Friday, April 13, 2012

A Colonial Peril - Death by Drowning

Early view of the Brisbane River and Kangaroo Point

Death by drowning was remarkably frequent in Colonial Queensland.  Newspapers often carried reports of these tragedies.  The chief cause of these deaths was the inability of most people of the times to swim. Drowning was also a common method of taking one’s own life, while others drowned during drunken misadventures.  An example of the latter situation was reported by The Moreton Bay Courier in January 1847.

DEATH BY DROWNING.-A few days since a man named William Ladd, a mariner employed by David Peattie on board the Nelson cutter, was ascertained to be missing by his master. As he was last seen in a state of intoxication late on Monday evening last, wending his way to the vessel, it was feared that some serious mishap had befallen him.

On the following day, the river was dragged near the spot where the cutter is lying, opposite to Kangaroo Point, but without finding the body. On Thursday morning, however, the body of the unfortunate man was discovered near the saw-pits, with the head out of water. It was immediately taken out and conveyed to the General Hospital, when an inquisition was taken before the Police Magistrate.

There was no evidence to prove how the poor fellow lost his life, but from the appearance of the body, Dr. Ballow was of opinion that drowning was the cause of death. It is supposed that on going on board the cutter on the evening when he was last seen alive, he lost his hold and fell into the water. As no person witnessed the occurrence, this unfortunate victim of intemperance was unable to extricate himself, and thus lost his life.[1]

Those workers living solitary lives as shepherds and hutkeepers were sometimes found drowned in waterholes and rivers.

DEATH BY DROWNING.-On Monday, a man well-known as "Old Jemmy," employed by Mr. Williams in the capacity of hutkeeper at the Coal Reach[2], was accidentally drowned in endeavouring to secure a log of wood which he observed floating in the river.

It appears that the unfortunate man was last seen by the men at the coal pit in a canoe going from the wharf. On coming out of the pit some time afterwards they looked about, and observed the canoe bottom upwards, but "Old Jemmy" had disappeared. The body was not found until Wednesday, when it was discovered floating not far from the place where he had met his death. [3]

Even prominent citizens were not spared their fate when venturing beyond their depth.  In the oppressive summer heat of January 1848, a German pastor residing at the German Station[4], ventured into a waterhole to cool off.

Woman fishing at a waterhole

DEATH OF THE REVEREND JOHN GREGOR.—It   is our painful duty in this day's issue to record the loss the community has sustained by the death of the Reverend John Gregor, the Episcopalian Minister, who was accidentally drowned at the German Missionary Station on Saturday morning last. As soon as intelligence of this distressing event reached town, the Police Magistrate immediately proceeded to the station, and held an inquiry on the unfortunate gentleman's remains.

The following are the depositions of the witnesses who were examined on the occasion:—
Theodore Franz being duly sworn deposeth that about eleven o'clock on Saturday morning, the Reverend Mr. Gregor who has been residing here for seven months complained to me of headache, and said that he felt the heat very much. I saw him go to the water, as I imagined for the purpose of bathing.

About ten minutes afterwards, I heard Nicquet calling to me and asking if Mr. Gregor could swim. I answered "No" and hurried to the place where he was. I did not see Mr. Gregor there. I undressed myself and sprang into the water and swam to the place where I thought Mr. Gregor might have sank— Mr. Nicquet also came into the water. He felt the body of Mr. Gregor with his feet, but could not succeed in raising him; but after another attempt he did succeed.

 I assisted to draw the body to the land—there was no appearance of life, although the body was warm. We did all we could to restore life, but without success.[5]

Life for colonial children could be carefree and adventurous but there were dangers for the unsupervised child.

Colonial Boys

MELANCHOLY ACCIDENT.-BOY DROWNED.   On the afternoon of Sunday last, a boy named James Binstead, between six and seven years of age, son of John Binstead, sawyer, residing in North Brisbane, was accidently drowned by falling into the town reservoir[6].

An inquest was held on the body on Monday morning, and from the evidence then adduced, it appeared that the deceased was fishing in the reservoir, and while in the act of hauling out his line, his foot slipped, and he fell forward into the water, which is of considerable depth.

A boy named McAllister, who  was standing by, procured a stick, and tried to haul him out but he failed. The deceased was seen to come up and go down several times before he finally sunk.

It is interesting to note that in contrast to European children, young aborigines were accomplished swimmers.

Boys swimming in a creek
The deceased's father being informed of the fatal occurrence, very soon arrived on the spot, and an aboriginal boy was procured who dived for, and brought up the body. Means were tried to restore animation, but unfortunately without effect.[7]

In an editorial in The Moreton Bay Courier in April 1848, parents were taken to task for allowing their children far too much freedom, particularly on a Sunday.

CAUTION TO PARENTS. We some weeks ago cautioned parents against allowing their children to absent themselves too much from their houses, and we again repeat it in the expectation that a late unhappy circumstance may give double effect  to the recommendation.

Children in this colony are allowed by far, too much indulgence in the employment of their time. No person would, of course, desire see them excluded from that recreation which is so necessary and congenial to their period of life, but their amusements, and the time for enjoying them, ought to be regulated by their parent and if they were so, it is to be hoped they would not be found fishing on Sundays, and engaged in other unbecoming occupations, which would not be tolerated under that better and more strict state of society which obtains at home.

Parents who neglect the moral training of their offspring incur a heavy responsibility, and the first step towards such training is to teach them a becoming reverence for the Sabbath. We hope that for the good of the children, the satisfaction of their parents, and the advantage of society at large, these repeated cautions may have some effect.[8]

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 30 January 1847
[2] Probably near the present suburb of Redbank.
[3] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 24 April 1847
[4] Now the Brisbane suburb of Nundah.
[5] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 29 January 1848
[6] In the general area of the present day Roma Street Railway Station.
[7] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 22 April 1848
[8] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 22 April 1848

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