Bulli Beach Fatality

William Palmer was a relieving clerk at the Bulli Railway Station when he drowned while swimming at Bulli beach in 1930. David Scott, 18, from Corrimal, and John Johnstone, 14, from Bulli, were later honoured with the Royal Humane Society’s bronze medal and a certificate of merit for their attempt at saving William Palmer. The South Coast Times reported on Friday 14 February 1930:


David Johnstone Scott 1930
David Scott

The deputy Coroner (Mr. J. Kirby J.P.) resumed the adjourned inquiry into the death of William Henry Palmer, who was drowned off Bulli Beach on Jan. 29th. The inquiry was held at Bulli on Wednesday. David Scott and John Johnstone gave evidence to the effect that they saw Palmer throw up his arms and they then went to his assistance, Scott donning the life belts and John-stone assisting him. They reached Palmer and were bringing him ashore when a number of people on the beach, mostly women and children began pulling on the line. Unfortunately they pulled in too fast and Scott had to let go of Palmer and was pulled in shore. Johnstone held on to Palmer as long as he could but he became so heavy that to save himself Johnstone had to leave him. By this time Scott had come out again with the line but Palmer had disappeared. Two men came out then and searched for Palmer but were unable to find him. The deputy Coroner spoke in high terms of praise of the bravery of the two boys who were only scholars still at school. He hoped someone would have their action brought before the correct authorities, and added that in all probability had the lads been left to the job they may brought Palmer ashore. However, this was not criticising those on the beach who undoubtedly thought they were doing the correct thing. Mrs. Palmer, deceased’s mother, said her son was 18 years of age. He was born at Blackheath, England, and had been in Australia only two years. Sergeant Standen stated he was shown the deceased’s clothes which were hanging up in the shed. These were later identified by Mrs. Palmer as those belonging to her son. Regarding the life line, witness said it was in fair condition. The handle had been broken off but the line was always ready for use. There was no permanent life saver on the beach and that was the reason the line was always left exposed ready for emergency. The Shire Clerk had promised to have the handle put on. A letter was received by the Deputy Coroner from a Sydney resident, who had read of the fatality and who complained of the bad state of the life line. The writer called the coroner’s attention to this. Both the lads said the line was quite alright and although the handle was broken they had no difficulty in using the line which they considered worked quite well. The Coroner returned a verdict of accidental death.

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