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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 6, Issue 5, 2002



In 1874 the Nelson Provincial Council instructed Shallcrass to also assume control of Nelson Gaol and reside on the premises. Central government decreed that the two positions were incompatible and he then resigned his police appointment on 10 May 1875 to superintend the Nelson Gaol.

A dramatic incident occurred on 28 July 1883. Shallcrass and his wife, who resided in accommodation upstairs in the gaol, were awoken by a scream and gunshot early in the morning Coming downstairs, he was confronted in the gaol corridor by John Davidson, a prisoner convicted of killing Dennis Quinlan at Lyell. Davidson held two revolvers which he had obtained from the warders' room.

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Regarded as a model prisoner, Davidson had been appointed cook. He had been roused and let out of his cell by Warder Samuel Adams at 5.50am to light the fires and prepare breakfast. Using one of the kitchen knives he had stabbed Adams to death. Shallcrass, unaware of the murder as the body was out of sight, assumed Adams had been locked in a cell. Warder White joined Shallcrass, and Annabella also witnessed the drama. Shallcrass, showing great coolness and courage, parleyed with Davidson for 50 minutes. He suggested that, since escape was impossible, Davidson should shoot himself rather than someone else! Davidson adopted the suggestion and took his own life.

Robert Shallcrass resigned as Gaoler in 1883 and retired into private life. His service was described as 'untarnished, honest and faithful'. The couple returned to live at Merton Cottage which had been let during his term as Gaoler. He died there at the age of 68 on Sunday 27 May 1888 after a five month illness. Interment took place in the family grave at Fairfield on 29 May 1888.

Annabella visited Scotland after Robert's death and then continued to reside at Merton Cottage with her sons after her return in 1889. She died on 31 March 1893 at the age of 61 and was buried in the family grave at Fairfield.