Tony Lenthall delves into local history: A century on from fatal shark attack

Tomorrow will mark a century since a man was attacked and killed by a large bull shark while swimming in the Macleay River.

James Robert Hope Ridley was taking his usual early morning swim by himself at Jerseyville near South West Rocks in 1919 when a large bull shark bit off his left calf and left foot.

James managed to break free from the shark and reached the shore, but he laid in pain calling for help for sometime before someone heard him and came to his aid.

Local newspapers reported a car was summoned and James was rushed to Kempsey Hospital.

James' lower leg was amputated on Monday December 8 but unfortunately the Kempsey resident died from his injuries at approximately 4pm on Tuesday December 9, 1919.

His death certificate states death was caused by bite from a shark causing lacerated wound, hemorrhage and acute traumatic gangrene and cardiac arrest.

Macksville resident Tony Lenthall stumbled across the shark attack one evening and quickly became fascinated by the incident and the life of James.

"It has been the most rewarding and fascinating research to learn about the life of James and his family," Mr Lenthall said.

"James was a dedicated member of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, which I did not know anything about until now. This Society was created before welfare and insurances and the group looked after their members with welfare payments, medical insurances and much more.

"This Society also looked after the returning soldiers from War with similar support."

Mr Lenthall said his research has revealed James was a generous and thoughtful individual, but had recently fallen on hard times.

"From everything I have read James, he was a very kind and patient man who, near the end of his life, lost his wife and some years earlier lost his daughter," Mr Lenthall said.

"I suppose I just don't want his story to be lost again, I want people to know the kind and generous man he was and how unfortunate he was losing his life to a shark bite while on a break to recuperate from a mental breakdown."

James was born in New Lambton (Newcastle) on September 12 1873 to Mr James Snr and Elizabeth Ridley.

At the age of 16, James married Mabel Ridley and they had their first child five months later.

The couple had four children together but tragically their fourth passed away as an infant.

In 1917, Mabel passed away after a two-year battle with leukemia.

The death of his wife led James to moving to the Kempsey region.

Mr Lenthall plans to have the information from his research published at the Kempsey Museum.

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