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IN the primitive surrounds of colonial Australia, pubs were used for much more than just downing ale and resting the head.
Edward Killalea was on his way home to the Illawarra from Sydney where he had been summoned as a witness in a court case.
Killalea lived with his seven sons and six daughters at Shellharbour. His wife had recently left him and he was hitting the grog heavily.
It was about 8pm on a Friday night in August 1872 when Killalea arrived at Wollongong by horseback and decided to bunk at the Commercial Hotel before continuing the exhausting journey home.
The Commercial was one of Wollongong's longest operating pubs established in 1847 before making way for a David Jones department store in the 1960s.
Killalea's intended brief stopover would go down in history as one of the pub's more memorable visits.
Eliza Osborne had been host of the Commercial since the early 1860s and had experienced just about everything imaginable as a publican in a frontier settlement.
Her single storey weatherboard pub, however, was about to double as a mortuary in 1872 when her nephew and assistant, George Cochrane found Killalea dead in the pub's parlour.
The Shellharbour identity stabled his horse on Friday night before having a meal, a "session" at the bar and retiring to his room.
Sinking a few "hot nobblers" he told host Osborne that he had been on a heavy drinking binge since his wife left him five months previous.
Cochrane greeted him the following morning and began preparing his breakfast before he saddled his horse to leave for Shellharbour.
His trusted pony was not to carry his master home that day - or ever.
As midday approached, Killalea was still hanging about the Commercial saying he felt ill and decided to have a lie down.
Cochrane found the ailing traveller resting at the pub later that evening and prepared him a hearty dinner. By this time Killalea was complaining of severe sickness and had taken several fits.
Cochrane became worried and called for an emetic of mustard and luke-warm water. Sergeant Sheridan was soon on the scene after the deteriorating guest attracted the attention of bar patrons with his cries of pain from the nearby parlour.
Most who had gathered around the dying guest thought he was suffering the effects of a savage drinking session, but it was soon realised that it was much more serious.
Despite the arrival of Doctor Lyons he died on the sofa in the parlour.
Searching his body, Sergeant Sheridan found a small bottle marked "poison" that contained enough strychnine to kill the entire population of Wollongong.
An autopsy was conducted on his body in the hotel with his stomach, kidneys and bladder removed and placed in jars for examination.
The coroner came to the decision that Killalea "came to his death by strychnine, taken by him whilst labouring under the effects of excessive drinking."