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NEW ZEALAND DISASTERS AND TRAGEDIES
WAIMANGU GEYSER ERUPTION
SUNDAY 30 AUGUST 1903
WAIMANGU, ROTORUA, NEW ZEALAND

THE WAIMANGU HORROR
HOW IT OCCURRED
Per United Press Association
Rotorua Aug 31 (1903)

It appears that 32 tourists left on what is known as the round trip that morning. One section of the party saw Waimangu, then in eruption, but the geyser only played about 200 feet in height. The other party went by way of Wairoa across the lakes and were later in reaching the geyser. Among them were the two Misses NICHOLLS, Mr D MacNAUGHTON and Mr Joe WARBRICK *. At half-past three in the afternoon, while this party was near the shelter shed on the hill, a terrific eruption took place. These four were killed and some others were injured.

The eruption was seen in Rotorua and must have been stupendous and terrific. The victims were carried in the rush of boiling water nearly a mile in the direction of Lake Rotomahana. It was some time before the bodies were recovered and a considerable portion of their clothing was torn off pointing to the horrible though mercifully swift, nature of their end.

The eruption is described as the greatest yet witnessed of Waimangu. Those who have seen what this great natural wonder is capable of will know what this means. One man was in close proximity to the geyser when the fatal shot occurred but succeeded in resisting the force of the water, and escaped being drawn down into the overflow. There seemed to be three shots in quick succession – one straight up and the others spreading. It was doubtless one of the latter which caught the ill-fated party.

FATAL TEMERITY

W A CONSTANT, who was an eye-witness of the disaster states that no blame was attachable to Guide Warbrick who prior to the eruption begged his brother, the young ladies and MacNaughton to come away from the position they were in as he considered it dangerous. To his brother he remarked “If an accident happens you know I will get the sack.” He also told Mrs Nicholls to tell her daughters they were in a dangerous position and urged them to come back. Mrs Nicholls calling her daughters by name requested them to come away to which one of them replied: “Just a moment mother.” At that moment the geyser went up, and when it subsided, the four were gone. Mrs Nicholls and the guide Alf Warbrick were on top of the hill near the shelter shed and the victims of the disaster were on the brow of a hill overlooking the overflow. Mr Constant had left the party a minute or two before the accident and had taken a seat on the brow of a hill in front of the shelter shed, but nearer to the new accommodation house. MacNaughton’s body was found first and the others lower down stream. Mrs Nicholls is almost distracted at the loss of her girls. It is but a few months since her husband died.

AUCKLAND Aug 31

One of the victims of the Waimangu eruption was David MacNaughton, a married man without family, aged 30, manager of a butcher’s shop at Archhill (Auckland). He was a personal friend of Warbrick’s and was to have returned to Auckland earlier, but wrote that he intended to stay over Sunday to see Waimangu play. Miss Nicholls, aged about 17, a younger sister of the two young ladies who lost their lives, left for Rotorua by train this morning.

Mrs Nicholls and three daughters came here from Christchurch about two months ago. After staying some time in Rotorua they went on a trip to the Pacific Islands. On their return they remained in Auckland till last Wednesday when Mrs Nicholls and her two older daughters, aged 19 and 20, left for another visit to Rotorua. Mrs Nicholls is the widow of Mr Walter Nicholls, JP who owned a big sheep run in North Canterbury known as the White Rock. He died twelve months ago.

At an inquest on the bodies of the four victims of the Waimangu accident Guide Warbrick said he warned the deceased and others that the spot where they were standing was dangerous, but his warnings were disregarded. He told Mrs Nicholls to call her daughters back but the girls only looked around and smiled at their mother. Mrs Nicholls and witness then walked on thinking the others would follow. When he last saw the deceased they were standing on the brink of the geyser. When the great eruption went up he had to carry Mrs Nicholls out of the reach of danger, the others were washed away. Witness describing the finding of the bodies, said the clothes of the deceased were torn to shreds. There was no barrier or protection to prevent people going too close to the geyser, though warning notices were stuck up. Dr WOHLMANN expressed the opinion that death must have been instantaneous. John DONNELLY, who was with the deceased at the time of the eruption said one of the young ladies seemed anxious to get a snapshot. As he ran there was a terrible roar, and everything became dark. Material seemed to fall all over them. Had they taken notice of all the guides’ warnings no accident would have occurred.

The jury brought a verdict of “accidental death” and stated that no blame was attachable to the guide, who had repeatedly warned the deceased and others and had pointed out to them the dangerous spots.

MacNAUGHTON/McNAUGTON David 30
NICHOLLS Katherine 20
NICHOLLS Ruby 19
WARBRICK Joseph 41

Thanks to Rod Smith, of Wellington, NZ and Susan Freund, of Hobart, Tasmania for their help with the Nicholls girls.


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