RE Camp, Harrison River,
I deeply regret to have to
report that Sappers “Elliot”, “Manstree” and “Roe” of this Detachment
were accidentally drowned last evening, while attempting to return in
a canoe from the mouth of the Harrison River, during a severe storm.
From the evidence of
Sapper Brown, the only one of the Canoe’s Crew who was saved, it would
appear that after spending an hour or so at Mr. William’s house at Carnarvon, they started on their return in opposition to his
(William’s) advice about 6:30 pm, being anxious to get back to camp by
On rounding a point a mile
below this camp the canoe became exposed to a heavy sea and swamped,
but being in shallow water, they got out – hauled her on the beach and
They then tracked her along
the shore for 300 or 400 yards and again attempted to cross the river
– The violence of the gale however precluded the possibility of
steering, and driving before it, she gradually filled and soon upset
in deep water.
Brown, who had light boots
on, swam to the canoe, and got astride her, and, having kept hold of
his paddle, managed to reach the shore, and crawl nearly dead into
camp. Of the other three poor fellows who had Gum boots on, Brown says
that One (Sapper Roe) held on to him for a short time but soon sank
exhausted – of the other two he saw no more.
Immediately on Sapper
Brown’s arrival in camp, I took every means in my power by sending
boats and men to the spot, to rescue any that might still be floating
or have been thrown on the beach, but I regret to say all my efforts
were unsuccessful - The Storm was one of the most terrific I ever
Could I possibly have
foreseen that men would have been rash enough to venture out in a
light canoe in such weather, I would have sent down to stop them if
possible, and deeply as I lament the melancholy loss of 3 fine young
fellows I cannot but remark on the recklessness of the second attempt
to cross the river, when the canoe had already been swamped with them
in shallow water.
Brown assures me that the
men were all quite sober and kept their presence of mind till the last
minute, and I think the loss of at least one, viz: “Manstree”, who was
the most powerful swimmer in the Detachment, was owing to his having
long boots on, which must have utterly incapacitated him for swimming.
I have not yet succeeded in
recovering the bodies, as the wind has been too strong to cause any
extensive search to be made: but when it lulls, I trust that the
clearness of the water will admit of their being found.
I should remark that the
canoe, which was a long, light, frail affair, belonged to Sapper Roe,
one of the poor fellows we have lost.
Feeling as I do the
responsibility of the charge of so many men, I trust you will allow me
to observe that an occurrence of this nature could not possibly have
been foreseen. The weather, when the men went down from this camp, was
nearly calm. The Storm came on without any warning, and as but an hour
elapsed between its commencement and the occurrence of the accident
there would hardly have been time to stop the men even if I had sent a
messenger down immediately. – Again expressing my deep regret that I
should have to report the loss of so many men of a Detachment under my
I have etc., etc.,
Lieutenant Royal Engineers
P.S. Brown I am happy to
say is quite recovered this morning.
To Colonel R.C. Moody RE
Etc. Etc. Etc.