William Downie Hall was born at Shields, Northumberland, England in 1817. In
1841 he married Eliza Jane Pine and had four children: John James Downie,
Armstrong Ritchie, Anna Maria Catherine and Jane Caroline Gertrude Downie
. Eliza died in 1852. In May 1853 Captain William Downie Hall travelled to Port Phillip (Victoria) as master of the "Fortescue". On his return to England he married
Elizabeth Pilgrim Walters in November 1853 at St Andrews, Glouchester.

Captain William Downie Hall came back to England in 1853 with stories of Victoria which was then in the Gold Rush era. With other family members, probably cousins, Captain William Downie Hall again sailed to Victoria arriving in Port Phillip in
June 1854 on the sail ship "Eblana". With him were Armstrong Ritchie Hall,
William Downie & Benjamin Dodd.

Read an account from the Log of the "Eblana" on its journey to Victoria
St. Paul's Island - Pirates or Pioneers



Captain William Downie Hall

William & Elizabeth Hall settled in the small Victorian town of Buninyong where they had three children. Sydney Ritchie, Georgina Pilgrim and Charles Melbourne. During this period from 1855 to 1860 William listed his trade as a Miner. It seems that he grew tired of his life in an isolated country town and by the early 1860's had
returned to the sea. This decision would have certainly caused great distress to Elizabeth as she had three small children under the age of 7 to care for and raise.
It is likely that it was around this time that Elizabeth and the children moved from Buninyong to live around the Emerald Hill area, in what is now known as
South Melbourne.

On the 5th October 1863 while in Bluff Harbour, New Zealand, Captain William Downie Hall at the age of 45, drowned. At that time he was the Master of the steamer "Ruby".

A sail steamer similar to what the Ruby would have looked like.


The drowning occured while he and 3 other sailors were in a small boat returning
from the shore to the "Ruby", which was at anchor in Bluff Harbour.

Bluff Harbour N.Z

The following are the four eye witness accounts of the drowning given to the acting coroner at the time. There were at least two other ships in harbour, the "Harwood" and the "Helenslee". Crew from these two ships gave assistance in saving the others.

The "Harwood"


The examination of Thomas Richard Fordham of Bluff Harbour. Boatsman, -
of Caleb Gargory of the British Ship "Harwood", Surgeon, -
of Charles Lewis of Bluff Harbour, Seaman, - and of
Thomas Wellspring of Bluff Harbour. Boatsman

Taken on Oath this eighth day of October in the year of Our Lord One thousand
eight hundred and sixty three at Campbelltown before Isaac Newton Watt one
of Her Majesty's Justices of the Peace for the Colony of New Zealand acting as coroner for the district of Campbelltown and a Jury of fourteen good and
lawful men of the said district sworn and charged, upon view of the body of
William Downie Hall, to enquire on behalf of Our Sovereign Lady the Queen,
how, when, and where and in what manner the said William Downie Hall came
to his death.

Read original coroners document



This d... Thomas Richard Fordham on his oath saith as follows

I am a boatsman .. in the Bluff Harbour on the sixth day of October .. I was at the Eagle Hotel and my attention was called to a boat that had capsized in the Harbour. This was at about half past four in the afternoon
I assisted by Matthew Eggman and George (I do not know the surname of the latter man) launched a boat there was also two other men with us whom names I do not know - Whilst we were proceeding to the spot we saw two other boats coming from the ship, "Helenslee" and the steamer "Ruby"
I saw the capsized boat bottom up and I thought they picked some people off but they returned to the ship before our boat got up to the spot - I looked round on getting to the spot where the accident occured and at about 700 yards from the
boat in which we were I saw something like a coat in the tide rip - We pulled up immediately and found that it was the body of the deceased William Downie Hall.
He was lying in the water with his face downward and there were no signs of life in him, we took him into the boat, we made all haste ashore and carried the body to the Eagle Hotel -We then put off again (not knowing how many the ships boats had picked up) to see if we could see any body else, when we arrived near the boat not being able to see any other person we took the boat that had capsized into tow -
We found her bottom up with all sail set - the back of the sail was fast - the .. was loose, but it might have become loose from washing about in the tide rip - I knew the deceased personally he was formerly second Pilot at this port and lastly Master of the Steamer "Ruby"

By a Juryman - If the men in the boats from the ship and from the Steamer had looked round they might have seen the body as well as we did, we were at the capsized boat about 5 minutes after the other boats had left - I do not know
whether the .. of the boat in which the deceased was , was fastened when they
left the shore the deceased was steering the boat - The weather was squally but there was no heavy rip on - I think the most likely cause of the accident was the .. the boat broadside on to the rip or that the boat had broached to

T R Fordham

Read original Fordham document


This .. Caleb Gargory on his oath saith I am Member of the Royal College of
Surgions in England and .. of the Society of A.. -

I saw the body of the deceased brought ashore. I took the .. of the means which were taken to resucitate him for there were no signs of life when he was brought ashore - The wet clothes were removed the body was enveloped in hot blankets.
Hot bricks were placed to the feet, .. was applied to the extremities , he was
placed on his side and rotatory motion .. with presure on the chest to induce artificial resperation, this was continued for about an hour but without any effect. The deceased came by his death by suffocation from drowning - I saw no marks of injury about the body of the deceased

Caleb Gargory R.C.S

Read original Gargory document



This .. Charles Lewis on his oath saith as follows

I am a seaman residing at Bluff Harbour - I was in the boat with the deceased William Downie Hall when it capsized, before stating from the beach we .. the ..rail by the orders of the deceased, it was blowing pretty fresh we went off all right until we came to the rip, we were going to the Ruby Steamer of which .. I believe the deceased was master, when we got into the middle of the rip about 150 yards from the "Ruby" the boat capsized, the water was broken a sea came into the boat, it
was not the sail which did it, the boat had no more sail than she ought to have had.
My mate (I don't know any other name than Thomas for him but I believe it to be Wellspring) had hold of the sheet and I had hold of the halyard at the time of the accident, the deceased cautioned us not to have a turn in the sheet or the halyard - When the boat was capsized we were all thrown out of the boat and we made the best endevour to get upon the boat's bottom. There were four of us in the boat and we all got on to the boats bottom and we were twice all of us washed off again. There was a great deal of struggling on the boat to hold on to her keel, I saw the deceased at one time had hold of the leg of my mate who helped him on to the
boat at another time he handed the deceased an oar, the last time that we were washed off the boat only me and my mate regained the bottom of her. - and then I saw the deceased and Aspinall about 8 feet to the ..ward of the boat. That was the last time I saw him. - I and my mate were rescued by a boat from the "Ruby" steamer - When the boat took us off we made no search for the others that were in the water. I told the men in the boat from the Ruby that there were two other men in water -

By the Jury - It was between 3 & 4 o'clock when we put off with the deceased. I had been off to the "Ruby" previously the day in question the fifth October to fetch deceased on shore. I brought him ashore between 1 and 2 o'clock when I brought
the deceased ashore I went with Aspinall up to the Eagle Hotel and we had a drink together - I saw deceased in the back parlour of the Eagle Hotel he was in company with Aspinall - I had no drink with deceased on the day in question, I had only one drink at the Eagle Hotel after bringing deceased ashore. Deceased was steering the boat when the accident occured - coming ashore from the "Ruby" I and Mr Aspinall had a few words about keeping the boat down. He said he was master and if I did not like it I could leave it - Deceased just before getting into the rip told us to
stand by and we had no turn either with the sheet or the halyard. Deceased took
hold of the oar presented to him by my mate - I heard deceased and Aspinall
several times exclaim "oh my God". I do not think the sheet got fouled, the boat
was upset by the broken water.

Charles Lewis

Read original Lewis document




This .. Thomas Wellspring on his oath saith as follows

I am a boatsman .. in the Bluff Harbour and employed by Mr Aspinall. On the fifth instant I was in the boat with the deceased, with Aspinall and with the former witness Charles Lewis going to the "Ruby" when it capsized. I was present while
the witness Lewis was giving his evidence. I believe it to be correct in every particular especially with regard to the sheet and halyard - when I and the last witness were picked up by the boat from the "Ruby" I told the men in her there
were others in the water but they must have seen them there if they had then been floating as the last time I saw the deceased he was 100 yards from boat and so much nearer to the Ruby - I corroborate the evidence of the last witness in every particular but have further to state that the boatswain of the "Helenslee" who was
in the "Ruby" boat and he would take us on board and the life boat of the
"Helenslee" he ordered to pull about to look for the others in the water. I was employed by Aspinall, I had a fourth share of the earnings of the boat. I was
holding on to the sheet at the time of the accident there was no turn in it. I was perfectly sober at the time of the accident. Deceased was steering, he was
perfectly sober.

Thos Wellspring

Read original Wellspring document



The above depositions of Thomas Richard Fordham, of Caleb Gargory, of Charles Lewis and of Thomas Wellspring were taken and sworn before me at Campbelltown on the day and year first above mentioned.

Isaac Newton Watt J.P
Acting Coroner

Read original Watt document


A steamer leaves Bluff Harbour


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