NEW ZEALAND DISASTERS AND TRAGEDIES
STAFF FAMILY DROWNING
MANAWATU RIVER HEADS, FOXTON
SATURDAY 22 AUGUST 1925
Taken from the MANAWATU TIMES, VOLUME XLIX, ISSUE 2205, 24 AUGUST 1925 - Thanks to Papers Past and Julia Rowe.
FIVE DROWNED ON FOXTON BAR. - Father, Two Sons and Two Daughters.
One of the most terrible drowning tragedies in the history of this coast occurred late on Saturday afternoon at the Manawatu Heads when, through the swamping of a "flattie" [flat bottomed boat] on the bar a father and four of his children lost their lives. The names of the victims were:
"Thomas Staff, son of one of the earliest settlers of the Manawatu and a highly respected resident of Foxton, completed the building of a "flattie" on Saturday and decided to take the boat out for a trial spin on the river. Accompanied by his four eldest children be commenced the journey from Foxton at about three o'clock with the tide running out strongly. The well-laden craft made good time with the aid of tide and current. Strangely enough only two persons appear to have sighted it between what was apparently a happy start and the journey's tragic end. Fisherman Charles Martin DAWSON, tending his nets on the bend above the jetty, hailed the rowers as they passed and received a breezy response, although he expressed himself as somewhat anxious at their going downstream, because the tide was rapidly running out. No one else on the beach saw them until the little craft was passing the spit at the pilot's signal station, near the river's mouth. Here an elderly Maori woman, Mrs WARD [or WADE ?], was gathering pipis and she was the sole witness of the swamping of the boat on the bar. "I went down to the spit at the mouth of the river” said Mrs Ward "at about three o'clock. I saw the tide going out strongly and was very much surprised when a boat came down making for the bar. It passed about 50 yards away from me, and I could see the people in it quite plainly...The girl at the bow and the two rowers had their backs to the sea and could not see where they were going. They were still rowing as they neared the bar."..."I was very much surprised and afraid," she said, "because I knew their danger. The tide was running out swiftly, and the sea on the bar was very rough."
It appears that the boat was then swamped and Mrs WARD was unable to summon help immediately but eventually came back with help and Pilot LARSEN went out with his launch but dusk was falling and the tide had reached 'dead-low' and so was unable to cross the bar out to sea. He could do nothing but wait until the next morning. The bodies were eventually found and buried in the Foxton cemetery.
Early and Esteemed Settlers. The Staff family have been known for half a century in the Manawatu district. Thomas Staff was born on the banks of the Manawatu at the Wirokino bridge, where his father, now living in retirement in Wellington, settled about fifty years ago. Later the family removed to Rongotea (then known as Campbelltown), where they resided for some years. The late Mr Staff was also a resident of Wellington for some time, but returned to Foxton eight years ago. He was a man of a retiring disposition, clean living and greatly respected by all who knew him. Devoted to his home and family of seven children, Mr Staff centred all his interests in them, and his trip on the river which ended so tragically, was designed to give his boys and girls an afternoon's pleasure in the new "flattie." The four children, who shared their father’s fate, are spoken of with admiration by all who knew them. Alfred, aged 15, had been attending the Palmerston North Technical School, and Margaret, aged 14, was a pupil of the Palmerston North Girls High School...
Thomas Staff's brother and a cousin had earlier drowned in the Manawatu River. The Manawatu Standard of the 13 February 1905 reported -
A very sad drowning accident occurred at Foxton on Saturday afternoon [11 February 1905], the victims being Edward STAFF, aged about 22, son of Mr John Henry STAFF [and Elizabeth nee LUCAS], a resident of Foxton, and his cousin, a young lad aged 14 named Oscar Madsen HONORE, youngest son of Mrs Honore [Ellen and Christian HONORE nee NYE], of Norbiton Road. From information gathered it seems that the two young fellows went bathing off a point opposite the Maori Pah, about a mile above the wharf, on Saturday afternoon. When they did not return to their homes at night grave anxiety was caused and Mr George NYE, grandfather of the deceased's, organised a search party during the night, resulting in the discovery of their clothes on the bank where they went swimming. This left no doubt as to the cause of the non-appearance of the boys at home. At this particular spot a sand spit runs almost half way across the river and it is very shallow, the deep part of the river being on the opposite side, under the bank. Neither of the young fellows could swim efficiently, and it is surmised that the younger boy got into difficulties and that his companion was drowned in attempting to render him assistance. The river was dragged in the morning and Oscar Honore's body was found about half way across the river at about a quarter to eleven. Edward Staff's body was not found till three o'clock in the afternoon in the deep water on the opposite side.
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