John HASSETT: Historical Adelaide Tours Profile

Historical Adelaide tours Profile | Photo by Vlad Kutepov on Unsplash

Was this a case of domestic violence, jealousy, mental health or a combination of all three.

John Hassett and his wife, Ada Hassett booked in at the Golden Rule Hotel in Pirie Street, Adelaide on 31 July 1906.  At about 9.30 p.m. on Friday 3 August 1906, he was wilfully murdered at the Golden Rule Hotel, Pirie Street, Adelaide by his wife, Ada HASSETT with an axe.

A Coronial inquest was undertaken and as a result Ada Hassett was arrested for murder.  At her trial she was acquitted of wilful murder on the grounds of being insane when she committed the act.  She was detained at Adelaide Gaol until his excellency the Governor’s pleasure be known

A number of statements from witnesses to this matter are attached below:

William Charles DAWES is the publican of the hotel and said the following of John and Ada Hassett:

They had been at the hotel for four days and were quiet and appeared to be happy together.  Each night the Hassett’s bought half a bottle of wine to drink.  On Friday night, 3 August 1906 the night of the murder, Ada Hassett bought three half bottles of wine during the evening.  The wine was light both in colour and alcoholic strength and was the cheapest wine in the hotel.

Not long after she came down to the bar, and I asked her what was wrong as she looked alarmed.  She said, “I have killed my husband”.  She was very calm and not excited at all when she spoke to me.  She then walked upstairs.  I did not hear anything upstairs.  I then went and informed a police officer of what had happened, and he came to the hotel and went upstairs.

Police Constable Stuart had the following to say about the incident:

I was on duty in Pirie Street, when I was told a woman had killed her husband at the Golden Rule Hotel.  I went to the hotel and went upstairs entered the bedroom where John and Ada Hassett were staying.  I saw a woman, Ada Hassett sitting on the bed next to her husband John. 

John HASSETT was lying unconscious on the bed on his left side.  There was a two-inch wound on the right side of his face and a three-inch wound on the right side of his head.  This wound appears to have penetrated the skull.  The pillow and bed clothes were saturated with blood.

I asked her who did this, and Ada said, “I hit him with an axe.”  The axe is in the shed.  I asked her why she did this and she said, “he was leaving me for another woman named Ada Squire.”  I went downstairs and saw an axe in the shed and it was smeared with blood.

Ada Hassett was arrested and taken to the Watch House for safe keeping and for malicious wounding.  PC Williams was the Watch Housekeeper sent for Mrs McDonald a female teacher who searched Ada HASSETT.  When searched the Watch Housekeeper ordered all pins to be taken away from her and that a strict watch was to be kept over her.  Ada HASSETT was then placed in the padded cell.

John Hassett was taken to the Adelaide Hospital where he subsequently died on Sunday 5 August 1906 at about 1.00 a.m.  On Monday 6 August 1906 the Coroner Mr G. H. Ayliffe held an inquest at the Adelaide Hospital into the death of John HASETT.  Ada HASSETT was present at the inquest.  At the end of the coroner’s inquest the jury brought back a verdict of “Wilful murder” and Ada Hassett was subsequently committed for trial.

The Crown Solicitor was Mr C. J. DASHWOOD and the defence counsel was Mr. A. J. FOSTER.  The defence counsel stated at the end of the court case his client, Ada HASSETT was a colonial drinker and was frequently drunk about the streets.  He also stated that Ada HASSETT was insane at the time she killed her husband.

Harriet Catherine EDGE of New South Wales is the mother of the accused, Ada Hassett and had the following to say:

When Ada was a child, we were living in Queensland.  When she was about 9 or 10 years of age, Ada had a sunstroke and had been ill for about a week or two.  After the sun stroke it was observed that Ada HASSETT’s behaviour changed quite significantly at the time of the full moon.

Her temper on these occasions were very violent and I was unable to control my daughter.  Her erratic behaviour continued every month and over recent years has become worse.  On one occasion Ada threw a flat iron at me.

We moved to Nairne in the Adelaide Hills when Ada was about 17 years old.  Whilst living at Nairne Ada became uncontrollable and she was sent to the Industrial School for 14 months.  Police had arrested her as an uncontrollable child and sent to the Reformatory.  She escaped and was then sent to the Industrial school.  On one occasion at Nairne Ada tried to poison herself by putting laudanum in a cup of tea.  She also tried to drown herself in the river Torrens.

Detective Fraser addressed the court and said he had known the accused for a number of years

Ada has a number of convictions recorded against her.  Convictions included 19 for drunkenness, 7 for indecent language, 4 for wilful damage, one for loitering, 1 x riotous behaviour, 1 x assault and 1 x attempting to commit suicide.

Most of the seven convictions for indecent language were also coupled with her being drunk.  Her first conviction was on 14 July 1892 and the last on 21 June 1906.  When sober she was a very nice person but when she was drunk, she was very abusive, used foul language and was of violent temper.

One doctor said sunstroke was a cause of insanity on occasions.  The usual symptoms of insanity from sunstroke were of a melancholy nature at first which developed into impulsiveness.  Persons who had suffered from sun stroke were as a rule more susceptible to alcohol than those who had not suffered from it.  The defence stated his client was insane and many insane people could talk coherently

The judge summed up the case to the jury and in summing up said everyone was deemed to be sane unless it was proved they were insane.  Some people were proven to be permanently insane and others on a temporary basis.  The jury retired and an hour later read out their verdict.

Ada Hassett was guilty of the murder of her husband John Hassett but she was insane at the time she committed the offence.  His honour said if the jury found the accused was insane at the time, he acquitted her.  The verdict was one of acquittal.  His Honour directed that Ada Hassett be detained in the Adelaide Gaol until the pleasure of the Governor should be known.  The Golden Rule Hotel closed in 1909.

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