Trove Tuesday: The hazards of well-sinking


TOOWOOMBA. (1866, July 7). The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939), p. 8. Retrieved September 25, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article20308490

I’d venture that well-sinking isn’t something most of us think too much about these days. In the pioneering days ensuring that your farm had sufficient water was critical to survival.  With no piped water for humans or stock, buying a block near running water like a creek (but not too close because of floods), was often a key consideration. Alternatively you might have to build a dam or a well.  Trove stories reveal that accidents to well-sinkers were frequent and often fatal.

Thanks to the indexes of the Toowoomba and Darling Downs Family History Society many years ago I found the story of the death of young Peter Conroy which I mentioned recently in my MI post. Of course these days it’s easier to find the same story via Trove. The newspapers in those days tended to graphic prose with all the gory details so I read how Peter’s brains were hanging out and his bones broken when the jumper they were using faulted.

Stephen Gavin was able to get his leg into the bucket so that he could be pulled up to the surface when help arrived. Peter died of his injuries but Stephen survived though his health was affected.

I suspect that Stephen Gavin was Peter’s relation, possibly his cousin, nephew or brother-in-law. My working hypothesis is that Peter is the brother or nephew of Annie Gavin nee Conroy, with whom he’s buried.[i]

Importantly, the newspaper story, and a nearly illegible inscription on the grave shared with the Gavin family, are the only traces of his death. Peter’s burial does not appear in the Drayton cemetery burial registers which commence later than his death, nor can I find his death indexed in the Qld BDMs. Without the work of TDDFHS, and later Trove, this man’s life in Australia would have gone completely unremarked.

Peter Conroy is not the only man to lose his life in this way and a quick search of Trove brings up other fatalities from well-sinking.

CORONER’S INQUEST. (1859, February 28). Bendigo Advertiser (Vic. : 1855 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved September 25, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article87987337


[i] I told the story of this gravestone in the TDDFHS publication Drayton and Toowoomba Cemetery, Our Backyard, 2009, page 85.

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