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Capsize!

At 10.00 a.m. on 24 November 1901, a 14ft skiff belonging to the St Helena Penal Establishment set out under sail from Wynnum for the island prison across the Bay. The tide was good and the wind fair. On board were Henry Clements, fellow warder Edwin Cloherty, and Mrs Bowden, a rather weighty woman, the wife of the Chief Warder.

Midway across the Bay, the wind freshened and a strong squall from the east capsized the boat. It turned turtle and Mrs Bowden was trapped under the submerged mainsail.

Thomas White

Warder Cloherty went to her assistance and extricated her from her predicament – no easy task given Mrs Bowden’s size and the boisterousness of the moment. In spite of these handicaps, however, Cloherty managed to keep the woman afloat by grasping her with one arm and the side of the whaleboat with the other.

Warder Clements in the meantime sat perched relatively high-and-dry upon the gunnel of the upturned boat from where he repeat­edly ignored Cloherty’s calls for help.

Said Cloherty later: ‘Clements appeared quite indifferent as to how things went, whether we sank or swam, providing he was safe himself.’

And Mrs Bowden added: ‘We held on to the boat until assistance came and whilst awaiting help, Mr Cloherty called upon Mr Clements to pass over an oar which he did not heed. Had it not been for the unselfishness and heroism of Mr Cloherty, I am of the opinion that I should have drowned.’

For twenty minutes Cloherty supported Mrs Bowden while Clements inexplicably turned a blind eye to the couple’s plight, until at last an oyster boat came to their aid, Mrs Bowden was taken on board, and the whale boat was righted and taken to St Helena.

In a written report of the incident, Superintendent Ryan informed the Brisbane authorities that, in his opinion, Clements’ action was ‘very censurable, cowardly, and inhumane’, but no action was taken as the Comptroller-General misplaced the document and it was not found till a considerable time afterwards.

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