Creek trip ends in tragedy

MATTHEW GRAY
Last updated 09:26 24/01/2013

John Alber Wall came to Auckland in search of land. But his quest to find fresh pastures for his family to make a living on ended tragically and put him in an early grave at Waikumete Cemetery.

John left his wife and children in Taranaki to stay with a sister and her husband at Ponsonby while looking for a farm to buy.

He was interested in a block near the Henderson Creek and decided to hire a boat and check it out.

His cousin, Fred Williams, agreed to accompany him and the pair set sail from the city on August 15, 1895.

Fred's wife had planned to join the men but decided against it at the last moment, a fortunate decision.

Tragedy struck as the pair approached a beacon opposite the Chelsea sugar works and experienced problems with the rigging.

John climbed the mast to untangle some ropes and capsized the vessel, causing both men to fall into the water.

The cousins managed to cling to the upturned hull but struggled to hang on.

John, who suffered badly from asthma, found the going especially hard and his condition worsened as hypothermia set in.

He soon drifted off with the tide as Fred, too weak to offer help, did his best to keep afloat in equally trying circumstances.

Someone on shore eventually spotted the overturned boat and a rescue effort was mounted.

Fred was in danger of losing consciousness and drowning when he was finally plucked from the sea and taken back to shore.

He had recovered sufficiently to return home to his own family later that afternoon.

No such luck for John who was nowhere to be found. Police assumed he had drowned and began dredging the area in a bid to find his body.

But the current was too strong and their efforts were abandoned until the next day.

It was another week or so before John's remains were finally located and brought back to the city for a coroner's inquest.

Jurors returned a verdict of accidentally drowned. John was 41 years old.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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