Tragedy at Point Lonsdale

William Thomas Seabrook (1881-1914)

By Sharon Brennan

(above) William Thomas Seabrook

William (Will) Thomas Seabrook was born in 1881 at Hawthorn, the sixth of ten children born to William John Seabrook (1846-1914) and Mary née Mason (d 1912). As a young man Will was a member of the South Yarra Presbyterian Gymnastic Club, later becoming an instructor with the club. In 1901, he joined the Victorian Scottish Regiment Association. In 1905 he was a colour sergeant and by 1914 he held the rank of captain. He worked for the estate agency business of “Sydney C Arnold and Company”. According to family sources, Will was described as “a well-proportioned, muscular young man, who took an interest in all classes of athletic exercises”. As a swimmer he had been particularly successful. Will was 32-years-old and lived at home with his family at Dunmoreburn – 9 Alleyne Avenue, Malvern.

On New Year’s Day 1914, Will arrived in Point Lonsdale to join his younger brother Thomas (Tom) (d 1967), who had been there since Christmas staying at Felsenheim, on Beach Road. They shared a room with Arthur David (Chairman of the Ballarat Stock Exchange and Liberal politician of Ballarat) and Rupert Anderson from North Fitzroy. Each morning the men would conduct a physical culture class based on that of Eugen Sandow, a famous body builder of the time.

On the 3 January, the four men were part of a group of about a dozen people who had climbed from the village up to the lookout and down the cliff to the beach. Also a part of the group were Miss Muriel Hunter, who had become engaged to Rupert Anderson the previous evening and Mr Quennell of Bendigo. 

Locals described the ocean beach at Point Lonsdale as extremely dangerous because of the undertow, the breakers, enormous amounts of seaweed, treacherous cross-currents and a continuous heavy sea. Arthur David was quoted by The Argus as saying “I have never bathed in such a rough sea as that which broke on the beach today, but because the waves tumbled about us we thought it rather added to the fun”.

(above) Royal Humane Society certificate

By about midday most of the bathers were out of the water except Rupert Anderson, Muriel Hunter and an unknown third person. Earlier in the day Will and Tom Seabrook and Arthur David were practicing life-saving and discussions had been held about the possibility of conducting a carnival to raise money to purchase life-lines and reels for the beach. Anderson and Miss Hunter found themselves in difficulties after the sand bank collapsed and Anderson signalled to those on the shore. Immediately, Will Seabrook, his younger brother Tom, Mr Quinnell and Arthur David raced into the surf to attempt to rescue the pair.

Mr Quennell was almost immediately injured when he gashed his leg on a rock. The others battled out to those in trouble. Arthur David became exhausted and said to Will who was close by, “I’m done, Will, save yourself”. David was then caught on the crest of a wave and washed ashore. He collapsed and was restored to consciousness by Mr Quennell. Meanwhile, Tom Seabrook reached Miss Hunter. He noticed that Will who had been behind him on the swim out had been swept further away and was now at least 30 yards further out to sea. Tom Seabrook held Miss Hunter until a mountainous wave wrenched her away from him. From the shore a body could be seen in the incoming breakers and Thomas Seabrook was dragged ashore unconscious. Miraculously Anderson was also washed ashore. Both men were revived on the beach. William Seabrook was seen on the crests of several waves but he was too far away to rescue without a life-line. Finally a huge wave swamped Will and he disappeared from view. Miss Hunter managed to stay alive for another twenty minutes by alternatively floating on her back and swimming. She was drawn towards the channel but did not succumb until she was almost opposite the lighthouse. Her body was finally recovered by Mr William Patterson who had arrived at the beach with a life-line. 

Tom Seabrook was quoted in The Argus;

“We were standing talking on the edge of the water, Will and I, when I saw Andy’s [Rupert Anderson] arm raised. At first it did not strike me what it meant, but when I saw Mr David jump up, I knew they were in danger. I raced Will in and fell over. After we had been battling the waves for a while, I knew there was a difficult task ahead, and I began to feel tired. I heard Mr David call out that he was done, and then the thought came to my mind that perhaps something awful was about to happen. I hadn’t given it a thought up till then. Will came up beside me looking all right, but I couldn’t see his face for the water. Then we were swept out right to where Andy was holding Miss Hunter up. He was almost under, and seemed to be trying to tread water. I put my hand on Miss Hunter, and she looked into my eyes. Then she jumped from Andy, and threw her arms round my neck, holding on tight. I kept up for a few seconds, and saw Will further out still. He was fighting his way. ‘How terrible it will be if we both drown’ was the thought that flashed through my mind. I was weak, and felt myself gradually going, when everything became a blank. I went through all the sensations of a drowning man. I remember someone attending to me next, but I couldn’t collect my thoughts. I never dreamt to Will being dead. I can’t account for how I got ashore. I had nothing to do with that; it must have been the hand of Providence. I can just remember seeing Miss Hunter through the water with her face close to mine as we went down. I have an idea that she thought I must be fresher than Andy, and she gripped me, thinking he might have a chance then, too. I suppose the way I was swept up to her made it look as though I was all right, whereas really I was done. I am considered a fair swimmer by some people, but no one could swim in that sea. I can’t imagine what has happened yet. The last I saw of poor Will he was gulping and gasping, and I could do nothing for him”.

(above) Memorial plaque at the Point Lonsdale Clubhouse

At the inquest into the death of Miss Hunter on 5 January, Mr E Cuzens JP praised the courage of those who had attempted the rescue at the risk of their own lives. Will’s body was eventually recovered and the inquest verdict was that he met his death by drowning in attempting to save a life. He was buried on Sunday 18 January 1914 at the Brighton General Cemetery (Pres*F*49) following a military funeral at the Malvern Presbyterian Church. Many people admired Will’s qualities and abilities – said he was a wonderfully strong swimmer – they could not understand how he could drown. His father William had now lost his wife and six of his ten children, some of whom are believed to have succumbed to tuberculosis. He died just four months later at the age of 68.

A plaque from the Royal Humane Society was placed at the original Point Lonsdale Clubhouse. This 15 by 10 foot building was taken over by the army in World War II. In 1947 permission was granted for the club to occupy the building but it was later considered dangerous because of the encroaching sand dunes. The plaque was later moved to the new clubhouse.

1 William John SEABROOK (4 Apr 1846 – 15 May 1914)
   b. 4 Apr 1846, Battery Point, Hobart
   d. 15 May 1914, ‘Dunmorburn’, Malvern, Victoria
& Maria Sophia MASON (1850 – 4 May 1912)
   b. 1850
   d. 4 May 1912, Sunbury
   m. 1870, Victoria
|           1 Henry William SEABROOK (27 Nov 1871 – 19 Nov 1895)
|             b. 27 Nov 1871, St Clare Cottage Park St Emerald Hill
|             d. 19 Nov 1895, Hawthorn
|           2 Ethel Mary SEABROOK (25 Jul 1873 – 19 Aug 1879)
|             b. 25 Jul 1873, Acacia Cottage, Booroondara, Victoria
|             d. 19 Aug 1879, Hawthorn
|           3 Charles Stephen SEABROOK (1875 – 3 Feb 1894)
|             b. aft 3 Feb 1875, Hawthorn
|             d. 3 Feb 1894, Hawthorn
|           4 Minnie Rosine SEABROOK (1877 – 12 Jan 1941)
|             b. 1877, Sandridge
|             d. 12 Jan 1941, Malvern
|           5 Lilian Maria SEABROOK (1879 – Nov 1960)
|             b. 1879, Hawthorn
|             d. Nov 1960, Caulfield, Melbourne
|           6 William Thomas SEABROOK (1881 – 3 Jan 1914)
|             b. 1881, Hawthorn
|             d. 3 Jan 1914, Point Lonsdale, Queenscliff, Victoria
|           7 Clarence Sydney SEABROOK (1883 – 1898)
|             b. 1883, Strzelecki
|             d. 1898, Prahran
|           8 Thomas Claudius SEABROOK (1886 – 2 Jun 1967)
|             b. 1886, Hawthorn
|             d. 2 Jun 1967, Heidelberg
|           & Dorothy Sidel (Dora) BAIRD (1892 – 21 Sep 1942)
|             b. 1892
|             d. 21 Sep 1942
|             m. 1915, Victoria
|           9 Frank Cyril SEABROOK (1888 – 1905)
|             b. 1888, Hawthorn
|             d. 1905
|           10 Ruby Vera Gladys SEABROOK (1890 – 7 May 1967)
|             b. 1890, Camberwell
|             d. 7 May 1967, Malvern
|           & William Charles (Cyril) MITCHELL
|             m. 1915, Victoria

The Age 5 January 1914 & 17 January 1914.
The Argus 5 January 1914.
Research undertaken by Sharon Brennan.

(Images courtesy of Sharon Brennan)