Henry Best (1831-1863)
A Tragedy at Sandford on the Wannon River
Glenelg & Wannon Region, South West Victoria, Australia

An account of the incident involving the drowning of Henry BEST near Sandford on the Wannon River in south-west Victoria, was reported in the "Hamilton Spectator" on the 7th August 1863, the accident having occurred on 26th July 1863. The report provides insight into some of the problems posed by creek and river crossings for the early settlers. Also included is a letter from Elijah Eastick relating to this tragedy and the deaths of two daughters from dipthera, published in the Portland Guardian of 3rd August 1863.


"The Hamilton Spectator" (Vic.) Friday, 7th August 1863.

------ The Dangers of the Bush ------

The Dangers of the Bush.--A meloncholy accident occurred near Sandford late on the night of Monday, the 26th ult., resulting in the death by drowning of a man name Best. From information gathered on the spot, we learn that late on that evening a child of Mr Eastwick's at Merino was taken ill, the mother of the child wishing to have the immediate advise of a doctor, Mr Eastwick applied to Mr Bilston for the loan of his pony, which, being a favourite animal, Mr Bilston declined to lend, but stated that his (Mr Bilston's) groom might take it and ride for the doctor, if he chose to do so ; to this the groom agreed. When about to start, Best, who was intimate with the groom, volunteered to accompany him, supposing himself to be better acquainted with the country ; they rode in company through Sandford without stopping, and had crossed the Wannon besides several creeks, one of which they were obliged to swim, when they came to a small back-water creek by the side of the Wannon, which had overflowed its banks. Over this creek had been a ricketty old bridge which had been several times repaired, but now removed and a new one built about eighty or a hundred miles [sic] higher up the creek. Of the completion of this bridge the men it appears were not aware ; notwithstanding this, however, Best, who was unfortunately over confident, rode into the water, calling on his mate to follow, and he would show him the right way over ; the groom declined to follow, and called out to Best to come back ; but he not heeding, persisted ; and after going a few steps farther, both man and horse suddenly disappeared ; they both rose to the surface at different places, the man splashing about in the endeavor, in which he almost succeeded, to get to the horse, but sunk again. He again arose, and amid his struggling and exhausted efforts to reach the bank, sunk to rise no more. His companion, who, although it was a moonlight night failing to discover that the bridge was finished, rode round and heading the creek, succeeded in obtaining the services of a doctor, and gave information of the melancholy fate of his comrade to the police, who, after searching all the next day for the body, succeeded in finding it about 6 p.m. The deceased leaves a widow and seven or eight children to mourn his loss. We would warn strangers to be careful of this place while the river is high ; and we also think that those who have the care of the roads in this quarter are highly culpable in the matter. The old bridge having for a considerable length of time been the only mode of crossing the main track leading direct to the spot where it stood, and where the water is very deep, while the track to the new structure is as yet comparatively faint and indiscernible, particularly in dark stormy nights so frequent at the presant season. Nevertheless, no notice put up--no barrier erected--to prevent a stranger risking his life. To point out the need of some such precautionary means on the part of our Road Board authorities when they see fit to alter the site of any bridge or crossing which has been long in use, the knowledge of which alterations probably may be confined to parties in and around it's precise locality alone, we now put the following case :--Suppose a man, not knowing the road, and seeing a still sheet of water lying before him, and a wide, well-beaten track leading right into it, and continuing on the other, would he not very naturally be apt to conclude it was a ford, and most unquestionally consider himself perfectly safe in risking it, unless otherwise admonished to the contrary ? The old track, therefore, should either be obliterated, or a legible notice put up pointing out the new bridge and those who either from ignorance or misapprehension might be led to dangerous mistakes thereby.


MELANCHOLY ACCIDENT

( To the Editor of the Portland Guardian )
Merino, July 28th 1863.

Dear Sir,-- I hasten to acquaint you with the details of a very melancholy accident which has cast a gloom over, not only the inhabitants of Merino, but that of our hole district. It will be remembered that but a few days ago, I suffered bereavement by the loss of a child through diptheria, but as the sparks fly upwards so man is born to trouble. On Monday night July 27th, I had another of my children attacked in a similar way, I then made all speed to procure medical assistance by dispatching two men on horseback, to Dr Wyly, of Casterton, the one Henry Best, the other the groom to Mr G.Y. Bilston, they left my place at 10 o'clock p.m.

The night was beautiful and clear as ever shone from the Heavens, in deep anxiety the hours flew away, wandering to and fro, at length I heard the sound of foot-steps approaching, splash came the horses, the doctor in view, when oh, alas on enquiring where Henry Best was, imagine my feelings when told - he was drowned in the Wannon. The man, his companion, saw him sink to rise no more; his body has since been picked up and while I am now writing, the inquest is being held at Sandford.

Henry Best, has left a large family of seven children and a widow to lament his loss. The deceased was dearly respected by all who knew him, always ready and willing to render assistance to those who needed it in the hour of tribulation; an affectionate husband and parent, his last act was to do good to his fellow men, but by some unforseen circumstance his life was sacrificed in endeavoring to save the life of my child, and feeling this as I do it never can be effaced from my memory. My prayer to Him who is the giver of all good, the husband to the widow, the father to the fatherless is that he may guide and protect the bereaved family through this world of sorrow, that finally they may be found at his right hand where parting shall be no more. Hoping you will excuse any informalities, under my present weight of grief.

I remain yours, Sir,
Yours obediently,
E. Eastick.


NOTE : The Victorian Pioneer index of deaths shows the death of two daughters of Elijah Eastwick and Frances Sewells. Ann Maria age 6 died 1863. Celina age 4 yrs died 1863. It seems to have been a tragedy in more ways than one.


INQUEST - 29th July 1863
a tragedy at Sandford
  • PROCEEDINGS of Inquest held upon the body of Henry BEST at Sandford.
  • Received at Crown Law Offices, 3 August 1863. Caleb Radford.. Coroner.
  • Forwarded to the Honourable the Commissioner of Railways and Roads. A. MacNally?? 5/8/63.
  • The Amstant County of Roads & Bridges reported that in this case there was no necessity for further action.
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE CORONER
INQUISITION Casterton.

An Inquisition for our Sovereign Lady Queen Victoria, taken at.. Sandford, the district of Casterton aforsaid, the twenty ninth day of July A.D 1863, in the twenty seventh year of the Reign of our said Lady the Queen, before me Caleb Radford, Gentleman, a Coroner of our Lady the Queen for the district of Casterton, aforesaid,upon the veiw of the body of.... Henry Best.. then and there lying dead, upon the oaths of........

James Anderson, John Griffin, Charles Grinham, John Kerr, Walter Smellin, David Lee, Donald Ross, Patrick William, Simon Anderson, Thomas Shaw, William Storie, William Squires??? good and lawful men of Sandford in the said district who being duly sworn and charged to inquire, upon the part of our Lady the Queen, when, where,how, and by what means the said Henry Best came by his death,do say upon their oath that ~ he was accidentally drowned on the night of the 27th July 1863 in crossing a creek near the Wannon River over which creek a bridge had been moved without any notice or direction being placed.

The ____ wish to add that the parties in moving the old bridge are very culpable as they placed no means to prevent persons following the old track, and that a fence should be placed from the new bridge to the River Wannon.

Here each ( as above ) Juror Signed his own name or left his mark.

Deposition of wittness: Constable W. Price of Casterton. This respondent saith on oath as follows; On the night of the 29th of July at 12 pm, a man known as Bob the ostler called at the police station and reported that a man named Best was drowned in a creek at the Casterton side of the Wannon bridge. I at once went with Constable Thearer to the place discribed. There was no appearance of the body that night. The following day,after dragging the creek we found the body at 5pm. The body was found near the place below the old bridge about half way between that and the Wannon River in the creek. I consider that any man would be liable to make the same mistake as the deceased in going in there, as the place where he he went in has been for years the common crossing place, and there was nothing to mark the alterations made by the new road. Some person has removed the old bridge which has made the crossing place more dangerous who I believe to be a man named Bourke who ___ the new one. Had the old bridge remained, it is probable the man would have got over safe___ in examining the body of the deceased I found no marks of violence, and took from his person, -- one pocket knife, one shilling,a match box and a letter addressed from Eaststick at Merino to Dr Wyly, which I now produce. He has left a widow and large family,

Signature .......... William. B. Price

The examination of Robert Howard, groom of Merino, on his oath saith as follows; I started from Merino with deceased to Casterton on a message to Dr Wyly on the evening of the 27th of July at about 9 oclock. I came down the old road by the stoney ford, we got on very well till we got above the Wannon bridge and he kept the old road. Then I called to him several times not to go that way, he said " come along, it is a very good crossing," as I followed the new track over the bridge I heard his horse plunge into the water.After I heard the splash I went ?? on the oppisite side. I saw him ____ ____ top of the water, I saw the horse first, he was on the bank. I could not render deceased assistance. I could not get near him and I could not swim. I then came back to Mr Grants as fast as I could. Mr Grant and two or maybe more men came to the spot and got the horse out of the water. Mr Grant said he would take charge of him. I went on to Casterton and gave information to the police. The deceased was quite sober when I started with him, He was sober when we got up to Sandford, we did not stop at either public house in Sandford. I do not know precisely the time I got back to Mr Grants. I started from Bilstons with the intention of going to Casterton. Eaststick came to me to ask me to go, the letter was given to Best. I do not think the deceased had been drinking at Merino. I had not seen him at Mackwoods or our place, Bilstons.

Just as we started we took a glass of liquor each by a ____ --- I had been over the new road before--- I called to deceased to say the new road was the right one. Signature.... Robert Howard The examination of George Bilston of Merino, Inkeeper, on his oath saith as follows---- I think it was about 9 oclock or half past when Bob and Best started from my house to go to Casterton for Dr Wyly. Best was quite sober when he left my house. He had ___- ___ during the afternoon, he had another when he went away. He came to my house sometime in the afternoon after dinner time. Eastick came to me to lend a horse, I said could not lend my horse to anyone, but if Bob liked he could go with him. Best was in a proper condition to ride when he left my house, Signature.... G. Bilston.

The examination of James Anderson, blacksmith of Sandford on his oath as follows... On Monday night last I was at Grants when a man came up named Bob and said Henry Best was drowned at the little bridge. I went with Grant and another or two to the bridge. When I got there the man who came first was getting the horse out. I searched for half an hour and saw nothing of the body. I think the man would have got over safe if the old bridge had been there as it used to be, Signature.. James Anderson.

The examination of Ferdinand Balle, Blacksmith, on his oath saith as follows.... On the afternoon of the 28 July I found the body of the deceased in the middle of the creek. I hooked the body with a stick. I had not seen the deceased the night before..... signature.... Ferdinand Balle

The following letter to the Editor helps us to know, not only about Henry, but also Mr Eastick the author of this letter. He must have been a very kind and sensitive person. I was notified by one of his descendants that he tragicly drowned himself in the Yarra after a third failed marriage.

MELANCHOLY ACCIDENT
( To the Editor of the Portland Guardian )
Merino,July 28th 1863.

Dear Sir,--- I hasten to acquaint you with the details of a very melancholy accident which has cast a gloom over, not only the inhabitants of Merino, but that of our hole district. It will be remembered that but a few days ago, I suffered bereavement by the loss of a child through diptheria, but as the sparkes fly upwards so man is born to trouble.

On Monday night July 27th, had another of my children attacked in a similar way, I then made all speed to procure medical assistance by dispatching two men on horse back, to Dr Wyly, of Casterton, the one Henry BEST and ( Robert HOWARD ) groom to Mr G.Y. BILSTON, they left my place at 10 o'clock p.m.

The night was beautiful and clear as ever shone from the Heavens, in deep anxiety the hours flew away wandering to and fro, at length I heard the sound of foot-steps approaching, splash came the horses, the doctor in view, when oh, alas on enquiring where Henry Best was, imagine my feelings when told _ he was drowned in the Wannon ( River )

The man, his companion, saw him sink to rise no more; his body has since been picked up and while I am now writing, the inquest is being held at Sandford.

Henry BEST, has left a large family of several children and a widow to lament his loss. The deceased was dearly respected by all who knew him, always ready and willing to render assistance to those who needed it in the hour of tribulation; an affectionate husband and parent, his last act was to do good to his fellow men, but for some unforseen circumstance his life was sacrificed in endeavoring to save the life of my child, and feeling this as I do it never can be affaced from my memory. My prayer to Him who is the giver of all good, the husband to the widow, the father to the fatherless is that He may guide and protect the bereaved family through this world of sorrow, that finally they may be found at His right hand where parting shall be no more.

Hoping you will excuse any informalities, under my present weight of grief.
I remain yours, Sir,
Yours obediently,
E . Eastick

Article supplied by Jessie Hatch; EMAIL, who is researching the following names - SEALEY, GRINHAM, BEST, LEY, BLACK, KERR, MEADOWS, JONES, GROVES, JELBART, COULSON, REID, WILLIAMS, COUSINS, DALGARDNO

Henry Best's Family

Links to Pioneer Names at...

Carapook & Muntham : Casterton : Chetwynd : Dartmoor : Digby : Harrow & Balmoral : Hotspur :

Merino & Henty : Sandford : Strathdownie : Wando Vale


Daryl Povey

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