Saturday, January 3, 2009

Suffocation at the mouth of the Whau Creek

This from the Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser, 29 July 1880, via a brilliant website from across the Tasman, Australian Newspapers. It illustrates a danger still quite relevant today -- that of using carbon monoxide-producing fuel in an enclosed space. In this case, the cause was a charcoal burner on board a cutter.
Extraordinary case of Suffocation.

On the afternoon of the 18th July, about 3 o'clock (says the N.Z. Herald), the cutter Tweed, manned by the master (Henry Johnson) and a Russian Finn, named John Beckerman, a sailor, who arrived by the ship British Empire some months ago, sailed up Thomas's Creek. When off the entrance to the Whau Creek anchor was dropped for the night. The master lay down on his bed and did not awake till next morning. His mate set about lighting a fire in a nail can, which served as a stove, in order to make coffee.

When the master awoke in the morning his legs were benumbed and his throat was parched. He called to Beckerman, who was lying in his own bunk, requesting him to get up and give him some coffee to moisten his lips, but received no response. He then shouted again, "Why don't you get up? Are you dead?" but without effect.

Mr. Johnson thereupon crawled across the floor as best he could, only to find his companion was no more. The pulse was stopped, and life completely extinct, although the body had not yet stiffened. The sole occupant of the boat then made his way to the deck, and tried to attract the attention of the Riverhead steamer, but without success.

There was too much wind to admit of attempting to row to Auckland, with any likelihood of success, so he was compelled to remain there, ill as he was, a day and a night.

On the 20th, the morning being calm, he succeeded in pulling to Freeman's Bay in the cutter's dinghy, and upon arrival was assisted to his home in Chapel-street. Information was speedily conveyed to the water police, and their boat started off early in the afternoon to where the cutter was lying. Matters were found to be just as Johnson had stated. Beckerman's body was lying in the bed, and on one of the arms was a large hole, probably the work of a rat.
At the time of the inquest, Johnson was still in his bed at home, quite ill.

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