1906: Nature Study Ends In Tragedy

Reported at the time as ‘Cliff Fatality’ the news item goes on to tell of the tragic death of a young pupil of Sidney Street School, a boy named Ernest Edward Smith who climbed up the face of a cliff, missed his footing, and fell to the bottom of the cliff.

Young Ernest, one of 31 pupils from Sidney Street School, had been attending a nature study class conducted by his teacher, in the Warren. Class had been dismissed when 13 year old Ernest decided to climb up the cliff face in search of plants.

It was early afternoon, and the young pupils were looking for certain wildflowers and plants so they could illustrate their nature study lesson – which formed part of the school curriculum.

Around four o’clock, the lesson was ended and the boys had gathered at the bottom of a zigzag path ready to go back – when the teacher asked the boys if any wanted to collect some of the plants. A few boys said they needed to go straight home and they were dismissed to make their way home – but some of the boys, including Ernie, wanted to collect samples of periwinkle and other plants.

The teacher went back with these boys, and sat on a mound so he could keep an eye on them as they collected plant samples. When they had all they wanted they started to head back towards home – when one of the boys shouted that ‘Ernie Smith was dying having fallen from the cliff’.

They rushed to find Ernie – and found him laying below a hole in the cliff, known as the cave. The cave is about halfway up the cliff, and from the cave to the foot of the cliff was an 80 ft. drop. When they found Ernie – he was not dead, and seemed to be ‘in a fit’. Ernie was taken by a farm wagon to his home still unconscious – where he later died.

A marine stoker who witnessed the accident said that he saw about six schoolboys – about 150 ft. up the cliff and he heard one of the boys say that they had better get back. Shortly after that, he heard one boy call out that he could not get back and after that, he heard a scream and he saw the boy falling.

When Ernie was examined by the doctor he found there were several bruises on the body and it was determined that death was most likely due to a ‘fracture of the skull and shock to the system’. A jury returned a verdict of ‘Accidental Death’.

Headmaster Mr Jones said they would not be satisfied without putting up something in memory of Ernie, and all the boys subscribed to the memorial to remind themselves of Ernie. The stone was unveiled which bears the inscription: “In memory of Ernest Edward Smith, a much-esteemed pupil of this school, who in attempting to climb the Warren cliffs, fell and lost his life. Born July 16th 1892, Died May 30th 1906. “He gave thee, He took thee, and He will restore thee”.

Our volunteer group has located Ernie’s memorial stone and the plot is being cleared of weeds and brambles so that it can be freshly planted.

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