By the mid-1870s, greater numbers of Illawarra colonials were taking to the water in recreational fishing boats, but with the influx came with an escalation in mishaps, and even tragedy.
In September 1876, three men and a young boy had a narrow escape following a “mishap” near Pulpit Rock, next to Flagstaff Hill.
“The party had been out fishing in the direction of the Five Islands [when], on consequence of a strong northerly wind and defective gear in some respect, the boat was carried right up against a steep and rugged rock at the place mentioned,” the Mercury said.
“So great a peril was the party placed in that it was at the risk of his life that one of the men saved the boy from drowning.”
Fortunately, all lives were saved and with help from the Coke Works and other parties, the boat was hauled up the side of the rock “against which she was so mercilessly driven”.
“One of the most sad and appalling events” that had occurred in Gerringong since its settlement was the drowning of brothers James and John Wilson on October 30, 1876.
James, of the Boat-harbour Store, and John, of Willow Bank farm, had set out in an eight ton fishing boat with five others.
About 5pm, the boat lost its stone anchor and the party, with the exception of James, went ashore at Weir’s Beach to find another.
The boat was swamped by a breaker and capsized, trapping James underneath. The other members waded to the boat and lifted it high enough for John to go under and rescue his brother.
It was deduced at an inquest that, from injuries sustained to his head, John was struck by the boat after disappearing from view. Both men drowned before the vessel was righted.
“As it had been steamer day, many had seen the fishing party leave the shore, and as the weather was favourable, the boat seaworthy and apparently well-manned, such a result was, of course, quite unexpected,” the Mercury said.
“When the bodies of both the deceased were borne home on the same bier, great was the consternation of those who had gathered upon beholding such a sad spectacle.”
Dr Harman Tarrant told the inquest that John was much bruised about the head while the faces and skin of each were livid, “presenting every appearance of asphyxia from drowning”.
James, 30, left a widow and three small children. John was single. ■
James Waters (left) is pictured with some mates in Wollongong Harbour in a boat built by him (circa 1900). PICTURE: The collections of The Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society.
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