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River Crossings  - Waitaki and the Clutha

James Saunders, ferryman at the Waitaki, who rejoiced in the name of "Jimmy the Needle" died on the same day as the birth of the second son, 29th December, 1862 by drowning in the Waitaki. He is buried in the Georgetown Cemetery, North Otago. Drowning was considered the New Zealand disease!  NZ River drowning database.

Georgetown Cemetery, North Otago. Photo taken April 2013 by Bruce Comfort.

James Saunders Loader
Jimmy The Needle
Drowned 1862

Otautau Standard and Wallace County Chronicle
, 11 October 1910, Page 1
Pioneer's Retrospect. By E.F.B. Part VIII.
To the Editor. Properly speaking you should have had these notes before the accounts you have had of ray previous travels, as what I shall now relate, if it is worth your reading, happened before, I had been working all winter in the Arowena bush, near Timaru, with two mates. Spring coming on we decided to strike camp, on with swags, and start for Dunedin. Just before leaving, an acquaintance of mine gave me a letter to the harbonr master. He said it might come in useful. On our trump one or two things happened that might be worth recording. We had heard that an old fellow of the name of "Jimmy the Needle," kept a boat to take passengers over the Waitaki. His charges were exorbitant £1 each, sometimes more if he thought he could get it. We had been told that by going down the river several miles the Maoris would put us across for five shillings each. On arriving at the Pah not a living soul could we see. At last one woman appeared with a child on her shoulders. She told us all the men were away, but she could put us a across. When she showed us the conveyance she intended to use my mate's flatly refused to venture. It was what they called a "Mogie," being nothing more than a large quantity of koradies lashed together and pointed at each end. She said it would hold all of us quite well. Eventually my mates said they would see how I got over first. The Maori woman then, with our help, pulled the mogie a long way up stream to enable her to make a certain place on the opposite side. After rolling her child in a blanket and placing it at one end of this bundle of sticks, she told me to get in, or rather on, then off we went the woman using one paddle. We were carried fully a quarter of a mile down, the water sometimes rushing over us, but I could see it was perfectly safe. It could not possibly sink or capsize. When we landed I helped her to lug the jolly thing up. She then went back and brought my mates over, who thought their last hour had come, neither of them could swim. We gave the old woman an extra 5s, and she deserved it. Nothing occurred worth mentioning till we reached Oamaru. My feet were getting much blistered. A man at the hotel recommended me to get some of the Maoris to make me a pair of pararas, being a sort of sandal made of plaited flax, which I did, and paid 5s for them. They were splendid, and quite cured my feet. From Oamaru, I used them right into Dunedin, where we put up at a boarding house. I delivered my letter to the harbour-master, who was very civil, and said he would let me know if anything turned up likely to suit me. A day or two after, he came and introduced me to a gentlemen (a Mr Wilson), just arrived from England with part of his family. He was an energetic sort of man m the prime of life. He had bought a block of land (about 2500 acres) in the forks of the Molyneux and Pomahaka rivers. He asked me if I would help him down with his first loads I agreed, as it would be in the direction I wished to go. My mates took another job in the bush. My new friend —or boss treated me like a brother. He told me they were going to try and make a start next day, if they could get the bullock teams ready. There were two ordinary farm carts, which he had brought out with him, three bullocks for each, one in the shafts, and two leading, all with harness, instead of yokes. Before I had joined the party, they had broken in most of the bullocks, making them used to harness. On the morning we were going to start, I was helping to harness one particularly lively one —in fact, his name was Lively— with one of the men of our party, an Irishman, as jolly a fellow as ever I met. Tom, as I shall call him, was just buckling on his collar. I was holding him with a piece of rope, a brank which was attached to his head. Just at that that moment, some woman came out of a door, shaking crumbs off a cloth. Up went Lively head, nearly braining poor Tom. The last thing I heard was Tom saying Your ould head was always a bother to you," singing out at the same time for me to hold on to Lively, who was taking me down the middle of Princes street. I wonder what the Dunedinitces would think now if they saw a scene like I presented. I finally landed on my back, still holding the brute. Tom came up luckily just then, and gave me a hand to hold him. His remark, I remember, was "And, by the mortial, you have had a nice dance." In due course, we got a start. When we reached the Taieri, we had to put a boat which Mr Wilson had bought for crossing the Molyneux on to one of the carts. We stayed one night at a hotel on the road. I was extra tired that night, as we had to unload on the road several times getting stuck in bogs. We all slept in one large room but separate beds. I woke up through the night and heard Tom laughing as if he would never stop. He told me to go back to bed. It seems I had been punching him in the ribs and singing out Get up Bob, get up Lively." I used to walk in my sleep sometimes in those days. After making several more stages we arrived at the bank of the Molyneaux, a long way further up than the Ferry. It was exactly opposite where the Archibald Bros had a cattle run. The river was very wide and rapid, and a little below was a beautiful island full of Totara trees. We arrived there early and got the boat off and launched it. Mr Wilson said we would not take a heavy load. He asked me if I could row and I said yes, although the rivers I had been used to were nothing like this one. He took one oar and I the other. Before starting over I must introduce another character who was of our party Dan, an old servant Mr Wilson had brought out from England with him a grand old fellow and a good worker, but he had his peculiarities. He had with him a special box which had his name on. I do not know what was in it, but he always looked after it before anything else. We made a start and had got about half way when Mr Wilson broke one of the rowlocks, capsizing himself in the bottom of the boat. Unfortunately he lost his oar. Now, only having one oar, we were powerless to do any good. The boat was not made for skulling from the stern. We just had to sit quietly and wait developments. It was there I was amused. I saw poor old Dan get up and search for his box and having found it, sat thereon. He told us afterwards if we had been wrecked he meant to go where his box went. Luckily we struck on the top of the island I have mentioned. We made fast the boat, and were wondering what to do next, when we were glad to see a boat coming towards us. It proved to be the brothers Archbald, who had seen our dilemma, and had come to our help. They had a splendid whaleboat, into which our belongings— not forgetting Dan's box— were put. They then rowed us over to their station where we were treated most hospitably. We went down after dinner to Mr Wilson's land, where he was going to build, only a hut being there at that time. After fixing things up a bit Mr Wilson, with Tom and Dan, returned for more loads, leaving me in charge doing a bit of fencing, etc. I stayed on nearly a year with them, and then made track, for the South.

Looking upstream from below the Waitaki bridge from the Hakataramea side, the South Canterbury side. Nov. 2009.

North Otago Times, 5 September 1889, Page 3
The town of Oamaru, though small, was at this a very lively place the runholders on the Waitaki, a jovial lot of fellows and thorough gentlemen such as the brothers Julius, Harry Robison, W. H. Dansey, Edmund Gibson and others were frequently in town. Bullock teams were arriving from, and departing to the different sheep stations. Stock riders and shepherds often visited the town. Bullock teams were employed carting stone for the bridge and other purposes, drawing goods from the beach and firewood from Otepopo. Then during the wool season, longs strings of them might be seen, generally towards the evening, wending their way slowly into town. It was always a point of emulation with the drivers who should enter the town with the greatest eclat, so that the cracking of whips, the woe, gee-off, and come-hither, the shouting to "Billy" and "Damper" to "Punch" and Strawberry" was immense There was also about Oamaru a class peculiar to almost all small colonial towns in the early days, a class who obtained for themselves a certain amount of notoriety of a very dubious kind, such as Paddy Roche, Jim Beafield, Scotty, Oamaru Watson, etc. Jimmy the Needle also honored the town occasionally with his presence. There was nothing radically wrong with these worthies, their distinguishing characteristics being an unlimited capacity for beer, or as the Maoris called it, waipero. The year 1860 drew to a close without anything remarkable occurring. Christmas day was held by the English part of the population in orthodox fashion roast beef and plum pudding being the order of the day, washed down with no mean supply of British ale the Scotch settlers' of those days keeping the New Year's day with as much interest as when in the land of cakes. The desire to gee the old year out and the new year in is characteristic of most Scotchmen, whether sailing on the briny deep or clearing the primeval forest on the borders of some blue Canadian lake, beneath the burning sun on the arid plains of Hindostan, or fanned by the genial breezes of this island of the South Pacific ocean. The desire is the same as when, it may be, he was one of the crowd gathered round the auld Tron Kirk in the High street of Auld Reekie, and watched until the hand of the illuminated dial touched the witching hour of midnight, and the deep-toned bell heralded the glad new year. The advent of the year 1861 was waited for on the last night of the departing year  - Hogmanay night - by a. number of the residents of Oamaru, with us much interest as if they had still been in their native Scotland. The New Year was ushered in, and welcomed with all the W3dal demonstrations of joy, the wishing each other "A happy New Year," the hearty shake of the hand, and the toasting of one another's health in the pure mountain dew, the early hours of the new born year were passed in mirth and song. Yet how strange it all seemed New Year's day in midsummer a calm beautiful morning, followed by a bright warm summer day while our friends in the Old Country, from whom we had so lately parted, were tramping through deep snow, and crossing rivers on the thick ice, skating and curling being the order of the day.  

The Molyneux is now called the Clutha. Photo taken by me.
Photo taken August 2003 from the Horseshoe Bend suspension bridge near Millers Flat - shows the banks of the fast flowing Clutha, the largest but not the longest river in New Zealand, lined with willow trees. The rough countryside is covered with gorse, tussock and stones. There is nothing there today except the bridge. The Molyneux River was named by Captain Cook but the Otago Association renamed the river the Clutha after the Gaelic name for the Clyde.

Canterbury rivers after rain become milky and stirred up, not clear. Do not attempt under any circumstances if the water is not clear. If the water is discoloured turn around, don’t risk it.  I have seen the rivers bank to bank and heard the boulders rumbling.

Timaru Herald, 17 December 1894, Page 3 THE ACCIDENT AT TEKAPO.
The following particulars readied Fairlie direct, regarding the drowning accident at the Tekapo river. Three shearers, L. Worthington, Waters, and J. O'Donnell, returning on horseback from The Wolds via the Grampians, attempted to cross the Tekapo 6 miles below the point. The current took the horses from under them, and the three struck out for the shore. Worthington, a strong swimmer from Pleasant Point, reached the bank, and then returned for Waters (from Silverstream) and assisted him to land. Waters was in a semi unconscious state, and Worthington very weak. The third man J. O'Donnell was washed on a sand spit together with the three horses. Worthington walked to Tekapo for help. Meanwhile. O'Donnell captured one of the horses and made another attempt to cross. The saddle girth broke, the saddle slipped off, and the rider was washed down by the strong current. Worthington belongs to Pleasant Point, and this is the second occasion on which he hat made a plucky rescue from drowning. The former occasion was m the North i Island. Both he and Waters have been in bed owing to weakness from the accident. J. O'Donnell, 23 years, known this district as a step, dancer, is native of the North Island and hi parents reside m Taranaki.

Timaru Herald 1 October 1917 Page 7
In connection with the drowning fatality at Benmore, mentioned in the "Herald" on Saturday, the "Oamaru Mail" says that, the deceased, Edmund Davey, had visited the Omarama town and it is presumed that when returning he had taken the short exit, instead of the longer Journey round the road to his home. The short cut necessitated the fording of the Ahuriri river, which was in flood, and it is presumed that his horse got info difficulties and was swept away. The body of the horse was discovered on an island next morning, and later in the day the body of the unfortunate man was recovered. Deceased, left New Zealand with an early reinforcement, and saw service on Gallipoli, where lie received wounds which caused his return to New Zealand. Some time after his return he drew a section at Benmore and with his wife took up his residence there some six months ago.

"If in doubt, do not cross."

South Canterbury NZGenWeb Project