George Nelson

Vessel Name: Linda

(George) William Frederick Douglas Nelson
Drowned in Geraldton harbour, body recovered
25 June 1952

Shamrock Hotel

Shamrock Hotel

Newspaper clipping

Newspaper clipping

William Frederick Douglas Nelson was more commonly known as George Nelson to his mates, the fishing community of Geraldton, and police who declared they had known him for at least three years. George was a deckhand on the Linda, a catcher/carrier boat fishing for crayfish and carrying the catch for multiple boats from the Easter Group of the Abrolhos Islands to the newly established Fishermen’s Co-operative in Geraldton.

Crayfishing boats at the Abrolhos Islands used larger boats to carry their catch from the islands to Geraldton because it was the most economical way to transport bulk crayfish and return from town with bait and supplies. It saved fuel and time away from fishing. The Linda was a 72 ft ex-naval harbour defence motor launch owned by Jim Davey and Bill Horwood, both of Geraldton for wet lining. In 1952 she commenced work in the crayfishing industry.

We first hear of George in the local newspaper referring to his appearance in Geraldton Polce Court before Magistrate T Ancell in 1951. He was imprisoned for three months with hard labour for two counts of supplying “intoxicating liquor” (bottled beer} to two Aboriginal women. It was illegal to provide alcohol to First Nations People in 1951.

George was a well-known local fisherman. By all accounts he had many mates and was a bit of a larrikin. His private life was not so well known, and George had not told anyone that his wife Annie had left to live in Perth. George had a reputation as a hard-working, hard-drinking man, and ultimately that was what led to his untimely demise at the age of 51 years.

On 24th June 1952, George was drinking at the Shamrock Hotel in Geraldton with mates. The Linda was moored in the harbour, due to leave for the Easter Group early the next morning, with George as one of two deckhands.

On the evening of the 24th John Edward Beaver at the local taxi rank when he received a telephone call from the Shamrock Hotel. A frequent customer and mate, George Nelson, required a lift to the harbour. John later testified that George was intoxicated at the time. Once at the harbour, John shone his taxi headlights onto the Linda to help George see his way to the boat. George hailed the boat, but no one responded, and there were no lights aboard. He returned to the taxi and asked John to return him to town. He alighted opposite the Shamrock Hotel, telling John he was leaving at 4am on the Linda.

Hans Andersen, a labourer, and Huan Peder Larsen, a woodcutter, were mates of George’s. Apparently Huan had known George for over 20 years and declared him to be one of his best mates. They were in the Shamrock drinking with George on 24th June, Not long after George’s 9pm re-arrival at the hotel, Huan, George and another mate brought a case of beer. They took a taxi to the wharf.

There was a storage shed near the wharf where the men opened the beer case intending to consume the beer. George declined a beer, stating he was returning to the Linda as he had to work at 4am. He set off for the boat. By this time, George was heavily intoxicated. It was 10.30pm when George went aboard.

Deckhand Lorenzo Facchini was already aboard Linda when George fell onto the deck. Lorenzo recalled George complaining he had hurt his left leg, before he went into the wheelhouse. Lorenzo saw the other men on the wharf with a case of beer. After only a few minutes George decided to return to the men, and Lorenzo helped him onto the wharf. He later said George was incapable of climbing onto the wharf unaided due to his level of intoxication. Lorenzo saw George approach the men and heard them talking before he went to his bunk to sleep.

The next morning George was nowhere to be seen. The Linda left for the islands without him.

On 29th June, Colin Francis Fletcher, a Geraldton labourer, was at the breakwater near the West End beach at 3pm. He saw a body floating face-down near an old, submerged barge, and immediately reported the grisly discovery to police. Constables DWG Thompson and EG Rogers attended the breakwater and saw the body with its chest resting against the sunken barge. They took the body to the morgue at the Victoria District Hospital.

On 30th June Police Constable George Henry McAvoy identified the body as George Nelson, saying he had known George for about three years. Despite the body’s decomposition and multiple lacerations from being washed into exposed nails and rough wood of the barge, Constable McAvoy could see George’s tattoos and recognised George’s two-toned woollen cardigan and brown shoes. Due to George’s previous court appearance his full name was able to be provided for his identification.

Doctor Alan Joshua Beaumont conducted a postmortem examination on George’s body, which had been in the water for four days. Dr Beaumont determined his lungs were collapsed, and full of water instead of air. George had entered the water alive and drowned. He noted George had a heart condition which could have killed him at any time; George had been unknowingly living on borrowed time.

On 9 September 1952, a coronial inquest presided by Magistrate Ancell, assisted by Police Sergeant SJ Tully, determined George had drowned in Geraldton Harbour on or about 25th June 1952 with no evidence to show how he had entered the water. It was thought he had fallen, probably due to intoxication.

It was after George’s death that police and George’s friends discovered Annie had relocated to live in Perth. She was found and notified. She placed a notice in a Perth newspaper stating George had “accidently drowned in Geraldton, beloved husband of Annie”.

The Linda continued to work in the crayfishing industry at Geraldton and the Abrolhos Islands until 1960, when she sank with her crew aboard. See the story of the Linda].