Thursday, 1 May 2014

A most melancholy accident. (Hyam family) 1872, Shortland cemetery.




Tapu Creek, half a mile from the beach. 

"The first thing I remember was waking up wrapped in blankets, and upon asking where I was, I was told I was in Auckland," a bewildered George Hyam told concerned listeners.


The fisherman, of Tararu, Thames, had set out from Tapu Creek about 2 pm in a 12 foot dingy with his wife Alice  and their three children -  George, twelve and a half, Charles, four years, and Elizabeth, three months.  They were sailing to Grahamstown to visit some friends. 


It was mid-July and the cold winter  wind during the day had been blowing strong, but close to shore it wasn't too bad, so the family set sail.   They had a good stiff breeze up to Tararu, and once off Waiomo they took in the sprit.   Shortly after 4 pm,  on getting under the high land, the breeze lulled and George told George Jnr to put up the sprit again.   As he did this,  they came abreast of Tararu wharf and a sudden gust of wind from the hills struck the boat capsizing it.

The squall stopped but the boat kept turning over.  The mast dislodged  and together with the sail, broke adrift.    Alice had been sitting on the midship seats.   As the boat flipped, she managed to grab hold of it while the two smallest children clung to her.  George Snr was washed off the boat, but managed to swim back to it.    He tried to catch hold of his wife but failed to do so.  Alice, with the children still clutching her, was washed away. 

Young George had the sheet  in his hand at the time of the capsize and held fast to it.   His exhausted father  told his son to hang on to the boat for his life as he thought he was done for.  But George Snr managed to steady the boat while his son hauled himself up onto it. George Snr followed him and they cast the painter and kedge adrift  which kept the boat steadier.

The accident was witnessed by Captain Ellis of the steamer  Golden Crown, then lying at Tararu wharf, ready to start for Auckland.  He immediately had one of the steamer's boats manned with three hands row to the scene, about a quarter of a mile from the wharf.


About twenty minutes after the boat had capsized, Alice was pulled from the water with the infant Elizabeth  in her arms.  The little boy, Charles, was next picked up about 50 yards away.   The father and eldest lad were then picked up.  They were in a very feeble state. 

The steward of the Golden Crown had hot water and blankets ready.  Frantic attempts were at once taken to restore life to the mother and two youngest children.

 Dr Croft, who had been sent for from Grahamstown, arrived on board the Golden Crown about an hour after the accident.  After examination,  he pronounced life had been extinct for some time.  He ordered the removal of the  bodies of the Alice and her children to the Imperial Hotel, Tararu.

The father and eldest boy had been removed to a bunk and "every attention was there shown them."  Dr Croft decided it would be unsafe to move them in their present condition and Captain Ellis offered to allow them to remain on board promising they would be well attended to.


The Golden Crown left for Auckland; it's traumatised cargo taken with it for the night before being brought back to Thames the next morning.

"The occurrence has caused a  great sensation," reported the Daily Southern Cross of the  "most melancholy and fatal accident."


The inquest, which was to have been held at the Imperial Hotel, Tararu, at 3.30 pm, was delayed owing to a hold up in the arrival and departure of the train conveying the Coroner and  Inspector of Police  to Tararu.  It was nearly 5 pm before the officials arrived.  By then, the medical witness, Dr Croft, was not in attendance. The inquest was adjourned until the following morning.

A distraught George Hyman recounted "I saw my wife some six yards off but was so exhausted that I was helpless."  He remembered seeing all the bodies picked up, but after he got on board the steamer "I can remember nothing."


 A verdict was returned of  "accidental death, caused by the upsetting of a boat."

A few months later George Hyman Snr died from the effects of the tragedy.

This left only George Jnr of what was once a family of four.

 Sixteen months after the tragedy, in mid-November 1873,  George, now aged 14, was working for Mr Walker, milkman, minding his cows.  While George was crossing the Kauaeranga River on horseback,  the horse stumbled and they both fell into the deep water.  George was swept away by the current.  Two days later the Daily Southern Cross reported the body of George Hyam had not yet been recovered.  It was supposed he had been washed out to sea.
George was finally found by a native, near the end of December, caught in a snag.

The Daily Southern Cross noted this same boy narrowly escaped drowning previously when his family were capsized in a boat off Tararu.

The family are buried together at Shortland cemetery high above the waters that eventually claimed them all.


First on the scene - the Golden Crown paddle steamer, named after a gold mine in Thames.  Built in 1870, it was the fastest ship built in Auckland up to that time.


Surnames were variously spelt as Highman, Hyam and Hines in newspaper reports.

A sprit is a small pole or spar crossing a fore-and-aft sail diagonally.
In sailing,  a sheet is a line, cable, rope used to control the movable corners of a sail.
A kedge is a sea anchor thrown in the direction of progress and hauled in after it settles. 
A painter is a line attached to the bow of the boat for tying it up. 

Images: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-3681A-47' and 4-8720'
Source:  Papers Past.


(The Dead Cert I promised about the irrepressible Mrs Schafer has  ballooned into a much larger story!  More later.) 

© Meghan Hawkes and Dead Cert 2014

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