An inquest is a civil procedure whose purpose is to obtain knowledge and resolve an uncertainty or a problem by searching for evidence; it is done in court by hearing witnesses. This Internet archive presents excerpts of the reports of two inquests that were conducted by the Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia during the 1870s to shed light on rumours of bad management and ill treatment in the Nova Scotia Hospital insane asylum (psychiatric hospital) on the outskirts of Halifax.

Inquests involve documents of a diverse nature: they may include depositions, reports of discussions, committee reports, administrative reports, correspondence and declarations of all kinds. Published inquest reports assemble all these documents in a more or less chronological manner and are based on the notes and transcriptions of court clerks. In practice, however, every court clerk had his or her own way of working, and of organizing and writing documents.

Even though documents of a legal nature, such as inquest reports, are produced by respected individuals and official bodies, historical criticism cannot be avoided. The witnesses may have made mistakes or simply lied, as people do. Researchers must not forget that presiding officers, for example, did not leave their personal opinions and biases at the courtroom door, and that their notes were not always objective. Similarly, in spite of their oath, witnesses sometimes forgot details or lied deliberately, while some went so far as to make false accusations.