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 dark.
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
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 temporary command.
I have etc., etc.,
H. Spencer Palmer
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.