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Barrett, Walter Henry (?–1898)

An awful tragedy, that placed the town in profound gloom, occurred close to Horsham shortly after four o'clock esterday afternoon, the victims being Mr. W. [Walter Henry] Barrett, son of Mr. H. H. Barrett, of the Royal Hotel, and his young cousin, Master Edward West, a boy between ten and eleven years of age. The death of another boy, Charles, a younger brother of Edward West, was narrowly averted.

The facts of this most sad affair are few and can be shortly told. The lads West are sons of Mr. C. West, who for some three years past has been in West Australia, and Mrs. West, sister of Mrs. H. H. Barrett, of the Royal Hotel, with whom they were staying, and in whose charge they were during the absence of their mother, who on Saturday left Horsham on a visit to relatives in Melbourne. They had been straightly charged, by both their mother before she left home, and Mr. and Mrs. Barrett, not to go near the river to bathe in which was known to be a weakness of theirs. After the manner of boys, they disregarded the injunction, and yesterday afternoon, slipping away, they, having first spent a considerable time at the gas works, found their way to the Wimmera, where a number of other lads, whose ages ran from 8 to 13, were bathing in a large hole known as the "root-hole" in Mr. John Langland's paddock. They had resisted the temptation to actually bathe, and were paddling in the shallow water along the bank when their cousin, Mr. Walter Barret, who had been to Walmer, where he had left his horse, and was returning along the bank of the river to Horsham, came along and discovered them. He soundly rated them for their disobedience to orders and asked what they were doing in the water, to which they replied that they were learning to swim. Mr. Barrett then said that as they had gone so far they had better take a plunge into the water and see if they could swim. The lads quickly obeyed this welcome instruction and jumped into the hole. They were hardly in when a strong current carried them into the deep water, probably from eight to nine feet, on the opposite side of the pool. Another lad who was in with them almost immediately called out that the boys were drowning, upon which Mr. Barrett, without stopping to take off any of his clothes, save his hat, or even to remove his pipe from his mouth or the bridle that he had hanging about his neck, went to their rescue. He at once caught hold of Charley West, upon which Edward, in his natural fear, jumped upon his shoulders. The trio sank. Edward West never rose again, but Mr. Barrett did once. Charley rose on two or three occasions. Thos. McGinn, a youth between 16 and 17 years of age, son of Mr. Thos. McGinn, manager of the Horsham Gas Works, was on his way to the river to have a swim, and was in the vicinity of the scene of the catastrophe when he heard a boy call out a "drowning." He rushed in the direction from which the sound came, and saw Charles West sinking, as it transpired, for the third time. He tore off his clothes, jumped into the water, and recovered the boy, whom he brought safely to land. He then proceeded to apply the recognised treatment for the recovery of the apparently drowned, with such good result that the boy, who when taken out of the water appeared to be quite dead, speedily showed signs of animation, and in about a quarter of an hour was practically all right again. McGinn was then not aware that Mr. Barrett and the other lad were in the water, but as soon as he was informed, returned to the river and made several unsuccessful attempts to recover their bodies. In the meantime information of the fatality had been conveyed to the town by Master Bertie Moon, who, he being on horseback, had been met and advised of the occurrence by Master Leslie Williams, one of the lads who had witnessed it. At 10 minutes to five Police-Sergeant Molyneux and Constable Black, with a number of townspeople, arrived on the scene. Amongst those present was Mr. Cathcart, and he and several lads set to work diving for the bodies, the police meanwhile getting the drags to work. After some time Ernest Dryborough, a lad 14 years of age, recovered the two bodies, first that of Mr Barrett, and then that of the lad. Whilst the three had gone down in the deep water, Charley West was recovered from the centre of the pool, and the bodies of the other two were taken out of the shallow water, less than five feet deep, close to the bank on the Horsham side of the hole.

The bodies having been recovered, every effort to restore animation was made. The attempt to bring back the life that it was hoped was only latent was persevered in until Dr. Ritchie arrived on the scene and pronounced both young man and lad to be quite dead.

A few minutes before his fatal adventure Mr. Barrett had been speaking to Mr. Alex. Rowe, of whom he was enquiring after his cousins. Whilst the two were talking the boys' voices were heard, and Mr. Barrett left Rowe to surprise the truants to whom, he laughingly said, he would administer a hiding. Rowe, shortly after he parted with Mr. Barrett, heard a sound that he then thought to be a child's call in play, but which he now believes to have been the call of one of the boys when overtaken by danger. As he was leaving Walmer, Mr. Thomas Waterfield, driver for Broadbent Bros., who was loading wool, suggested that he should take a ride in the dray into Horsham. This offer the unfortunate young man declined, saying that the pace would be too slow for him and that he preferred to walk home along the river bank.

Than Mr. Barrett, whose full name was Walter Henry Harling Barrett, there was no one in the town more highly respected or more generally esteemed. His kindness of heart and geniality of manner made him a favorite with all classes of the conmmnunity, and his death will cause widespread and deep grief, and will create a blank in the business and social life of the town that it will be exceedingly hard to fill. For Mr. and Mr. Barrett, whose only son he was, and the other relatives he leaves behind him, the profoundest sympathy, a sympathy too great for adequate expression by either tongue or pen is felt. This sympathy will be extended to Mrs. West in her sad bereavement.

A magisterial inquiry into the cumstances of the sad occurrence will be held to-day.

The funeral will leave the Royal Hotel at half-past two o'clock to-morrow afternoon.

Of the conduct of Mr. Thomas McGinn, junior, who last summer was instrumental in saving the life of a lad who was in peril of drowning in the Wimmera, and whose promptitude, presence of mind, intelli gence and bravery yesterday afternoon saved the life of the lad Charles West, it is impossible to speak in terms of too high praise. His conduct calls for recognition at the hands of the Royal Humane Society, and this it is hoped later on it will receive. The lad Dryborough, who brought to land the two bodies, and the other divers who worked so hard and so perseveringly, are also deserving of praise.

Out of respect to the memory of the deceased, the members of the Fire Brigade adjourned their usual meeting last evening.

Original publication

Citation details

'Barrett, Walter Henry (?–1898)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 9 August 2022.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2022

Life Summary [details]


17 October, 1898
Horsham, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death