Drowning was once so common it was referred to as “the New Zealand death.”
New Zealand is a skinny country - most of us are only a couple of hours from the sea, a major river or a lake.
And for those coming from British and European countries as new immigrants, it was nothing like what they were used to.
Here fording a river meant literally walking through one, or riding over it or being ferried in small boats or in carriages prone to tipping over.
Official figures show that by 1870, just a few decades after the arrival of European settlers, rivers in particular had been responsible for 1115 recorded drownings.
Floods are also the most common natural disasters in the country.
Settlers had to deal with thick wilderness, unabridged rivers and almost uncharted coasts.
William Curling Young was born on February 21, 1815, to George Frederick Young - a director of the New Zealand company that undertook to bring settlers to New Zealand - and Mary Young nee Abbot.
He came to New Zealand in 1843 on the Mary Anne landing in Nelson.
William wrote home about the conditions he was living under - a type of tent house - which within a few weeks burned down.
But his letters stopped abruptly in August. He had drowned trying to cross the Wairoa River after spending the day looking at sections of land.
The river was simply too much for him and he was swept away, ending up in a deep hole. He was also unable to swim.
He was buried in the Haven Cemetery in Nelson along with Henry Angelo Bell, his friend who drowned with him.
In our cemetery walks we have come across so many headstones that say downed. Like Tom Lester Cooper who drowned in the Whanganui River while swimming in 1909, or Charles A’Court who drowned in a river in Martinborough in 1931 or Rev Samuel Douglas who drowned near Napier in 1893.
Even in Deb’s own family the New Zealand death struck. Henry Drinkwater was our very first story - with his wife Sarah. Their 17-year-old son George Drinkwater drowned during a whitebait fishing trip on the Manawatu River near Foxton on September 5, 1901.
He and a friend had been in a boat when a rowlock broke and the boat capsized. George tried to swim ashore but his heavy clothes dragged him down and he drowned.
The inquest - like so many drowning deaths - found it was accidental.
George left not only the rest of his family, but also his twin brother Richard.
George is buried at the beautiful Dannevirke Settlers Cemetery not far from his parents’ graves.
With special thanks to Sharyn from the Friends of the Settlers Cemetery who helped us put up a plaque for George - who had no marker at all - and for all the work they do maintaining one of the best kept cemeteries we have ever seen.
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