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DEPLORABLE ACCIDENT AT THE BULLER.

THE SUPERINTENDENT OF NELSON AND TIIBEE OTHERS DROWNED. {From the Colonist, Jan. 31) Not since the Wairau Massacre has there occurred in the Province of Nelson, an accident which has caused such universal sorow as that which it is now our duty, with grief at our heart, to record. A boat was swamped on Saturday, at the bar of the Buller river, and four persons were drowned. These were his Honor John Perry Robinson, Superintendent of this Province, Mr. Fowler, mate of the Wallaby John M'Culloch, a coal borer, attending on the Superintendent, and Joseph Cooke, one of the seamen belonging to the steamer. Mr. Robinson leaves a widow and ten children, some of them grown up; Mr. Fowler, a widow and two young children, and Mr. M'Culloch, a widow, who has only been a wife for a month.

The evidence at the inquest held at the Buller, given below, narrates thd main facts of the unfortunate occurrence. While sympathising deeply, as all must, with all those who are bereaved by this calamity, it is especially a question of grief for the province at large, that it has thus lost its chief Magistrate, the man whom the voices of the whole people have thrice chosen to oreside over the interests and destinies of the province. This is not the time, neither nan wc attempt, as wo pen these halting words with tears in our eyes, for the loss of a true-hearted, honest, and upright gentleman we were proud to call a friend, to refer to his career as Superintendent of the province. All political questions are sunk in the sorrow, deep, and unfeigned, which his sudden and unexpected death nas cast over all in the city, and wherever the sad intelligence has reached. There is but one feeling in the minds of men of all classes, and that is, that a more trustworthy, upright man is not left in the province.

When the accident occurred Mr. Robinson was, like the rest, thrown out of the boat as the second sea struck her, and rolled her over. He was seen by Mr. Gully, who was one of those in her, to fall on his back in the water. Once he managed to raise his head above the surface, and as he did so to blow the water from his mouth. After doin* ths, Vlr Gully s<tw him sink again, and was no more seen. His body and that of Joseph Cooke have not been recovered, although every possible snatch was made by the steamer's second boat, and by a ma i on Inrseback who rode along the beach a distance of fifteen miles

On the news arriving in Melton the shopkeepers showed their respect for the departed Superintendent by parlially closing their places of business; the flags on the Government Buildings, the Custom House, and all the ships in the harbour, were hoisted half-mast high; and the toll of the passing hell from the church steeple seemed to give voice to the general grief. To-morrow (Wednesday) is the twenty-fourth anniversary of the foundation of the province of Nelson, and sundry sports and files were prepared to celebrate the event. These this sad occurrence has stopped ; and, although some have incurred great expense, they have, out of respect for Mr. Robinson's memory, resolved to postpone the festivities which would have jarred harshly and been unseemly in such a time of mourning. It were fruitless here to offer consolation to those who have been so untimely bereaved He w ' lo ' lU ® seen meet, in his inscrutable Providence, to sen such a severe affliction to many friends alone can bestow that comfort to the widowed and fatherless which man can but yearn to offer, but is powerless

to secure. Of Mr. Robinson, (who was about flfty-si x J' car ® <) age) we can but say he fell doini* bis duty. 8 object in visiting the Grey and Buller, was * " amine personally the coal workings at these » with a view to bring the mineral tieasures tliey 0 ( to light for the advantage of the Province. e 18

gone—dying with the harness on his back—and leaving thousands who will lament the sad and sudden end of a true patriot, and an upright, Godfearing man. LBTTHU 11Y CAI'TAIN WALMSLEY AND MB. BLAOKEXT, The following letter has been addressed to the Deputy-Superintendent, Mr, Barnicoat, the Speaker of the Provincial Council :— " On board the steamer Wallaby, " Blind Bay, January 31, 1865. " Sir,—lt is with very painful feelings we have to report to your Honour the distressing accident which occurred on Saturday, the 28th instant, when lying off the Buller River.

" About half-past four o'clock on the afternoon of the 28th instant, on the Wallaby arriving off the harbour of the Buller, from the Grey River, the master ascended the rigging, for the purpose of examining the bar. Having satisfied himself that there was no apparent danger (the bar being perfectly smooth), lie ordered the life-boat to be lowered, and his Honor the late Superintendent, his son, Messrs. Burnett, Gully, and M'Culloch, four seamen, and the chief-officer, with the luggage of the first-named five persons, left the vessel, when, after crossing the first roller-wave on the bar. apparently in safety, the boat did not appear to rise over the second, the chief engineer, who was observing the progress of the boat, ascended the rigging, and immediately called to the master to come and see, as there seemed to him to be something wrong. Immediately the vessel was put to full speed, and another boat lowered, and pulled towards the bar, where was found the life-boat full of water,and some of the party holding on by the sides, and others inside of her. On her returning to the vessel, in tow of the second boat, we deeply regret to say, Mr. Robinson, John M'Culloch, the first officer (Andrew Fowler), and one seaman (Joseph Cooke), had met with a watery grave; and the survivors in so weak a state, that but from the prompt assistance rendered by the second boat, not one would have been saved.

" On the W» llaby entering the Buller two hours afterwards, and the distressing circumstances being made known, pariies immediately started along the beach to endeavour to discover any of the bodies, and not until the following morning were there any found, when two were perceived on the sands, those of the chief mate and John M'Culloch. "We summoned a jury, and held an inquest on the bodies the same evening. Coffins were made, the Funeral Service read, and the bodies decently interred yesterday morning. "The jury returned a verdict of 'Accidental Death.' "We also beg to state that a messenger on horseback was dispatched fifteen miles from the Buller, along the beach, with a hope that the other bodies would be found, and also parties on foot, after two tides receding; but we regret to say without success. Instructions were left with the constable at the Buller to send out every day for the next week, in the hope of finding the missing bodies, and should ! they be discovered, to make a report by the first j steamer to Nelson.

" We have, &c., " B. Walmsley, J.P. "J. Blackett, J.P. " His Honor the "Deputy-Superintendent, Nelson." INQUEST ON THE BODIES OP FOWLER AND M'CULLOCH. Proceedings of a Court of Inquest, summoned by B njamin Walmsley and John Blackett, Esqrs., Justices of the Peace for New Zealand, touching the death of John M'Culloch and James Fowler, at the Buller river, West ©oast, Province of Nelson, New Zealand, this 29th day of January, 1865.

The following were sworn in as jurymen:—Joseph Ferguson, Andrew Preston, Joseph Williams, William Beattie, John Martin, Thomas King, Thomas Mackenzie, Robert Saunders, Frank Crossley, Witliam Murreil, and Isaac Waylan. Of the above, John Martin was chosen foreman of the jury. The jury then proceeded to view the bodies, and, having returned, the following depositions were taken Joseph Lucas Hodges, being sworn, said .—I am district constable at Westport, and, on account of information I received last evening from Mr. Martin's relative of an accident which had occurred at the mouth of the Buller river, I proceeded half-way to the Orawiti river in search of bodies supposed to have been drowned, but I found nothing. This morning I got up at three o'clock, and searched on the beach, from the upper flag-pole, and found nothing round the point. I then proceeded towards the Orawiti, following a man on horseback who was also in search of the bodies. I saw him stop and return, and he informed me he had found a body, and believed it to be that of John McCulioch. On proceeding to see this body, which I indentified as that of the mate of the steamer Wallaby, by name James Fowler, I also found a tent, and covered over the body. I then proceeded to the body found by Charles Wooton, the horseman, and have since identified it as that of John McCulloch. I assisted in bringing the bodies to Westport.

Thomas Whitwell, being sworn, said: I am master of the steamer Wallaby. Proceeding between the River Grey and Kelson, I had occasion to land some passengers at the Buller, and there not being sufficient water for the steamer to get across the bar, after examining it as closely as I could. I decided on sending the boat in with the passengers, thinking it perfectly safe so to do. I had the ship's life-boat lowered, and the crew of four men with the chief officer in charge were put into her. They proceeded towards the b.'r, and after being gone some twenty minutes, during which time the vessel had drifted some considerable distance off the bar, and not being able to see the boat distinctly, the chief engineer, who was up in the rigging, called my attention to look at her. I then saw Nomething floating from her, and I concluded that some mishap had occurred. I put the vessel at ' full speed and headed her towards the bar; at the same time getting the other boat ready for lowering. When as near as it was safe to go, I saw the life-boat was swamped and the people clinging to her. I sent the second boat to their assistance with three men in her. They succeeded in reaching her and towing her off to the steamer. I then found that some of the people were missing, and on inquiry, I found that four were missing out of the whole number which had left the ship. The names of the passengers which had embarked were, Mr. Robinson, the Superintendent of Nelson, and his son, Mr. M'Culloch, Mr. Gully, and Mr. Burnett. Of these I found the Superintendent and Mr. M'Cullock missing, also the chief officer, James Fowler, and a seaman named Joseph Cooke.

I took the survivors on board, and sent the boat in search amongst a number of articles floating about. I also steamed the vessel in amongst them, but could find none of the missing men. I then steamed slowly down in the direction of the current with the boat pulling about to examine every object we saw. I then stenmed in shore in the direction in which I supposed the bodies would float with the wind. Finding nothing, I then came into the Buller and anchored, and sent word on shore o£the accident. I searched for the bodies on the beach early this morning. I found nothing myself, but saw two bodies which had already been discovered by Mr. Hodges and two other persons. I have since identified one of those bodies as that of James Fowler, late chief officer of the Wallaby. By the Foreman: The life-boat will oarrj about

two tons in all, She is fitted with cork under the thwarts. In stating that I steamed in as far as it was safe to do, I referred to the draught of water, and not to the break on the b.ir. I ahonltl imagine that there would bo about four or five feet of w.ier on the bar. I was satisfied as to the ability of my first mate to steer a boat in broken water or I should not have sent him. It is usual to land passengers by means of a boat, if the bar be smooth enough to allow it. I have never landed passengers in this way in the Buller before ; but I have done so on the Okitiki and at the Wuirau—at the latter many times. I should have had to waitfot two hours before I could ! cross the bar with the steamer. If a passenger objected to being landed in a boat I could not oblige him to go. None of the passengers objected to being landed in the boat. The mate was steering the boat when he left the ship's side; he steered with a rudder. I considered that, under the circumstances, it was as safe to steer the boat with a rudder through a surf as it is with a steer-oar. The mate had been about three months with me, and came down here as master of her (the Wallaby), from Sydney. I cannot say whether he had had much experience in ' surf boats before he joined the Wallaby with me. I considered he was the most competent hand on board. None of the passengers objected to be landed in a boat, and, as far as I knew, they were all agreeable to be landed in the boat. I never saw the flag hoisted on the flag-staff on shore, nor did I see any one on the beach beckoning to the boat not to take the bar. Had I seen the flag I should not have known what it meant. I have no means of communicating with the shore in case of any accident. The Wallaby draws about six feet six inches of water. I should require a foot more than that to come in safely. We did touch several times when we came in. The tide was then first quarter flood. I consider that a boat could have got out quite safely yesterday. I have been commander of steamers on the New Zealand coast constantly since 1857. A similar occurrence has never occurred with me before.

By a juror: I consider that it would be a great security to life and property to have a set of signals, and a lifeboat and crew established at the Buller.

Alexander Brown, being sworn, said: lam chief engineer of the Wallaby. I was on deck yesterday when the boat with passengers left the side. I saw her proceeding towards the bar of the Buller. I took particular notice, and as it got over the bar I saw the boat rise npon the sea, and then she seemed to fall down. I then 6aw an oar appear to project very high up. I then-thought all was not right. I went aloft and could see the boat lying broadside to the sea, and there seemed to be people about it just between two breakers. I called the captain's attention to it. He came up, and told me to go full speed a-head. I went below and saw no more till we came inside the river. 1 proceeded this morning early, by request of Mr. Blacket, with some hands to assist in bringing in some bodies which had been found, and assisted to bring them in. The first body I saw was that of our officer, Mr. Fowler. I could not identify the other, he being a stranger to me. I

consider that the bar was perfectly safe to land passengers over when the boat left the vessel. I should not have objected in the least to have gone in the boat. I have seen boats with passengers cross the bars of other rivers in perfect safety, the Wairau for example, and the Okitiki, in similar weather to that of yesterday. I considered the bar to be perfectly safe because there was no break in it at the time we were preparing to land the passengers. As the boat neared the bar the surf appeared to increase, which made me take more particular notice than before. I did not hear any passenger object to be landed in the boat. I consider the boat a proper one for the purpose of landing passengers. I think the steamer was about half a mile from the boat when I saw the oar stuck up. The steamer could not safely have been taken nearer to the bar than she was when the boat left her. The steamer could not safely have been taken nearer to the bar than she was when the boat left her. The, steamer could not have been taken nearer to the position at which the boat left her, by steaming; but I cannot say whether, had she been so, it would have been the means of saving more lives.

James Burnet, being sworn, said: I am a surveyor and reside in Nelson. I was a passenger on board the Wallaby from the Grey to the Buller river. When the boat was lowered alongside the steamer yesterday, I went on board with the other passenger, for the purpose of being landed at the Buller. At that time the bar seemed pretty smooth, but shortly after leaving the side of the vessel the sea increased, and some one observed that it was rather rougli to land in a boat. The mate said, "Oh the landing is nothing, the coming back will be the worst." One of the sailors —Cooke I think it was— observed, " If she will not ride over such a sea as this she ought to be burnt." Another of the sailors observed that it would be better to land to the lee of the north spit, than to cross the bar. By this time a long unbroken sea rolled under us, and she seemed to ride well over it. I looked back and saw another Bi-a coming up which appeared likely to break —it struck us slightly on the quarter, and the boat at once capsized. The next thing I observed was that my feet were touching the bottom, and I was completely under water. I then rose, and my head touched one of the thwarts of the boat. I groped about to get to the side, and after two or three attempts, I managed to get my head above water and seined hold *of the side of the boat, and almost immediately after she righted; after that, she continued to roll over several times, being struck by seas each time, when I was either washed off or washed under the boat; I reached it again by swimming. The first few times the boat rolled over, the Superintendent (Mr. Robinson) was alongside of me. I was then washed off by a very heavy sea. and found myself some yards from the boat, and when I got back to it, I fancied that there were not so many people clinging to it. I then climbed up, and got on the keel of the boat, and, as there seemed to be a lull, we contrived to balance her for some time, and she kept in the same position, although some seas rolled over her. Sho righted again soon, and I managed to get inside, along with some others, and some were clinging to the sides and bow. We managed, with a little difficulty, to keep her in a right position, ax we were drifting outside the bar with the fresh water. I then saw a boat let down from the side of the steamer, and pulled towards us. W hen it reached u-s some of us got into it, and I and another man remained in the liie-boat. We were then towed to the side of the steamer, and we got on hoard. The names of the passengers who embarked in the boat were, Mr. Robinson (the Superintendent), and his son, John M Oulloeh, Mr. Gully, and myself. Of this number the Superintendent and John M'Culloch were missing when we got on board.

By the Coroner : I think every prompt assistance was given to us from the steamer. The remark made about the roughness of the sea was made in the boat, after leaving the ves>cl, and after the sea became rougher, I did not think it was unsafe to proceed then, but it was too late to return. I did not hear any one propose to return to the hip. The mate seemed to have no fear about going in, and was perfectly cool. I have seen the body of John M'Culloch since it was found on the beach. >

John Gully, sworn, states : I am a draughtsman, and reside in Nelson, and was a passenger by the steamer Wallaby from the Grey to the Buller I left the ship in the ship's boat, with nine others, passengers and crew, and proceeded to the Buller

mouth. When on the bar a sea capsized the boat, and after rolling about some time—about fire or ten minutes—during which time we were sometimes clinuing t-> ilio boat and sometimes washed off it, i lie Oo.it gradually drifted into smoother water, when 1 sa.v tlr* steamer coming to our assistance vi-ry fast, u'i I the rapidity with which Captain WUitwell ieut a boat to. our assistance saved the lives of those who were left in the boat, as in a few minutes more It appeared that we should be again amongst the breakers.

The jury having consulted together for a short time, agreed upon the following verdict, viz. — We, the above-named jurors, do hereby f!nrl t!iat James Fowler and John M'Culloch were accidentally drowned in attempting to cross the Buller bar, • into the Buller River by a boat ; and we recommend, that to prevent similar accidents, a code of signals and a whale boat be established here ; at the same time, we express our opinion that no blame can be attached to the master of the steamer, or to any one else concerned.

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Bibliographic details

DEPLORABLE ACCIDENT AT THE BULLER., Lyttelton Times, Volume XXIII, Issue 1356, 7 February 1865

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3,693

DEPLORABLE ACCIDENT AT THE BULLER. Lyttelton Times, Volume XXIII, Issue 1356, 7 February 1865

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