Drowned at Murrumbidgee Crossing

25 January 1904 The Age (Melbourne) 

Sydney, Sunday. A youth named Charles Smith, aged six-teen, son of Mr. F. A. Smith, manager of Darbarlah Station, Gundagai, was drowned in the Murrumbidgee River yesterday.

He and a cousin were returning home, and were advised that the river was rising, but instead of crossing the Murrumbidgee at Gobarralong-bridge they went to the usual crossing place at Sandy Falls, the junction of the Murrumbidgee and Tumut rivers. Smith's horse plunged and rolled in the water, and, the youth being unseated, sank and was never afterwards seen.

The above article (and others in the city papers)

report that the drowning occurred at Sandy Falls.

The following detailed article shows this is not correct.

Ed. tumuthistory.com

Sad Drowning Fatality - A Youth the Victim, Narrow Escape of H. B. Smith

27 January 1904 The Gundagai Independent and Pastoral, Agricultural and Mining Advocate

A week ago we had to report the sad drowning of Mr. G. W. Dennis, of Hillas Creek, in the Murrumbidgee River.

During the past few days there has been another sorrowful death from drowning in our midst, that usually placid stream, the Murrumbidgee, again claiming the victim.

On Friday evening, between 6 and 7 o'clock, a youth named Allan Smith, oldest son of Mr. and Mrs. F. A. Smith, and nephew of Mr. W. B. Smith, of Darbalara Station, was accidentally drowned about three-quarters of a mile above the junction of the Tumut, and Murrumbidgee rivers.

A double fatality was narrowly averted in a noble attempt to rescue the unfortunate lad by Mr. II. B. Smith, cousin of deceased and owner of Aralabrad Station.

Contradictory rumours are afloat as to the details of the occurrence, but the true facts of the case were gleaned by a representative of this paper, who visited the scene on Sunday whilst search for the body was being carried on.

The scene of the occurrence is an old crossing place on the river from Mingay to Darbalara station, and is situated about half a mile from the Mingay homestead, and three miles from the Darbalara residence.

It is but rarely used, but has generally been considered a safe though deep crossing.

On the Mingay side it is approached by a steep bank that dips quickly into the water, whilst on the other side it is entered from a stony beach.

On Friday morning, Mr. H. B.. Smith, accompanied by Harry Hourne (an employee on Aralabrad) and Allan Smith, started from Darbalara to Coolac with bullocks that were to be trucked at the latter place.

The cattle were crossed, at the Sandy Falls, about two miles above where the fatality occurred later in the day.

When they came to cross the river in the morning, Mr. H. B. Smith, who noticed the river was rising and doubted the ability of his cousin to swim if he got into trouble in the water, tried hard to persuade Allan to return home, pointing out to him the state of the river, and the risk he would run of being drowned if he attempted to cross.

But the youth, full of boyish enthusiasm, pluck and daring, begged hard to be taken, and told Mr. Smith that if  he refused to allow him to go, he would cross on his own, when, as he jokingly remarked, there would be more danger of his being drowned than if his cousin was with him.

Seeing he was determined, Mr. Smith took the precaution to put him on a horse that could be trusted in the water, and all crossed in safety.

The return journey was made via Mingay, where it was arranged that if the river was found to be much higher, Allan Smith would remain over night at Mingay, and return home next day via Gobarralong bridge.

Accompanied by Tom O'Donnoll, of Mingay, the trio rode up to the crossing after tea, which was reached between 6 and 7 o'clock.

A glance showed Mr. H. B. Smith the river had ...................... and come round by the bridge next day. To this Allan gave an affirmative) response, and he told Mr. H. B. Smith to tell his uncle (Mr. W. B. Smith) that he would not be home that night.

Mr. H. B. Smith then started to cross, and the tragic happenings of the next couple of minutes can best be told in the latter's own words.

"When my horse got into the water, I found the crossing had been washed out recently on the Mingay side, and a few yards from the bank it was a case of swimming.

But my horse wouldn't swim, and he went down several times.

I was out about 20 yards, when I found it useless to persevere with the horse, so struck back for the bank with the intention of getting Allan's horse, which I knew was a splendid swimmer and knew the crossing well.

When I reached the bank, hearing shouts from above me, I looked back and was astonished to see Allan in trouble with his horse about 20 yards out in the stream.

Immediately he let go, and making no effort to swim, sank at once.

I pulled off my coat, and went in after him.

He came up three times, with only a few seconds intervals, and the third time only the crown of his head appeared. I was about three yards off him, and I thought to myself, 'Thank goodness, I can save him.'

But the third time he went down almost immediately, and there was not even a bubble to mark the spot where he sank.

I swam all round the place, but there was never again the slightest sign of poor Allan.

Weighted with my clothes and boots I was just able to struggle to the bank - no further, and I could never have got out but for Harry Hourne and Tom O'Donnell.' Harry Hourne, who was on the bank and witnessed the occurrence, bears out Mr. Smith's statement.

He told us:-'' I don't know why Allan started to cross the river.

We saw him go down the bank after Mr. Smith had gone in, but thought he was only going to the water's edge to see how Mr. Smith got on.

But he started into the water, and had got about 20 yards out, when he saw Mr. Smith leave his horse and swim back.

He tried to come back, too, and started to pull round his horse, which, was swimming well for the other bank.

We shouted out to him from the bank to let the horse have its head, and not attempt to turn, but he seemed to pay no heed, and the horse went under.

Then he seemed to half fall and half throw himself off the horse, and sank immediately without uttering a cry, or making a struggle.

We started to pull off our clothes, but before we had time, Mr. Smith was in the river.

He was within a few strokes of the lad as the latter came up the last time.

There was never another sign of him. Mr. Smith was dead-beat when we pulled him out about ten yards below where deceased last appeared.'

Why deceased attempted to cross the river after assuring his companions he had no intention of so doing can only be surmised.

After telling Mr. Smith he would not go across, he never said a word to his two companions who were on the top of the bank with him, but suddenly raced down the side and into the water after his cousin.

It is thought, the lad all along intended to cross, but said he would stop lest they might try and prevent him crossing.

The happening was all so sudden that it was over before being fully realised.

Immediately they saw their companion in danger, Hourne and O'Donnell started to undress to go to his assistance, but ere they had done so Mr. HI. B. Smith had gone to his rescue.

Though Hourne and O'Donnell were unable to render the lad any assistance, they probably saved a double fatality, by pulling Mr. H. B. Smith out of the water in an exhausted state some 40 yards below where he entered in his gallant attempt at rescue.

The width of the river where the crossing was attempted is fully 100 yards, and the depth of water where deceased first sank about nine foot.

The lad had stated he could swim a little, but those who witnessed his sad fate agree he made no effort whatever to swim when he left the horse.

No cry of despair was uttered by him, and apparently he made no effort to save himself.

It is thought deceased may have fainted or become terror-stricken.

From the time the lad left the horse until he sank the last time, Mr. Smith considers that not more than half a minute elapsed, and Harry Hourne is of the same opinion.

The party were helpless to render further assistance, so repaired to Mingay, and spent the night in making arrangements for the search to be entered on at daybreak on the morrow.

Darbalara was reached via Gobarralong bridge, and two boats, together with all the necessary appliances, were brought from Darbalara homestead.

Another boat from Mingay station, and a fisherman's boat made a total of four boats at the disposal of the searchers.

But their efforts were sorely handicapped by the river overnight having risen between 4 and 5 feet.

From where the lad was drowned down the river there is a clear stretch of quarter of a mile, and over this a strong cur-rent was running.

But this difficulty was negotiated by wire being stretched from bank to bank, and the boats were worked by ropes from this connecting link.

A systematic search was begun downstream from where the lad disappeared, bank to bank being taken in. Night came on, and operations ceased, to begin again at day-break on Sunday.

The searchers had a better chance than on the previous day, as the river had resumed the level it registered when the fatality occurred on Friday night.

There were volunteers by the score eager to man the boats, and double the number of boats could have been manned and kept going during the day.

The day's labor was the thorough searching of a quarter of a mile of the river, but the result was fruitless.

To enumerate the willing workers would mean the collecting of scores of names, but there are some deserving of special mention.

Gobarralong was to the fore in supplying the giant workers, they being Messrs. Bob Crowe, Ted O'Mara, Bill Carberry end Tom Carberry.

"The Gobarralong lads are the best workers I ever saw, and I'll never forget them for their kindness," remarked Mr. H. B. Smith on Sunday.

Other hard workers were tho Messrs. Pierse (4), Webb, Quirk, W. Wales, Hourne, McEwan. and Kriss.

The two men at the head of the operations were Mr. Bob Crowe and Constable Allen, of Coolac, and they both worked like tigers throughout.

Constable Henville, of Gundagai, joined the search party on Sunday.

Every assistance that could be rendered was willingly granted by Mingay Station, no kindness being too great for the O'Donnell family.

Deceased would have been 17 years of age next mouth, and had just completed a city education that showed him to be a lad of much promise.

He did not care about a city life, and arrangements had boon made for a lengthy stay by him at Darbalara Station.

Everybody spoke well of deceased, and two hands on the station both passed the same remark in regard to him.

"He was the best tempered lad I ever saw."

He was an excellent rider, and daring almost to recklessness in any undertaking.

Kind, open-hearted and brave, his death caused many a keen pang of regret.

The blow to deceased's parents, who were in Sydney at the time of the occurrence, was a severe one.

Word was sent them as soon as possible, and they arrived by Monday morning's train, strenuous efforts being put forth by the searchers to recover the body before their arrival.

The blow is also keenly felt by Mr. W. B. Smith and his son Harry, with whom the lad was a great favourite. Detailing the occurrence, Mr. H. Smith remarked, "Another couple of strokes and I would have had him."

Reminded that both would probably then have been drowned, H. B. replied quietly, "I would have taken the risk a hundred times over to save Allan."

And those who know his impulsively warm nature, know he would readily risk his life and that he feels the lad's death keenly.

Whilst engaged in launching a boat on Saturday morning, Mr. Smith sustained a severe cut on the palm of his left hand, which deprived him of the use of that member for several days.

It is doubtful if there is another stretch that possesses the same features as that which extends for a quarter of a mile below where the lad was drowned.

The bed of the river is composed of shifting sand, with only an occasional snag.

An aboriginal who was diving in likely spots on Sun day said he tried but found it impossible to lie still on the sand.

Two theories are advanced as to where the body has gone.

One is that it has been swept down the river for miles, and another is that the body has been caught on a snag in the sandy stretch, and the sand will cover and hold the body for some time.

We have no desire to dictate to the police as to what is their duty in such a case as this, but, in the cause of common humanity, we ask, surely a more generous effort could have been made by the police to assist in the first couple of days' search?

Up till dinner Hour on Sunday only one police officer (Constable Allen, of Coolac) was engaged in the dragging operations, and Constable Henville. (Gundagai) joined the searchers that afternoon.

It is only fair to add that both those officers were zealous and, hard workers, particularly the Coolac constable.

On Friday night a special message was despatched to the local police for grappling irons, etc, but a reply was sent that there were no grappling irons at the station.

On Sunday it was accidentally learnt at the river that irons which would have proved invaluable during the first couple of days' search were at the South Gundagai police station, and another request had to be made for those irons to be sent out on Monday.

On Monday the search was continued by 50 workers to the Junction, but without the desired result.

It was understood that on Tuesday the river would be dragged afresh from where the boy disappeared to the Junction.