Drowning At Castlereagh

Drawing of the Beejapore in Sydney harbour courtesy of Ancestry.

By Lyn Forde – President/Research Officer of St Marys & District Historical Society Inc.

IN February 1911 the body of Samuel Sheens was found by the search party on Saturday morning, entangled in a fallen tree about two miles below where he went in the Nepean River. The Coroner Arthur Judges held the inquest at the Penrith Court House where the following evidence was taken. Allan Sheens said that he was a labourer and lived at Castlereagh and Samuel Sheens was his brother who was born at Castlereagh in 1873 and they lived with their parents Henry & Emma Louisa Sheens (Byrnes) who were married in Penrith in 1871. At half past five on Wednesday evening he heard that Samuel had drowned in the river and he went to Penrith and informed the police. Along with Constable McLean and others they commenced to search in the vicinity of the spot where Samuel was said to have drowned and they searched but found nothing. The search continued on Saturday morning when at half past nine a neighbour Mr Clark and several others discovered Samuel’s body in the river near Mr Galvin’s residence about 2½ miles lower down the river from where Samuel went in. His body was visible above the water, lying face downwards on a log that had been covered by the water but now became visible. Mr Purcell, Mr Willett and others moved the body to Samuel’s father’s home. Robert Sheens said that he was a dealer’s assistant and lived at Castlereagh with his parents and on Wednesday last at half past 11am he went with his brother Samuel down to the Nepean River to see where their cattle was, and we could see that they were over the river on the island.  Samuel said he would swim across for them and bring them back and he undressed for that purpose and walked out as far as he could about 10-15 yards and then started to swim. As he swam the stream carried him down the river and he disappeared around the bend just below the spot. Robert said that he went around some trees and down the bank for a good distance but could see nothing of him. He then went home and told his father and they went down to the river and searched along the banks. The river was in flood and the current was very strong but he did not think anything about that because Samuel had often gone across when it was just as high. Samuel’s father Henry Sheens said that he was a farmer and lived at Castlereagh and Samuel Sheens was his son aged 38 years and lived at Castlereagh. Samuel had always lived at home and on Wednesday last his son went to the river to catch a horse (sic) and that was the last time he saw him alive.  A little before 12 o’clock his youngest son Robert came home and said that he couldn’t see Samuel, so he went to the river and searched for a good while but could see nothing of him so he sent his son up to inform the police. Constable McLean came down but they could do nothing except search until dark and was continued daily until his body was found on Saturday. The Constable said that Samuel had crossed the river with another lad only the day before when the river was quite as high. Samuel was always a happy man and unmarried. He said that at 6 pm on the 15th, Allan Sheen informed him that his brother Samuel had tried to swim the river and that they were afraid he was drowned. He accompanied him to the river and searched along the banks until dark without success and resumed the search at 6 am next morning and continued daily until his body was found. He said that Samuel was an excellent swimmer and bore an exemplary character.  Dr Higgins said that on Saturday the 18th he examined externally the body of Samuel Sheens at Castlereagh and his body was in a state of advanced decomposition. His tongue protruding through the lips and swollen so much that it was quite impossible to apply the froth test for drowning. There was a bruise on the right thigh and the body presented the usual appearance of death from drowning. In his opinion death resulted from asphyxia caused by drowning. The coroner found that Samuel Sheens died from asphyxia caused by drowning and that such drowning was accidental. The funeral cortege left the residence of Samuel’s parents at 3.30pm and the funeral was one of the largest in the district for some time, probably between 400 and 500 persons present including some 50 members of the Pride of the Forest Lodge, U.A.O.D. The presence of so many at the last sad rites included members of all religious denominations and gave silent evidence of the respect in which Samuel and his relatives were held. Samuel was buried in the Methodist cemetery at Upper Castlereagh (formerly Wesleyan Chapel), the Reverend C Jones officiated and delivered a lengthy address at the graveside while the Druids’ service was read after. Samuel’s father Henry James was born in Louth, Lincolnshire in England in 1844 to Samuel & Jemima Sheens (Lingard). Samuel died in England in 1847 and Jemima aged 40 went on to marry James Beedall in 1848. The family sailed to Australia as assisted immigrants on the “Beejapore” in February 1853, along with Henry Sheens aged 7 who could read, George Sheens aged 17 a farm labourer, Elizabeth Sheens aged 15 a nursemaid who could read, and Charles Sheens aged 11 who could read. The Beedall family along with Jemima (now Beedall) who could read and write, included Hannah aged 3 and Sarah aged 1½. James Beedall aged 36 was a farm labourer, born in Swinford Worcester and could read and write, the son of Thomas and Hannah both deceased.   

Sources: Nepean Times Sat 25 Feb 1911 p. 2, NSW Department of Justice and Attorney General, NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages, National Library of Australia. Trove, Sydney Morning Herald Tue 21 Feb 1911 p. 8, Ancestry, 1851 English census,