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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
Ernest ('Ernie') William Gribble

Born: 1896; Died: 1920

Ernest ('Ernie') William Gribble

Ernest ('Ernie') W. Gribble was the son of William Henry Gribble and Mary Ann Southwell. He was born in 1896 at the Glebe Farm in Ginninderra. His father William operated a 15-ton steam-powered traction engine and chaff-cutting machinery with his brothers. Ernie attended Hall School as a child. He was a keen cricketer as were most of the Gribble family. Growing up, he also operated a threshing and chaff-cutting business with his brother Jack. The brothers travelled to farms all around the Ginninderra and Hall district.

On the 18th September 1920, a tragedy occurred. For several days Ernie had been engaged in the task of getting the engine out of a bog on the Hall reserve – it was a very wet year – and eventually he succeeded getting the engine back onto solid ground. Ernie, together with Cedric Southwell as his assistant, took the plant to Jeir and to Murrumbateman where chaff was cut for several of the farmers in those areas.

After those jobs were completed, they were homeward bound, with Ernie as usual at the controls and Cedric operating the steering wheel. It was fairly late on Saturday afternoon, when they reached the outskirts of Hall Village. All was going well and the two men were happy with the thought that the chaff cutting jobs were successfully accomplished.
They intended to go only a few hundred yards further on before driving the plant off the road and leaving it for some future date to return it to The Glebe. But in that short distance the dreadful tragedy occurred.

An iron toolbox was attached to the engine close behind the flywheel and above the big travelling wheel. Ernie, while endeavouring to make some adjustment to the engine, placed his knee on the toolbox while the engine was in motion. His knee slipped off the toolbox on to the travelling wheel and in a flash he was carried against the fast-moving flywheel turning in the opposite direction. Here he was held fast.

Cedric Southwell, as soon as he saw Ernie's knee slip from the toolbox, stopped the engine. Ernie was hopelessly caught between the two wheels with the lower part of his body badly crushed. Fortunately Mr Southwell's horse was available and he galloped down to Hall to give the alarm and to obtain help. One of the first to hear about the tragic news was Ernie's father who, incidentally, had been in conversation with his son prior to the accident. Once finally released, Ernie was carried on the shoulders of several men to the home of his sister, Mrs F. O'Brien, who lived only a short distance away. Ernie died at his sister's home shortly after.

Here is a tribute by Mr C.W. Thompson, his former school teacher:

"The noble self-suffering and endurance with which he went through the last few hours of his life have seldom been excelled in human experience. Even under the most intense suffering his kind and gentle nature never lost its balance and he died as he lived – 'One of the noblest works of God!" – as a dutiful and obedient son, an affectionate brother and a true sport in the fullest sense of the world, ever mindful and considerate for the feelings of others. So the sun has set on this young promising life, which stood out as a model for those of his age and he has left in the all too short span of his existence a name which will be cherished in the minds of many friends as long as life lasts."

Only twenty-four years old, Ernie Gribble was buried at Hall Cemetery on 19th September 1920.

Shocking fatal Accident at Hall - Popular Young Man's Untimely End

News was phoned on Saturday evening from Hall to Dr. Blackall requiring his attendance there in a case where a young man had been crushed just then by being caught in the machinery of a traction engine whilst in motion. From the nature of the injuries inflicted on the sufferer, Dr. Blackall deemed it advisable to be accompanied by Dr. Christie, and both medical men proceeded post haste to the scene of the accident. The victim, it was ascertained, was Ernest Gribble, son of Mr. William Gribble of the Glebe, Gininderra.

The doctors found the young man so terribly mutilated that it was at once apparent that his life could not be saved, but they administered anesthetics with the object of allaying his agonies, and he died shortly after 9 o'clock that same night. The matter was reported to the Coroner early on Sunday morning, first by the police, and then by Dr. Blackall himself. On examination of the sufferer they found that from the lower region of the abdomen half-way down the right thigh he was literally crushed to almost a pulp, the organs thereabouts being torn to shreds. The wonder was, so Dr. Blackall said, that he survived his injuries so long as he did; and it was only his wonderful virility and courage that kept him alive, where other men of less fibre would have succumbed as soon as the injuries happened. The terrible mutilation of the deceased resulted in such speedy decomposition that the Coroner decided to hold the necessary inquest straightaway on Sunday, and instructions to that effect were sent to First-class Constable Coyle at Gininderra to have the necessary witnesses in attendance at 2 p.m.

Mr. Coroner Gale left Queanbeyan shortly after noon on Sunday, and on his arrival at Hall found a large number of persons, mostly relatives and friends of the deceased, in and around the house where the deceased's remains lay. The Coroner proceeded first to the scene of the accident, a hundred yards or so on the Queanbeyan side of the Roman Catholic Church, and on the main road from Yass to Queanbeyan. In the centre of the roadway a barrowful of earth covered a pool of blood which had come from the injured man; alongside the road were a number of rails and saplings which, it was explained, had been fruitlessly used in an endeavour to prise up the ponderous traction engine with the object of releasing the sufferer whom they found entangled between the flywheel and nearside travelling wheel of the engine.

The Coroner was then taken a short distance off the road to a place on the travelling stock reserve where the traction-engine had been removed to. There the exact nature of the terrible mishap was explained to him, the particulars of which are summarised below from the sworn testimony of the witnesses examined at the inquest. The flywheel referred to was a solid disc of about four feet in diameter, and revolved in close contiguity to the nearside travelling wheel to which its revolutions were opposite, and between the two wheels there was a space of about four inches. Close behind the flywheel was a tool-box constructed of iron; and it was explained that the deceased, whilst kneeling on this box and reaching with a spanner in his hand towards a nut, had slipped and was caught by and drawn in between the two wheels whilst the engine was travelling. Fortunately, a young man named Cedric Southwell, who was in command of the steering gear, saw what had happened and instantly pulled up the engine. But it was too late, Ernie was hopelessly jambed in between the two wheels.

What followed will be best understood by a perusal of the evidence subjoined. But the sight of the engine bespattered with blood, one-half of the flywheel being still darkened with blood-stains, was gruesome indeed. The story of the dreadful happening is as follows. That morning the deceased and young Southwell left Jeir Station on route for Gininderra. Just at the entrance to the village of Hall they were passed by the father of the deceased, the owner of the traction engine, who was proceeding homewards in his motor-car. The deceased told his father that he intended to reach his home that evening. But as it was now near upon 5 o'clock he was instructed to stay for the night at Hall. Mr. William Gribble was scarcely out of sight when Cedric Southwell from his place at the steering gear saw the deceased pick up a spanner and kneeling on the tool box lean over towards the fly wheel as if he were going to tighten a nut - he could not say what particular nut. Just then he saw the deceased slip, and witness immediately stopped the engine. He heard no remark from the deceased, but saw him reaching for the starting lever as if to stop the engine. Having himself stopped the engine, he saw that Ernie was jambed between the flywheel and the nearside travelling wheel, the lower portion of his body and one leg being caught between the wheels.

Southwell asked Ernie what he could do to release him. Ernie replied, "No; you can do nothing; I'm settled, Cedric; go and tell someone." Jumping on to his pony, Southwell proceeded a few hundred yards down the hill and found deceased's father at Mr. Morris's shop, to whom he said "Ernie is fast between the flywheel and travelling wheel of the engine." Mounting Southwell's pony, Mr. Gribble galloped back to the scene of the accident, and Southwell ran to others to go to his assistance, and then in company with Mr. Eb Brown, he also returned. There was at that time about twenty persons present, but their united efforts and their manifold schemes for the extrication of the sufferer were all unavailing for a period of quite an hour. Meanwhile poor Ernie not only displayed wonderful fortitude, but even added his suggestions of methods for his release. Ultimately by loosening the big travelling wheel (and this-was one of the suggestions of the deceased), and drawing it partly off its axle-arm; the sufferer was released and carried to his sister's (Mrs. Frank O'Brien's) residence nearby, where he was attended by the medical men mentioned, and where death mercifully terminated his sufferings shortly after 9 o'clock that evening.

The sensational feature of the scene was that a number of strong able men had to endure the spectacle of the mangled sufferer there in their presence crushed between two ponderous wheels for a full hour before a method could be devised for his release. Whatever were the physical agonies of the injured young man, these, together with his heroic courage and cool deliberations and wise counsels, only added to the anguish of mind of those willing and sympathetic would-be helpers at their inability to render efficient aid. It was touching, too, that that interview between the distressed father and his mangled son to listen to the conversation between them when the father came on the harrowing scene. "My boy," said he, "how did you get there ?" " Oh, dad, I tried to do some silly thing. Oh, dear, can't you put the engine back?" Probably recognising that to reverse the engine would be to render the mangling worse, the distressed father replied, "Oh, my boy, I can't put it back." Then came the reply, " Father, do put it back - it's either life or death."

It was just then that deceased directed that travelling wheel should be loosened on its axle arm. When this was done, and the space between the two wheels widened, he added with a sigh of relief, "Now will someone get up here and help me down?" This done, the brave young sufferer was, as already said, taken to his sister's place, where he lingered in perfect consciousness of that death which only could end his sufferings. His last words were, after having been given a drink at his own request, fixing his gaze on his heart-broken mother, "Dear Mum," and then this victim of an accident almost unparalleled in its prolonged and excruciating features, found his relief in death's cold embrace. The Coroner's finding was death from a purely accidental cause.

The funeral of Ernest W. Gribble took place on Sunday in the Hall cemetery in the presence of an immense concourse of mourners and sympathisers, the officiating minister being the Rev. Mr. Parton (Methodist) of Yass, to whose church at Wattle Park, near Hall, deceased's people belonged. Members of the Duntroon, Ainslie and Queanbeyan Cricket Clubs, the M.U. Lodge (of which deceased was a member), were also in attendance. At Canberra and Duntroon Churches on Sunday, the Rev, F. Ward feelingly referred to deceased's death. We cannot dismiss this sad story of a young life mysteriously cut off in the prime of youthful manhood without a few words in eulogy. In the first place, the deceased was no novice in the management of a traction engine, having been for the past five years in control of that which eventually became his death-trap. It pertains to the wisest of us, sometimes to blunder; and doubtless it was (as he named it) "a silly thing" to attempt to rectify a seeming default whilst the engine was in motion.

He was but in the 24th year of his age, and from his childhood had been noted for his kindly and ultimately manly dispositions. The police officer in charge of the inquest bore testimony to his magnificent traits of character; and so could all who knew him. Faultless in his moral life, he was popular with all classes of the community amongst whom he moved. He was a thorough sport, and above all else a fine cricketer. This was not to be wondered at, seeing his father and grandfather before him had distinguished themselves on the cricket field. Indeed, his grandfather, Mr. Thos. Gribble (now a very old man) was peerless in the old days when the Gininderra cricketers were an unvanquished team throughout the then colony of New South Wales.

The Gribbles are closely connected with the numerous families who bear the patronymic of Southwell out Hall, Wallaroo, Wattle Park, and Gininderra way; and that goes a long way in accounting for the high morals of the deceased, who will long be remembered for his many excellent qualities. It goes without saying that the sincerest sorrow and sympathy are felt and expressed for the bereaved household of the Gribbles, and scarcely less so for their numerous family connections.

[Queanbeyan Age and Queanbeyan Observer, 21 September 1920, p 2]

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