While a river-side plaque tells the story of a sad drowning in Menindee’s Darling River, the nearby cemetery reinforces just how dangerous it was to early settlers.
Robert and Elizabeth Scobie, aged 9 and 7, had only been in Australia for six months when they drowned in 1883.
They had emigrated from Scotland, and their father had set up in the tiny outback New South Wales town as a saddler and storekeeper.
The children had been sent to the river to fetch water at the end of the day. When they did not return before dark, the river was dragged and the bodies found.
Their parents, named Robert and Elizabeth, named their next two children Robert and Elizabeth.
A paddle-steamer engine driver from the Maggie was found dead in the nearby stoke-hole on the same day.
Another to meet an undeserved ignominious end in the Menindee waters was puntsman Fred Brewer, who fell off his punt and drowned in 1897. While one paper described him as well-known and well-respected, he apparently wasn’t well known enough, as another paper described him as a brewer, mixing up his name and his occupation.
Puntsmen were vital workers in that age, before the advent of bridges across the river.
Below are two more gravestones in the Menindee cemetery which ascribe deaths to drowning. Who knows how many more there were over those harsh early years.
SOURCES: The Riverine Grazier, Wednesday 7 May 1879 p 2
The Australasian, Saturday 20 January 1883 p 20
Australian Town and Country Journal, Saturday 10 May 1879 p 9