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BLAKETOWN BEACH DROWNINGS, GREYMOUTH
WEST COAST
WEDNESDAY 8 FEBRUARY 1922

Thanks to Cynthia McCaughan - Henry (Harry) Evans was her great-grandfather.

The Press, Thursday February 9, 1922 [Christchurch]

SIX MEN DROWNED

TRAGEDY AT GREYMOUTH

REEFTON EXCURSIONISTS TRAPPED IN SURF

(PRESS ASSOCIATION TELEGRAM)

GREYMOUTH, February 8.

When at an early hour this morning a trainload of people, filling three carriages and fourteen wagons, left Reefton for Greymouth their high spirits were unclouded with apprehensions that Fate’s inscrutable decree had destined the day to close for them with a terrible tragedy. They resorted to the beach near the tip-head, where hundreds went in bathing. It seems to have been nobody’s business to attend to warn the visitors of the dangerous whirls and back-currents that come and go suddenly at times in the vicinity of the rocks leading to the tip-head.

About a boy raised an alarm that the current was drowning him. Many others were soon in the same difficulty, being only up to their waists in some cases, but being steadily forced seaward. Men from the shore rushed in, rescuing a number. Signalman Reeves dived with a board from the tip, and, aided by other men who came in a boat to the breakers from the river, got Miss Doris RIVERS ashore. With another boat, the first rescue boat was swamped, and one of the four men, Arthur HUTCHINGS of Greymouth, was drowned. Another bather, Miss Ethel RIVERS[1], was also in the current, but was rescued, also eleven others, all men and boys. However, five could not be accounted for, they having been carried far out and drowned. One man, indeed, tried to swim round the tip into the river, and was quickly drowned.

At one time there were 14 in difficulties, while four more lay on the beach exhausted, having just been able to get ashore. There were no life-saving appliances whatever on the beach, the life-line apparatus having been stolen some time ago, hence, apart from the swimmers who risked their lives in entering the treacherous current, the only hope was to secure boats.

Half a mile out a fishing boat was anchored, but, like other boats that came later, it dared not enter the breakers.

Several of the rescuers – SKON, TROULAND, BEALE, NELSON, MCGEE, and HUNT - were exhausted. They battled for half an hour in the sea.

Strangers not knowing the beach had little chance once they got out far. The missing are:-

Leslie O’DONNELL, single, 22, of Cronadun.

Robert DUFFY, aged 30, single, Reefton.

George WILSON, 18 Reefton.

Frank HART, 22, railwayman, Reefton.

Arthur HUTCHINGS, 40, single, Greymouth.

Harry EVANS, 55 [sic] [2] married, wife and six children, Reefton.

None of the bodies has yet been recovered.

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Greymouth Evening Star, Wednesday February 22, 1922

BEACH TRAGEDY

PATROL ENDS SUNDAY

The police are still maintaining a vigilant patrol of the various beaches in the hope of recovering the bodies of the three remaining victims of the surf disaster. In view of the southward drift which was taken by the body of the late Mr WILSON, a constable searched the beach as far as the Teremakau river and yesterday went as far as the Ten Mile[beach].

The search will be continued until Sunday when, failing result, it will cease. The police are seeking the co-operation of persons living adjacent to the shore, who are asked to observe the beach occasionally, and report to police immediately in the event of a body being washed ashore.

--------------------------------------------

HARBOUR BOARD DISCUSSION

Who is responsible for the provision of a life-line at the beach? The matter was brought before the Grey Harbour Board last evening, when the Chairman (Mr J. STEER) in referring to the recent tragedy, suggested that it was advisable for the Board to consider the advisability of providing a line. The board was not obliged to place a line on the beach, but could have one on its own property and under its control. Mr J. MCLEAN thought a shed should be erected at the tip for the purpose of keeping a line and reel. Finally the matter was left in the hands of the Chairman and the Harbourmaster. A letter from the Borough Council was read in which the council suggested that it was the duty of the Board to supply the line. This was “not received” by the Board. “The Council is more responsible in this matter than we are” observed the Chairman.

                                                        ----------------------------------------                                                        

The following amounts, totaling £6 9s, have been collected by Misses ELLISON from the residents of Blaketown and Preston Road for the General Fund:-

ELLISON 2’6 [two shillings and sixpence], Mrs ELLISON 2’6, Wm. ELLISON 2’6, Mrs ALDERTON 2’6, J SMITH 2’6, G HILL 2’, Mrs MINHIN 2’6, Mrs Stent 2’6, Mrs ANDERSON 2’6, Mrs COLLINS 1’6, Mrs CLOUGH 2’6, Mr ADDISON 2’6, F.G. SMITH 5’, Mrs  D…… 2’, Mrs R CLOUGH 5’, Mrs MASON 2’6, Mrs J NISBIT 2’6, Mrs HANSEN[3] 2’6, Mrs ELLERY 2’6, Mrs KROENING 2’, F BLAKE 2’, T SINNOTT 5’ J MCENAWRY 5’, M COOKLEY 2’6, Mrs R. CASTLES 2’, Mrs N. STEPHENS 3’, Mrs PRICE 4’, Mrs REGALDO 2’, Mrs HILMAN 2’6, James BROWN 2’6, Mrs SHEPPARD 2’6, Mrs F CASTLE 2’, Mrs HANNAm 2’, Friend 2’6, Sympathiser 10’, Friend £J.M.B 2’6, total £6 9s[4]

[ Numerous amounts were collected up and down the Coast for many weeks after the tragedy.  All the donations were recorded in the local newspapers in this way. About £1000 was raised, half went to the Evans family as they were the only dependents, the rest shared between the next of kin of the other victims]

 Unknown newspaper source:

 SURF FUND

We have to acknowledge the receipt of £11s towards Mrs EVANS Relief Fund from the Totara Flat Social Committee being proceeds of a social held there recently.

MINERS UNION DONATIONS

The Inangahua Gold and Coal Miners’ Union which agreed to co-operate with the committee formed at Reefton for the purpose of raising funds to relieve the dependents of those who lost their lives in the recent surfing disaster at Greymouth, succeeded in collecting £66 17s 6d. This amount represents what was subscribed by the outside branches of the Union only, and does not include the contributions paid direct by the Reefton members of the Union to the house-to-house canvassers appointed by the Inangahua Surf Fund Committee.

The following are amounts as handed to Mr M. FAGAN from the undermentioned collectors:-

Waiuta, per Mr M. KENNEDY                     £34  10  6

Big River, per Mr H. COLVIN                        15  10  0

Hukawai, per Mr S. DURWARD                     9     3  0

Capelston, per F. COLLIS                                7   10  0

Contribution Mr Jas. BANKS                                 4  0

  Total                                                            £66  17  6

The union will at a later stage indicate to the Inangahua Surf committee as to the manner in which the above sum shall be allocated.

THANKS

­­­­­­­­Mrs. H. EVANS and family, of Buller Road, Reefton, desire to thank their many West Coast friends and the West Coast public generally for the many acts of kindness, sympathy and practical assistance extended to them in the sad loss of their late husband and father, at the recent beach fatality at Greymouth.

Reefton February 23, 1922.

Greymouth Evening Star  Feb 24 1922

Mr H. H. ALLISON has forwarded a cheque for £ 1 1s for the Mrs EVANS Relief Fund.

An impromptu concert by the Commercial travelers from the balcony of the Club Hotel, Westport. Last evening on behalf of the dependents of the victims of the surf bathing tragedy at Greymouth, was attended by a large gathering of citizens and raised £72 – Press Association

REEFTON

(Own Correspondent)

REEFTON February 27

A united memorial service was held on Sunday in the Theatre Royal in connection with the Grey surf fatality. The Territorials and Cadets, Under Captain CAMPBELL, and the Inangahua Silver Band paraded, the hall being filled to the doors. The service opened by the band playing  “Serpio”, followed by a hymn sung by the united choirs and prayer by Ensign THACKWELL. The lesson was read by Leiut. SMITH and an address was given by Rev. MILGREW, who said that heroism was essentially self sacrifice and those who lost their lives in the recent fatality rightly deserved the name of heroes. The preparation of the hero was not the doing of great things but of the small everyday duties of life so that when the opportunity came they were ready for the great heroic action that stirred men’s hearts.

The County Chairman, Mr J. B. AULD, who was out of town, wrote apologizing for absence and expressing the sympathy of the County Council and in habitants of the district with those who had suffered in the sad disaster.

Mr T. WATSON spoke of the lessons of self sacrifice to be learnt from the deeds which had been done by those who gave their lives for others. That Jesus Christ who gave Himself for the world had said that a man of great would even lay down his life for another.

The Rev. A. J. DAVIS spoke of the uncertainty of life as shown by the sad fatality which had occurred. The moral heroism required to live our daily life was the preparation of heroic deeds when the need arose: it needed an understanding of sympathy for others if we would help them, and the present occasion called for that sympathy and help.

Rev. PICKERING said that they were often perplexed because they did not understand the Divine way and purpose. Some might see it in this life, but most would only form the perspective of the life beyond, when we would understand the reason for this and many other tragedies of life. It was thus they were taught the brevity of life, that death did not end all, and the heroism of those who died was of the everyday kind that answered the call of duty.

Several hymns were sung and after the benediction was pronounced the band played Chopin’s Funeral March. A collection was taken up, and resulted in nearly £7 being added to the Inangahua fund.

Funeral Notice Inganghua Times 18 Feb 1922

 

[Greymouth Evening Star Friday  March 3,1922]

SURF TRAGEDY

 INQUEST AND VERDICT

 CORONERS COMMENTS

The adjourned inquest into the death of the victims of the surf tragedy at the Blaketown beach during the Reefton picnic on February 8 was held today before Mr F. H. KILGOUR, J.P.., (Acting Coroner) and a jury of four consisting of Messers A. NAYLOR (foreman) E. G. ASHBY, W. KYLE and J. WALKER.

Evidence in respect to the identification of the body of George WILSON was taken in addition to formal evidence of the cause of the tragedy.

Conrad Henry HAUB, of Blaketown, said that he had identified a body in the morgue that of George WILSON, who was his nephew, and a schoolboy attending Reefton High School.

Constable CROWLEY, of Reefton, gave evidence of the finding of deceased’s body at Camerons. James GRANT a boy of 14 years of age directed them to a spot near the New River, about a quarter of a mile above the sea, where he found the body, attired in a bathing suit. Witness identified it as that of George WILSON. He had the body brought to Greymouth and was present when the previous witness identified it at the morgue.

At the request of Sergant FRYER, the constable formally detailed the history of the tragedy. When the accident occurred he made enquiries for a life-line but found there was none available. Constable HOUSTON went to seek the assistance of a boat and this and to other boats came on the scene. One boat was struck by a large breaker and swamped. Everything possible was done to effect a rescue. After the alarm subsided, it was found that there were five[5] Reefton people missing, among whom were NELSON, EVANS, and O’DONNELL.

Joseph HUNT, butcher, of Reefton, said that he was present at the Reefton picnic, and was bathing in the surf. At one time, DUFFY and WILSON were with him; after he came out, but hearing that EVANS was in difficulties, he went back and found that DUFFY and WILSON were on the breakers swimming quite easily and apparently enjoying themselves. EVANS was in difficulties and witness swam out and was within five yards of EVANS with DUFFY on his right and WILSON on his left, when he felt a terrible ‘suction’. Later he heard a cry behind him but could not see who it was, as he and another man were then swept back to shore. He did not see DUFFY and WILSON again.

Frederick LAWN, electrician, Hokitika, said he was bathing with his brother-in-law [sic][6]. Henry David EVANS at the time of the tragedy. EVANS appeared to go to the rescue of two young women, and witness followed. On reaching EVANS, witness found that he was in difficulties. He asked witness to assist him, which he did, but owing to his strength failing him he had to leave him. He last saw EVANS floating out to sea on his back.

To the Coroner: He had considerable difficulty in reaching the land.

To the foreman of the jury: He could not say for certain whether EVANS was going to the rescue of the young women. He appeared to be doing so.

Jack BANKS, salesman, of Reefton said that he was in the surf at the time of the accident. He was told that a girl was in difficulties and he swam towards her. Leslie O’DONNELL, Doris RIVERS and himself were walking out when a big wave separated them and they were carried out to sea. Leslie O’DONNELL became exhausted and went under the water. He did not see him again. He also saw Bob DUFFY going out. He called out just before he sank “Help me Jack, I’m done.”

After a short consultation, the foreman announced that the verdict was that Henry EVANS, Leslie O’DONNELL, and George WILSON had been accidentally drowned while surf-bathing at Blaketown Beach on February 8, and that every possible means had been used to effect rescue. The foreman said that the jury wished to express its sincere condolence to the relatives of the deceased.

The Coroner, in thanking the jury for its attendance, said that the circumstances of the fatality were most regrettable. It was time something was done to safeguard visitors to the beach from hidden dangers that lurked there, and he would recommend the Borough Council and Harbour Board to attend to this need speedily. “I might say that I am satisfied” said the Coroner “that the person who stole the life-line was partly responsible for the deaths of those six people”

 

Henry (Harry) EVANS was buried in the Reefton Suburban Cemetery, Buller Road.  His family lived on a small farm directly across from the cemetery.

 Blaketown Beach 1912

 

 Eva Lillian Evans nee Lawn, Edith Irene Evans, Henry James Evans, Henry David EVANS, Jennifer ‘Jean’ Evans. Their other children were; Eva Rachel, Kathleen, David Lenin.

Henry EVANS was born in Reefton, and had trained as a carpenter with Muir and Drake in Greymouth. He and Eva were married in 1907. At the time of his death Henry and Eva had returned to Reefton, firstly to help his parents on their farm at Short Track. He then bought some land on the southern side of Buller Road and was clearing the bush for farm land, and was in the process of building the family a house, which never was properly finished. The house gradually fell into disrepair and now no longer exists, but the trees the couple planted can still be seen.

 


 

[1] Ethel RIVERS was the teacher of the EVANS children at the small Waitahu School. Both she and her sister recovered from their near-drowning.

[2] He was 35

[3] Eva Evan’s grandmother

[4] Henry’s weekly wage when he and Eva married in 1907 was 10 shillings

[5] Arthur Hutchings from  Greymouth was drowned when a rescue boat swamped..

[6] Fred Lawn was a cousin to Eva, not brother

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