Lovely child’s appalling leap

Madge Hope, the 15-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. R. Hope, of Campbell street, Woonona, threw herself off the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the morning of Wednesday November 8 1933. The teenager survived to tell the tale, with reports saying that her large dress had saved her life.

Madge was said to have had “a highly strung temperament”, and had warned people at the Woonona Bulli School of Arts, where she was attending a dance the night before, that she intended to throw herself off the bridge.

There had been a spate of suicides from The Bridge leading-up to Madge’s failed attempt.

The following somewhat dramatic account of Madge’s failed suicide was published on the front page of the Sydney Truth on Sunday 12 November 1933:

Carnival night prelude to desperate death bid

Madge Hopes Woonona home

Madge Hope’s home shelters comfort and happiness within. Why did the girl decide to leave it all?

THE slanting rays of the rising sun were embossing the great grey arch of interlaced steel with silver on Wednesday morning when a slim, pale-faced girl climbed up the high rail that guards the footway. At the top she stood poised for a moment. What was passing through her mind during this racing instant which she presumed to be one of her last on this earth?

WHATEVER EMOTION HAD BROUGHT HER TO THIS GRIM DECISION DID NOT SHOW ON THOSE PALE FEATURES. THEN SHE PLUNGED DOWN— DOWN— DOWN . . . TO THE SHIMMERING, CRUEL WATERS BELOW— MADGE HOPE, 15-YEARS-OLD BEAUTY FROM THE SOUTH COAST.

Ernest Ingle, Harbor Trust launch skipper, gasped with surprise and horror at the sight. “Good God!” he yelled in voluntarily as the girl’s body, her gaily – colored skirt fluttering about her, struck the water with a report like a pistol shot near his boat.

A FOUNTAIN OP SPRAY SHOT UPWARDS, AND THE GIRL DISAPPEARED. A MOMENT LATER AN INERT FORM DRIFTED TO THE SURFACE AND FLOATED. IT WAS A TRAGIC AND BLOOD-CHILLING MOMENT.

Ingle lifted the unconscious child she is only a child after all—from the water, and was racing to Farm Cove when he was met by the Water Police harbor flier. Sergeant Bebb, now an expert at handling such cases after years of experience at the Gap and at the Bridge — began resuscitative treatment, while the driver of the flier turned her nose towards the Man-o’-War Steps and raced shoreward with the siren screeching its signal for an ambulance. From the launch to the ambulance, from the ambulance to the hospital, was a matter of swift and businesslike routine. And then Dr. Andrew Findlay, medical superintendent of Sydney Hospital, commenced his fight to fan into flame again the spark of life still feebly burning in the breast of the pretty girl.

HE HAS SUCCEEDED!

It appears that the girl struck the water in one of the only possible positions to avoid instant death— feet fore-most. But the huge drop, the terrific strain on the nerves, the blow to the heart and the delicate arteries had been so severe that the girl’s entire system was numbed by the shock and life was only retained by a very slender thread. It was soon dear that it she could withstand the shock she would be saved. Hot packs were placed about her mild restoratives were administered every few minutes, and saline fluids with their sedative influence were injected into the blood-streams.

WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THAT THIS WAS THE GIRL WHO WAS THE BELLE OF THE BALL AT WOONONA THE NIGHT BEFORE?

Who would have thought that she had gaily danced through the night, knowing that she was determined to die at dawn? However, at last the white coverlets stirred and she opened her eyes. “Oh! I feel dreadful. . . . Where am I?”

“Be quiet, child,” said the sister. “You are sick, but you will be all right. Who are you?” “Madge Hope …. Madge Hope of Woon… of Woon… It’s on the South Coast.”

The poor child could not think, her brain was almost paralysed.

“Close your eyes. Don’t worry. You will be well when you wake up,” said the nurse.

VAGUE CLUE TO IDENTITY

With that vague clue to the identity of the girl the police had to find her parents. “Woon,” on the South Coast. It might be either Woonona or Wollongong. But it was not long before a Mrs. Hope, of Campbell-street, Woonona had been located by the police. Her daughter was not at home, she said. She had gone to Sydney at 6 O’clock that morning with her auntie. She described the girl, and it was soon established that this was the child who had flung herself over the bridge.

TRAGIC AND STRANGE! A GIRL AT FIFTEEN IS IN THE EARLY SPRINGTIME OF LIFE. HER MIND IS FILLED WITH DREAMS, VISIONS OF ROMANCE, EPHEMEREAL THOUGHTS OF ADVENTURE; SHE IS IRRESISTIBLY THRILLED AS SHE STANDS ON THE THRESHOLD OF DESTINY. A SINGLE SENTENCE DESCRIBES HER TENSE EMOTIONS . . . SHE IS ALIVE!

But not so pretty Madge. Why did she do it? And why is it that she suffered less than any others who have fallen or jumped from the parabolic arch of steel which is claiming so many lives? Why?

Thirty-seven already had experienced the terrors of that hurtling fall. She is the third to escape alive! Now a tearful mother sits by the bedside waiting for her child to get properly well. She is lucky, for Madge should be able to walk out under the grey portals of the great hospital next week, thanks to the excellence of the medical attention she had received there. Why did this 15-year-old girl decide that life was not worth living? Perhaps nobody will ever know, because Madge will not, cannot, explain what actuated her.

ON THE NIGHT PREVIOUS TO HER GRIM ADVENTURE AT THE FRINGE OF ETERNITY SHE HAD BEEN A GRACEFUL FIGURE AT THE WOONONA QUEEN COMPETITION BALL IN THE LOCAL SCHOOL OF ARTS.

She had danced with the effervescent gaiety of youth. Her merry laughter was irrepressible. True, she told some of her friends, that she was going to Sydney early the next morning. “And,” she said, “I am going over the bridge!” ‘Ha-ha-ha!’ they all laughed at this merry sally. They little imagined that the girl was in earnest. Or, was she in earnest? Or, did the thought, the temptation, the obsession, gradually grow upon her as it did upon John Cox, the brilliant young law student, who threw himself over the bridge on the morning of October 3? Cox became magnetised by the bridge to such a degree that he got himself into a kind of trance, and jumped over.

At the ball she had a splendid time. Her brother, her cousin, and the Master of Ceremonies — it was an ‘old-time’ dance— Charlie Howarth, declares that she was in bubbling happiness. “Apparently she told everybody that she was going over the bridge except me,” declared her cousin. “But even if she had told me I would not have taken it seriously. I would have thought, like the others did, that she was merely joking.” ‘Pretty Kid Enjoying Herself.’ “I could not help noticing how happy she was,” stated Charles Howarth, the M.C. “Indeed, I remarked to someone, ‘That pretty kid there is enjoying her self to-night.” Madge’s mother can ascribe no motive for the deed, either. ‘She was happy here,’ she said. ‘We loved her and she loved us. She went to the dance on Tuesday night and came home about 11 o’clock and went to bed. When I got up the next morning she was gone. This was not unexpected because it had been arranged that she should go to town with her Auntie, Mrs. Coltman, early that morning. She went to town with her aunt and left her in the city to meet a girl friend.

Instead… What a baffling mystery! A young girl without a care attends a ball, enjoys herself immensely, leaves home at 5am, and comes nearly 60 miles to throw herself to her doom. As ‘Truth’ has asked before. … Does the Harbor Bridge cast some uncanny spell over some people; does its ponderous magnificence entice and hypnotise?


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