NOTE:   These articles are contributed to our newsletter by individuals and do not necessarily represent branch advice and/or policy.





by Noeline


The headline caught my eye as I was scanning the microfilm of the Clutha Leader dated 14 Nov 1919.  I was responding to a research query stating  “I am interested in finding out about the REDDIE’s of Balclutha, three of whom died on same day - 12 Nov 1919 - house fire perhaps?  They were David REDDIE, Christina, and Matilda.”   ‘The ‘Clutha’ – that’s the steamer – interesting’, I thought, but not wanting to get too side-tracked I scanned the rest of the page.  Under the Deaths at the left of the page, I read;



“REDDIE – On November 12, 1919 (suddenly), at Dunedin Hospital, David Reddie, dearly beloved husband of Matilda Reddie, and eldest son of the late David Reddie, of Balclutha; aged   45 years.  Deeply mourned…” 


To the right on that same page, along with other items of local interest under the heading ‘PERSONAL’, I read


“Mr David Reddie, who died in Dunedin Hospital on Wednesday morning from heart failure, due to shock following scalds received in the accident to the steamer Clutha on Tuesday, was well known in Balclutha.  He was the eldest son of the late Mr David Reddie, of Balclutha, and was 45 years of age, the most of his life having been spent in Balclutha and district.  He was a married man, and leaves to mourn, a wife and young child.  The funeral will take place to the Balclutha cemetery at 2 p.m. today.”


I then read the long report that had caught my attention at first and learned that three men were badly scalded in an accident on the “Clutha River Board’s steamer ‘Clutha’ opposite Manuka Island about 8 o’clock on Tuesday morning.  The steamer was on her way up-river to Tuapeka Mouth with a cargo ……….Captain TSUKIGAWA, who was at the wheel, noticed a puff of steam escape through the funnel, followed almost immediately by an explosion, the boiler bursting.  Three hands – D REDDIE (fireman), Wm DOWSE and John ROBERTSON (deck hands) – who were in the vicinity at the time were very badly scalded about the hands, face and legs, REDDIE being considerably the worst, the majority of his injuries being about the head.”   


Cptn TSUKIGAWA immediately made the boat fast to the bank and the injured men were placed in a small boat and brought down to Balclutha, “bearing their excessive pain with great fortitude”.  Dr STENHOUSE tended the injuries and REDDIE and ROBERTSON were removed to Dunedin Hospital on Tuesday evening with Mr REDDIE succumbing to his injuries on Wednesday morning.  The report stated that “REDDIE had been in the service of the board for 25 years, for about 20 years of which he was fireman.  He was a very capable and experienced man.”


Following full inspection, “the general opinion is that the explosion was caused through a lack of sufficient water in the boiler, though for some reason there was a sufficiency of water showing in the steam gauge.”  Permission was granted by the Marine Dept for the steamer ‘Clyde’ which was partly dismantled for repairs and its certificate having just expired, to resume running temporarily after being “put in order with all haste”.  Estimated repairs to the ‘Clutha’ were to “run well into £100”.


The Clutha River Board report in the Leader, 18 Nov 1919 stated that the Board Chairman (Mr J.C. ANDERSON) moved a motion of condolence and sympathy with Mrs and Miss REDDIE and the Board recorded in it’s minutes its appreciation of his 23 years’ valuable service.


A very full report on the Inquest of Mr REDDIE’s death appeared in the Leader on Tuesday, February 3 1920.  Giving evidence before the Coroner (J.R. BARTHOLOMEW) were William ANDERSON, Inspector of Machinery & Surveyor of Ships;  William John CRAWFORD, Government Surveyor of Ships;  William Henry DOWSE labourer, deck hand at time of accident;  John ROBERTSON labourer, deck hand at time of accident;  Captain TSUKIGAWA captain of ‘Clutha’;  Robert John DAVIDSON, engineer on ‘Clutha’. The evidence of CRAWFORD (Government Surveyor of Ships) who inspected the steamer following the accident, was that the “primary cause of the explosion was by too little water in the boiler”. The “gauge showing false water”, was brought about by a washer getting into the gauge.  Everything except the washer was absolutely normal. 


The Coroner stated “the proximate cause of this fatality was the bursting of the boiler through the failure of the supply of water.  The fireman in charge was an experienced fireman with lengthy service on the river boat.  When it came to an explanation of how the water in the boiler failed and was reduced so low, they were met with an extraordinary conflict between the evidence of the deck hands DOWSE and ROBERTSON, and the expert opinion as to what was possible in fact.”  He went on to state that in “some details of their evidence it was… probable… that they were mistaken.  The severe and trying experience through which they had passed was calculated in some measure to have affected their recollection of what happened.”  He stated that these matters were “not distinctly pertinent to the coroner’s inquiry”.  His formal verdict was that the deceased died… from injuries received through the bursting of the boiler of the river boat ‘Clutha’ on the Clutha River on November 11.”


That obvious conclusion is where I left my search.  Incidentally, I have found no evidence of David REDDIE’s wife and daughter losing their lives on the same day.  An example of what was thought to be, that research can disprove.

NOTE:  South Otago Historical Society holds information on David REDDIE within Lodge records, including the signature of Mr REDDIE.


The 'Clutha' (2nd)

The ‘Clutha’ (the second)

Crew of the 'Clutha'

The crew of the ‘Clutha’ with Captain Tsukigawa front right. 

Names of other men unknown.  Can you help?


Information on the Clutha River steamers

The steamers on the Clutha River were a vital part of the early days, carrying goods and passengers before good roading.  The ‘Tuapeka’ was built in Port Chalmers in 1863 and sank opposite Kaitangata in 1874.  Then came the ‘Clutha’ (the first) which was launched at Pomahaka on 3 April 1871.  The ‘Iona’ was also an early one.  The ‘Balclutha’ began service in 1875 with the ‘Matau’ running from 1882 to 1901 when it was replaced by the ‘Clyde’.  In 1902 the hull of the ‘Matau’ was towed up river and sunk as part of a groyne at what was then the Clydevale Upper Station.  Then came the ‘Clutha’ referred to above which commenced running in 1910.  The steamers ceased running in 1939 when roading had improved and truck transport having taken over.


Clutha Leader microfilm at Balclutha Public Library, Nov 14 1919, Nov 18 1919, Feb 3 1920

Pioneering in South Otago’ by F Waite

Photographs supplied by South Otago Historical Society    

(July 2005)


Post Script to the Article on ‘Accident on the P.S. Clutha’

It wasn’t long at all after sending out last month’s newsletter, that the question came back, “Do you know what the P.S. stands for?”    General concensus is that P.S. stands for ‘Paddle Steamer’.


In the portion of article on the steamers on the Clutha River, I mentioned that in 1902, the hull of the ‘Matau’ was towed up river and sunk as part of a groyne.  You may recall an attempt a few years ago to retrieve it from the river and restore it.  Sadly, this was unsuccessful.


Did you know that the top portion of the ‘Clyde’ is doing admirable service as a crib at Kaka Point?  Currently owned by the Begg family it is a much loved family holiday house.  With two little bedrooms upstairs, downstairs contains one bedroom which was once the captain’s room, a lounge being the room where the passengers sat, the wheelhouse is now a bunk room and the kitchen - the engine room.


Kaka Point Crib

Beach Front at Kaka Point

‘S.S. Clyde’

Steaming up river opposite Chicory Factory

You can clearly see the ‘crib’ at centre of picture on right.

Photo Source:  Left –   N McLaren

                      Right – ‘Pioneering in South Otago’ by F Waite

(Aug 2005)


NOTE:   These articles are contributed to our newsletter by individuals and do not necessarily represent branch advice and/or policy.



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Last updated 12 Mar 2010