Frantic fears too strong

18:52, Nov 19 2012

The last tortured days of Robert Wylie Thompson ended with a shocking act of self violence in 1887.

The 29-year-old carpenter cut his throat with a razor previously hidden by his distraught parents John and Margaret who were worried when their son - and only child - slipped into a state of deep despair over several weeks.

John traced his son's problems to a workplace mishap that occurred while both were building additional wards at Auckland Hospital to cater for typhoid patients.

He said his boy's state of mind changed dramatically after he sustained a blow to the head.

Doctors were called in as Robert's condition worsened and suicide was frequently hinted at. A recommendation was made to hospitalise him in a psychiatric institution at Pt Chevalier.

John and Margaret were loathe to make such a major decision without time for contemplation and instead hid anything they thought Robert might be able to use to harm himself.


They tried to calm their son as his ramblings grew more and more fanciful by the day.

Central to Robert's thinking was the unsubstantiated fear that the construction work completed by his father at the hospital might be substandard.

He became convinced that part of the building might collapse and injure or kill patients.

Robert believed he would be called to testify against his father and that John would be hanged for shoddy workmanship. It was a scenario he could bear no longer.

Margaret discovered her son with the razor in his bedroom on April 27 and called to her husband for help.

John arrived just as Robert cut his throat and fell to the floor.

He cradled his son in his arms and sent a lodger for help.

Three doctors arrived within a short time.

They saw that Robert had lost a great amount of blood but had narrowly missed severing any major artery and were able to stitch the gaping wound shut.

A second bleed started soon after a prolonged coughing fit and Robert died within a few minutes.

His last words?

"Father forgive me . . . poor mother."

A coroner's inquest determined that he died as a result of his own actions while in state of temporary insanity.

Robert Thompson is buried with his parents at Waikumete Cemetery.

Western Leader