Lake Macquarie History

Walter Beadon Fennell

photo: walter beadon fennell

Born on 10 January 1850, Walter was the 5th child of Richard Fennell and Louisa (nee Hayward).

His father's letter back to England in 10th March 1851, mentions his birth as a happy event in the dark times the family was experiencing.

"My principal reason for writing the present is to announce another increase in my family, a fine boy who has arrived in a gloomy epoch of our history, as I hardly know how to keep the wolfs from the door and for the first time since I have had children, they have asked for bread and none to give them."

Walter Fennell married Minnie E Reay on 13/7/1885, and the family lived at Islington. The indexes show two children born to Walter and Minnie, Sidney P Fennell born 1886 and Muriel Fennell born 1890.

Minnie was the daughter of Robert Reay, whose property 'Ravensworth' was on the waterfront at Fennell Bay. Her Uncle William Reay (1830-1903), was a well known and nationally renowned painter and poet, who lived at Waratah.

They were obviously an artistic family. Walter was listed in the local newspapers as a piano tuner, and advertised the sale of a violin in 1892. Mrs W B Fennell was mentioned in the Newcastle Herald a number of times as giving painting and drawing classes, and being involved in theatre set design.

Walter Fennell died in 1933, and his obituary in the newspaper lists him as a "Lake Macquarie Pioneer". The obituary states that he was survived by Sydney Percival Fennell (a draughtsman employed by the Public Works Department) and a daughter Mrs R S Kerr.

Family tragedy

The newspapers of 26th May 1887, carried the tragic story of “the infant son of Mr Fennell, son-in-law of Mr Reay” who had escaped his mother’s attention and made his way to the nearby railway lines, where he was struck by a train. He had both of his hands cut off and despite receiving immediate medical attention was not expected to survive. The child was only 14 months old, and it is unknown who this child was and whether he survived. There is only record of two children born to Walter and Minnie, and both are still living in his obituary in 1933.

An interesting character

Walter appears in the newspapers of the day on quite a few occasions, and more than one incident recounts a feat of heroism.

1871 - A gun accident

The Newcastle Herald of 7th August 1871 reports a young man named Walter Fennell being injured by “the accidental explosion of a gun”. Walter and his brother were duck shooting from a boat on the Lake and when he went to grab the gun from the bottom of the boat the trigger caught on the boat and caused the gun to fire. Walter had hold of the gun by it’s muzzle and when it discharged, the bullet went through the ball of his palm and up his arm as far as the elbow, than discharged into his side. The accident occurred 6 miles from the nearest settlement, and Walter’s brother had to row the heavy boat ashore. Walter sustained considerable damage to his arm, and had to have nerves removed - all “without the aid of chloroform”.

1875 - A narrow escape from drowning

Walter was involved in rescuing a traveller from drowning in the Lake. The man wrote a glowing report for the Newspaper, ending with “may all who share in the affection of friendship of the man who saved my life know the noble worth of a brave and manly heart.”

1881 - Two rescues in one year

On 11th January 1881it was reported that Mr W B Fennell saved a family from drowning in the Lake when their boat capsized. They were fishing when a “southerly buster” caused the boat to overturn. None of those on board could swim, and all were clinging to the overturned craft in an effort to stay afloat. William Fennell was riding on the Lake shore when he came across the scene. He immediately swam out to the boat, righted it and got all back on board before towing it for half an hour to shore and safety, despite being “bleeding and almost exhausted”.

On 10th September 1881, the Maitland Mercury reported another case of Walter Fennell rescuing a fisherman from drowning. On this occasion Walter and two other men were fishing from some rocks near the entrance to the Lake when one of the men, Mr Grame, fell into the ocean. Walter jumped in and saved the man, almost losing his own life in the process. In November 1881, the Herald advised that a letter from the Victorian Humane Society had been received by Newcastle Borough Council, enquiring into the incident. As the Society gave out commendations and awards for bravery, it is probable that they were looking to award one of these to Walter, though there is no further record of one being received.