Kiama, NSW. On the Lookout for Clues & Curiosities.

A Memorial by the Lighthouse


Kiama is a wonderful place to visit on the South Coast of New South Wales. A couple of years ago, while researching at the Kiama Family History Centre I discovered a seat on the headland by the Kiama Blowhole and Lighthouse. While many visitors enjoy the crashing waves and rocky outcrops, few would notice the modest plaque in the concrete below this seat. It reads:

Kiama_910 Kiama_912

William Oscar McClelland, Aged 28 years.

Drowned in a Boating Accident off Blowhole Point, October 9, 1897.

Donated by his descendants.

Curious to know William’s story, I did a little investigating. If you are related to the McClelland family then I hope this helps to fill in any gaps and to remember William.  A quick google search brought up the McClelland family on Rootsweb but surprisingly few results on Trove.  Buried deep in The Sydney Morning Herald of October 16, 1897 is a brief mention:  Mr Edmund Fosbery, Inspector-General of Police yesterday despatched two Water Police men to Kiama to assist in the search for the bodies of the two victims of the recent drowning fatality.

Puzzled, I checked the NSW Registry of Birth, Deaths and Marriage indexes which showed William O. McClelland died at Kiama in 1897, and his parents were William and Mary J. McClelland.  Another Trove search using name variations on McClelland including McLelland and ‘The Kiama Independent’ newspaper, provided two more articles. It’s a pity the name was misspelt but the Kiama Independent and Shoalhaven Advertiser of 28th October, 1897 ran a classified notice as follows:

Thanks Notice.  

On behalf of ourselves and family, we desire to tender our HEARTFELT GRATITUDE to Alex. Campbell, Esq., M.L.A., the Magistrate, the Police, the Pilot and Crews and the public generally, for their untiring efforts towards the recovery of the body of our son. Wm. & M. J. McLELLAND. Brown’s Mtn, Cambewarra, 28th? October, 1897. 

Earlier, The Advertiser from South Australia reported the details on 12th October, 1897: NEW SOUTH WALES. KIAMA BOATING FATALITY. ACTS OF BRAVERY. 

Sydney, October 11. In connection with the Kiama drowning fatality on Saturday afternoon some acts of great bravery are reported. When the boat was sinking William McLelland, who was afterwards drowned, seized the two oars, but gave them to his elderly mate, Alfred Perry, who was also drowned. Perry in turn gave one oar to Prott, thus saving the latter’s life. Perry got into difficulties, and McLelland went to his aid, being a strong swimmer. They were last seen together, McLelland doing his best to keep Perry afloat. Their bodies have not yet been found. Portions of the boat have been picked up four miles away from the scene of the accident.

Often the text on Trove is misspelt as it is scanned digitally and corrected by users, including myself. By searching for Perry I found a very brief mention in the Brisbane Courier  of 11 October, 1897 which gives a little more information. Now if you search you should find it much more easily. It’s rather like solving a jigsaw piece by piece.

A boat containing five men upset near Kiama, and two of the men, named McLelland and Perry, were drowned.  

According to Rootsweb William McClelland married Mary Wilson in 1892 and had a child, Myrtle. The NSW BDM’s has a possible four children for William O. and Mary McClelland of Berry/Kiama. Now, that’s another story but they weren’t the McLennan family I was looking for. If anyone has a photo of William McClelland or his family it would be great if it could be included later. Here’s a link to a photo of the seat taken at sunset. It’s a rather lovely but lonely spot at times.


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