“Out of the jaws of death”
– experienced by William and Sarah Macdougall, June/July 1914
From diary entries of Leslie S. Macdougall and adapted by Joy Olney 2012.
On Monday 29 June 1914 Sarah Macdougall received a letter from King Island while staying at her sister Susie’s home “Melville House”, in Hobart.
The letter had been written three days after William A. Macdougall had met with an accident on their property “Lorne”(near Etterick River) towards evening. It appears William had driven thither with a cart load of stuff and had “outspanned”, but coming to the cart to unload he tripped over the belly-band and fell towards the cart, striking the bridge of his nose and injuring his back. He was found by a passer-by, lying on the ground. The passer-by rode to Currie and informed Olive and Ila and they came down, bringing the Doctor with them and arriving at “Lorne” at midnight. The next day William was removed to the Cottage Hospital at Currie and passed the following night fairly well. The letter was then dispatched, so that no more information was available.
On Friday 3 July mail brought forth further word about William’s accident, showing it to have been much worse than had been at first supposed. He had lain two days where he fell jammed in against the cart wheel before he was seen and given relief, and paralysis had set in.
The next available boat to King Island was expected to leave Launceston on Thursday 9 July.
Sarah proceeded to Launceston to travel on the SS “Wauchope”. It did not leave the Launceston wharf until 8 o’clock Friday 10 July – she had been delayed through the boiler wanting repairs. Sarah went across in the ferry boat and boarded SS “Wauchope” at the cattle jetty.
Rev.Wills came to meet Sarah and said he was going to look after her and he proved to be a man of his word. He made her comfortable in a chair on the deck, with his rug all round her and a motor-veil tied around her head. When they got to the heads about 5p.m. it was then fearfully rough. Sarah went to bed in her clothes, fortunately. She could not stand to get them off.
There was a child and two ladies in the cabin with Sarah. The boat was crowded - 9 children and a lot of adults. When they got to Burnie they took on a mother and father with five children, and a man and his two girls, they were now very crowded. They started off with 75 cattle and at Burnie put on something the same number and two horses.
The boat left Burnie about midnight and the weather was fearful. They had to hang onto the hooks and sides of the bunks. Crockery was banging, everything was on the move. They thought they would never see land again, and strange to say, Sarah had a feeling that the sooner it was over the better.
SS “Wauchope” got under shelter of the Hunters Islands on the Saturday (Day 2) and stayed there the day and night. During the next day (Day 3) they got to Frazer on the East Coast of King Island. The waves were mountains high. It was thought they would put the cattle over board. Five had died. The Captain tried to continue again and they got into Seal Bay, but could get no further, so dropped anchor there. They had to again return to Frazer (Day 4) as the anchor was dragging and it was not safe even with that number of cattle on board. The ship rose with the mountain of waves and went down on its sides. It was fearful and pouring rain and terrific wind and hail storms. They ran out of water – only allowed a very little drop. They had to keep some for the horses. The poor cattle were without food and water. They ran out of bread, no flour, and the last meal was salt pork and Haywood’s biscuits. It was too rough to get tea carried and the poor stewardess was not well, but she did her best for Sarah. Mr. Wills dragged himself to the cabin door when he could or get someone to go and see how Sarah was. He was very attentive. Sarah will never forget his kindness to her.
In the afternoon of Day 4 the Captain says it is most likely they will be at sea for days as he dared not attempt to try to get in. They suggested a man be taken in a life boat and a horse being put over to swim ashore. The man would then ride to Currie across from the East Coast, about 30 miles, to get provisions sent to the boat. Mr.Wills came in to tell Sarah that he intended going in the life boat to see if he could get provisions. He left Sarah with his rug and she watched him go.
The lifeboat returned to the boat after Mr.Wills reached the East Coast Jetty and to Sarah’s surprise Olive Macdougall was in the lifeboat with the sailors. She had ridden out in the storm to see if there was any sight of the boat on the other coast. Olive said “Mother, have you nerve enough to come in the lifeboat?” If not, you may be here for days”. Sarah said “Yes, I will.”
Sarah was lifted by five sailors over the side of the boat and lowered into the lifeboat. Olive steered, and Sarah was wrapped in Mr.Wills’ rug and the sailors covered her with oilskins. They were like a cork on the water, up and down, but arrived safely on the Frazer Beach. Sarah was carried by the sailors on to the beach.
Mr.Wills was there waiting for them and they started for Mr.Button’s house amongst the timber. Mr.Button used to own “Lorne”. Mrs.Button came on in all the rain to meet them and did everything for their comfort. She had a big fire, warm clothes and a hot meat tea ready for them. They were dressed in the Button’s clothes. Olive had called by on her way and had had her lunch there.
Olive immediately went off to ride across country to get the butcher and baker to send out provisions to the boat in case they could not land. Olive was a BRICK! She thinks of everything. She intends to bring a four-wheeler out to the Frazer to take Mr.Wills and Sarah to Currie on the West Coast. Sarah left the boat without a dress or hat and will not get anything till the boat gets to Currie, but meanwhile Mrs.Button will fix her up.
After three days and nights at sea Mr.Wills and Sarah were looking forward to rest, but neither slept a wink that night at Buttons. They were too upset. Sarah worried about Olive going through rough timber country at night in such a storm. Olive arrived in Currie at 9p.m. after six hours on horseback in difficult circumstances.
The next morning (Day 5) Mr.Robinson arrived with a pair of horses and a four-wheeler, lots of rugs and clothing Mrs.Robinson had sent them. They lunched together with Mrs.Button and left for a journey Sarah will never forget. The horses had to go through roads, mud and slush above the axles. Sarah just shut her eyes and prayed to be safely taken to Currie. In some parts Olive and Mr.Fred walked up to their ankles in mud, so as to make it lighter for the horses. They had Mr.Fred’s horse and our Dick. Neither horse had ever been in a double-harness. They had Mr. Attrill’s four-wheeler. Olive drove and Mr.Fred used the whip. Sarah would have given anything for you to have seen Olive in a mackintosh strapped round her waist, leggings, and Mr.Fred’s soft felt hat tied on her head with string. OLIVE WAS A MARVEL! Mr.Wills and Sarah were on the back seat with mud splashed all over them. Sarah had a big cloth travelling hood belonging to Mrs.Fred and Aunt Suzie’s mackintosh over her coat. Sarah had the presence of mind to wrap and pin the mackintosh around her in the boat.
Upon arriving at Currie Mr.Wills was left at Mr.Huxley’s and Sarah will stay at Mr.Ingham’s until she gets her things from the boat. They are truly thankful to have arrived safely in Currie.
Sarah was sick only once and that was while they were anchored, she lost a tooth, when and how she does not know, and she had a slight cough.
Wednesday 15 July (Day 6) weather very bad and still no sign of the boat. They were safe but cannot get into the jetty as it was too dangerous amongst the reefs. Sarah and Mr.Wills are counting their blessings now they have safely landed, while the other poor creatures are still being tossed about and so ill. Mr.Wills and Sarah are being looked upon as hero and heroine. The old Captain who says Sarah did a brave and dangerous thing to come by the lifeboat and travel by the fearful road in such weather.
Sarah is at last able to visit her husband William in the Cottage Hospital, Currie (16 days after hearing of his unfortunate accident). It will not do to excite him, so she must not stay for long.
William must have an iron constitution to have gone through what he has done and to be on the mend. His nose was smashed in, and now except that it is more of a “Roman” and that he cannot as yet use it, there will not be any disfigurement. He can move his arms and he can eat. So far his legs are useless. It is hoped that he will get the use of his legs in a few weeks when they get the blood circulating again. He was very comfortable. There are no other patients in the hospital. Ila and the Matron are attending to him. His great trouble is that he has no power to make water; it has to be taken away from him. It looks so strange to see him there with dear old Hughie’s reading-stand fixed to his bed. He can read now and that will make the time pass. He has a big fire and all the comforts he can get. Olive made him some jelly. People are very good to him. Ila is so pleased that she can continue nursing him. She was determined she would not leave him.
Sunday 26 July, and a letter from Sarah to family in Hobart says that William is slightly better. He can move his legs a little. The left hand is not much use to him yet and his feet are helpless.
Everything has to be done for him. He was very weary of the long time in bed, but is considered by all, Doctor included, as the wonder of the age. No one else thinks they could have held out so long.
The cry that William put all his strength into when he heard the man passing by on the road, he knew it was his last cry for help, as he could never have lived another hour. He said he called all day and night for three days and when the man answered his call he could scarcely believe that such good luck could attend him. The man went into “Lorne”and got some blankets and put them on him. The man could not touch William. He went off for help and fortunately met Tom Denby. The man (named Creasey and who works opposite “Pearshape”) went back to stay with William while Tom Denby went onto Langham’s and got Miss Langham, a nurse who was staying with her brother near the Ettrick River. She and her brother went onto “Lorne”, Tom Denby went onto Bishoff’s, and Mr.Bishoff and his son went down to “Lorne” with hot-water bags, whisky, brandy, eggs, etc. Mrs.Bishoff got a room ready at her house and the bed made warm in case it was too far for them to take William to the Hospital. Tom Denby then went off for the Doctor and to the Lightfoots for the girls (Olive and Ila). It was fortunate that the Lightfoots were having an evening and the girls were visiting so about 8 miles was saved.
Mr.Willie Lightfoot got the pair horses and four-wheeler and took the girls down, reaching “Lorne”at midnight (Wednesday 24 June, therefore the accident happened Sunday 21 June, 1914). They only knew there was an accident and thought it was the acetylene gas, so you can imagine their feelings that long journey.
William had been put into bed and the fires in all the rooms and hot bottles all around him. They dared not take his wet clothes off him until he was taken to the hospital at daylight. Strychnine was injected often and brandy given. They dared not give him food. William said it was lovely to be in the bed warm.
The “party” got supper at “Lorne” in the early morning, cooked chops and sausages that William had taken down for his weeks supply. They had to eat with their fingers and have basins as they could not find crockery or knives.
When they got William to Hospital the nurse had everything ready for the Doctor. They had to cut his clothes off him. He was not out of danger for more than a week. The Doctor did not think it possible to pull him through. He thinks there is some injury to the spine but cannot say for certain until William gets his circulation back. It will be a very long time and he will never be the same strong man again. He will not be able to leave hospital for a very long time, it will be a lengthy illness. Later the Doctor will try the battery. William says he has a feeling in his body of suffocation and like a band tight round his waist.
William has very little appetite. Sarah is cooking all sorts of tempting things that she can take to him and friends are so kind, Mrs.Woods especially. She has sent William two turkeys, one duck, one fowl, pumpkin, egg, etc. She sends them to Sarah, now that she and Ila are at the “Bungalow”, and Sarah cooks dainty dishes. This morning William had giblets for breakfast, and broth for lunch, turkey for dinner and fish for tea. The next day Sarah cooked steamed fish and parsley sauce but William only ate a very tiny piece. For lunch she cooked kangaroo-tail soup and a stuffed wing of turkey but he only took enough to taste. You cannot make him eat, he is stubborn about it. Sarah is so near to the Hospital. It does remind Sarah of poor Hughie’s spine trouble. Sarah is there the best part of the day. Mrs.Munroe has been very good. She has sent four lots of beautiful fish. Mr.Richardson, the Editor of the paper, came up yesterday to see if Sarah needed any wood chopped. Mr.Fred Bowling came and had lunch with Sarah and William.
William has a chair fixed up with wheels and platform, and put in it for a little time every day. Mr.Batten has done it. It takes two to lift him. The maid is a big girl and she helps.
Mrs.Blake is looking after Sarah and says Sarah is to stay with her at night. Sarah is going to Church and enjoys Mr.Perkins preaching. She is feeling perfectly well and looking after herself with food as she knows it necessary to keep up her strength. Sarah is aware of the Haywood’s prayers at quarter to ten every night and thanks Charlie and Susie for praying for her safe journey, and William’s recovery.
News comes from King Island on 18 September that the injury William sustained at “Lorne” three months ago, and the subsequent exposure has resulted in the permanent loss of the use of his lower limbs and that therefore he will be unable to walk or work again.
William was 65, Sarah 64, and Olive 26 in 1914 when the accident happened.
The Macdougalls took up farming on King Island in 1901. “Dunollie” was bought mid 1901, just a hut near the Porky River 6 miles north of Currie. Hugh went with his father.
“Lorne” was bought March 1903 - known as the Ettrick property, 5 miles south of Currie where William.A.Macdougall and Hugh lived.
Sarah remained in Launceston running the family Drapers business until it was sold 23 April 1904. Sarah and the girls arrived on King Island to live 14 September 1904 after a small house was built at “Lorne”.
Hugh got T.B.in 1907, and was in Launceston Hospital permanently from September 1909 until his death on 7 August 1913. Sarah stayed with various friends in Launceston to be near Hugh from 1909.
Sarah frequently visited her sister Susie Haywood in Hobart, and still in Hobart in 1914 when William had his accident.
Daughters – Ruby, Olive, Ila and Gwen lived on King Island with the family at various times but Olive was “the farmer.” Olive later owned “Three Rivers” (on the main road between the airport and Currie) and retired to Naracoopa. She spent her last years in a Nursing Home in Lindisfarne She was very over weight, troubled with arthritis and unable to walk.
Son Leslie Macdougall visited King Island in 1908 and 1909. He took Beatrice and Winsome 1915.
William was transferred from Currie, King Island to Launceston Hospital March 1916 for 6 months.
William and Sarah retired to “Renfrew” 14 Swan Street, New Town, Hobart on 19 October 1920.
William remained in a wheel chair for a total of 16 years until his death on 2 July 1930 at 81 years.
Sarah visited Olive on King Island many times before her death on 21 August 1941 at 91 years.
|William Macdougall 77 years at his 50th wedding anniversary 15 April 1926|
|Sarah Macdougall flew from Melbourne to King Island 3 May 1934, met by Olive Macdougall|
|"Renfrew" Macdougall's retirement home at 14 Swan Street, New Town, Hobart 19 October 1920|
If you have any comments or corrections please contact the author Joy Olney by email -