b. 1875 Burnley, Lancashire. d. 04/10/1910 at sea off Bunbury, New South Wales.
DATE OF AM ACTION: 28/12/1908 Messina, Sicily.
Henry Smith, also known as Harry, was a sailor from Burnley, England, a hero of the Messina Earthquake, and today lays at rest at the Bunbury Cemetery, Western Australia. On Monday 28 December 1908 a 7.1 Richter Scale earthquake struck the port city of Messina, Sicily where Henry was moored aboard the steamship, SS Afonwen. Before dawn, Captain William Owen heard a tremendous noise but was unable to see the disaster through the thick dust cloud that had formed. At day-break Captain Owen and his crew, including Henry, went ashore to offer their assistance. They came across a five-story damaged building that had almost collapsed with children trapped on top. Using a rope, Henry and his crew performed a gallant rescue, saving 12 people. Today, this earthquake is remembered as a horrific natural disaster, having killed more than 100,000 people.
Following this event, Henry was presented with the Albert Medal for Bravery by King George V in 1910 for his part in rescuing victims of the Messina Earthquake. Henry was due to receive an award honouring his bravery by the French government when he met his early death on his second trip to Bunbury.
Henry came to Bunbury onboard the SS Redbridge, a steamship that had previously visited Bunbury in 1909. At 12.30 am on 4 October 1910, Henry was returning to the Redbridge from an evening in Bunbury spent with mates when he fell to his death. Crew Members stated that when Henry tried to get from the jetty to the ship’s sloping turret deck, he slipped and fell underneath the wharf, never surfacing again. Some accounts said that he was crushed between the ship and the jetty. It was later decided that when he fell, he hit his head, went unconscious and drowned. The captain of the Redbridge had previously served with Henry and confirmed he was a steady and sober man, inferring that alcohol was not a cause for this tragic accident.
Search crews looked for his body but were unsuccessful. However, Henry’s body was recovered three days later on 7 October 1910 when James Wenn saw a body caught between the iron braces of the jetty when he was fishing. He reported it to authorities and divers retrieved Henry the next day. Identification of the body was deemed impossible due to disfiguration and missing features, but as it coincided with evidence presented by the Coroner at the Bunbury Court House, it was ruled as the body of Henry Smith.
Henry, aged 35, was laid to rest at the Bunbury cemetery in 1910 and a memorial fundraised by the community was erected over his grave in 1911 to commemorate his bravery during life.
On the occasion of the earthquake at Messina on the 28th December, 1908, the steamship Afonwen, of Cardiff, was lying at her moorings, having arrived at Messina on the 24th December. The first intimation the Master of the ship (Captain William Owen) had of the disaster was on being awakened in the early morning of the 28th December by the noise of the upheaval and the commotion caused by the tidal wave, but owing to the darkness and the dense clouds of dust the full extent of the disaster could not be realised for some time. The danger to shipping claimed the first attention of the Captain, but having satisfied himself as to the safety of his vessel he proceeded ashore with his crew, as the dawn broke, to render assistance. The particular act of gallantry in respect of which the Albert Medal lias been awarded was performed when a building of five storeys was reached, where children were noticed at a great height from the ground crying for help. The interior of the building had for the most part collapsed, and one of the walls had disappeared; the structure was therefore in a very dangerous condition. The Captain having given the word, Henry Smith, Able Seaman, and, shortly after, James Vivian Reed, Second Mate, swarmed up a rope to the rescue of the children, who had lowered string by means of which the rope was hauled up and made fast. The rescue of the children having been effected, three persons were lowered down from a story above. Henry Smith, in pursuit of his calling, is away at sea and therefore was not able to attend at the Palace yesterday. His medal will be presented at a later date.
BURIAL LOCATION: BUNBURY CEMETERY, BUNBURY, WESTERN AUSTRALIA.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: UNKNOWN.