19 February 2015

The Swagman and the Logan River Shark

'On the Wallaby', Cairns, c. 1907. (State Library of Qld)

The rivers of Queensland have seen their share of fatal shark attacks, as noted in these stories about Townsville and Brisbane. The less-frequented waterways of the Sunshine State also have their tales to tell. The Logan River, running about 45km south of Brisbane, is home to Bull Sharks (and the very occasional crocodile) and it too has been the scene of a shark-related tragedy.

In March 1903, two poverty-stricken young men named William Bartlett and Perival Horton were walking from Logan to Beenleigh in search of work. During the morning they arrived at the Logan River ferry crossing, about 3km from Beenleigh, but they did not have the required penny to pay ferryman Albert Sommers and so they asked him for a free ride. He refused and advised them to walk the 13km to the nearest bridge. They instead waited at the ferry stop until the afternoon and by chance met Schultz, the owner of the ferry. They asked if he could at least transport their swag across but when he just turned and walked away without answering the two men decided to swim across, even though the tide was up and the river at full width.

Loganholme ferry, Logan River, 1929. (Riverboats, Ferries and Roads)

They asked Sommers if there were any sharks about. He told them that none had been seen so they placed half their swag and some clothing on the keel of an upturned boat and pushed it to the other side. They made a return trip for the remainder of their belongings, and about 10 metres from the Beenleigh side Bartlett called out that he had cramps in his leg, but told Horton to carry on and get the swag to shore. Horton did so, but when he turned around he saw that his friend appeared exhausted and so he dived back in and brought him to the bank.

Once on dry land they noticed that what Bartlett had imagined to be cramps was in fact a shark bite, and he had severe wounds on his right leg below the knee. Horton bandaged the leg as best he could with some shirts and hurried to Beenleigh to get help and returned with a cart. Bartlett, by now in a serious condition, was rushed to Beenleigh and attended by a nurse with boric acid (an antiseptic) before being placed on a train and taken to Brisbane. He arrived there at 7.10pm, about 5 hours after the attack had taken place, and was conveyed by ambulance to the General Hospital.

Suffering from shock and a massive loss of blood, Bartlett lingered in a serious and feeble condition at the hospital for two days before he eventually died, officially of 'a lacerated wound and heart failure'. He was 24 years old, an electrician by trade from Birmingham, England, and he was dead because of the lack of a penny in his pocket.
'The unfortunate swagman, William Bartlett, who was attacked by a shark when swimming the Logan River in company with his mate, died in the Brisbane Hospital from his terrible injuries. The feelings of the ferryman who refused these unfortunate, penniless men a lift over in the punt, thus compelling them to swim the river, can be better imagined than described. But perhaps he is only an employee and acted under instructions.' (The Worker, 21 March 1903)
The men had not seen the shark that bit Bartlett, but a 3-metre bull shark was seen in the vicinity about one hour after the attack.

Bull Shark. (Wikipedia)

This was a common type of shark-related death, in which a chunk of flesh is torn from the body with a single bite and the victim later dies of their injuries. Bull Sharks are known for 'bump-and-bite' attacks, in which they will give their target an investigative bump before returning to take a bite.

There has not been a recorded shark-related fatality in the Logan River since.