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Shark Attack!

Henry's Fight with a Shark

A Letter Written by Frances JACOBSEN, 24 December 1891

The following letter was written by Frances Rhode JACOBSEN, Henry's second youngest daughter. It is written to Jane JACOBSEN, her eldest sister. Iva is Henry's youngest daughter. Mum is Henry's wife, Jane FLOWER. Julius is Jane's son. I am not sure who Tweed is.

The Beacons
Manakau Harbour
Dec 24th 1891

My Dear Janie

You can just prepare yourself for bad news. We are all well - all of us, but Da gave us a fright.

Do you remember wishing each other a "Happy Xmas"? Well it might have been the most unhappy one we ever spent. Da has never been nearer death, but thank God he is well and with us again after a long struggle. I will begin at the beginning.

Da was to come home on the Saturday and we wondered if he would leave on Friday in his boat although the weather was bad. The rain, wind, thunder and lightening was dreadful. Nearly scaring me out of my wits. The others were used to it as they often have it like that. The house trembled, windows rattled and we would hardly hear ourselves speaking. All at once we thought of Da and wondered if he were on the water. I could see that Mum was getting anxious so didn't say anything.

Well next morning about 10:30 I heard a "Cooee". I ran up the hill a good way and there I found Da, without coat or boots and as pale as death. Oh Janie, I could hardly move - it took all the life out of me. He had lost everything but his life. I raced home, and by the time he arrived I had a good cup of coffee and a hot breakfast ready for him, which he needed.

Da had left the Onehunga wharf about 2:30pm on Friday for home. He sailed the boat by the jib for about 2 miles, then all of a sudden a squall struck the boat and over she went and sank under him. He dived and tried to turn her over but couldn't, so the only thing was to seize the oars and strike out for land. He had the wind and tide against him. He tried to crawl up no less than three buoys but failed, so he just had to make for the nearest land.

He had been in the water nearly two hours when he saw a fishing boat which he hailed, but they took no notice. All at once a large shark made for his hand - it had turned over when Da struck at it with an oar trying to ram it down its throat, but missed the mark and hit its head. It made off, made a circle around him, then made straight for him.

Meantime Dad had managed to get the oars in front of him and opened his knife - the one I gave him. Then the shark turned, and Da made a desperate dash at him and ripped it open nearly a foot. The blood shot all over his head and face, nearly blinding him, but he drew his legs out of the way and prepared for another go at him, holding his knife in his mouth and swimming towards the fishing boat which was approaching. All the time the shark was going round him, and then it made a rapid dart at him. Da threw himself on his side with the oars between him and the shark, and the knife in his hand only just in time.

The brute went close to him and lashed at him with his tail. Da stabbed it again above the tail. Then the boat came up to him, and Janie, would you believe it, the men were five minutes watching Da trying to struggle into the boat without helping him. They kept asking him all sorts of questions - "What do you want? What are you trying to do? Who are you?" etc.

At last when they saw Da was exhausted they helped him into the boat, and took him ashore which was very near to them. Da could have swum on if it had not been for the sahrk.

After Da had recovered his breath a little, he wanted the two men to lend him their boat - they refused until he gave them 10/-. The boat had gone down in deep water, so he gave it up as a bad job. He rowed back and tried to get the men to help him, but they wanted 5 which Da wouldn't give. Then they said they would get her up and keep everything in her. They sent Da away without a bite to eat, soaking wet, without boots and coat, and the next place 5 miles away in rough country.

Da went to Mr. Laings place at Brooklyn and was made most welcome. The son wanted to go straightaway and give those men a good horse whipping. The Laings gave him a nice bed and supper and dried his clothes. After a good breakfast he left in a pair of boots, but the first creek he was crossing he sank up to his knees in mud and managed to struggle out without them. Then he walked over all those rough hills and rocks for 15 miles until he came to Huia where he had something to eat and drink. If the only boat belonging to the Huia had not disappeared in the nights storm they would have brought Da home.

So Da had to walk 5 more miles to get home, where he arrived with his feet all cut and swollen. He does not grieve over the boat so much as the other things he lost. He saved his watch, but it is no good. It was his 8 one. It is full of rust of course, we have filled it with oil and kept it in a jar until Mum can get into town. We don't think anything can be done about it. Here is a list of things he lost.

A large coil of iron wire (2 pound). A packet of screws, bolts, pins, and boat tackle etc. A coil of new rope. A box of fruit - lemons, oranges, pineapple, apples etc. A large ham, cheese, butter, jams, ginger, presents for us all. Two new pairs of boots, new coat, sox, that black leather bag I took with me, his pocketbook and cheque book, supply of stamps, 2 in notes, and a number of other little things. Boat, sails, anchor and chain.

I tell you Da came under a close reef, nearly bare pole. We have to laugh over it to help him keep his spirits up, but such a loss is no joke. Mum says you will have to take your father's life as a Christmas box.

I think Da is going to get the steam boat to haul his boat up again. He will see about it today.

Now Janie write Mum a nice letter and cheer her up a bit. Whatever you do don't write these words "I knew Dad would come to grief, or I know the sharks will have a feed off him." It will only upset Mum more if you do. She is nervous as ever she can be and very touchy on the subject. She will quite believe it after this.

Da nearly gave in, then wondered how Mum and Iva would manage without him and so struggled on.

Mum is going up to Auckland tomorrow for more goods etc. and see about the boat. Iva and I were thinking of going up in the 'Manakau' and coming back with Dad. If we had, one of us would have gone down, if not all three, for Da would try to save us. I am now learning to swim in case of an emergency. I can keep up for a few minutes, then down I go. Iva and I have grand bathes, but we have not been down for two days. Saturday was enough for us. Just before Da arrived we were in the water for ever so long - it was impossible to swim, and at last a big wave broke over the bar and came rolling in, catching us while trying to get out of its way. It took us off our feet and threw us on to the sand. We got under the waterfall, but there was too much water after all that rain. We soon forgot ourselves when we saw Da coming.

Tell Julius all about his grand-dad, and tell him Auntie is going crab hunting this afternoon, and Tweed is delighted to come with me. Your ever loving sister, Frances.

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