Friday, 27 December 2013

A tragic trip

In days gone by, many inhabitants lived closed to the Hawkesbury River and its tributaries as it was quick to travel from one location to another by boat. By road the route between Lower Portland and Windsor is about 40 kms and by car would take about 50 minutes today. Over one hundred years ago the route by road, travelling by horse and cart could take about three to four hours, by boat the journey was considerably quicker.

Several generations of the Wall family resided at Lower Portland during the 19th century. Patriarch of the family was Thomas Wall (1794-1880) a convict who had arrived in 1815 and his wife Ann Huxley (1805-1869) whose parents were also convicts. Following their marriage at Windsor’s St. Matthews Church of England in 1822, Thomas and Ann raised a large family. Their son Richard was born in 1824 and he married Elizabeth Harriet Jones in Sydney in 1853. Their children included, Sidney born 1854, Thomas John 1856, Frederick 1858, George 1860, Martha Ann 1863, Rosanna Caroline 1865, Rachel Jane 1867, Drusilla Elizabeth 1870, Emeline Alice 1873 and Jessie Mary born 1876. Richard Wall was recorded as a farmer but was originally a cordwainer by trade. A cordwainer was a shoemaker who made luxurious footwear.

In 1881, the Wall family consisted of Richard and his wife Elizabeth along with an assortment of their unmarried children residing with them at Lower Portland. On 20 January 1881, a hot and humid summer’s day, Richard set out on a routine outing. He was visiting his older brother Thomas, who lived in Windsor and was accompanied by daughters; Martha 18 and Rachel aged 13. 

They left the house of Thomas Wall about 3.30pm in the afternoon to return home but later that evening the alarm was raised when they did not arrive at their destination. Apparently they got caught in a squall near Pitt Reach on the Hawkesbury River which upset the boat.  Following the hot day a southerly buster hit Sydney around 6pm with a small shower of rain and gusty winds. According to the Sydney Morning Herald report the boat was located upside down and empty with the occupants missing, sometime after the warning was raised. Thomas Wall was alerted of the tragedy and he travelled to Mrs Burdekin’s farm at about 11pm the same evening, to see what had taken place.  

As it was too dark, the search reconvened the following morning at 7am with Mr Woodbury, Mr J. Kirwan and William Pendergast lending a hand. Senior Constable Roberts also contributed to the search. He proceeded to a place called Foul Weather Reach and commenced dragging the river for the bodies and found two women’s hats on the beach, and opposite to them some parcels, and about 11 o’clock he found the eldest girl Martha Wall. William Grono then located the bodies of Richard Wall and his youngest daughter, they were clasped together when found.

An Inquest was held in Pitt Town at the Maid of Australia Hotel the following day.  Dr Thomas Fiaschi gave evidence at the inquest stating in his opinion the deaths resulted from suffocation by drowning. The jury returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased met their deaths by being accidentally drowned, through the upsetting of a boat, on the evening of the 20 January 1881, according to The Australian, Windsor, Richmond, & Hawkesbury Advertiser. The district coroner for Windsor, James Bligh Johnston, Esq JP returned a result, death by accidental drowning.

The funeral, a most sad occasion, was held at St Thomas Church of England at Sackville on 22 January and the service was conducted by Rev. W. Wood. The three members of the Wall family were buried together at Sackville Reach Cemetery


The simple sandstone headstone recording the three names, is a reminder of this unfortunate
19thcentury tragedy. Photo: Jonathan Auld 2003.


The Hawkesbury community rallied around the Wall family and the community donated cash and goods to the worthy cause. John Gough and Thomas Boston were the official collectors and a list of donors appeared in the The Australian several weeks later.

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