As beautiful as the Hamilton bay is, it can be deadly as well.
Innumerable drownings have occurred, and the one of Wednesday August 15, 1884 was both tragic and typical.
Around 8 o’clock on a warm August evening, three young men went to the bay to bathe. Their names were John Quinn, Willie Dillabough and Arthur J. Johnson. They choose to cross over the Grand Trunk railway tracks and jump into the bay from a lumber raft near then-disused emigrant wharf.
The subsequent event was described in the Spectator as follows :
“All three stripped and went in the water. Johnson was unable to swim and clung to an iron spike in one of the booms.
“Dillabough was through first and was on the wharf dressing himself. Quinn sat on the boom, his legs dangling in the water, Johnson was in the water clinging to to the spike.
“How it happened is hard to say, but Johnson suddenly lost his grip on the iron spike and went rapidly to the bottom, giving a startled cry to Quinn for help as he sunk.
“In a couple of seconds he rose to the surface and Quinn grabbed him by the hair, but he couldn’t hold him and the boy went down.
“Quinn’s shouts brought Dillabough down, and a couple of other boys named Thomas Donovan and James Saunders, who were fishing nearby. They gathered on the booms and saw Johnson struggling wildly, rise to within a few feet of the surface.
“Then he sunk again, and that was the last seen of him alive.”1
1 “Drowned in the Bay : Arthur J. Johnson Comes to an Untimely End”
Hamilton Spectator. August 15, 1884.
Dillabough and Quinn decided to run to inform the police.
Some constables went to the bay and organized a search for Johnson’s body, while Sergeant McMahon was assigned the sad duty of informing Johnson’s mother of the incident:
“Mrs. Johnson has been unwell, and was almost heart broken by the sad news which was told her with all possible gentleness.”1
It was almost midnight before Johnson’s body was recovered by use of a spear hook. The corpse was then taken to the Johnson home on Mary street:
“A SPECTATOR reporter called at the house yesterday. The body was but lightly swollen and the features were hardly changed.
“Deceased was 15 years of age and the eldest of a family of six, four boys and two girls. They have only been in Canada since October last, having come here from Sandwich, a small town on the eastern coast of Kent, England.
“He was a bright, intelligent lad, and looked much older than he really was. He worked for Mr. Walker, the grocer, on King street west, and gave his employer every satisfaction.
“He did not go home to tea last evening, but his mother thought nothing of it. He was frequently in the habit of staying away from his meals when work or other matters detained him
“He left the house at noon laughing, joking and in the best of spirits; he was brought back a corpse.”1