Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 39, September 1995



Under the above headline the Waihi Telegraph reported an accident at a motor race at Waihi Beach on 17 April 1926 as follows . . .


About midway through the programme of the inaugural sports meeting promoted by the Waihi branch of the Auckland Automobile Association at the Waihi Beach on Saturday afternoon, the meeting was brought to a close with a terrible tragedy, involving the loss of a life and injuries to a second party.


The event then being decided was the big speed race of 12 miles, and in which six racing machines were engaged, three from Auckland, one from Hamilton, one from Te Aroha and one from Waihi. The course was of three miles on a fine hard beach of sand, involving two turns, one at the Bowentown end and one at the starting point. About midway along the course in the first lap the Chevrolet car driven by Mr H W Cropp (Auckland), a well-known and successful driver at similar meetings on the Muriwai Beach, pulled up owing to clutch troubles.


The five remaining cars all successfully negotiated the first turn, although the Hudson Six, driven by Walter Tanner, of Waihi ran wide and well beyond the flags. All reached the starting point in safety and widely separated, the Chrysler being in the lead as they set out on the third lap. As they raced to the flags the Chrysler had a lead of about half a mile, and the Waihi car had worked up into second place, and was travelling at a great speed. Apparently the young Waihi driver failed to realise the necessity of reducing speed sufficiently to negotiate the turn in safety and disaster followed.


So quickly did it come that none of those in the vicinity seemed to be able to explain exactly what happened. But it appears when half way round the car twice overturned, and finally came to rest with the wheels in the air. It was in the first overturning that William Leslie Colledge, who was with Tanner as mechanic, was thrown out, the vehicle crushing him to death instantaneously.


Meanwhile Tanner was still in the car, and it was in the second overturning that he was thrown out and clear of the car, which as it finally settled down, burst into flames. Mr Tappenden (Hamilton) the driver of an Essex, and who was lying third, pulled up and put out the fire with the aid of his fire extinguisher. The Hudson Six was a complete wreck, three of the wheels being in a collapsed condition. Tanner, who sustained bruises to both thighs and arms, and a deep gash on his left leg, was taken to Mr Norman G Keatinge's beach restaurant where he was attended to by Drs. Cole and Short and Nurse Maunder, who was in charge of the first aid outfit. Later he was conveyed by ambulance into Waihi and admitted to the district hospital where he is now under treatment.


Mr A H V Morgan, an official of the association, assisted by Mr Selling, interviewed by a Waihi Telegraph representative, said they were engaged in tallying the cars as they went round the flag at the Bowentown end. All the cars safely negotiated the turn on the first round. Tanner then being in fourth position. At the Bowentown end in question the Chrysler car turned and entered upon the last lap with a substantial lead from Tanner. The Hudson Six in attempting the turn had got about half way round, when it seemed as if the outside wheels collapsed. Then the car overturned, righted itself, then went over again, finally coming to rest with the wheels in the air, and immediately burst into flames. The occupants appeared to have been thrown out at the first overturning. When they rushed to the spot both Tanner and Colledge were lying motionless on the sand, and separated by about 20 feet. Colledge was unconscious and obviously seriously injured, while Tanner was in a dazed condition. One of the competing drivers was despatched to the other end of the beach for a doctor, Colledge in the meantime having succumbed to his injuries. Tanner was placed in Mr Tappenden's car and driven to Mr Keatinge's restaurant.


As the news of the fatality spread it caused such a gloom over the crowd, numbering 1500 to 2000, that the people at once began to disperse, and the meeting was brought to an abrupt close with five events still undecided. The body of the late Mr Colledge was brought into Waihi by car.


Mr H Deverell, jnr., who was the mechanic in the Chevrolet with Mr H W Cropp, which pulled up in the early stages of the race, speaking of the course said that it was perfectly safe for racing purposes, in fact, quite equal in every respect to the beach at Muriwai, where motor sports had been held for the past five years. As to the accident he was afraid that Tanner in his eagerness to overtake the Chrysler car failed to appreciate the speed at which he was running at the time of turning.


The deceased was the son of Mr James F Colledge, of William Street, Waihi, and a young man 21 years of age, who followed the occupation of mining.Hewas well known in amateur boxing circles and a very popular young fellow, liked and respected by all. Sad to say his father was in the district hospital suffering from injuries sustained recently in a motor cycle accident when the news came to him.


The inquest concerning the death of young Colledge was opened at the Waihi Courthouse yesterday morning before the district coroner (Mr W M Wallnutt). Senior-Sergeant MacLean represented the police. After evidence of identification had been given by Mr Frederick R Colledge, uncle of deceased, the inquiry was adjourned sine die.


The sad fatality which marked the inaugural meeting of the Waihi Branch of the Auckland Automobile Association at the Waihi Beach has cast a gloom over the whole town, and the spontaneous sympathy of the community goes out to the bereaved parents and family of the youth whose young life has been so suddenly cut off. Words are poor solace in such circumstances, for the hand of death lies heavily upon those who feel its power. The late Mr Colledge was highly respected and beloved by all who knew him, recognised as he was as a dutiful son, a faithful friend, and an athlete who engaged in sport with the instinct and spirit of the true sportsman. To his bereaved parents and family we offer our sincere condolence, trusting that the heartfelt sympathy of their fellow townsmen will at least in some small degree lighten the dark hours of this their severe trial.


Sir, - As onlookers at the motor sports on Saturday myself and scores of others were surprised at the action of the handicappers in placing on scratch Tanner and his friend College for their first race, giving concessions to experienced race drivers, some of whom had wins to their credit. We know what their efforts to gain a place in the face of such unfair odds has led to. A poor opening for the introduction of this class of sport -I am, etc., Protest.

(These articles are based on old newspaper clippings supplied by Mr Fred Carbutt of Waihi.)