and youngest son of Mr and Mrs J S McSweeney, was just 7½ months old.

The McSweeney Family, of Wowan

Mr and Mrs J S McSweeney owned and operated a grocery store and café at Wowan, 50 miles (80 km) southwest of Rockhampton in Central Queensland. The store was located at No. 20 Railway Avenue, Wowan. (The building’s not there today – it burnt down in 1968.) Jeremiah (“Jerry”) Simon McSweeney, of Dalby, came to Wowan in 1914, after purchasing a general store at Deeford (Wowan). Later he opened the store in Railway Avenue.

View of the town of Wowan, Central Queensland, 1921. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.
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View of the town of Wowan, Central Queensland, 1921. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.
Railway Avenue, Wowan, today. No. 20 is on the hard right (partly obscured). Photo source: Judith Salecich 2018.
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Railway Avenue, Wowan, today. No. 20 is on the hard right (partly obscured). Photo source: Judith Salecich 2018.
Railway Avenue, Wowan, 1943, showing the general store (at right) previously owned by the McSweeneys. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.
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Railway Avenue, Wowan, 1943, showing the general store (at right) previously owned by the McSweeneys. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.

In 1916 Jerry McSweeney married Lily Marion Beaumont, eldest daughter of Mr and Mrs A J (Alexander John and Mary Jane) Beaumont, well-known local identities and among the district’s earliest European settlers. The McSweeney’s union produced three sons: Gerald Beaumont McSweeney, Leslie Beaumont McSweeney and Emmett Beaumont McSweeney. Each son bore their mother’s maiden name as his second given name.

Christmas Day, 1921

On 25 December 1921, Lily McSweeney was busy preparing the family’s Christmas lunch (“dinner”). She boiled a piece of bacon (“ham”) in a kerosene tin on the stove and, after removing the bacon, placed the tin and its contents on the floor near the stove.

It was around 11.30 in the morning. Mrs McSweeney asked her brother-in-law, Mr T J McSweeney, to go to the store, some 15 yards (about 13½ metres) away, to get a weight to put on the bacon. Mr McSweeney, who was nursing Emmett at the time, put the child on the floor and left the kitchen to go to the store. Emmett’s mother also left the kitchen briefly.

In the short time they were both absent little Emmett crawled over to the kerosene tin, pulled it over, and spilled the near-boiling salty water all over himself. Mrs Sweeney heard her son’s screams and rushed to his assistance. She found the child burnt (“scalded”) from the waist down.

All efforts were made to save the child.

An officer of the Wowan Ambulance Service provided Emmett with first aid prior to his being transported to the Mount Morgan Hospital. This was 1921: The trip, a distance of about 26 miles (42 km), took two hours!

Queensland Ambulance and Transport Board (QATB) sub-centre, Wowan, 1918. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.
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Queensland Ambulance and Transport Board (QATB) sub-centre, Wowan, 1918. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.
Mount Morgan Hospital, Queensland, Australia, pre-1910. Photo source: Museums Victoria Collections. https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/767140. Accessed 28 July 2019. Public domain.
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Mount Morgan Hospital, Queensland, Australia, pre-1910. Photo source: Museums Victoria Collections. https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/767140. Accessed 28 July 2019. Public domain.

The little fellow arrived at the hospital at 2.00 in the afternoon. The doctor and staff did all they could to save the child although, from the outset, the doctor held out no hope for his recovery. Emmett Beaumont McSweeney, 7½ months old, died in the Mount Morgan Hospital at 7.00 pm on Christmas Day, 1921. His little body was laid to rest in the Mount Morgan Cemetery.

Grave of Emmett Beaumont McSweeney, Mount Morgan Cemetery. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2017.
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Grave of Emmett Beaumont McSweeney, Mount Morgan Cemetery. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2017.
Memorial plaque, grave of Emmett Beaumont McSweeney, Mount Morgan Cemetery. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2017.
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Memorial plaque, grave of Emmett Beaumont McSweeney, Mount Morgan Cemetery. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2017.

POSTSCRIPT

Nearly 23 years after Emmett’s untimely death, during World War II, the McSweeneys (who now lived in Brisbane) suffered the death of another son. But this time it was their first-born, now an adult.

On 5 June 1944, Flight Sergeant Gerald Beaumont McSweeney was accidentally killed during aircraft training operations in England. He was just 26. Flight Sergeant McSweeney, of the Royal Australian Air Force, was survived by his wife Monica, parents Jerry and Lily and younger brother Leslie. His body was interred in the Commonwealth war graves section of the Blacon (Chester) Cemetery, Cheshire, United Kingdom.

WORDS OF COMFORT FOR THE GRIEVING

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. He saves those whose spirits have been crushed.”
(Psalm 34:18, New Revised Standard Version)

“You have recorded my troubles. You have kept a list of my tears. Aren’t they in your records?”
(Psalm 56:8, English Standard Version)

FURTHER READING

Brown, Elizabeth B. (1988, 2010). Surviving the loss of a child: Support for grieving parents. Grand Rapids, USA: Revell, Baker Publishing Group.

Roe, Gary. (2017). Shattered: Surviving the loss of a child. Good Grief Series Book 4. Texas, USA: Healing Resources Publishing.

Storkey, Elaine. (1989, 1999). Losing a child: Finding a path through the pain. Oxford, UK: Lion Publishing Corporation.

REFERENCES

National Library of Australia. Trove. (Website). A Scalding Fatality. In Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), 29 December 1921, p. 8. Online: Retrieved July 23, 2019.

National Library of Australia. Trove. (Website). Scalded to Death. An Infant’s Shocking End. In Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 29 December 1921, p. 3. Online: Retrieved on July 24, 2019.  

National Library of Australia. Trove. (Website). Death: McSweeney. In Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), 29 December 1921, p. 1. Online: Retrieved on July 23, 2019.

National Library of Australia. Trove. (Website). Personal. In Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1881 – 1922), 8 July 1914, p. 4. Online: Retrieved on July 25, 2019.  

National Library of Australia. Trove. (Website). General Notices. In Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), 7 March 1936, p. 1. Online: Retrieved on July 23, 2019.  

National Library of Australia. Trove. (Website). Mr and Mrs McSweeney Presentations. In Evening News (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1924 – 1941), 19 March 1936, p. 10. Online: Retrieved on July 23, 2019.  

National Library of Australia. Trove. (Website). War Casualties. In Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 3 July 1944, p. 6. Online: Retrieved on July 23, 2019.

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Judith Salecich

Writer, researcher, former secondary and tertiary teacher and public servant, wife, mother, grandmother, child of God, photography enthusiast, lover of life, history, food and all things creative.

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12 thoughts on “The death of infant McSweeney, Christmas Day, 1921”

  1. So sad to lose a baby so young .

    Have found out my great grand father son had four children and they all died very young as well birth 1902 death 1902 , birth 1903 death 1903 , birth 1906 death 1906 , birth 1908 death 1908 donot know the cause of there deaths yet .

    Reply
    • Julie, what profound sorrow that dear couple must have experienced. It’s impossible for us to understand. Thanks for sharing this story from your own family archives. Love, Judy.

  2. Goodness me Judy times were tough 100 years ago. Can only imagine the pain that child must have suffered for 61/2 hours before the Lord took him home and the grief his mother and uncle must have carried to their grave.

    Thanks so much for all the interesting history you are uncovering around our “home town ” and in your family. Really enjoy reading it.

    Reply
    • Betty, thanks for your feedback. Yes, little Emmett must have been in so much pain during those hours before his death. It was a long time! I wonder if the trip to Mount Morgan from Wowan was taken by horse and buggy (why it took so long).

      I’m glad you are enjoying reading these historical pieces. I do find it so interesting to do the research and rewarding to compose the stories.

      Lots of love to you and Ian. Judy xx

    • Dear Chris. Thanks for acknowledging “The death of infant Sweeney, Christmas Day, 1921” in your Friday Fossicking.

      I’m sorry to read about your father’s baby brother’s untimely death, so young. So, so sad for your grandparents and their family. Love, Judy. xx

    • Dear Morris. Thanks for sharing your response to Emmett’s story. Yes, we can always learn lessons from the past. The challenge for us all, though, is this: Do we take notice? Blessings, Judy.

  3. Judy how these people must have suffered through the loss of their son. It is a lesson
    that you cannot leave a child out of your sight for a few seconds. I remember when Stephanie’s son Ben was a toddler he managed to get the lid off a bottle of pills
    supposedly child proof. Steph found him with them just in time. That was a lesson for
    her!! As her mother said there is no such a thing as child proof.
    Thanks udy

    Reply
  4. Margaret, you are right, what a terrible burden to bear! Re children: Yes, they are so quick and easily find things that they shouldn’t. And, as you say, nothing is really child-proof. It’s not an easy job to be a parent (or guardian)! Thanks for your thoughtful feedback. Love, Judy. xx

    Reply

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Short stories from the heart...about life, family and local history, people, places and food.

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