Harcourt Whipple Ellis, c1900.

Harcourt Whipple Ellis, c1900.

The southern end of William Street, Perth, 1927. The Jewel of Asia was the first whole building on the left. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (014491PD)

Harcourt Whipple Ellis’ ad ‘Jewel of Asia Remedy Company’ in The Sunday Times, 28 September 1902.

Harcourt Whipple Ellis’ ad ‘Jewel of Asia Remedy Company’ in The Sunday Times, 28 September 1902.

Dr Georges Viau in his Dental Office, Attending Annette Roussel, 1914 by Edouard Vuillard.

Dr Georges Viau in his Dental Office, Attending Annette Roussel, 1914 by Edouard Vuillard.

BA533 39 S Freedman and Co August 1925.png

DEATH IN THE DENTIST’S CHAIR!

SET IN: Perth, 8 November 1902

THE CAST

Leading Lady - Maud Pengelly
Born in Geraldton in 1867, Maud (35) has been working in the Goldfields and Perth where, in 1898, she had a baby girl (father unknown) who lived for just three weeks. She returned to Perth in about April 1902 and is now a domestic servant for Reginald Willis.

Her Lover - Frederick Killick
A goods agent in the Railway Department, Perth, Fred (40) first met Maud at Mullewa in about 1896 and they subsequently became close. When in Perth he lives at the Federal Hotel. By November 1902 he is seeing Maud on a weekly basis, during which times they were often intimate. Many think they were engaged but he insists they are not.

Her Boss - Reginald Willis
A former lieutenant with the Royal Navy, he now lives at 182 Hay Street, Perth. Maud has worked for him as a domestic servant since May 1902.

The Dentist - Harcourt Whipple Ellis
Earlier in 1902 Ellis and his wife were living in Boulder where they are quite well known... until his actual wife (and the mother of his four children) arrived out of the blue from Victoria, demanding maintenance. He subsequently moves down to Perth and opens Jewel of Asia at 84 William Street, a ‘remedy company’ offering surgical, optical, dental and other remedies.

STORYLINE

7:30pm: Maud is standing on the corner of Hay and Barrack Streets, Perth. Fred sees her and they have a brief conversation. She asks him to deliver a letter Reginald Willis has given her and asks to borrow £3, which he gives her. He doesn’t ask what the money is for, as he has frequently lent her money and she always pays it back. She seems absolutely normal. He goes back to the Federal Hotel and retires for the night.

9:40pm: Maud knocks on the door of the Jewel of Asia.

10:10pm: Harcourt asks Alfred Lipman, a fruiterer two doors down, to seek urgent medical attention for his patient, who has taken a fit.

10:20pm: Police Constable O’Brien walks past the Jewel of Asia. Ellis beckons him over.

“'Constable there's a woman dead in my shop.' Witness [O’Brien] asked what had happened to her. He replied that she came to the shop about twenty minutes to ten, and asked if he would draw a tooth for her. Ellis replied that he would, and asked her to go in. Ellis said that after pulling the tooth the woman took a fit and expired after about five minutes.”

The Daily News, 14 November 1902

Inside, Ellis shows Constable O’Brien where Maud is seated in the dentist’s chair. Her hands rest on the arms, her head slightly tilted to to the left. A six foot examination table, with a pillow at one end, is beside her. Maud is fully dressed but her dress is undone at the neck and open to the breast. The neckline of her dress, and her hair, is wet, as is the floor beside and behind the chair. There is a pile of wet towels on the floor.

“Ellis said, ‘I drew the tooth. The tooth speaks for itself. There it is in the forceps.' Witness had not insinuated that he had not drawn a tooth. After mentioning about the tooth, Ellis said that the fact of the woman dying would ruin his business and asked witness if he was going to arrest him.”

The Daily News, 14 November 1902

Constable O’Brien’s notes the only blood apparent in the entire sad scene is on Maud’s lower lip. Examining the forceps, O’Brien notes they are dusty, except where they’d been handled, and that the tooth pulled looks perfectly sound.

O’Brien searches fruitlessly for the pocket in Maud’s dress, before Ellis directs him to it, immediately, indicating he is familiar with her clothing.

10:25pm: Lipman returns and explains, in front of O’Brien, he has tried thirteen doctors but hasn’t been able to secure any to assist.

11.00pm: Reginald Willis, concerned Maud has not returned, phones the Federal Hotel to ask if she is with Fred, but Fred is asleep in his bed. He makes further enquiries, then goes to the police who tell him there is a woman in the morgue fitting Maud’s description. There, Willis formally identifies his employee.

A search of Ellis’ shop finds midwifery instruments commonly used for dealing with pregnant women and never for dentistry in any way; in particular, or “for certain nefarious practices”.

Dr Stuart Allen, resident medical officer of the Perth Public Hospital, performs the post mortem, which determines Maud had been about four months’ pregnant:

“He found air in the veins … not a normal condition of the body. The air had gained admission through the veins of the uterus through injury to the uterus. Death would be almost instantaneous through such an injury...”

“In the jaws of the deceased there were signs of a newly-drawn tooth, but there was no blood in the cavity. The absence of blood indicated that the tooth had not been drawn during life.”

The Daily News, 21 November 1902

“The verdict of the jury at the coronial inquiry was ‘That the deceased, Ethel Maude Pengelly, came to her death on the night of Saturday, the 8th inst, at the shop known as the 'Jewel of Asia,' in William Street, Perth, as the result of an illegal operation performed on her by Harcourt Whipple Ellis, whom we therefore find guilty of wilful murder.’ The jury added ‘We further find that a very grave suspicion attaches to the witness, F Killick, of knowledge of an intended illegal operation’.”

The Daily News, 24 November 1902

Ellis is discharged on the evidence of Dr Edward Haynes, a cantankerous oppositionist who states the air in Maud’s veins is more likely caused by a germ.

“What he really believed … was that the woman went into accused's shop suffering from toothache produced by the condition of her nervous system and that the drawing of the tooth caused the detachment of a clot, allowing gas to get into her veins and thereby resulting in her death.”

Bunbury Herald, 17 December 1902

POST-CREDITS

“A report was made to the police this morning that there was the body of a man in the water of the Swan River near the Burswood railway bridge ... who had apparently been dead for about five or six hours ... The body was conveyed to the morgue, and was shortly afterwards identified as that of Frederick Killick.”

“During the inquiry into Maud Pengelly's death Killick, right through, seemed to feel his position keenly, and when the jury returned their verdict he was greatly cut up.”

The Daily News, 24 November 1902

As for Harcourt Whipple Ellis...

Despite dodging several other lawsuits the flamboyant Ellis continues practising dentistry until his early 90s. He dies in 1944 aged 95, having convinced all of Perth he left his illustrious medical career (for which he swore he was educated in England) for the more lucrative practise of dentistry at the turn of the century. In fact he was not qualified in anything but lies.