The accidental drowning of Peter Lynch

07 Sep 2021

Informer contributor, Meghan Hawkes, expertly pieced together the final hours of another historic Coromandel character believed to be laid to rest in the Mercury Bay Cemetery.

Sixty-three-year-old bushman, Peter Lynch, was up early to cook breakfast on a March morning in 1863. He planned to go to Coromandel and asked his workmate, Edward McDonnell, for a large handkerchief to take some clothes in. Edward left their hut for work as Peter was wrapping up his bundle. 

Peter left Opitonui on foot and around 1:00pm came to the hut of Thomas Dunn, another bushman who worked on the Waitakuri River near Whangapoua. He stayed there about an hour and a half and had some dinner. 

Peter’s plans seemed a bit vague. He told Thomas that when he left home he had intended to go over to Coromandel but, as he had no particular business there, he decided to return home. He also asked if he could take one of Thomas’s dogs so he could hunt pigs. They both left Thomas’s hut together and had walked about 100 yards along the road when the dog vanished. Peter was not too bothered and said he would return a day or two later for it. He left Thomas and set off, but after a short distance he called out that he had found the dog which he took with him. About 5:00pm the same afternoon the dog returned soaking wet to Thomas where he was working. 

Although no more was heard from Peter, it was thought he had gone to Coromandel until a bundle of clothes were found on a beach. Alarm bells rang for Edward McDonnell and he headed over to the Waitakuri River camp to ask the bushmen there if Peter had passed by on his way to Coromandel and to see if the bundle found was his. He was told Peter had been there but that he had turned back for Opitonui. Bushmen now began searching for Peter.

Meanwhile Hugh Craig and Thomas Binns, having made an early start in a boat, headed up the Opitonui Creek to inspect the log booms and see that all was right. They expected a change in weather and anticipated enough rain to cause a “fresh” to force the logs downstream. 

On their way they found that three logs had come adrift. They made two of them fast but the third was aground. They left it intending to go back next high water and fasten it. They then went up the creek to the first boom. Hugh Craig noticed that there was something afloat in the creek on the other side of the booms. On coming closer they discovered that it was the body of a man. The back of the head and shoulders were above the water. His toes were dragging on the sandbank. They recognised him as Peter Lynch. They got him on shore and lay him on the bank. They then took the boat to the upper booms, made her fast, and took the track to the bushman’s hut about three miles above where Peter had been working. 

When they were about halfway, they were met by two of the bushmen searching for Peter. They all returned to the hut where a note was written to the Resident Magistrate which another man then took to Coromandel. The weary and shocked men had some breakfast, then returned to the booms with a pair of blankets to bind up the body before taking it down to the mill.

An inquest found that Peter Lynch met his death by accidentally falling off a boom into a dam and drowning. It was not unusual for men to cross the booms and there was a shallow place in the creek where they generally crossed at low water. But it was probably high water at the time Peter attempted to cross with the dog. His walking stick was discovered dropped on the boom and he was found with his pipe still in his hand. 

Peter is probably buried at Mercury Bay cemetery in one of the many unmarked graves. 

Pictured: Mercury Bay with a boom of kauri logs in the foreground. Photo courtesy of Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.