Inquest Deposition Files
||Circa 1856 - 2007
||Series in Custody
||1840 - 2003
||1840 - 2003
|Format of Records:
|Agency which created this SeriesAgency which created this Series|
|Agency currently responsible for this SeriesAgency currently responsible for this Series|
|Description of this SeriesDescription of this Series|
- How to use the Records
For inquests held 1840 - 1985, you can consult the "Inquest Index, Victoria 1840 - 1985", available in PROV reading rooms on CD-ROM. This database consolidates the information in individual indexes. It was compiled from original indexes and published by Macbeth Genealogical Services in 2000. The database may also be found in some public libraries, genealogical and historical societies.
Note both the year and the file number to identify the inquest.
The inquest numbering system has varied slightly over time. The most common form of inquest number is "year/number", without leading zeroes. For example, the first inquest in 1953 is identified as 1953/1. When searching for an inquest, it is advisable to try this form of the number first. In general, this is how inquest numbers have been recorded on PROV Record Description Lists.
If a search for a particular inquest is unsuccessful, try the following:
1) Check the date ranges in the consignment details to establish the consignment in which the inquest should be.
2) Browse the unit details to see if the inquest falls where expected in the sequence.
3) Order the unit in which you would have expected to find the inquest.
4) Browse the unit details for the last few boxes of the consignment. (Some large files created after the post-1962 have been described as "non-standard" inquests on the item list and have been placed in chronological order at the end of some consignments. Even though these inquests are out of order, they should still be searchable by their inquest number.)
4) If the inquest is in the period 1840 - 1880, note that there were separate sequences for males and females. The first male inquest in 1850 is 1850/1 Male. The first female inquest in 1850 is 1850/1 Female.
From time to time there are inconsistencies in the sequences listed above. Sometimes the form of the number stamped on the documents differs from the form written on the envelope housing them.
Some inquests are not held in VPRS 24, for example:
1) Inquests resulting in criminal charges 1840 - 1950 are found only in VPRS 30 Criminal Trial Briefs (the name of the accused is needed to access these records).
2) For inquests resulting in criminal charges 1951 - 1963, some duplicate copies can be found in units VPRS 24 / P0, units 2046 - 2054 (arrangement is alphabetical by deceased surname). The original files are in VPRS 30 Criminal Trial Briefs.
3) From 1964 onwards, inquests may be found in both VPRS 30 and VPRS 24.
4) For inquests relating to the cause / origin of fires, consult VPRS 407 Fire Inquest Deposition Files.
5) Some out-of-sequence files for 1840 - 1963 can be found in VPRS 24 / P0, units 2042 - 2045. From 1964 onwards, check the end of the consignment for out-of-sequence files. In either case, using Search within a Series, you can still locate an out-of-sequence inquest by its identifying number.
See "MISSING FILES", later in this text, for further information.
This series is going to be digitised and will be available online in due course. Access to the digitised records will be available via the physical records details pages.
Applications for access to closed files from 1986 onwards:
State Coronial Services Centre
57 Kavanagh Street
Phone: 9684 4444
- Function / Content
This series comprises files relating to inquests and magisterial inquiries into deaths of persons in Victoria as conducted by Coroners' Courts throughout the State. Although the files were created by the various courts, storage and registration was the responsibility of the Office of the Registrar-General from c.1856 - 1988. Files dating back to 1840 were covered by this arrangement.
TYPES OF DEATH SUBJECT TO AN INQUEST
1840 - 1986
A death was subject to an inquest when a person:
* was slain
* died suddenly
* died in lunatic asylum / mental hospital (except defective / retarded children 1939 - 1959)
* died in prison
* was executed by Government (1864 - 1975 only)
* was an infant and a ward of the state in a registered house and died under suspicious circumstances (1883 - 1890) or regardless of suspicion (1890 - 1907 only)
Note that prior to 1970, a body or body part must have been recovered for inquest to occur.
1986 - ct
A death was subject to an inquest when a person:
* died in a suspected homicide
* was of unknown identity
* immediately before death was under the control of the police force, Community Services institutions (ie. youth training centres, etc), Office of Corrections institutions (ie. prisons, attendance centres, etc), assessment / treatment centres registered under Alcoholics and Drug Dependent Persons Act, mental health institutions
* died in prescribed circumstances (as at May 2004 no circumstances have been prescribed)
An inquest could also be held at the direction of the State Coroner or Attorney-General.
CONTENTS OF INDIVIDUAL FILES
1840 - 1960
These records are incomplete. At minimum level, the contents are: inquisition form, depositions (varying number) and police report leading to inquest (if applicable). Inquests resulting in criminal charges may also include: recognisances of witnesses, statement of the accused and Coroner's remarks.
1961 - ct
In addition to the above, these records may include exhibits / other documentary evidence, post mortem / police / other reports, photographs / negatives. PLEASE NOTE: SOME OF THESE PHOTOGRAPHS ARE GRAPHIC AND MAY CAUSE DISTRESS.
Occasionally findings and transcripts are also included.
INQUESTS: SOME GENERAL NOTES
Coroners were appointed by the Governor-in-Council, their function being to investigate certain types of death occurring within their area of jurisdiction. A coronial investigation attempted to determine the identity of the deceased, the circumstances surrounding the death, the medical cause of death, the identity of any persons contributing to the cause of death and to gather information necessary to register the death.
An inquest was a tool utilised during some coronial investigations. It was held only if required by legislation or as a means to resolve inconclusive investigations.
The types of death to be investigated by a Coroner were not stated by legislation until 1985, although it appears that investigations occurred if a Coroner were notified of a death by the police and / or if there were no death certificate proving the cause of death. In some investigations, the only action required on the part of the Coroner was to order an autopsy to determine the medical cause of death, the registration of the death and, if applicable, the issue of a death certificate.
Early inquest practice and procedure in Victoria was vested in two English Acts (an Act for improving the administration of Criminal Justice in England 1826 and an amending Act in 1828) and a single section from four Colonial Acts. The Coroner's Act 1865 consolidated this legislation.
Under the 1865 Act and succeeding acts until 1985, an inquest had to be held to determine the cause of death of any person who was slain, drowned, died suddenly or died whilst detained in any lunatic asylum / mental hospital or prison. An inquest could also be held to determine the cause of certain fires, although these were subject to the payment of a fee and since 1869, the approval of the Attorney-General.
Other legislation affected the types of deaths subject to an inquest. Under the Criminal Law and Practice Act 1864, and later Crimes Acts, an inquest was required on all persons executed by the Government. The Health Amendment Act 1883, and successive legislation in the guise of the Health Act 1890, Infant Life Protection Acts from 1890, Children's Welfare Acts from 1954 and the Community Welfare Services Act 1970 specified inquests into the deaths of infant wards of the State under suspicious circumstances in houses registered under the above acts. (Inquests relating to all such deaths irrespective of suspicion were required between 1890 and 1907.) Additionally, the Mental Deficiency Act 1939 directed that inquests were not required in cases of defective or retarded children who died whilst detained in any mental hospital until that provision was abolished by the Mental Health Act 1959.
The nature of coronial investigations changed when the Coroner's Act 1985 became operative on 1 June 1986. Section 3 of the Act specifies a range of "reportable" deaths which the newly created State Coroner's Office had to investigate. Section 15 requires that an inquest be held in cases where the State Coroner suspects homicide, when the State Coroner or Attorney-General directs, when the identity of the deceased was unknown or in cases where the deceased was held, immediately before death, under the control, care or custody of either Community Services or Office of Corrections institutions, a member of the police force, an assessment or treatment centre registered under the Alcoholics and Drug Dependant Persons Act 1968 or an institution registered under the Mental Health Act 1959 (excepting voluntary patients). Inquests were also required under circumstances prescribed in the Coroners Regulations, although at the time of writing, none have been. This has significantly reduced the number of inquests held annually. Documentation on which a Coroner has relied in investigating all reportable deaths, including those which have resulted in an inquest are to be found in VPRS 10010 Body Cards. However, under the PROV Records Authority PROS 99/05 the State Coroner was authorised to destroy Body Cards where an inquest was held into the death, 15 years after the completion of the case (see VPRS 24 Inquest Deposition Files for information on these cases). Where an investigation finds that a death was the result of natural causes, a Body Card may be destroyed after 25 years.
Inquests relating to fires can still be heard but only if the coroner deems one advisable, if directed by the Attorney-General, or if requested by either an individual, the Country Fire Authority or the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade.
Prior to 1970, an important requisite for the conduct of an inquest was the existence of a body or parts thereof. It has only been since the passing of the Coroners (Amendment) Act of that year that an inquest could be held on a person whose body had not been recovered, but such inquests were subject to the approval of the Attorney-General.
CORONERS AND JURORS
Inquests were presided over by a coroner, the earliest being either police magistrates, barristers, solicitors or doctors. Findings were initially made on the basis of a verdict handed down by a jury of at least 12 persons, with agreement required from 12 members. Coroners were directed to lock juries in a place without meat, drink or fire until agreement was reached. From 1887 juries consisted of between 5 and 12 members with a majority verdict being accepted. Juries were to be discharged if a verdict were not reached within two hours. The use of juries was abolished by an amendment to the Coroner's Act in 1903, although the Act specified their presence in cases where a coroner considered it desirable, whenever the Attorney-General or Crown Solicitor ordered one or if one was expressly provided for in an Act. In this latter instance a jury was only specified by the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1909, and Mines Acts from 1928 for all inquests into deaths occurring in mines, however this provision was abolished by the Juries Act 1956. A jury can also be utilised if a request were made by either a relative of the deceased, a person with knowledge of the circumstances leading to the death or a member of the police force. Unanimous verdicts were reintroduced under the 1985 Act and the two-hour time limit was abolished. In all other cases a verdict was made by the coroner alone. In all inquests, irrespective of the presence of a jury, verdicts were to be reached on the basis of a personal view of the body (compulsory until 1953), the testimony of medical and other witnesses and any other evidence produced at the inquest.
SCOPE OF PROCEEDINGS
The scope of inquest proceedings was limited to determining the exact medical cause of death. Any other matters were not to be pursued except in inquests relating to deaths of infant wards of the State, where the coroner was allowed to inquire into any matters concerning the treatment and condition of the infant and any other matter considered to be in the public interest.
An inquest was not a forum for proving the guilt of suspected persons. Prior to 1986 a coroner could find that a death was the result of an alleged criminal act and thus commit a person to trial, issue warrants for that person's arrest and, if applicable, organise bail. If it appeared beforehand that a person would be committed, any pending committal proceedings were suspended and the inquest assumed that function. As of June 1986, an inquest in such instances was a formality held to satisfy the demands of the Coroner's Act and was held in camera immediately after completion of a Magistrates' Court committal hearing.
Coroners used to have an option in presiding over certain inquests. Coroners generally held jurisdiction for the whole of Victoria unless specified, however, the 1867 Instructions to Coroners recommended that a coroner should preside over inquests pertaining to every death occurring under suspicious circumstances within 50 miles of him. A coroner was required to travel only 25 miles if a death occurred under non-suspicious circumstances. If a death occurred in an area where the coroner were not compelled to attend, a Justice of the Peace (JP) could hold the inquest. These were known as Magisterial Inquiries as the JP had very limited powers (for example, he could not commit to trial). By 1890, inquests were presided over by the coroner nearest to the place of death. This does not mean that magisterial inquires ceased to occur. The Justices of the Peace Act 1887 gave JPs the right to conduct inquests if requested by a coroner or head of a police station. Coroners appeared to have used this legislation to direct police station heads to ask JPs to conduct inquires in cases where the coroner had already decided that the death was probably due to natural or non-suspicious causes. JPs were given the same powers as coroners in conducting inquests under the Coroner's Act 1911 so the term "magisterial inquiry" after that date ceased to have any real significance beyond noting that the inquest was presided over by a JP. The term lost any semblance of importance after the Magistrates Court Act 1971 specified that all coroners must be stipendiary magistrates but by then the term appeared to have fallen into disuse. Under the 1985 Act, stipendiary magistrates, barristers or solicitors may have been appointed as coroners.
EXTANT RECORDS PRE-1840
The contents of this series date from November 1840 and the appointment of the first coroners. Prior to this date, depositions pertaining to deaths were taken before the Melbourne Police Court by the Police Magistrate. These depositions are intermingled with other items of court business in Unit 1 of VPRS 51, Deposition Books. This volume spans the period October 1836 - December 1838 but a volume covering the period January 1839 - May 1840 is missing. As a conservation measure, a microfilm copy of VPRS 51 (VPRS 2136) has been created by PROV for use in all reading rooms. The volume is arranged chronologically although it does contain an alphabetical name index.
CONTENTS OF FILES
1840 - 1960
Pre-1960 files were incomplete. They contained, at a minimum level, an inquisition form, a number of depositions and a cover sheet noting the name(s) of the deceased and the date and place of the inquest. A copy of a Police Report was usually attached if it caused the inquest to be held. Exceptions to this were files related to inquests where suspected persons were committed for trial. These files also included the recognisance of witnesses to appear at the resultant trial, a statement by the accused person(s), had they chosen to make one and, if deemed appropriate, the coroner's remarks on the case.
The inquisition form was the official record of the inquest. This document records the name of the deceased and the verdict, (which should include the time, place and cause of death) and, if applicable, the names of suspected persons. Also included were the names and signatures of the coroner and jury members. Inquisition forms seem to have rarely been created in magisterial inquiries; the verdict was recorded on the last deposition.
Depositions were the record of evidence of each witness appearing at the inquest. They were in handwritten or typed prose form in the first person, although evidence was given on the basis of a question and answer format. A margin on the left hand side was used to identify any corrections, erasures or additions made for intelligibility. Depositions were read to each witness, who signed them as being a true and accurate record, as did the coroner. As a complete record was required in the case of inquests leading to criminal charges, depositions were normally maintained in the question and answer format.
Witnesses called (and thus depositions created) usually cover certain details related to the death. Ideally, there would have been witnesses who last saw the deceased alive, first found the body and could testify as to the way the death occurred. There might also have been a deposition from the police officer who took charge of the body and that of an expert medical witness. These last two witnesses were not always called to give evidence or able to attend, so in some instances written statements were accepted.
Occasionally two separate files were tied together. This practice was used to link deaths where the causes differed but resulted from the same set of circumstances (for example, drowning resulting from unsuccessful rescue attempts or, more commonly, murder / suicides). On occasion, single inquests were held on more than one person provided that such persons were killed by the same cause.
1960 - ct
From 1960 the contents of these files were complete, with the inclusion of exhibits, copies of post mortem reports, police reports, photographs of the scene of the death and in many instances, the photo negatives. PLEASE NOTE: SOME OF THESE PHOTOGRAPHS ARE GRAPHIC AND MAY CAUSE DISTRESS. All files since 1962 have been individually placed in envelopes. (Prior to this date, files have generally been folded and tied in bundles of about 25.)
- Recordkeeping System
This series is arranged in an annual single number sequence allocated by the Office of the Registrar General on the completion of the inquest and the receipt of the file. This inquest number can be found in VPRS 23, Index to Inquest Deposition Files. As a conservation measure, a microfilm copy of the index (VPRS 1920) has been created for use in all reading rooms. These indexes are arranged alphabetically within varying time periods. Inquest numbers can also be obtained from VPRS 138 Registers of Inquest Depositions 1840 - 1861 which contains information incorporated into VPRS 23 and VPRS 1920. For inquests created from 1988, VPRS 11901 Database for the Management and Control of Coronial Investigations, was used.
For inquests 1840 - 1985, you can also consult the "Inquest Index, Victoria 1840 - 1985", available in PROV reading rooms on CD-ROM. This database consolidates the information in individual indexes and was compiled from original indexes and published by Macbeth Genealogical Services in 2000. The database can also be found in public libraries and genealogical and historical societies.
Coroners are required to inform the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages of any coronial action undertaken. The date and place of the inquest is also entered on death certificates. As inquest numbers are not entered on certificates, the above indexes will need to be consulted to access the records.
EXCEPTIONS TO THE SERIES ARRANGEMENT
Although files have been physically arranged according to the annual single number system there are a number of exceptions to this rule.
FILES RELATING TO CRIMINAL CASES
The most important exception relates to inquests leading to criminal charges (ie, murder, manslaughter, accessory before the fact to murder and from 1971, infanticide and culpable driving). Such inquest records are not in this series before 1951. These records were forwarded to the Crown Solicitor's Office and are in VPRS 30 Criminal Trial Briefs. As the briefs in VPRS 30 are retrieved through the name of the accused person, his or her identity needs to be known for the file to be accessed. (Also note that records in VPRS 30 are closed to public inspection for 75 years under Section 9 of the Public Records Act 1973. Criminal Trial Briefs from 1928, for example, were opened in 2004.)
Until at least 1895, files in such cases were allocated inquest numbers. The cover sheets were detached from these files, annotated with the phrase "to Crown Solicitor" and placed in chronological order at or near the end of each annual sequence. This cover sheet is the only record of the inquest in this series. Such inquests can be identified in the indexes by the phrase "dep with Cn Sol" (deposited with Crown Solicitor) in the cause of death column. After about 1895 it appears that such files were not allocated inquest numbers. The "dep with Cn Sol" phrase disappeared from post-1903 indexes, but an exact date is yet to be determined as the index covering the years 1893 - 1903 contains no information in the "cause of death" column.
From c.1903 Inquest files giving rise to criminal charges were not allocated inquest numbers and do not appear in this series (or its indexes) again until 1964. However between 1951 and 1963 copies of some, but not all such files, were made. These are in VPRS 24 / P0 units 2046 - 2054 and are arranged in alphabetical order by the surname of the deceased. Identify the records you are interested in by browsing units 2046 - 2054 or by searching for the surname and initials of the deceased.
Further information relating to the circumstances of deaths resulting in criminal charges may be found in VPRS 264 Capital Case Files or VPRS 1100 Capital Sentences Files. These records, like VPRS 30, are retrieved through the name of the accused person and are subject to the same 75-year closure period.
From 1964, a copy of the file is in both this series and VPRS 30.
FILES RELATING TO THE CAUSE / ORIGIN OF FIRES
Inquests pertaining to the causes of fires are also not in this series. (Note: this does not include inquests into deaths resulting from fires.) These files were registered under a separate single number system and are found in VPRS 407 Fire Inquest Deposition Files. These files are not indexed by VPRS 23 or VPRS 1920. No index has yet been identified. Files can therefore only be accessed from VPRS 407 if the date of the inquest is known. To this end, the date range of the files in each box of VPRS 407 is listed in the records details. Files relating to inquests leading to criminal charges (ie arson) are once again found in VPRS 30.
INQUESTS RELATING TO FEMALE DECEASED 1840 - 1880
From 1840 - 1880 two annual single number sequences were created - one for males, one for females. These files have been intersorted within the male sequence for years up to 1856 and have been placed after the male sequence from 1857. When searching for 1840 - 1880 inquests, use the year and number to identify the records, then choose the "Male" or "Female" item from the search results.
In some instances a file proved so big that it could not fit in its place in the numerical sequence. Such inquests in the original transfer have been placed in VPRS 24 / P0 units 2042 - 2045 and have been described as "special cases". (For some of the "special cases", there is a placemarker in the box where the file would have been if it were kept in sequence.) Several files forming part of VPRS 407 are also in these boxes. Similar large files created after the original transfer (ie post-1962) have been described as "non-standard" inquests on the item list and have been placed in chronological order at the end of some consignments. Even though these inquests are out of order, they can still be searched for by their inquest number.
VPRS 24 / P0 unit 2055 contains miscellaneous letters, depositions, photographs and exhibits which have not yet been identified as belonging to a particular inquest.
Some inquests which appear to be "missing" are simply unallocated numbers - for example, in VPRS 24 / P18, the 1998 inquests, 980022, 980163, and 980306 are unallocated.
Coroner's Acts until 1985 specified that records need only be kept on inquests where it seemed likely that a person would be committed for trial (although all files were required to be sent to the Crown Law Office according to the 1867 and 1890 instructions to coroners). Simultaneously, Registration of Births Deaths and Marriages Acts from 1853 specified that the Coroner must notify the Government Statist (later the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages) on certain details arising from every inquest, magisterial inquiry or coronial investigation held. Consequently, although details of inquests and magisterial inquiries held should be noted on all death certificates, not every file appears to have been forwarded to the Law Department / Office of the Registrar General. Files that were not forwarded were not allocated inquest numbers and thus do not appear in the indexes or this series. By comparing the number of files held in this series with the annual number of inquests held as published in the Victorian Year Books, it is estimated that files relating to about 3 - 5% of all inquests held are missing. It is likely that those files without inquest numbers have been destroyed.
References to missing inquests and those found in this series, however, may be found within other records. Reports written by an attending Police Officer are in VPRS 937 Chief Commissioner of Police, Inward Registered Correspondence 1852 - 1893. These reports are not extensive, usually consisting of one page detailing the time, place, presiding coroner and the finding. Access to this series is difficult but possible. Detailed handwritten lists for each unit in this series exist and are available in PROV reading rooms. These will have to be consulted to determine the existence of a particular report in a unit. Entire missing inquest files or parts of files belonging to VPRS 24 have also been found in this series. Reports and / or files may possibly be in VPRS 807 Police Inward Correspondence 1894 - 1950. For inquests held in the Ballarat area, VPRS 3593 Coroners Reports and Inquests 1903 - 1968 and VPRS 6439 Registers of Inquest and Coronial Inquiries 1943 - 1963 can be consulted.
Other correspondence relating to varying aspects of particular inquests could be found in either VPRS 266 Law Department, Inward Registered Correspondence and quite possibly in any of the Chief Secretary's inward correspondence series (VPRS 1189, VPRS 3991 or VPRS 3992). In these instances the relevant indexes and registers will need to be consulted. References may also be found in series pertaining to community services, health and welfare agencies and prisons and youth training centres. Note that in some instances, these series will be closed to public inspection. Additionally inquest findings can be quashed through the issue of a certiorari writ in the Supreme Court (VPRS 467).
The responsibility for the allocation of inquest numbers and the storage of files passed from the Office of the Registrar-General to the State Coroner's Office when the latter moved into its South Melbourne premises during 1988.
The original records are held within consignments P0 to P19 of this series. Consignment P20 contains low resolution digital copies of the records held within consignments P0 to P19.
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