Gallant endeavour or just a tragic mis-step?

This is how his police colleagues remembered Inspector Connor, but some of the contemporary newspapers reports were less effusive, claiming Connor was overcome with excitement and fell in the water. Image Sharyn Moodie

1906 – Albany Police’s Inspector James Connor came to a sad end in the most innocuous way – on a Saturday afternoon fishing excursion with his son and nephew.

But did he die in a gallant effort to rescue a boy who could swim well, or did he simply fall in?

James had finished work for the day, and as he often did, headed to the east side of the town’s deep-water jetty with his son John (either 9 or 12, depending on the newspaper article), and his nephew Austin, 14, to try their luck.

The Albany Jetty in 1881, several years before James Connor, a poor swimmer, drowned.

Austin fell into the water. He wasn’t concerned – he was a strong swimmer, and he soon climbed up a post back onto the jetty.

But James, 50, either went in straight after him to help or, as some reports said, became “excited’’ and fell in.

Poor James could not swim, but made it to the other side of the jetty, where he clung onto a rope. He also seems to not have had the strength of young Austin to clamber up a piling. However it seems he still had his pipe in his mouth, as his son told the inquest he took his pipe from his father.

James told his son to get help, and the boy beckoned a nearby man called James Mitchell and asked him for help.

Connor apparently told Mitchell he was nearly done, but he would try to hang on.

Mitchell hailed down a passing launch, the Dunskey, and when it  arrived, it took O’Connor’s now-lifeless body to the HSM Encounter. which was in the harbour, for medical assistance. Dr Holyoake of The Encounter, told the inquest that death was due to drowning.

However, no post mortem was held, and earlier reports said death was due to heart failure caused by shock ‘through immersion’’ and excitement.

It should be noted that the water around Albany is usually pretty cold.

The jury returned a verdict that deceased came to his death by drowning in attempting to save his nephew.

They also pointed out James Mitchell did not “render the assistance he might have done”, and that one lifebuoy on the jetty was inadequate. Mitchell had told the jury that he had tried unsuccessfully to haul Connor up.

State police banded together to raise money for a monument to remember O’Connor, lauding his gallant effort. He left a widow and six children.

Albany, WA

Sources:

Royal Trust Collection: View of jetty, Albany, W. Australia, c.1881. (The Cruise of H.M.S. Bacchante 1879-1882. Volume III, Bermuda, South America, Cape Town, Australia).

The Evening Star, Wednesday 16 January 1907, p3

The Pilbarra Goldfield News, Saturday 29 December 1906, p3

 The West Australian, Monday 24 December 1906, p7

The W.A. Record, Saturday, 29 December 1906, p12

Published by Sharyn Moodie

Travelling around Australia for work, I've found so many amazing headstones. But what is more amazing is the stories behind some of these deaths, and the way newspapers of the day reported them.

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