July 27 1908
“THE BRITISH FOOTBALLERS.
COLD LEAVE TAKING. DOWN HAS AN INVOLUNTARY BATH.
TWO “ALL BLACKS” TO THE RESCUE.
The departure of the Anglo-Welsh footballers for Australia last eyening was marked by an incident which caused considerable excitement among tie thousand or more spectators assembled on Quay-street jetty to bid the team bon voyage. For some time prior to the sailing of the steamer, the Britishers were lined up along the rail of the. steamer Victoria, which was to take them to Sydney, and frequently leaned over to shake hands with friends on the wharf, which was considerably below the deck of the steamer. There was nothing unusual, therefore, in Percy Down bending to shake hands with a lady acquaintance on the wharf, and before his comrades who were round about him could interpose, he had slipped over the rail. To the majority of the people assembled the first intimation of the accident came when a dull splash caused them to exclaim “Man overboard.” The Britishers on the steamer became greatly excited. and at first cried out that it was “Ponty* Jones, who is not a swimmer, but this player answered to his name, and it was then discovered that the man in the water was Percy Down. Immediately after Down fell’ into the water, Francis, the “All Black” forward, divested himself of his coat and jumped into the water to give assistance to the Britisher, who was appealing loudly for help. George Gillett, another “All Black,” followed Francis, and by this time ropes had been lowered from the deck of the steamer. The people on the wharf and steamer were now greatly excited, and shouted out numerous suggestions. Another footballer named Cassidy went into the water, and Mr. Neil Galbraith, treasurer of the New Zealand Rugby Union, descended by means of a pile to the stringers underneath the wharf, where he watched operations, prepared to render further assistance if required. However, Francis (who is a powerful swimmer) and Gillett had Down well secured to one of the ropes, and he remained where he was at the water’s edge. The people overhead, however, could see nothing of the rescue, and excitement continued to . increase. Jackett, the British full-back, who is also an enthusiastic yachtsman, jumped over the rail of. the steamer and let himself down to the wharf, where he was preparing to jump into the water; when a policeman forcibly detained him; giving him an. assurance that his comrade was safe, and in good hands.
Meanwhile the steamer had been moved out a little from the wharf to facilitate the work of rescue. The launch Adventure, in charge of Messrs. Foster and Nixon, slipped into the open space thus made, and Messrs. Down, Francis, and Galbraith were taken on board: Messrs Gillett and Cassidy were hauled on to the wharf by means of the ropes: The launch landed its party at the man-o’-war steps, and Percy Down, who appeared very pale, walked round to the steamer, being cheered as he passed through the crowd and regained the deck. The rescuers were driven to their homes.
Everything would appear now to have ended happily—the Britishers were given a hearty cheer, which they returned, and as the vessel moved off, the departing footballers gave cheers for Messrs. Gillett and Francis. But some of the spectators were positive that one had not been accounted for, and was still in the water. A policeman was also of this opinion, and to make sure; Sergt. Ramsay, assisted by Constable Armstrong, dragged the harbour bottom in the vicinity for several hours, and at nine o’clock, being confident that no one had been drowned, they gave up the search.
Mr Galbraith was surprised on returning to the Central Hotel to find Vassal, the Oxford three-quarter, there. Vassal explained that he had been visiting friends at Mt. Eden, and then hurried down to the wharf, only to find that the steamer had gone. Vassal was a passenger by this afternoon’s West Coast steamer for Wellington, where he connects with the steamer leaving for Sydney on Thursday next. . He will arrive in Sydney on Tuesday next, a day before the team’s first match in Australia, which will be played at Sydney. Naturally; Vassal’s absence would be the occasion for much anxiety on the part of the Britishers on board the Victoria, and to allay any uneasiness on this score, Mr. Galbraith made arrangements with the light-keeper at Cape Maria Van Diemen to signal to the Victoria when she passed there this morning that Vassal was in Auckland. At the time of writing, it was not known whether the message had. been delivered.
The British footballers were entertained by the N.Z.R.U. at the Central : Hotel yesterday afternoon; when Mr. D Gallaher, on behalf of the New Zealand team, presented Mr A. F. Harding, captain of the visiting team, with a gold cigarette case.