I thought this week we might return to a blog wrote on The Haunts of Adelaide back on Tuesday, 15 April 2014 titled Accidental Death or “Spontaneous Human Combustion” (found here: http://hauntedadelaide.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/accidental-death-or-spontaneous-human.html)
This was a story I uncovered whilst researching various stories in my hometown of Gawler, that I thought interesting enough to be made public.
To sum up the story, it is about Mrs Margaret Nicholls, and elderly and feeble lady who took up residence in a small cottage in Gawler, owned by Mary Broderick. The cottage was situated on Finniss street in Gawler
On June 30th, 1883 Mrs Nicholls was found dead and there was much speculation as to how she died…some believed she was smoking in bed, and caused her bed clothes to ignite, thus burning her to death, others believed that a candle she often had lit as she went to bed, caused a fire on a nearby chair, that then took hold of her bedding, burning the poor woman to death.
The official outcome by a jury after the inquest held in Mrs Nicholls Death:
“That the deceased was accidentally burnt to death, but there was no evidence to show how the fire originated.” 
It would seem my questioning of the details of the case have come into question, particularly for propping that it could POSSIBLY be a case of spontaneous human combustion, but with the above conclusion by the jury, and evidence supplied by local Police Constable Doherty, once can speculate that the possibility of spontaneous human combustion is entirely possible! (please note, I have NEVER said it has been proven either way as to what caused the fire).
Evidence given by Police Constable M. Doherty, Gawler Police, during the inquest. (printed in the South Australian Advertiser Mon 2ndJuly 1883.)
He was called at 7.30 a.m. on Saturday to deceased’s house. He saw some feathers on the floor and in the back yard. Thos. Hutchins pointed out the remains of the deceased. A portion of the right foot was lying nearly under the front bar of the bedstead. The left foot was about a yard distant from the other. The whole of the trunk was consumed, as were also the legs and arms—in fact everything but the head.
The head was burning when he arrived, and he put water upon it. There were some portions of flannel wrappers round the neck, and the head had been covered by calico pinned tightly round. There were no stockings on the feet, and there was about five or six inches of the shin attached to the left foot. A portion of the mattress had been burned.
There was no trace of any bedclothes on the floor besides those which were around the head.
What we DO know about Mrs Nicholls death. She was not smoking in bed at the time. The fire was not caused by a pipe that threw ashes into the bed, as speculated in one newspaper, there was no conclusive proof of a candle, or any other fire source being present in the room.
The evidence of an accidental death by fire was so inclusive that a jury of police, doctors and other learned people could not find a conclusion for the fire, nor how Mrs Nicholls body could be so fire ravaged that only sections of her remained, yet other furniture and rugs in the room had no damage from flames…with regard to the statements above, taken from the inquest report, one can speculate, as I did, that spontaneous human combustion is entirely possible in this situation!
We can all come to our own conclusions about what happened to Mrs Nicholls, but we cannot deny the jury’s outcome, or the inquest outcome. We can also not deny the amazing similarities between the circumstances of Mrs Nicholls death, and the state of her body, against those of other spontaneous human combustion cases around the world.
Was it spontaneous human combustion? We will never know…rest in peace Mrs Nicholls…
Researched & Written by Allen Tiller – 2017 Emerging South Australian Historian of the Year.
More About Spontaneous Human Co
Arnold, Larry E. Ablaze! The Mysterious Fires of Spontaneous Human Combustion. New York: M. Evans & Co., 1996.
Howard K, 2017. Spontaneous Human Combustion: Fact Or Fiction?. All That is Interesting, viewed 17 November 2017, http://all-that-is-interesting.com/spontaneous-human-combustion.
1883 ‘DEATH BY BURNING.’, The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 – 1889), 2 July, p. 6. , viewed 17 Nov 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article33765005