The forgotten boy - William Chapman drowns

Almost forgotten: William Chapman, a 14-year-old boy, drowned in 1875 after an accident during the building of the bridge. Photo - supplied.

Almost forgotten: William Chapman, a 14-year-old boy, drowned in 1875 after an accident during the building of the bridge. Photo - supplied.

William Chapman was a 14-year-old boy who worked at the Murray Bridge Works in 1875.

William's job was to take boats to and from the shore and to the staging of the bridge.

When a boat was required to be at No 4 pier, George Lambert, the engine driver asked William to do it.

He usually took smaller boats but this day he took the big Government boat, which he had managed well before.

This day the current was running very strong.

William had scarcely got away from the pier, trying to scull when the boat surged ahead.

He was standing in the boat with one foot on the seat and trying to get the other leg up.

Suddenly he came into a collision with the chain cable attached to an anchor alongside the staging.

William fell backwards from the boat and was seen struggling in the river about 30 feet from the staging.

He could not swim.

All hands tried to rescue him. The cry went up "The boy is overboard: and "boat adrift" but the noise of the engine made it hard to hear.

A life buoy was thrown overboard when the boat was adrift 40 feet from the stage.

At the inquest, Mr Henry Parker, Superintendent of the Murray Bridge Works said that one man, Woods was sent in a small boat from the shore and Lambert jumped off the stage into the river.

They could not rescue the boy.

Diver Charles Jackson searched for the boy - he found him dead at the bottom of the river with the sleeve of his shirt caught in the anchor.

Jackson put a rope around the body and brought it to the surface.

The river was about 60 feet deep and the body found about 100 yards from where he had fallen.

He had been in the water for about an hour.

William's older brother, John Chapman worked as a labourer on the bridge.

He said William had been in the colony for about seven months and he had given his approval for him to be employed on the bridge as their parents were both dead.

The jury at the inquest found that William Chapman was accidentally drowned in the Murray River and that the conduct of George Lambert in his endeavour to rescue the deceased was highly commendable.

Information obtained from the Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA) Tuesday 5 October 1875 page 2.

s was another unfortunate accident as until recently we were only aware that one death had occurred during the construction of the bridge - that of John Elliot who died on 19th November 1874. Both William Chapman and John Elliott are buried in the Callington cemetery, Section A.

"A Community Saving our Past"