1904: The man who found 3 drowning children in a week

Map of Belfast, 1904

Jane Hunsdale was only three years old in 1904 when she fell into a brickpond that is long since gone in East Belfast. That is not a remarkabe story. But it is only part of it.

The brickfield pond at Castlereagh Road took Jane’s life some time between 7.30pm and 8pm on Monday, 6 June 1904. There were no railings around it and Jane seems to have made her way there by hereself.

Her dad was alerted to his child’s plight at around 8pm and rushed, from whereabouts, the report does not say apart from ‘his house’ so I’ve no idea how long it took him to get there.  All we know is that by the time he did, it was too late.

It would take her father, William, assisted by an unnamed constable, two hours to reterieve her body.

Standing by watching, I assume, was the first person to see the young girl in the pond. He had tried to rescue her, he said. She sank before he could.

Perhaps he was thinking about how he might have been able to save her had he got there eariler or perhaps he was thinking about the two young boys who had fell in the same pond the week before that he had managed to save. ‘Gourly from Grove Street East,’ approximately a mile away from the site, was hailed a hero for saving them both. They gave no first name or age, nor did they name the boys.

That seems to be the end of the matter in that regard. It seemed to have aroused no suspicion of any substance, a curious coincidence and I have no evidence to prove it was anything but. The following year it was suggested at a council meeting that something ought to be done about the number of children drowning in brickponds after another boy had died near the Springfield Road.

There was no mention Jane and the two boys who almost died the week before don’t even seem to have made the news.

There was only one article about this story in the British Newspaper Archive and nothing in Google. The matter, it seems, was covered because there was an inquiry, published two days after her death in the now defunct Northern Whig.

After some digging, I found an Archibald Gourley who lived in 203 Grove Street East at the time. The 55-year-old was a flax rougher at a time when Belfast was well on its way to the title of world’s greatest linen prodcuer. He was married with three children aged 24, 22 and 14, the youngest both in linen factories as well.

Gourley passed away on Christmas Day, 1923, his obituary his only other mention in the papers.

He is buried at Dundonald Cemetary.

As far as I can tell, he stumbed across no more drowning children.

As for William, who was 25 when his daughter drowned, he hailed from Downpatrick.

Beyond that, a William Hunsdale turned up in front of a judge 1910 for being one of around 30 men in a shebeen in Upper Meadow Street on Christmas night that was run by Gertrude Handcock. Handcock seemingly ran the unlicensed premises with the help of Annie Armstrong, who owned a public house opposite the three-roomed cottage.

He was fined 10s, while Handcock narrowly avoided being sent to gaol and was fined 40s along with Armstrong. I’ve no idea if it’s the same man, but judging by the quantity of alcohol found in the shebeen, whoever he was, he was having a very drunken time.

As for Jane’s mother, it’s like she never even existed…

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