Florence Mary & Nancy May BOURKE drowned in the Manawatu River 1909
There are great stories and blogs on this family at the link at KATE BEE's name.
(I highly recommend the read). My aim here is just to record the events of the death, by drowning, of 2 of their daughters, Florence Mary aged 15 and Nancy May aged 8, in January 1909
Charles O'Donel BOURKE (1863-1937)
Charles was born in Te Aute to Peter Bourke & Dorothea Fitzgerald who came to NZ with the 65th Constabulary during the Maori War. His father was later the first Post Master of Napier and later settled in Gisborne
Charles married on 6 December 1888 to:
Kate BEE (1860-1960)
Kate was born at Waimarama, her family moving a little later to Havelock North
A wonderful story of her life from a young girl till she died at 100+
the children of CHARLES & KATE:
their bios at Kate's link
* 1889 - Harry O'Donel Bourke
* 1891 - Dora O'Donel Bourke
* 1893 - 1909 Florence Mary ' Molly' Bourke
* 1905 - George Pakowhai Bourke
* 1898 - Catherine Bourke
* 1900 - 1909 Nancy May Bourke
* 1903 - Ellen Frances Bourke
Bush Advocate, 20 January 1909
(I have copied the spelling of names as they were written)
... THE SWIM
... Quite a gloom was cast over the town yesterday evening, when it was reported that a drowning accident had occurred in the Manawatu river by which Nancy May and Florence Mary Bourke age 8 and 15 years respectively lost their lives.
The children, daughters of Mr Bourke, of High street, had gone out for a picnic to the river at a place known as Long Point near the Tiratu sawmill. They were accompanied by eleven other children and by Mrs Peterson, a neighbour who lives opposite, and who, it appears, had suggested the outing.
... The party drove out to Tiratu, and after having lunch on the bank, the children suggested a paddle in the water. They chose a quiet reach in the river, but which unfortunately was skirted by a shifting shingle bank which suddenly dipped into deep water. Mrs Petersen raised no objection to the children going into the water, as one of the elder girls, Dora Bourke, was able to swim to a slight extent, and the river did not look as deceptive as it really proved to be.
... The children were all close together, and Nancy was the first to get beyond her depth. When this was noticed the elder sister Dora called out to her. "O Nancy, what did you go in so deep for?" The younger sister Florence - better known as Molly - made an effort to catch hold of Nancy, and in doing so lost her footing on the shingle bank, and was immediately herself in difficulties. Dora then entered the water for the purpose of helping her sisters, and Mrs Peterson's attention having been drawn to the occurrence ran down to the bank and rushed into the river until she felt that she was getting beyond her depth. As she turned round to go back she noticed Dora was also out of her depth, and went to her aid, only getting her out with difficulty. By this time the two younger sisters had been carried by the current into deep water, but all efforts to get hold of them failed, although Dora had at one time a hold of Florence, but was unable to pull her out against the strong current without being carried off her feet.
... As Florence was being swept away they called out to her to come closer, but her only answer was, " I can't." By this time it was evident that little could be done to save the two children, and Mrs Petersen at once sent off word to Mr Lang, who lives close by, and he and his two sons at once came upon the scene. George Lang swam across the river, but could see nothing of the bodies, and the fatality was then reported to the police.
... Constables Maloney and Kean went out to the scene of the accident, and they were soon assisted by a number of willing workers, who searched the banks for a considerable distance.
... At about 6.20 the body of Nancy was noticed by Mr Gichard, and Constable Kean swam out and brought it ashore, and it was afterward conveyed to town in the ambulance van.
... The search for the remaining body was continued till darkness intervened, and was resumed this morning, when it was discovered some distance down stream, and brought ashore by Constable Kean.
... The accident is one of the saddest which had ever occurred in this district, and we feel sure that the heartfelt sympathy of the whole community will go out to Mr and Mrs Bourke in their sad affliction
... THE INQUEST
... An inquest was held by the District Coroner, at the residence of Mr Bourke this morning into the circumstances attending the fatality.
... Sergeant Cruickshank represented the police, and Pastor Ries and Mr Soundy were also present.
The first witness called was:
CHARLES O'DONNELL BOURKE, who identified the bodies of the deceased as those of his children, Nancy May and Florence Mary. He detailed their ages as 8 and 15 years respectively, and stated that he first heard of the accident at about 4.30 yesterday, and immediately went to the scene of the occurrence. He was present when the body of the younger child was recovered last night, and also when the elder one was recovered this morning.
LOUISE FERNLEY PETTERSON (1879-1970) deposed: I had promised to take the Bourke children out for a picnic for a long time, so we started out in a trap at 10 a.m., 19th January, 1909, for the Manawatu river. The party consisted of Dora Bourke, 17 years. Florence Mary Bourke, aged 15 years, Cathline Bourke, aged 10 years, Nancy May Bourke, aged 8 years, Agnes Taylor and Cathline Taylor, and Lillie Taylor, aged 12, 8 and 13 years, George Bourke, aged 13 years, and Alexander Roythorne, 9 years, and myself. We left the trap near the Tiratu sawmill, and walked to the river. We got to the river about 2 p.m. We forded the river at the ford about 200 yards above where the drowning happened. We then walked down the bank of the river to the bend, and Nancy Bourke and Cathline Taylor started paddling in the river, with their clothes on, so Dora Bourke and I told them to come out and take their clothes off, as they might get wet. They came out, and I told the little boys to go further down the river, and look for a crossing place.
... When they got out of sight all the girls took off their clothes and went into the river. I said to Dora I feel satisfied now that you are with them. I was undoing one of the little girls' boots, when I heard Dora cry out , "Oh, Nancy, what did you go out so deep for." I looked around, and saw Dora trying to get Nancy, who was out of her depth. Nancy was struggling about 10 yards from the Bank.
Dora got a hold of Nancy, and just then Florence Mary Bourke went to assist her, and she also got out of her depth. Dora was trying to save the two girls, and got exhausted. When I saw they were in great danger I rushed in to their assistance; I had all my clothes on, and soon found I was going under, and I struggled to the bank again. I looked back and saw Dora coming struggling to the bank. They were all separated at this time. I rushed back to Dora, and she held out her hand to me, and I caught hold of it, and pulled her to shore. Dora said, " I am almost done," as I caught her. Dora and I rushed back into the water two or three times, but could not get to the drowning girls.
... Florence May seemed to drift closer to the shore and I called out to her to "Come a little closer," and she answered saying, "I cannot," and sank shortly afterwards. They both rose to the surface two or three times before they disappeared altogether. The two girls seemed to disappear at the same time. A few feet from the shore just where the accident happened the sand is like quicksand under your feet, it slides away from under your feet when you walk on it, and the water gets suddenly deep. When we could see no sign of the bodies I said to Dora we must go for assistance. As soon as I got the children pacified we all went over to Lang's place. This would be about half an hour after the drowning. I went back to the river with Mr Lang and his two sons, George and Fred. George stripped and dived in the river for some time, but we could not see any sign of the bodies. It was about 3 p.m. when the accident happened, and the children were in the water, about 10 minutes when the first girl Nancy got out of her depth.
DORA BOURKE, sister of the deceased girls, deposed: I went for a picnic with my sisters, Mrs Pettersen and some other children on the 19th January, 1909. We went on a trap as far as the Tiratu sawmill, and walked over to the Manawatu river from there. We got to the river about 2.30 p.m., crossed the river and came down the other side as far as a bend, where the drowning happened. Nancy (my sister) and a little girl named Taylor were paddling in the water, and Mrs Petterson and I told them to come out and take their clothes off, they came out, and we all took our clothes off, except Mrs Pettersen who was minding the very young children on the bank. We were in the water about five minutes when I noticed Nancy out of her depth. I went to her assistance, and caught hold of her, when Florence Mary, my other sister came to our assistance. She got out of her depth, and was sinking; I tried to save the two but soon got exhausted, and had to try and get to the bank. Mrs Pettersen came to meet me, and dragged me on to the bank; we tried to get out to them two or three times before they sank, but could not manage it. The river gets very deep a few yards from the shore. I called to Florence Mary to come a little closer if she could, and she said. "I cannot," and very soon after she sank. They both sank two or three times before they finally disappeared. It would be about 3 p.m. when my sisters were drowned.
CONSTABLE KEENE deposed that Geo. Howe called at the police station at 4.30 yesterday, and reported that two of Mr Charles Bourke's daughters had been drowned whilst bathing in the Manawatu river at the back of Mr Lang's place. Constable Maloney and witness left for the scene of the accident on bicylces, arriving at about 4.40. Mrs Louise Pettersen (who was in charge of the children) pointed out the spot where the children had been drowned. Witness and Mrs Hodgson Shuttleworth made several unsuccessful attempts to recover the bodies by diving, the current being fairly strong at the place where the accident occurred. Could see that the bodies would be carried down stream for some distance. Procured a chain and a long rope which was used as a drag. After having dragged the river for about a chain, Mr Gichard, who was standing on the bank further down stream, saw the body of Nancy May Bourke floating past him. He shouted to witness, and the latter ran down the bank towards where the body was floating, and swam in and got hold of it. As it was in a strong current, and going towards a deep hole, witness had to be very quick to save it, from getting into the deep water, where it would probably have sunk, and afterwards taken some time to recover. When endeavouring to get the body ashore, witness slipped on the greasy papa, and fell, losing the body, but as Mr Shuttleworth was close at hand he jumped in, and got hold of it, and they eventually got it out at 5 o'clock.
... Continued the search for the other missing body until dark, but without success, although two Maori women and three men tried to do so, all of whom were good divers. At about 6 o'clock this morning a party went to the scene of the accident. Witness also went. On arrival Mr C. Berntsen noticed what appeared to be the body. They decided not to disturb the water, which was very clear, until they had made sure; so witness undressed and swam across the river to where he thought the body was; procured a hook and on the first attempt raised the body to the surface and immediately re-crossed the river with it, and with the assistance of Mr A. Calder, who had undressed and got into the water, managed to get it ashore; the body was at once removed to the home in Dannevirke; it was that of Florence Mary Bourke, and it was quite dead.
... This being all the evidence, the Coroner returned a verdict of accidental drowning, and in a few sympathetic words conveyed the condolence of the court with Mr and Mrs Bourke and their sad and sudden bereavement
... THE FUNERAL
... The funeral of Nancy May and Florence Mary Bourke, the victims of the recent drowning accident, took place this morning at the Dannevirke cemetery in the presence of a very large gathering of mourning friends, of whom the children attending the North School formed a considerable proportion.
... The hearse was dispensed with, some of the elder schoolmates of the deceased acting as bearers, the girls carrying the smaller and the boys the larger coffin at the head of the sorrowful procession. The bearers were as follows:-
For Nancy May:
Vera Carlson, Petty Beresford, J. Ries, Millie Jensen, Dorothy Gray and Olive Picard.
For Florence Mary:
C. Carlson, W. Bull, W. Calder, J. Garforth, N. McKinnon and W. Dalziel.
... The service at the graveside was impressively conducted by the Rev E. Robertshawe, assisted by the Rev Mr Kear, and at the conclusion of the service the vicar said: "We are met round this open grave, partly to show our sympathy for those who have been bereaved of their dear one, and partly as Christians to witness to our belief in the everlasting life. Without that hope how can life be endured or its disappointments borne. It seems natural that the old should die, worn out with age, and labours, but such examples as these show us that youth is no protection against death. I speak to you, dear children, seeing so many are present. It is never too early to serve Christ. It is never too early to turn to God. As the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined. Let the heart be given early to God and then, of old age shall come, you shall be found ready for the end. These dear children were of our Sunday School, and I pray God that our souls may be found at that day as pure as theirs, through Jesus Christ our Lord, and for us all I pray God that we all may have a part in the hope of the life everlasting when this life is done.
FLORENCE & NANCY are buried Grave 62, Block I
at SETTLERS CEMETERY, Dannevirke
The Manawatu River