OF THE BOATING TRAGEDY
© Ruth White 2006
A tall, weather-beaten but still very conspicuous tombstone in the old Redland Bay cemetery on Serpentine Creek Road is that of “WILLIE” – William Thomas Fielding. The inscription reads, “In loving memory of Willie, the only son of William and Eliza Fielding, who was drowned in Redland Bay while attempting to save the life of others. 30 December 1905. Aged 18 years.”
Willie had four sisters. Both William and Eliza were God-fearing, devout Christians who trained their five children according to Biblical principles. After the death of his son, William donated a corner of his property in Queen Street in order to build the Baptist Church. Both parents with the family regularly attended Sunday church services. Both parents taught in the Sunday School and they all attended the Prayer Meeting held on Friday night.
And it was at the Friday night Prayer Meeting – the day before the tragedy that Willie was present and requested the following hymn to be sung –
Jesus keep me near the cross;
There a precious fountain,
Free to all a healing stream,
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.
In the cross, in the Cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.
The next day dawned bright and fair. A boat trip on P. P. Outridge’s pearl-lugger, “EVELYN” was arranged for some of the young people of the district. Elsie Atthow, a young friend of the Fielding family had come from Brisbane for the weekend. The young people were enjoying the sailing on the Bay and were in high spirits. On the return, they decided to disembark and explore Snipe Island. “EVELYN” lay in the deep water of the channel, so a small dinghy was used to transport the young people to and from the island.
It appears that due to the antics and rocking of the small dinghy by some larrikins, the girls were thrown into the deep water. The Fielding sisters were rescued but Elsie Atthow was drowning. Immediately, Willie jumped into the water and sought to rescue her but in the attempt he was dragged under the water and was drowned. The girl was saved but the shock of it all was so great that she died some days later. So a happy boating trip ended in a very sorrowful way.
OF THE BOATING TRAGEDY
© Marion Andrews 2006
On the 100th anniversary of the boating tragedy in Redland Bay and the death of Willie Fielding and Elsie Atthow, Marion Andrews sets down here some more details to add to her Auntie Ruth’s account. This story is taken from notes she made after listening to her Grandma and Dad remembering. Details have been verified by newspaper reports accessed through TROVE.
The characters in this story are
William (Bill) and Eliza Fielding of “Crediton” Redland Bay
Jane (Grandma), Mary and Lucinda Fielding, daughters of the above
William (Willie) Thomas Fielding, only son of Bill and Eliza
Mr Colin Outridge, a friend of the Fieldings, profoundly deaf.
(Colin’s brother, Mr Percival P. Outridge owned the cutter.)
Miss Elsie Atthow, house guest of the Fieldings from Brisbane
Edward and Thomas Bloomer – young local friends
Francis William Fielding White (Dad, nephew of Willie)
Hilary White (also nephew of Willie)
Grandma was there and saw it all happen. Dad considered his information more reliable than that of his siblings because he spent much of his childhood with his grandfather, Bill Fielding, Willie’s father. He learnt to speak his grandfather’s Devonshire lingo like a native. Dad was born six years after the tragedy and was named after his deceased uncle. His grandfather made no secret that “Willie, m’boy,” my father, was to be his heir, in place of his only son. That did not happen, but that is another story. The Fielding family expected that Dad would hyphenate his name to Fielding-White, but that did not happen either.
Willie Fielding was fair and looked more like Uncle Hilary than Dad. Grandma said he had the same forehead as Uncle Hil. He was a strong young farmer. The day he died, he spent all morning ploughing a field of thick red loam in the sub-tropical heat and humidity, plodding behind the draft-horse guiding the plough.
Willie was a tidy person at home. Grandma remembered how, when he was not dressed to go out, he always left his watch in the same spot on his dressing table, with the chain wrapped neatly around it. He left his Bible open next to it, and would read a passage aloud to himself each night before going to bed. He told her he could remember it better if he read it aloud.
Bill Fielding was a gregarious fellow, with lots of friends made through business and Church. Mr P.P. Outridge was one such friend. He owned the Outridge Printing Company in George Street, Brisbane, as well as a pearling lugger, “Evelyn” which was usually based at Thursday Island on Cape York Peninsular, the northern tip of Australia.
Mr Colin Outridge who was deaf, was the younger brother of Mr P.P. Outridge. He and Willie became firm friends and he skippered the “Evelyn” that day. The Outridges thought the world of Willie.
Another family who were friends of the Fieldings were the Atthows, also from Brisbane. Brisbane was a world away in those days, and it was a big thing for city folk to come to Redland Bay or for baysiders to go to Town. The Fielding family had a houseguest from Town that weekend, Miss Elsie Atthow. Grandma said she was a frail girl with a heart condition. Some of my Aunts liked to discuss whether or not she was Willie’s girlfriend. Grandma said not, but Bill Fielding was something of a matchmaker, and that question remains veiled in the mist of the past.
On Friday night, 29th December 1905, Grandma remembers her brother helping his mother put her gloves on, as they were leaving for the Prayer Meeting. We find it hard to imagine the need for gloves on a hot summer’s night, but a woman was not considered properly dressed, especially for Church, without gloves, and a man showed his care and consideration by helping his mother, or sister, or wife, with her gloves.
One of the songs they sang that night was an old Sankey’s favourite,
The Great Physician now is here,
The sympathizing Jesus.
He comes the wounded heart to cheer,
O, hear the voice of Jesus!
These words were to become very precious to Grandma after her brother’s death.
The next day dawned: Saturday 30th December 1905. This was the day Mr. Colin Outridge was giving a New Year’s Eve party for the young people of the district aboard his brother’s lugger. After the midday meal, three of Willie’s sisters, Mary, Jane and Lyn went off with their father to the jetty, to board the “Evelyn”. Eliza, Willie’s mother, stayed back with Willie.
Willie had come in from ploughing, and he needed to wash the red dust from his hair before going to the party. There was no bathroom shower at Crediton in those days. Water was fetched in a pitcher from the tank tap on the verandah and warmed on the wood stove. A basin was placed on the kitchen table and mild soap used to lather the hair in the soft rainwater. Then another member of the family poured rinsing water over the head of the person being washed. It was a two-person task. So Mother Eliza stayed back to help Willie wash his hair.
Willie arrived on board the “Evelyn” just in time to join the party, which included another two young men, Edward and Thomas Bloomer.
In 2001, the last year of my father’s life, I went fishing with him in the channel off Snipe Island. He had spent his childhood on this bay, often with his grandfather. He sketched for me word pictures of the “Evelyn” and where the dinghy took the young people ashore. The dinghy capsized and Miss Atthow was struggling in the water after the other girls were rescued. Jane was standing by the rail of the lugger.
Willie turned and looked at her enquiringly.
Eliza nodded, “Yes!”
There is some debate about how proficient a swimmer Willie was. Even if he could swim, he was not a trained lifesaver.
Grandma (Jane) said quite simply, “She drowned him!” She said it without blame or bitterness. To her it was a fact she had come to terms with a long time ago. Elsie too could not be revived when dragged from the water.
Willie disappeared under the water, and his body was not found for almost a week. His father walked the shore of Redland Bay twice a day, morning and evening, every day until he was found. His hair turned white in a fortnight.
Then some fishermen caught a huge shark near Dunwich on Stradbroke Island. Inside the creature, they found remains that were identified as those of Willie Fielding. They retrieved a human skull, with some brown hair attached to the crown, also the lower jaw, some teeth, a hand, and some bones.
Willie was awarded a posthumous award for bravery by the Royal Humane Society. His parents treasured this award, until, in Grandma’s words, “It went with the house,” when it was burned down. “Crediton”, the Fielding homestead was destroyed by fire in the 1930’s.
Uncle Willie Fielding’s remains were buried where the obelisk stands in the Serpentine Creek Road Cemetery. Before his parents died, the new Redland Bay cemetery was opened and William and Eliza Fielding were buried there. Old Bill Fielding left a request in his will that his son Willie’s remains be retrieved and buried with his parents at the new cemetery.
After many years, and the reluctance on the part of most relatives to do this, my father and his father, both by the name of Frank White, performed this task, to honour Willie and respect his parents’ wishes. Dad said the remains, a skull and leg bone, fitted in a pinewood packing case. These, he and his father took and buried in the Fielding family grave at Redland Bay.
A street and park bearing the name “Fielding” are the only reminders now of a family that once were an important part of the fabric of society and commerce in Redland Bay.