Friday, 17 July 2015

The Master of Life called.

Alfred Reddish, 1878

Edward Reddish, 1893

"The sad and unfortunate death of Alfred Reddish would not be soon forgotten by his sorrowing comrades . . ."  The Thames Naval volunteers and band 1898.

Fisherman's (Shortland) Wharf , Thames.  

For the young men of Thames in 1878 the relief of a day's escape from the hard slog in the mines was eagerly anticipated.  Many were members of the Naval Cadets and a weekend sail up the Thames (Waihou) River was a welcome diversion.

Alfred Reddish, aged 18, in particular enjoyed crewing the naval cutter.  Although he didn't labour in the mines, he was no stranger to hard work.  A fisherman like his father, young Alfred was a  major contributor to his family's finances.

On a late February weekend  the naval cadet cutter, with a crew of 15 hands on board, under the command of Lieutenant Bennett,  left  Thames for Paeroa  The trip took four and half hours under oar.   After enjoying themselves overnight,  the crew left on the homeward journey on Sunday afternoon again rowing all the way down the river.  At Hikutaia the boat unexpectedly grounded on the tail of one of the numerous banks. Eight of the crew good-naturedly jumped into the water and got the boat clear while the others took  their places at the oars.  Captain Bennett remarked that Alfred knew the channel better than he did and asked him to take the tiller lines.

Alfred had just taken the position vacated by his captain,  sitting on a pile of spare coats,  when he suddenly sprang up,  jumping clean out of the boat, in a doubled up position, straight into the water.
Captain Bennett instantly stopped the boat and began to strip off his uniform while two of the crew, Richard Pick and Henry Gordon, immediately  plunged into the water after Alfred.  Although both were very expert swimmers,  the two lads disappeared, appearing a few minutes later struggling for their lives against a whirlpool caused by two currents meeting, which had formed at the edge of the bank.   With difficultly Captain Bennett hauled both boys back into the boat.

After searching diligently and without success for Alfred, the shocked crew rowed on as far as the bush men's huts of Bagnall's sawmills.    Captain Bennett left two of the boys, including Henry Gordon, with two bush men named Palmer and Clarke, who immediately manned two boats and went back in search of Alfred.  They had a drag and used it continuously up to 6.30pm  and at last recovered the body of  Alfred  in 7 or 8 feet of water near where he fell in.  Meanwhile the cadets landed back at Shortland and the tragic  news was communicated to his parents in Grey Street soon after 9pm, the task  being described as an extremely painful one.

Alfred was notable for his steadiness and was one of the most trustworthy hands in a boat that could be found in the district; he was also an expert swimmer and well accustomed to boating.  The peculiar circumstances of his death were initially a mystery.

At the inquest, held at the New Caledonia Hotel,  Shortland,  Arthur Bennett, acting captain of the NCC,  said  the boat was safe and capable of holding 15.  "Alfred was quite sober.  I have not seen him take alcoholic liquors. There was nothing like a jollification amongst the crew from the time we left Shortland to when we arrived in town again.   The only refreshment the crew had since leaving Paeroa was a bucket of milk, which they obtained on the way down from Te Kopuru farm. I saw Alfred going into the water in a sitting posture, with his knees up to his chest.  He made no noise or scream whatever.  I did not hear him complaining of being unwell during the trip, on the contrary he was in excellent spirits. Alfred never came to the surface.  It was broad daylight at the time of the accident - about 5.30pm."

Thomas McInany said he saw Alfred double up, turn around and make a spring into the water.  Before he jumped he did not say anything, nor was there an expression of pain on his face.  It was impossible for him to have fallen from where he was sitting.  Alfred had drunk about a tumberful and a half of milk and it  was about half an hour after the milk had been drunk that the accident occurred The sun was very bright and the day warm.  Alfred had his cap on at all times.

 George A Reddish, Alfred's father said "On Saturday Alfred left home to go in the company's boat,which was the last time I saw him. My son was strong and healthy and I don't know of my own knowledge that he was subject to fits, but I heard about two years ago he had one at Ohinemuri.   I do not know that he had any trouble weighing on his mind.  He could swim and manage a boat very well.  He was not addicted to drink.  I have never seen him take anything intoxicating in his life."

The Coroner determined that Alfred had probably had a fit of some sort.  Having sprung over the gunwale of the boat under the sudden influence of a spasm or fit, a post mortem was deemed unnecessary as he was known to be subject to at least one fit.

 "When a person has a fit," the Coroner commented, "he always has a repetition of it sooner or later.  A fit is generally brought on by excitement, and the sun being hot might have brought one on.  From the evidence it appears Alfred had partaken of some fruit but this would not excite the nervous system on the contrary it would allay it,"   he added with baffling reasoning typical of the era.  The jury returned an open verdict that the deceased came to his death by drowning.  At the same time they wished to put on record the brave conduct of Richard Pick and Henry Gordon in endeavouring to rescue Alfred at the peril of their own lives.

Alfred's funeral took place with military honours at Shortland cemetery.  His comrades paraded in their neat nautical attire, and with arms reversed, they escorted the gun carriage bearing his body from his bereaved parents home.  "Mournfully from the hillsides did the muffled drums re-echo, while the wail of the 'Dead March' sent up its sad sweet notes.  The tears of his boy comrades glistened in their eyes when the last three volleys rung out on the calm  still air above his last resting place; and the pale grey smoke wreathing aloft and disappearing in the summer sunshine seemed an apt metaphor for his short but useful life, " reported the Thames Advertiser.    The senior volunteer companies showed their respect for the memory of their young companion-in-arms, and their regard for the feelings of his relatives, by mustering in considerable strength, despite being given short notice. The bands of the Scottish, Second Haurakis and Naval volunteers were in attendance. It was estimated there were no less than 10 to 12 hundred of the general public lining the route which the funeral procession took.  The burial service was conducted by the Rev Vicesimus Lush and three volleys were fired over the grave by a detachment of the Alfred's companions.

The sad and unfortunate death of Alfred Reddish would not be soon forgotten by his sorrowing comrades and officers among who he was a general favourite, on account of his winsome manner and his ready and obliging temperament.  Great credit was given to Cadets Pick and Gordon, who risked their lives.  Every possible effort was made by Captain Bennett and his crew to recover the body and no blame was  attached to anyone for the unforeseen calamity, which caused great  distress to the respectable and industrious Reddish family.  The funeral expenses were paid by the cadets and other companies and friends in Shortland.  Alfred's loss was severely felt by the family, as was his vital financial contribution.  

A few days after Alfred's death an astonishing letter was received by the Thames Advertiser from someone signing themselves 'YOUTH'.

"Sabbath desecration - I trust that the death of the fine young fellow Reddish (who was drowned while with)  . . . the Naval Cadets on their pleasure excursion up the Thames River will have the effect of stopping that system of the Sabbath breaking carried on by that company of youthful blue jackets, who, I am given to understand, very often make these excursions on the Sabbath day.  What the parents of these lads are about I know not, but one thing I know and that is this, they are not doing their duty by their offspring . . . surely a number of lads going on a pleasure excursion is not honoring the Sabbath, . . .I wonder what Saint George would think of he could see the lads who are called  St George's cadets rowing in an open boat on the Sabbath day instead of attending Sabbath school to receive religious instruction.  I trust that this accident will be a warning, otherwise there may be more parents mourning over the death of a much beloved son; also, that the youths of Thames will see the folly of Sabbath breaking." 

'ONE OF THE CREW AND A GENUINE YOUTH' replied the next day -

"For the information of the writer  . . . allow me to state that, during the last eight months, our boat has only left her moorings on three occasions, on two of which the boat returned on a Sunday - and the crew on those occasions were youth who have to work all week at batteries for their living, and are unable to get out during any other part of the week.  (On this occasion) it was only owing to the plea of myself and two others wishing to visit a sick friend that our captain allowed the boat to leave for Ohinemuri last Saturday and during our return on Sunday, the Sabbath received far more respect than is paid to it by many of my town fellows who may be seen ashore loitering, lolling and otherwise rudely behaving themselves outside Sunday schools and places of worship on Sundays.  If "Youth" had been on board our boat on Sunday last he would have found an even stricter and sterner discipline than could be maintained in a Sabbath School; and so far as the accusation of pleasuring is concerned, it is a pity "Youth" did not get a taste of it and he would possibly find his hands thoroughly blistered, as I did, after rowing 80 miles.  I do not write this letter as an excuse for anyone to go Sabbath breaking, but I must confess that when I perused the letter I thought it was uncharitable and exceedingly unkind, especially the part referring to the parents.  Surely "Youth" must have an idea of the many sad hearts in our corps and the terrible grief and affliction poor Reddish's brothers and sisters are now suffering under without trying to make bad worse, and if "Youth" will make further inquiries he will find a more substantial and sincere mode of showing christian feeling now organised in our corps than he did when he, like a rash youth, rushed into print under the flag of a zealous Sabbath school boy.  I hope that "Youth" will improve our opinion of him by attending at out drill hall with all the pennies he has to spare to add to the fund we are now collecting to assist the brothers and sisters of our late lamented colleagues."

Perhaps the letter has the desired effect - the next day there appeared this paragraph in the Thames Advertiser.   "Truth" has deposited 5s and "YOUTH" 4s at our publishing office,  towards the Reddish Relief Fund."

Letter writing to newspapers was a frequent activity of Alfred's father, George Reddish.  He was a regular correspondent and even in grief took up his pen, this time in the perceived  disgrace at receiving charity from the fund set up after Alfred's death. "I beg to assure you that, directly nor indirectly, in any shape form or way, was I aware of such a fund.  I do not require it, my very heart and soul would revolt at such a thing.  I am both strong and healthy; what does a man require more?  If the donors would pass it over to the helpless women and children - say the Ladies Benevolent Society - it would so some good.  Thanking them at the same time for their kindness to me."

The Thames Naval Cadets, although the youngest cadet company in the district, had some 45 members.  In March the company promoted Seamen Richard Pick and Henry Gordon to petty officers in recognition of their bravery in jumping overboard from their company's cutter to try and save the life of their late comrade Warrant Officer Reddish.  The officer in command observed that it was a source of satisfaction to his brother officers to know that among them there were true young British hearts and the young men he had the pleasure of promoting had performed an act that reflected credit on the flag they sailed under.

Fifteen years later, on a November afternoon in 1893, Alfred's brother,  Edward Cromwell Reddish, aged 16,  was cleaning one of his father's boats which lay anchored in the Kauaeranga River near the Fisherman's ( Shortland) Wharf,  His  nine year old nephew, George Smith, was helping him. Edward finished cleaning out the boat and then stripped off and dived into the water for a swim.  George saw Edward swimming about then suddenly lost sight of him.  He waited for awhile expecting to see Edward reappear.  He then got someone to put him ashore and he ran to tell Edward's father that "Ned was missing."    It was not until an hour afterwards that the body was found. Mr R Lomas recovered the body and took it to his father's residence.  The Thames Advertiser surmised that Edward "must have received a sunstroke while in the water as the sun was shining very bright and hot at the time."  The reality was probably more simple - Edward was partly disabled and having dived down in shallow water got stuck in the mud and was unable to extricate himself.   Deep sympathy was once again expressed to the Reddish family at the untimely end of another of their lads who was highly esteemed.

The patriarch of the family, George Alfred Reddish, died in 1900 at his Grey Street home, aged 68.    Flags on private residences flew at half mast.  George Reddish was described as "a very old and much respected resident.  Our readers may have noticed his letters in our correspondence columns, which appeared from time to time, during the past 25 years, in which he advocated teaching the Scriptures in schools, the fishing industry and the paramount claims of the English speaking race to dominate the world."

His wife, Margaret Reddish, died  in 1912 at Thames Hospital aged 78, after a long illness.  For a couple of years after her death, their only surviving son, William Arthur, inserted poignant  memorials to his mother in newspapers.

 Annie Wilmot Smith, nee Reddish, eldest daughter of George and Margaret,  died in 1921 at Thames Hospital.

William Arthur died in 1934 aged 62.  He carried the mantle of his family's livelihood, his obituary describing him as one of the old school of Thames fishermen who  had a wonderful knowledge of the Thames Gulf under  all weather conditions.  He was a director of  the Thames Co-operative Fisheries for many years and also an Oddfellow of long standing. His funeral had a large attendance.

The Reddish family grave at Shortland Cemetery, Thames.  The e Reddish's previously tragically lost two more children - Lillian aged 9 months (1873) and Edward aged 6 months (1872).  Also buried in this plot is John McKendrick,  son-in-law of George and Margaret, victim of another watery death. John was a carter and  while driving a horse and cart down to the wharf at Thames in 1904,  he endeavored to turn the horse.   The horse was unused to the wharf and backed over the edge, taking the cart with it into the mud.  It was low water at the time and the cart turned a complete somersault, pinning John down, The horse lashed out, kicking him in the head,  When rescued a moment later he was found to be dead.  It was believed that John was stunned by the kicks and as there was two feet of water at the spot he drowned before he could be extricated.  Another occupant of the vehicle had a miraculous escape.
Death Notice -  On February 24, 1878  Alfred Reddish, coxswain St George's Naval Cadets; native of Sandridge , Victoria; aged 18.  "The Master of life called; the soul went back to its Creator."
Possibly taken from this hymn -

The Master Has Called Us

The Master has come, and He calls us to follow
The track of the footprints He leaves on our way;
Far over the mountain and through the deep hollow,
The path leads us on to the mansions of day:
The Master has called us, the children who fear Him,
Who march ’neath Christ’s banner, His own little band;
We love Him and seek Him, we long to be near Him,
And rest in the light of His beautiful land.
The Master has called us; the road may be dreary,
And dangers and sorrows are strewn on the track;
But God’s Holy Spirit shall comfort the weary;
We follow the Savior and will not turn back;
The Master has called us, though doubt and temptation
May compass our journey, we cheerfully sing:
“Press onward, look upward,” through much tribulation;
The children of Zion must follow the King.
The Master has called us, in life’s early morning,
With spirits as fresh as the dew on the sod:
We turn from the world, with its smiles and its scorning,
To cast in our lot with the people of God:
The Master has called us, His sons and His daughters,
We plead for His blessing and trust in His love;
And through the green pastures, beside the still waters,
He’ll lead us at last to His kingdom above.

Sarah Doudney 1871

Copyright: Public Domain   

(Source: Papers Past, Heritage Images Sir George Grey Special Collections 18980923-1-1, 35-R1437)

© Meghan Hawkes and Dead Cert 2015

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