DROWNED IN THE YARRA


My great-great grandfather, Joseph Radford arrived in Adelaide with his wife Caroline and son Joseph William in January, 1838. His brother-in-law William Hexter had also emigrated with his family to the new settlement. Joseph became a publican of the inn "Help me Through the Night" and William opened a business as a butcher. In 1842, the Radfords and Hexters moved to Melbourne, Joseph finding employment as a pastry- cook and William continuing his trade as a butcher. The two families shared a 3- roomed brick dwelling near Little Bourke-street.

On Friday afternoon, February 20th, 1846, Joseph's 5 year-old son George collected some worms and went fishing with his 8-year old cousin William Hexter and another boy called William Barker. They found what they thought to be a suitable spot near the pumps at the Falls of the Yarra river. About an hour later William Hexter ran home and told his mother that his poor cousin had slipped on a rock and fallen into the water. Aunt Elizabeth ran to the "Edinburgh Castle" in Little Flinders-street and told another relative Richard Tovee, who was waiter at the hotel, of the accident. On arriving at the scene at the accident, the waiter reported that a woman came up saying that she had found a boy's cap, which was recognised as having belonged to young George. A bottle of worms which George used as baits, was also found at the water side.

Richard Tovee gave evidence at the inquest which was held the next day, that he "went in search of some blacks, and meeting two lubras, they came to the spot and made an ineffectual search. A black man was then procured, who after some exertions and searching with a long fishing stick, dived into the river and succeeded in bringing George's body to the surface of the water. Richard Tovee then carried the body to the "Edinburgh Castle" and informed the police. Another witness at the inquest was a labourer named John Shoebridge. He stated that he was coming down Eastern Hill and when he heard that a child had drowned in the "Yarra Yarra", he proceeded quickly to the spot and saw about 20 people on the banks of the river. He stayed there for about half an hour until the body of the young lad was found.

The "Port Phillip Gazette and Settlers' Journal" reported that the result of the inquest on the body of George Radford was that he accidentally drowned whilst fishing on the banks of the River Yarra.

It is interesting to note that a small item appeared in the above newspaper on the 18th February, 1846: "A TREAT - The Yarra, below the Falls, presents a loathsome spectacle in the putrified carcasses of dead dogs and other animals which have been thrown in here. The police had better be on the alert or the health of the inhabitants will suffer". The Yarra must have been a dreadful place to enter in 1846. No one entered the water to help young George when he fell; instead, time was lost looking for aborigines to dive for him.

Contributed by Val Latimer ( PPPG Member No. 1088 )


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