Boating Accident


Frightful Boat Accident In Shields Harbour
Six Persons Drowned

One of the most heart-rending occurrences that it is possible to witness took place in Shields harbour yesterday afternoon, in full view of hundreds of spectators who were enjoying a promenade on the South Pier. The weather, which had been very fine during the forenoon, became somewhat overcast as the day wore on, and although a westerly breeze had been blowing since Saturday, a very heavy swell, the result of the late easterly gales, came rolling into the harbour, breaking in great billows on the Herd Sand. Undeterred by this threatening state of matters, a party, consisting of five men and three women, embarked in a foy-boat at the Grey Horse Quay, North Shields, for a row down the river. Of the five men, three were seamen who had been lodging in the boarding-house of Mrs Smith, the Yorkshire Arms, Duke Street, North Shields. Their names were Thomas Laird, aged 21, belonging to Dublin, John Keating (21), Colchester, and Charles Boldemann, a young Prussian. The two former had come down from London by the Earl Percy on Thursday last, and were staying with Smith till they got another ship. Boldemann had been in Newcastle Infirmary, out of which he only came on Friday. The other two men were Thos. Wilson, a labourer, employed at Smith's dock, and residing in the Bull Ring, North Shields, and Robert Higgins, fiddler, residing in Duke Street, North Shields. The three females were all women of loose character, and were named Mary Ann Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Clark, and Elizabeth Stewart, all residing in Mount Pleasant, North Shields. Whether the party were drunk or sober is not exactly clear at present, but the females had been going in and out of the boarding-houses during the forenoon, and the fiddler, in addition to his fiddle, took with him into the boat eighteen pennyworth of rum. The trip down the river seems to have been a somewhat merry one, all the party being a little excited and those who noticed them say that they were anything but quiet. They got down below the Collingwood Monument, and then turned to come back, keeping well to the south side. At this time they were noticed by P.C. McQueen, of the pier police, to be coming dangerously near the breakers on the edge the Herd Sand. Seeing the position of matters, he waved his hat to them to keep off, but they paid no attention his signals, and at last the boat got fairly into the broken water, and in a few moments the fate of its occupants was sealed. A huge billow came rolling in, and as the little boat was mounting its side, the mass of water broke right ever it, and sweeping forward with resistless fury carried four of the party away with it, of whom all that was visible as the wave passed on was the bare arm of a woman stretched out for help that could never reach her. The boat, of course, was filled and began to settle down in the water, when another wave came rushing on, and carried away in its deadly embrace another poor victim, and buried the boat under the water. The boat, however, did not sink much below the surface, and as each successive wave passed away, the forms of two men were seen clinging desperately to it, until, getting into shoal water, it was upset, and then they caught at the keel and held on by it. As may be supposed, the terrible scene had not been witnessed unmoved from the pier, but alas! there was no means of help at hand, and the hundreds of spectators could only stand by and look with shuddering horror while their fellow mortals were being launched into eternity. Fortunately for the two men who clung to the boat, the accident had been witnessed by a few pilots on the Lawe, and, ”aye ready," they made rush down the hill and across the stones to the jetty at the groyne, where one of the pilot cobles was lying, into which Robert Tinmouth, Henry Stephenson, Thomas Brown, Robert Young, and William Stephenson got and pulled towards the With all their efforts, the distance was too great for them, and by the time they arrived none of the occupants of the ill-fated boat were to be seen, save the two men already spoken off, and who were just near the last gasp, a few seconds more, and exhaustion would have loosened their hold on the boat. Just in time, then, the coble came, and they were speedily got on board. The body of a woman was then noticed floating a little below the surface the water, and by a little effort it was got into the coble, which was then taken to the steps near the bathing place of the swimming club, and the two men and the body the woman carried into the Life Brigade House, where P.C. McQueen, Mr E. B. Smith, druggist, Mrs Storer and some others, began to use in the case of the woman the means of resuscitation directed in the rules of the Lifeboat Institution. Medical assistance was also sent for, and Dr Legat was speedily on the spot, and took charge, and Dr Young also came down. Although these efforts were persevered in for about hour they were unsuccessful, and the body was conveyed to the Union dead house. The two men were supplied with hot coffee and other restoratives, and were speedily all right. About half an hour after the accident, the body of a man was washed ashore and taken to the dead house, where it was subsequently identified as that of Thomas Laird. The body of the woman was identified as that of Mary Ann Fitzgerald. The names of the two men who were saved were Thomas Wilson, Bull Ring, North Shields, and Charles Boldemann, Prussian seaman. The two survivors for a considerable time after they were fairly brought round continued in a state of great stupor, and could give no intelligible account how allowed themselves to get into danger. They both insisted that although they were amusing themselves they were, with the exception of the fiddler, quite sober, a statement hardly credited, even though backed by the boarding house keeper that they were all right when they left his house. Wilson gave as the reason why they did not keep off when McQueen beckoned to them that one of the thowle pins had broke, and they could not pull in the heavy sea. Boldemann stated that when the boat upset one of the women was lying in the bottom of it and caught at him, and held for little while, overcome by the waves as they dashed over them. Both Wilson and Boldemann were able walk home in the course of the evening. It is deserving of notice that one of the pilots —Henry Stephenson—in his eager rush over the stones to get to the coble fell, and had his thumb fairly laid open and thrown back. Notwithstanding this, he jumped into the boat with the others and lent his aid to the rescue party. The news the calamity spread over both North and South Shields very rapidly, and was everywhere heard with sensations of the greatest horror. The circumstances of the case—the day, the character of the persons, the manner in which they had been occupying themselves, and the fearful suddenness of the calamity which overtook them in the midst of their revelry—all contributed to deepen the feelings of horror and commiseration with which the news was heard. Thousands flocked down to the pier in the evening, and the story of the day was told and retold again and again. A careful watch was also kept for the bodies of the other victims, but up till a late hour it was unrewarded. Early this morning, however, the body of a woman was picked up at the side of the pier by George Heron, and was conveyed to the dead house. This was about six o'clock, and shortly after another body, that of a man, was found Robert Lambert, North Shields, on the sand between the pier and the groyne A third body, that of a man, was found about half-past nine o'clock on the sand near the pier. All the bodies were conveyed to the workhouse.

The following are the names of the drowned, who have been recovered and identified:

Thomas Laird, Dublin.
John Keating, Colchester.
Robert North Shields
Mary Ann Fitzgerald, North Shields.
Jessie Steward North Shields.

There is thus only one body, that of Elizabeth Clarke, yet amissing.

The inquest is to be held to-morrow, at 11 o'clock, in the Queen's Head, Comical Corner, Wapping Street, South Shields.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 29 July 1867

The Loss Of Six Lives In Shields Harbour
The Inquest This Day

This forenoon, an inquest was held at the Queen's Head, Wapping Street, South Shields, before J. M. Favell, Esq., and a jury, touching the death of Thomas Laird, John Keating, Robert Higgins, Mary Ann Fitzgerald, and Jessie Stewart, the persons who were drowned on Sunday by the boat accident in Shields harbour. George Smith, publican, Yorkshire Arms, Dotwick Street, North Shields, said: About half-past two o'clock on Sunday party of eight left my house to go down the river in a boat. The boat was to be in the charge of Thomas Wilson, Buckham's Lane, North Shields. I don't think the boat was his. None of the party but Higgins were the worse of liquor. They all appeared be sober but him. They had not so much as a glass of ale a piece in my house. The boat was afterwards upset and six of them were drowned. I have seen the bodies of five of the six, to-day, in company with the jury. The bodies were those of John Keating, a sailor, of Colchester, aged 21 years; Jessie Stewart (20), North Shields; Mary Ann Fitzgerald (21), North Shields; Thomas Laird (20), seaman, Dublin; and Robert Higgins (22), fiddler, North Shields. The body of one of the women, named Elizabeth Clark, has not been found. She came from some place Newcastle. They were all living in Mount Pleasant, but not in the same house. I heard of the accident on Sunday afternoon, and came over to see if they were the parties who had left my house.

By the Juryman: They did not take the fiddle with them. They did not take any liquor with them from my house.

By the Coroner: The seamen had been out the night before, but they had not so much as a glass of ale a-piece in my home on the Sunday.

Thomas Wilson, the boatman, who was obliged to limp into the room, having got his leg hurt by the accident, said: I am a labourer, living at North Shields. I was in the boat that was upset. It was a sculler boat, but there was plenty of room for us all. The boat carries above a ton. There were eight of us in the boat, namely, myself, Higgins, Keating, Laird, Boldemann, and the three women, Clark, Fitzgerald, and Stewart. We started from the Lime-kiln Shore, beside Smith's dock. The sailors took charge of the boat. They would not let me have anything to do with it, though I told them not to go, that we were in danger of our lives. The fiddler and one of the sailors took the oars first. I told them we were going too far out, that they should not so far as life was in danger. They would go. I could not say where we were when the boat was upset. I was not drunk. We were all sober in the boat. The boat was upset near a buoy. (One of the Jurymen explained that the buoy is near the end of the inner pier.) The boat was coming up the river, when a sea lifted her up and ran away with it. Then another sea came over the stern and swamped us, and the boat was upset. Six persons were drowned. When the boat was upset I got on to the bottom of it, and held on to the keel by my hands and my teeth. The other man (Boldemann) got on to the boat at the stern post. We were taken off by a pilot's coble. I am quite sure none of us were drunk. I could take my oath of that. None of them had any drink. The fiddler and one of the sailors went ashore Salmon's Quay, South Shields, and got eighteen pennyworth of rum, but they did not drink any of it. I was not paid for pulling them out. We were all of a "colleague" together. The boat was lent by Mr Waite, not hired he lent it. We were all sitting quiet in the boat. We were not very merry. I and one of the sailors were at the oars when the upset took place. I have been used to boats all my life.

By a Juryman: The girls were not frightened. They were sitting quiet by the young men. The fiddler was not drunk. He was solid and sober. Those who say otherwise tell lies. He had not his fiddle with him. The Telegraph says he had, but it was not the case.

Charles Boldemann, Prussian seaman, said: I was in the boat that upset on Sunday. It was swamped first. I was not pulling. The fiddler and Wilson were pulling. The fiddler was a little drunk. I heard Wilson tell the fiddler that he must not go so far, he must go back, but the fiddler did not want to go back. The fiddle was left in the boarding-house.

Henry Stephenson, pilot, said: I was one of the men in the coble that picked up Wilson and Boldemann. They were on the bottom of the boat that was upset. Wilson was holding on aft and Boldemann was on the middle of the boat. I think so at least. I was in bed at the time the accident happened, and when I heard the cries I ran down. There were five or six feet sea. There was too much sea for a lifeboat to go where the sculler-boat upset. It was about the middle of the Herd, about half-ebb tide. There would be about eight feet water at the place at the time. I think they must have been drunk. No persons in their senses would have gone there. We got at them because they had drifted in. I have seen such cases before and when they are told to keep back they just set up impudence. After we picked the two men off the boat we found the body of the woman Fitzgerald and also the body of Thomas Laird. They were not far from the South pier. The wind was from the Northward and Eastward and the fresh was setting south. The woman was just about dead when we got her. There was very little, if any, life in her. She was taken ashore and means were used to restore her but without success.

By a Juryman: The boat ran away about 100 yards on the sea before she upset. She ran away with the sea that unset her. She would not have above a foot side with eight people in her. We had some danger in getting through the broken water to reach the men. I steered the boat we were in. It was George Thulbeck's boat. I got my thumb split and thrown back and my knee hurt by falling while running to the boat.

Robert Lambert, joiner, South Shields, said: About half-past six o'clock yesterday morning, I found the body of the seaman Keating on the sand, about 200 yards from the South Pier, towards the inner pier. He was dead.

George Heron, mason, South Shields, said I found the body of Jessie Stewart about six o'clock, about 150 yards down the south pier. It was the north side of the pier.

John Blair, pilots' apprentice, said: I found the body of Robert Higgins, about half-past nine o'clock yesterday morning. I found it between the inner pier and the south pier.

This was all the evidence, and

The Coroner then said to the jury they had heard the statements of the witnesses, and they had to decide how these people were drowned. It was quite clear it was by the upsetting of the boat, and that was entirely their own fault. As to whether they were tipsy or not it was the opinion of everybody that they must have been tipsy, but there was no positive proof and they could only say that they were drowned by the upsetting of a boat which was improperly managed. He might also say that he thought the pilots who went to the rescue were entitled to some reward. There could be no doubt that they risked their own lives in doing what they did. It would be a fit case for the rewards of the National Lifeboat Institution, to whom he would represent it, or the Albert medal, but he feared that Shields was too far north to have any chance of getting that.

The jury then returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased were drowned through the upsetting of a boat which was improperly managed, on the 28th inst., and expressed their thorough concurrence in the coroner's remarks as to the pilots deserving some reward.

This concluded the proceedings.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 30 July 1867

Very heavy sea Wind N. E.

About ½ past 3 pm a boat with a party of 5 men & 3 women were pleasuring when having gone too near the herd a heavy sea caught the boat &swamped her the accident was seen from the Lawe when a coble manned by Robt Tynemouth Henry Stevenson Wm Stevenson Robt Young &Thomas Brown immediately put off to their assistance & succeeded after pulling through the heavy surf in taking two men off the boat’s bottom & picking up one woman who were landed at the South Pier & taken to the Life Brigade House where everything was done that could be from clothing handy by the Volunteers. Two of The men were soon brought round but the woman died in about an hour after being admitted.

Source: Storm Log 28 July 1867