Shocking events at the asylum

The city of Ipswich suffered through the St Mary’s School Tragedy of 1871 when two pupils were killed by lightning. Shocking events continued to strike at the heart of the region. The 1886 Walloon Tragedy and 1913 Sandy Gallop Tragedy were to follow. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.

During a heavy thunderstorm on the 14th of October 1886 at what is today the Ipswich suburb of Walloon, twenty-three-year-old William Henry Conrad Siemon was out getting a load of hay. He stood up on his dray and that’s when he saw the storm coming.

Just as he was calling his brother and another man to follow him home to avoid the storm, his words were barely uttered when a flash of lightning struck him on the head and killed him instantaneously.

One of his boots was ripped apart, and his soft felt hat was torn to shreds, the lining being cut clean out of it, and the hat itself was thrown metres away. 

Siemon was the first born of thirteen siblings and so was the unlucky one of the family. Strangely though, absolutely no injury was done to his horse, dray, or harness.

Then there was the Sandy Gallop Tragedy of 1913 and all the strange events surrounding it.

Thomas Timperley was a fifty-nine-year-old resident of Stephenson Street at Sadliers Crossing in Ipswich. On the 17th of February 1913 he was doing some fencing near the Sandy Gallop Asylum (pictured top) with two other men during a storm, when a flash of lightning knocked all three of them down.

Thomas Timperley (second from left) and his family

Two of the men got up dazed and looked around, but Timperley had been directly struck by the lightning and was killed instantly. Again, his hat had been torn to pieces.

It’s an odd way to go, but it was some of his family who were a little unusual.

It certainly wasn’t one grandson Allan, who come the Second World War was Mentioned in Despatches and awarded an MBE for his work as a government official in New Guinea behind Japanese lines.

There was an unfortunate granddaughter Maud who had been struck down by infantile paralysis since the age of two. Her left arm and leg were totally useless. When she walked, she dragged her leg along, her knee was bent, and her toes dragged on the ground.

But then, just three years after Thomas Timperley had been killed by lightning, his oldest child, his son Thomas Junior was touting goanna oil as a miracle cure.

Mirror of Australia, Sydney, 4 November 1916, page 13

He claimed that his daughter Maud had been a cripple for nine years and was cured in a week.

Thomas Junior was promoting the Goanna Salve as a cure for all kinds of skin diseases, eczema, poisoned legs or arms, piles both bleeding and blind, rheumatism, lumbago, sciatica, sprains, scalp sores, scurf and dandruff, nasal catarrh, open wounds, sores, cuts, ulcers, bad legs, scalds, in fact just about everything.

It was probably the same son who was responsible for the very strange In Memoriam that the family published after Thomas Timperley was struck by lightning.

It read, “A painful shock—a dreadful blow; Oh, father, dearest, we miss you so…”

The poor man had just been killed by lightning, and his family was publishing that it was a painful shock to them. That’s nothing compared to what it had been for him!

In a strange sequel to this 1913 tragedy, in 1939 John Burton was a warder at the Sandy Gallop Asylum. On the night of 24th of November 1939 he was out searching for a prowler.

It was then that he too was killed by lightning – and it was not far from the very same spot that Thomas Timperley had been struck twenty-six years earlier.

Lightning did strike twice out at the mental asylum all those years ago.


Photo credits:
Blair Pavilion built 1908 to house criminally insane – Asylum Projects
Thomas Timperley 1854-1913 and family – trishmcg shared this on Ancestry 14 Aug 2012
Infantile Paralysis – Mirror of Australia, Sydney, 4 November 1916, page 13


  1. There also was a Golfer struck by lighting at Sandy Gallop some 30 – 40 years ago. For memory he was also killed from the lighting strike. 5 to 6 years ago I was discussing with a mates wife who was doing research on past history of patients in Sandy Gallop. There was an Aboriginal elder locked up for some years. They thought he had a mental illness and could not understand what he was saying or wanted. It turned out he was only talking in his own Languages and could not translate into English language. ???? However that’s the way the Aboriginals were treated back in that time by the White settlers.


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