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Peninsula Past

John Clive Pearson

A Contribution from Meghan Hawkes

No one knew who the man was or how he had got there.He had gold filled teeth and new woollen socks, this powerfully built man of over six feet. But these were no use to him when he was found in the water on the beach close to the granite quarries at Paritu Bay, Cape Colville.

A quarryman, Lawrence Cleary, had noticed a body on February 21, 1925, floating off shore. The quarry manager gave directions to retrieve it and then proceeded to the nearest telephone, about nine miles away, to inform Constable Spellman.

Early on Sunday morning the Constable and the Coroner arrived by launch at Paritu Bay to hold an inquest. Constable Spellman thoroughly examined the body which was dressed in a singlet, drawers, woollen socks, and dungaree pants held up by a narrow leather belt. There were no identifying marks and the trouser pockets were empty. A brand or trademark was on the inside band of the drawers. After careful drying and examination with a magnifying glass, the constable could make out the letters, ‘Toorkalson’.

It was too difficult to move the body so they buried the man on the beach. The inquest was resumed at Coromandel seven days later.It was now supposed that the man was John Clive Pearson, a Scotsman, aged in his early thirties, third engineer of the steamer Canadian Explorer, who disappeared from the ship when it was between North Head and Tiritiri Island, on February 10 on the way to Australia. The Auckland manager for the Canadian Government Merchant Marine, after seeing photographs, was quite convinced the man was John Pearson. 

The police had communicated with the Queensland authorities, who interviewed the Captain and officers of the Canadian Explorer at Brisbane. An official inquiry recorded that John Pearson was, during the night of February 10, 1925, missed from his room. The ship was searched but there was no sign of him. His belongings were left untouched and the door of his room was locked to await the ship’s arrival at Brisbane. The evidence indicated no suicidal intent, nor was there any evidence of foul play by the master or any member of the crew. The Superintendent of the Mercantile Marine was of the opinion that John Pearson disappeared from the ship at sea by accident, and without the knowledge of any person on board, between the hours of 8.00pm and 11.45pm and that a further inquiry was unnecessary. At the Coromandel inquest, a verdict was returned that John met his death by being drowned at sea.

But questions remained; how he went overboard was not explained. There were stories that before the vessel sailed, there was a fight on the deck among the crew, and John Pearson, in the course of his duty, tried to stop the quarrel and was severely kicked in the abdomen.

After the inquest, John Pearson was disinterred and cremated on the beach at Paritu Bay. It was generally believed that he lost his life as the result of foul play, but the cremating of his body at the spot where it floated ashore left little hope that the mystery would ever be solved.

The Canadian Explorer built in 1921 by Halifax Shipyards of Nova Scotia for the Canadian National Steamship Co.

(Image: Public Domain)


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