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Samuel Curtis Candler (1827–1911)

by Simon Cooke

This article was published:

Samuel Curtis Candler (1827-1911), coroner, was born in October 1827 in Norfolk, England, son of Samuel Candler, miller, and his wife Harriet, née Batelle. Curtis began a medical education and became a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries, but did not take his diploma, because of ill health, instead migrating to Van Diemen's Land about 1850 then to the Victorian goldfields. While a digger at Avoca, Candler was a regular conservative contributor to the Melbourne Morning Herald on political subjects under the pseudonym 'Scrutator'. He secured a number of government appointments: coroner in Korong district (1853), district surgeon, public vaccinator (1855). In 1856 he stood unsuccessfully for the Loddon District in the first elections for the Legislative Assembly.

Next year Candler was appointed coroner for the County of Bourke. His duties took him across Melbourne's suburbs (although not the city), hearing inquests on a miserable catalogue of fatalities. Occasionally, inquests provoked larger questions—such as the adequacy of the diet in the colony's insane asylums and the detention and restraint of lunatics in the city's gaols. Candler took evidence on these matters, which were subsequently pursued at a parliamentary inquiry in 1860-61. In 1897 he succeeded to the post of city coroner, held for the previous forty years by his friend Richard Youl. Youl and Candler exercised medical authority over inquests, a practice that would be replaced by legal expertise in the twentieth century. Although reluctant to comment on inquests outside his court, Candler published speculative essays, in the Argus and in book form, on matters relating to public health, including dysentery, measles and tuberculosis. He retired on 1 January 1908, one of the last of a generation of public servants who emigrated during the gold rushes and were influential in Australia throughout the nineteenth century.

Candler had joined the Melbourne Club in 1856. Its secretary in 1857-59, he lived there from 1857 to 1911 and bequeathed to it his copy of The Memoirs of Casanova. While enjoying the exclusively masculine surrounds of the club, he also took pleasure in the entertainments of wealthy Melbourne society. He was a founding member of the Yorick Club. His diaries reveal an avid gossip and prurient recorder of sexual innuendo and intrigue. On 19 May 1882 at Glebe Point, Sydney, Candler had married with Presbyterian forms Laura Ellen Kennedy, who had earlier given birth to four children: Laura Mary (b. and d.1872) George Curtis (1873), Laura Mabel (1875) and Alice Marian (1877). He did not acknowledge paternity, or his marriage, publicly.

Described as 'a man of unusual reserve' who 'lived within himself', Candler was exacting and austere in the execution of his duties. Yet, in private, he delighted in jokes and storytelling. Possessing an athletic bearing into old age, he took only a single meal each day. For rescuing a boy from the river Yarra he was awarded the Royal Humane Society medal. Candler died on 5 June 1911 in a Melbourne private hospital and was buried in Boroondara cemetery. The Melbourne Club, which was astonished to receive a letter from his widow in Rhodesia thanking it for its kindness to her husband, holds his portrait by J. C. Waite.

Select Bibliography

  • M. and B. Beavis, Avoca (Warrnambool, Vic, 1986)
  • P. de Serville, Pounds and Pedigrees (Melb, 1991)
  • P. Russell, A Wish of Distinction (Melb, 1994)
  • Australasian, 29 Aug 1891, p 427, 10 June 1911, p 1487
  • Argus (Melbourne), 6 June 1911, p 7
  • Herald (Melbourne), 6 June 1911, p 8
  • C. Candler, Notes about Melbourne, and diaries (manuscript, State Library of Victoria).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Simon Cooke, 'Candler, Samuel Curtis (1827–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Scrutator

October, 1827
Norfolk, England


5 June, 1911 (aged 83)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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