News from 1895: Suicide of Capt. Hallett

Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The Otago Witness, Dunedin, New Zealand, 25 July 1895
Retrieved from the National Library of New Zealand web site,

(From Our Own Correspondent)
London, *** June 14
Many New Zealanders who voyaged to or from the colony by the Ionic in 1883,
by the Tongariro in 1884, or by the Rimutaka in 1885, will recollect Captain
Edwin Owen Hallett, who successively commanded those steamers. All will, I
am sure, be sorry to hear of his death, which occurred last Friday. I grieve
to add that he died by his own hand during a fit of temporary insanity.
Captain Hallett entered the Royal Navy in 1861, and became a staff commander
in 1880. He served for several years on board the Royal yacht Osborne, which
he ultimately commanded, under one of the naval Princes. Unfortunately a
mishap occurred, a yacht being run down in the Solent by the Osborne while
the latter was running at the rate of 15 knots. In reality, I understand
that the Royal captain was blamable, but it was more convenient to make out
that his second in command was at fault, and so Captain Hallett had to
retire. However, he received most gratifying tokens of the respect and
regard entertained for him by the Prince and Princess of Wales and other
members of the Royal family, whom he had so often conveyed across the Solent
or elsewhere in the Osborne.

When in 1883 the New Zealand Shipping Company secured the White Star
steamers Ionic and Doric, then building at Belfast, to open the regular
direct service between New Zealand and London [following up the tentative
preliminary experiments with the British King., etc.], it was arranged that
Captain Hallett should command the Ionic and "open the ball," which he did
by making the run to Wellington in the then unprecedented time of 43 days.
When the first of the New Shipping Company's specially-built boats (the
Tongariro) was ready (in 1884), Captain Hallett was transferred to her, and
signalised his assumption of the command by taking her out to Dunedin in 40
days' steaming time and Home in 38 days. His next trip was made
experimentally via the Suez Canal, and occupied much longer; but his second
Homeward run was made in 37 days. Next year, when the larger steamer
Rimutaka was ready, Captain Hallett, as commodore of the fleet, commanded
her, and he once more broke the record by carrying the outward mails in 39
days 3 hours, including all stoppages. This still remains a record. Captain
Hallett's health failed him and he had to give up the service. He
subsequently held a shore appointment in connection with the same company.
During the past few years he has suffered terribly from extreme mental
depression. When the servant took up his breakfast the other morning she was
horrified to find him lying on the bed with his throat cut, and quite dead.
He must have secreted a sharp table knife which he used. Much sympathy is
felt for Mrs Hallett in her affliction.


MAB Note: The Marlborough Express, Blenheim, New Zealand, of 23 July
carried the same article under the headline "SAD END OF AN HONOURABLE
CAREER," but with a different ending. (In addition, the material which
appears above in brackets was only in the Express article.) I've led off
with the Witness article here because it correctly dates Hallett's
suicide--the Express article does not---but what follows is the conclusion
of the Express article, picking up after the sentence "This still remains a

Before long, however, Captain Hallett had to give up the service. The
frequent alterations of temperature, especially on the homeward trip, told
severely on his constitution, and set up severe pulmonary mischief. So he
had to retire in the prime of life, though he subsequently held for some
time a shore appointment in connection with the company. During the last few
years he has had pecuniary losses, and has suffered terribly from extreme
mental depression, and latterly it was never safe to leave him alone.
Recently he went to stay for a time at Haslar Hospital, it being hoped that
association with some old comrades might revive his spirits. He remained
there only a week, and then returned to his home at Weymouth. An attendant
slept in his room that night, but left next day, as he seemed much better
and more cheerful. Mrs Hallett gave him a sleeping draught, and finally left
him in profound slumber. But when in the morning the servant took up his
breakfast, to her extreme horror she found him lying on the bed quite dead
in a pool of blood, with his throat cut from ear to ear. From various
indications it was evident that he must have secreted a sharp table knife,
and that on awaking he went to the looking-glass and deliberately cut his
throat in front of the mirror, subsequently struggling back to his bed, and
falling on it to bleed to death.

It is a very sad affair, and deep sympathy is felt with Mrs Hallett in her
terrible affliction. Of her unfortunate husband's mental derangement there
is no doubt at all, and the verdict was accordingly. Captain Hallett was, as
everyone who has travelled under his care will remember, a model commander
of a passenger steamer, commendably strict as to discipline, but ever most
courteous and kind, while as a seaman and navigator his skill was
remarkable, and his attention to duty unremitting. He did much to
popularise the New Zealand direct service in its incep ion, [sic] and his
compulsory retirement through ill-health was a great loss to the service.