Lance Corporal

William WICKAM

YEAR OF DEATH

1847

JURISDICTION

South Australia

DETAILS OF DEATH

Wickham and Carter drowned after tumbling out of a bark canoe in which they had tried to cross the River Murray at Wigley Reach. The officers had received orders to travel to Overland Corner where they were to deal with reported disturbances. Hostilities had arisen between Aborigines and whites over drovers moving sheep and cattle through the area from NSW. Wickham and Carter set out from Moorundie on horseback and dressed in full uniform heavy tunics trousers riding boots sabres and firearms, rode through mallee scrub. Some way into their journey on May 7 they decided to stay overnight at the river-front station of JH Wigley. Despite the clear risk that their canoe would sink or capsize the officers attempted to cross the river. JH Wigley heard a shriek and (a) splash and rushed out to investigate. He found nothing: the two young officers had drowned. Local Aborigines later recovered the men’s bodies which they laid to rest on the river bank. Later accounts of the tragedy varied. James Allen Jnr suggested the weight of the officers’ accoutrements and heavy military boots had overburdened the poorly built canoe. But witnesses said that Carter, who stood propelling the boat as Wickham sat in the stern, caused it to capsize by leaning slightly forward. Wickham and Carter members of a then only nine-year-old police force with just 65 men had operated from a post at Moorundie just downstream from Blanchetown. Alexander Tolmer a high-profile inspector and later commissioner wrote of his brother-in-law Carter in his memoirs. John, he recorded, was one of the finest and most intellectual young men in the force. The tragic drowning reported in Adelaide newspapers The Register and The South Australian devastated Wickham and Carter’s colleagues. They sent and paid for a detachment to collect their mates’ bodies and return them to Adelaide for a funeral in the West Terrace Cemetery. On July 16 The South Australian reported on the many sorrowing relations comrades and friends who had paid their last respects at an emotional service. The Police Association and the City Watch House Recreation Fund paid to restore the officers’ gravesite in 1947. On Police Foundation Day in 1997 SAPOL unveiled a cairn and commemorative plaque at Banrock Station, three kilometres from the accident scene, to honour the officers and mark the 150th anniversary of their deaths. Riverland police had pushed for and built the structure out of stones from an old Thurk Station (now Banrock Station) chimney.

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