- COILA, TUROSS RIVER. LOSS OF LIFE, AND MIRACULOUS ESCAPE.
This report was printed
Queanbeyan Age and General Advertiser
Friday 5 April 1867
It has never
fallen to my lot to record more melancholy accidents, nor attend
with more harrowing details, than these I am about to relate. It
commenced raining heavily here on Saturday afternoon and continued,
with little intermission until early on Tuesday morning in, consequence
of which a heavy flood was coming down the river Tuross.
Being anxious to witness the notion of the flood on the Tuross bar,
and also to judge by the debris as to the extent of the damage up
the river, Mr. Dansey and a party of four started down the lake
from the Tuross saw mill, intending to land at a particular spot
which they reached as an oar broke.
A French sailor and another young man named Parson's, went down
in a flat-bottomed dingy, and also landed in safety after breaking
a paddle. Parsons here joined our party on land and thus escaped
a watery grave. Another party, consisting of Mr. Francis Hawdon
(son of John Hawdon, Esq., of Kyla Park), his friend Mr. George
Magill, and a servant man named Thomas Mahon, also arrived safely
having followed Mr. Dansey's directions.
As we were mounting the hill we were amazed at seeing the Frenchman
(whose name was Frederick Maessy) rowing swiftly down the current
apparently rejoicing at the speed he went. We shouted but he still
pulled on. I exclaimed, " Run, the man is mad" but we
only reached the Heads in time to see him throw away his oars, leap
overboard, regain his boat and finally get capsized in the boiling
water along his boat when they disappeared.
We were returning sorrowfully up the beach when to our intense horror
we perceived Mr. Hawdon's boat gliding swiftly down the same treacherous
course to its destruction. They evidently felt their danger and
used every effort to avoid poor Fred's fate but to no purpose. At
this point Mr. Hawdon stripped and took to the water, which, though
running, at a fearful rate was as smooth as glass inside.
On came the boat , swifter and swifter with its two doomed occupants
grasping the gunwale. It passed, safely through the first break
and they had the presence of mind to pull a few strokes here, or
had they stripped previously and jumped over at this spot, there
was a bare possibility of their being saved but they were evidently
too much overcome to use any exertion.
Mr. Magill had stripped off his trousers' and leaped overboard followed
by the other poor fellow in his cloths; but, after a few ineffectual
struggles, they both disappeared. The feelings of the spectators,
who were almost within reach of the doomed ones, but without means
to aid or save, no tongue can tell. In the meantime, Mr, Gooden,
saw-mill engineer, had never taken his eyes from the struggling
form of Mr.Hawdon, who was carried by the current into the breakers
rather before the boat reached them.
He is a powerful swimmer, and by dint of great exertion contrived
to keep his head above water, boiling and roaring as it were. He
was carried out, how far I am afraid to say when by the mercy of
God's providence , a sort of current drove him towards the over-strained
spectators, who,' forming a chain rushed in to meet him and dragged
him panting and exhausted, to the beach. He is since perfectly recovered,
' A more miraculous escape I have scarcly heard of. It is a dream
The men who formed the living chain were G.H. Gooden, James Southam,
Daniel Southam, William Parsons, and Jesse Cole. The Frenchman's
boat has since been recovered three miles up the north beach, but
although a diligent search has been instituted and kept up, no traces
of any of the bodies or of the other boat have as yet been discovered.
The bridges are washed away between Moruya and Bodalla but I am
in no position to give you any news from Bodalla. Mr. Mort's large
and valuable punt, May Queen, was brought down on Monday evening
and night with great difficulty and danger, but she is at present
perfectly safe at the Tuross Saw Mill Jetty.
Great Flood in the Moruya District.
THREE MEN DROWNED.
the Examiner, March 29, 1867.)
Sad and serious is the change in this district's prospects from
this day week, and short was the
time for the accomplishment of the dreadful results — three
persons drowned— crops and fencing destroyed — and many
driven temporarily from their homes. It was only last week that
almost everyone in this district was full of congratulations on
the bright prospects before us.
It was fully expected
that at least 3000 tons of potatoes would be shipped from this district.
Prices were fair, and in corn the produce promised nearly double
the last year's crop. These bright hopes, however, have been, by
the mysterious working of all wise Providence, shadowed by a terrible
Bad as the district has
suffered, Tuross Lake was the scene of the most direful disaster,
that of the drowning of three young men, entering upon the very
prime of life, and what adds to the direful occurrence, whilst occupying
themselves for no earthly purpose but the madly satisfying of their
useless curiosity. One of the party, an eye-witness to the melancholy
end of the young men, sends us an account, published below, but
we are able to supply a few additional particulars.
Whilst the three on the
lake, in company with a fourth containing Mr. Brice and his daughter,
one of the young men proposed to row down and have a peep at what
the water was doing at the heads. The Tuross Lake was more than
a mile across, and though there was a powerful flow running into
it from the land the great breadth of water where they were was
free from current.
On nearing the sea, however,
there are two sandspit, one on each side which narrow the water
to three hundred yards, and the breakers here are fearful, literally
like mountains; and the narrow stream leading to the opening is
for some distance like a seething cauldron. The narrow part begins
about a mile from the heads or bar at the heads. After the whole
party had landed in safety, probably landing through the oar breaking
as detailed below, Massey was dissatisfied, and proposed going further,
his companion positively refused, and he then said he would take
the boat himself.
He accordingly started,
and was followed by a second boat, in which were Mr F. Hawdon, and
the two unfortunutes Messrs Magill and Thomas Mahon Mr Brice and
his boat were following at some distance. After proceeding some
distance they began to feel the current, and Mr Hawdon beckoned
Mr Brice back, which advice was followed. Mr Hawdon advised to make
for a small bay in the spit, but poor Massey kept pushing on, and
Magill insisted on following. No advice would deter them
At last, within a mile
of the heads Mr Hawdon leaped out of the boat with the intention
of swimming to land, but was immediately borne away by the current
far ahead of the boat he had just left. Massey, however was first,
and just before reaching the breakers he jumped out of his boat,
but was instantly engulfed to rise no more alive.
Mr Hawdon was borne over
the spot where Massey had just perished and then commenced a struggle
for life which could not have been victoriously fought by one in
ten thousand, Meanwhile, after Mr Hawdon jumped from the boat his
companions appeared paralysed, but gradually to become sensible
of their dangerous position, when they (too late) endeavoured to
reach the side. They, however, were driven towards the mighty breakers
notwithstanding all their efforts and just before reaching them
they also leaped from the boat and endeavoured to swim towards the
The struggle was but
for a moment, they also were almost instantly engulfed. Mr Hawdon,
now the only one left of the four, still maintained his struggle.
Though burled over and over, as though but a sheet of paper, he
continued to catch a breath when he could, and to swim, edging inch
by inch nearer to the friendly side to which the party on land (having
ran from the first landing place) were beckoning him.
At last after buffeting
with the breakers half an hour, he reached an eddy, which whirled
him round and threw him so that those on shore, by joining hands
to form a chain, the one furthest in the water could reach him,
when he was placed in safety.
The rate of the current
may be judged by the words of one of the party on land, who states
that whilst they were running 300 yards the boats had traversed
to the breakers, a mile. As may be supposed, Mr Hawdon is an excellent
swimmer, but it is wonderful how he kept his presence of mind amid
the cataracts continually hurling him over and over, and incessantly
bearing down upon him. The following is from the pen of one of the
party who remained on the land : —
I am exceedingly distressed at having to inform you of two most
melancholy casualties which occured yesterday at the Tuross Heads,
and both attended loss of life.
The river as you
may well suppose was very heavily flooded, and three boats started
down the Tuross Lake, to witness the effect of the flood upon the
One boat containing
Mr Dansey, Mr Gooden, Mr Southam and three others from the sawmill
arrived in safety, only breaking an oar.
The second, a flat-bottomed
dingy, with Frederick Massey and William Parsons on board, also
reached in safety, and Parsons landed ; but Massey with a broken
oar rashly ventured round Sandy Point, and we shortly saw that nothing
short of a miracle could save him from going to sea.
We all made for the
Heads, and just reached them in time to see the unfortunate men
in the first break under the flagstaff, where he threw away his
oars and leaped overboard.
He was a powerful
swimmer, and reached his boat again, getting on her stern, but the
her capsizing her, and we saw nothing more of poor Massey.
We were returning
up the beach, when, to our horror, we perceived the third boat containing
Mr Francis Hawdon (who was most miraculously saved), Mr George Magill
and Thomas Mahon, sweeping down the same fatal track to destruction
It seems they had landed in safety as directed by Mr Dansey, but
deceived by the confidence of poor Massey, had again put off, and
were immediately swept away by the current.
We were powerless
to save or even aid them save by signs, and the poor fellows did
their utmost, but finding it unavailing, Mr Hawdon stripped and
jumped overboard inside the spit, his two companions remaining in
the boat, evidently nerveless.
The boat rushed
through the first breakers, and just before reaching the breakers
on the bar, they both leaped overboard, and almost immediately sank.
Mr Gordon, one of the spectators, kept his eye steadily on Mr Hawdon,
who struck out powerfully, but who, by the strength of the current,
was carried into the breakers almost simultaneously with the boat,
and was buffeted about on the bar for from fifteen to twenty minutes.
Gooden and the others made signs which Mr Hawdon understood, and
by God's mercy got into an eddy, and by the assistance of those
on shore, was at length drawn to land in a very exhausted condition,
but I am happy to say he has since thoroughly recovered. A diligent
search has been kept up for the bodies, but as yet nothing but the
Frenchman's boat (which was carried to Coila beach) has been as
following are the names of those drowned :
— from the first boat, Frederick Massey, a French sailor,
employed by Hichard Dansey as
from the second boat, George Magill, gentleman, lately residing
with John Hawdon, at
Kyla Park, and Thomas Mahon, lately servant to Mr. John Hawdon.
Mahon and George Magill are both buried in the reserve between Bridges
Avenue and Chauvel Crescent.
FLOODS ON THE SOUTH COAST.
(From a correspondent of the Empire.} – The Late Fatal Boat
The late lamentable accidents
at the Tuross Heads has cast an additional gloom over the neighbourhood,
already desponding enough on account of the recent high flood. A
constant and careful search was kept up along the beach north of
the Tuross, which resulted in the finding, on the evening of the
28th, of the body of Mr. George Magill ; and on the morning of the
29th, the body of Thomas Mahon- both about a mile north of the scene
of the disaster. Notwithstanding the most careful search, the body
of the unfortunate Frenchman has not yet been found.
On Friday evening, W.
S. Caswell, Esq , held an inquest on the sea-shore, in the open
air, when evidence in accordance with the facts I have already detailed
was adduced, and a verdict of " accidental drowning" was
returned. The bodies of the unfortunate men were then placed in
hastily constructed coffins, and it being then quite dark, were
interred in an oak scrub, by the light of a flickering wood fire
; the Rev. P. Fitzgerald, the Presbyterian minister, uttering a
short prayer over the graves, and so closed this sad drama.
The scene was a wild
and melancholy one, the sea moaning hard by, the fitful glare of
the wood fire lighting up the scared faces of the spectators, and
the wind sighing through the oak boughs over head, rendered it very
impressive. Our local journal has endeavoured to attach blame to
the survivors, but the evidence taken before the coroner sufficiently
exonerates them from all imputation on their conduct.
You can Read Francis Hawdon's statement from the Inquest here