Fatal Boat Accident Skegness

A gloom has been cast over this town by the lamentable accident which occurred here on Saturday afternoon last, and which resulted in the loss of one life and the narrow escape of many others from an untimely death. About half-past nine o’clock on Saturday morning nearly 200 of the employees of the Hallamshire Steel and File Company, Sheffield, and their relatives and friends arrived here, Skegness being selected by them this year in which to spend their annual holiday. They dined together at the Sea View Hotel. and subsequently some of them decided on having a trip in the steamer May, announced for two o’clock. Unfortunately at this hour the tide did not permit of the steamer coming alongside the landing stage of the pier, and passengers therefore to be taken in small boats to the May which lay about 100 yards off. It appears that there was a large number of persons anxious to get on board, and one of the boats engaged in the work of conveyance, and stated to accommodate about ten persons, was soon crowded to excess. There are various rumours as to the number of persons actually on board this little craft, some putting the figure at twelve or thirteen, and others at the high number of seventeen or eighteen. There was much excitement at the time and it is difficult to get at the correct number, but there is little doubt that the higher estimate is totally incorrect. It cannot, however, be denied that the boat was overladen, and when it was put off to the steamer the sides of it were only a few inches above water. It has been reported that when the boatman had put off and proceeded a short distance, several of the passengers finding that the, water was coming in requested him to put them back to the landing-place, and that the boatman disregarded their entreaties and informed them they were all right. On the other hand we are informed that there will be evidence forthcoming at the inquest to prove that the contrary was the case and that all the occupants were eager to get on board the steamer. When, however, about seventy yards from the steamer, the water came into the boat, over the sides, and it soon capsized or swamped and all the occupants thrown into the water the depth of which is variously estimated. A large number of persons witnessed the accident both from the pier and the shore, and many of them rendered every assistance at the work of rescue. Mr. Story, the manager of the Steamboat Company, who was near and saw the accident jumped into the water and swam to the scene of accident to render assistance, the captain of the boat, Mr. Dines, also went to their assistance and succeeded, we understand, in saving two lives, whilst the engineer also saved one. saving Some boats near also came to the rescue. One of the occupants, Herbert Lister, swam ashore after some difficulty caused by others clinging to him. One young male caused by others clinging to him. One young man, Reuben Seaton, belonging to the Hallamshire works at Sheffield, had a very narrow escape. He went under water twice and the second time he came up he was caught by men in another boat and rescued. The first time he came up he had, he said, his umbrella in his hand, but the second time he came up lie had got hold of that of a female who was clinging to him. He does not remember how he lost his own and got hold of the female’s umbrella. The female was also saved. He says there were six in the boat belonging to the Hallamshire File and Steel Company, including his brother Walter, who was drowned, and whose body was picked up on Sunday forenoon some little distance from where the accident occurred. He was 25 years of age, married, and leaves a widow and one child to mourn their loss. Nine were rescued, including three or four women, and these were taken to Hildred’s Hotel, and medical assistance speedily procured. Every assistance was also rendered by the police. Dr. Bernard found five of the rescued, some men and some women, in an unconscious state. He remained with them from three o’clock in the afternoon till eleven at night, and succeeded eventually in bringing them round, and but for his great attention to, and skillful treatment of, them, some would in all probability have died from the effects of their immersion. The following were among those who were rescued :—Reuben Seaton, 93, Burley Street, Sheffield ; George Mitchell, 13, Crabtree lane, Pits Mine, Sheffield; Thomas Maguire, 53, Crosley-street, Liverpool-road, Islington; Frederick Wm. Booth, Smilter- lane, Crabtree, Sheffield. As no enquiries have been made of the police of others whom it was reported were in the boat and missing, it is confidently hoped and believed that no other lives have been lost.

The next articles appeared in the Skegness Herald during August, 1883.

THE INQUEST An enquiry into the circumstances attending the death of Walter Seaton, was opened at the Police-station on Monday by Dr. Clegg of Boston, the Coroner for this district. The following were sworn on the jury:–Messrs S. Brearey (foreman), J. Avery, J. Parker, G. Hall, R. Garner, W. P. Moody, J. Hall, E. Hill, F. Lilburn, T. J. Kassell, J. Lee, J. Richardson, G. Richardson, and N. Giles. The Coroner addressing the jury said the deceased was unfortunately with others on Saturday in a small boat and drowned by the upsetting of the same. Before this enquiry was concluded it would be their duty to strictly enquire whether there was any neglect or criminal carelessness with regard to the management of the boat. This, however, would not be their duty that day, as the day was extremely inconvenient for holding a prolonged enquiry. Evidence of identification only would now be taken and the inquest adjourned, it was proposed, to next Friday afternoon at half-past one o’clock. After the body had been identified he should be able to give an order for the removal of the same. This course would be better than entering upon the enquiry that day, because on Friday they would be able to go into it in a cooler frame of mind than now when there were so many rumours afloat with regard to this unfortunate occurrence. Mr Hunt, manager of the firm to which the deceased belonged, was present, and intimated his intention of having a solicitor or counsel to represent the friends of the deceased at the adjourned enquiry. He said the question was to establish the agency of the boat. Perhaps the evidence of the brother of the deceased might be necessary to prove that the occupants of the boat were told that the shilling for the trip covered everything. Of course that was the Steamboat Company’s arrangements. The jury then proceeded to view the body of deceased which was deposited in an out-house at the back of Lumley Terrace, and Reuben Seaton identified the body as being that of his brother. In reply to Superintendent Sowden, Mr. Butcher, sanitary inspector, said he would produce the book at the adjourned enquiry showing whether the boat was licensed or not. Mr. Hunt asked if the number it was licensed to carry would be shown? Mr Butcher replied that he could not say whether it would or not. Mr. Hunt said it would be important for them to know whether there would be any evidence to rebut or not. If the number could not be shown it would be necessary to bring expert evidence as to the capacity of the boat. The Coroner: That will be done by a perfectly independent witness. The enquiry was then adjourned to this (Friday) afternoon at two o’clock. The body of deceased was placed in a coffin and taken to Sheffield on Monday afternoon.


The adjourned enquiry touching the death of Walter Seaton, who was drowned the previous Saturday took place at the Police-station, Skegness, on Friday afternoon, before Dr. Clegg, coroner.

The particulars of the melancholy accident were given in our last issue.

Mr Tweed, solicitor, Lincoln, appeared in behalf of the Skeness Steamboat Company. Mr. Hunt, managing director of the Hallamshire Steel and File Company, Sheffield, in whose employ the deceased was, attended the enquiry, and Superintendent Sowden was present in behalf of the police.

The jury having viewed the boat on the beach, the following evidence was adduced.

Reuben Seaton, carter, Birley-street, Sheffield said : On Saturday last I and my brother (the deceased) visited Skegness, with a number of fellow workmen. At two or half -past two o’clock a number of us came from the Sea View Hotel, where we had been dining, to the pier, with the intention of going out for an hour’s trip. On the pier we were told that the steamboat ‘May’ was going out for an hour, and those who wished to go with her might do so. From the end of the pier we went on to the sands, and were then taken in waggonettes to the boat Clara. There were two waggonette loads. I went with the second party. About eight persons composed the first party, and were in the boat Clara when I got there. One female got out of the boat into the waggonette. She refused to go in the boat. When the boat had been loaded it was pushed off. As the waggonette was going away a young man had one foot on the vehicle and the other on the boat, and they had to pull him into the boat to save him from going into the water. Before they started in the boat we told the boatman that there were too many in it, but he replied that he had had more in, and that he had had 15 in many a time.

The water would be about two inches below the gunwale when the boat was loaded. The man in charge pushed the boat as far as he could with his oar, and then he began to row. We told him we wanted to turn back, but he repeated “He had had more in.” We all saw that we were in great danger. When we had got half way between the shore and the steamer the boat capsized. Before it did so witness was up to the ankles in water. The boat did not really capsize; it seemed to rise in the fore end, and the hind end went down the same as tipping a cart up. The boat then soon filled with water. I cannot say what became of the boat, but I remember seeing it wrong side upwards when I was in the water. All the occupants of the boat were thrown into the water. I did not see anything of my brother after the accident.

By the Foreman of the Jury : My brother went with the first load. I could not tell how many were in the boat. No one was under the influence of drink.

By Mr. Tweed : After I got in the boat I knew I was in danger. Mr. Tweed : If you thought you were in danger, why did not you get out before the boat started ? —Witness: We put confidence in the boatman. There was one boy in the boat. How many were standing up when the boat went down ?—Two. Why did they stand up ?—Because the seats were too wet to sit down. Did not the boatman tell those people to sit down ?—Yes. Did not he tell them that it was dangerous for them to stand up ? I expect that was what he meant by what he said. Did you hear any person from another boat cry out to these people to sit down ? No. You went on safely until the boat was struck by a wave ?—We were not safe because water was in the boat. Would not the effect of a wave striking the front of the boat be to send the people standing, backwards, and therefore cause the boat to go down ?—The two who were standing were behind. I cannot say whether they would be thrown further back.

Joseph Moody deposed to conveying the body of Walter Seaton to Hildred’s Hotel.

George Hall, a carter, deposed: I conveyed people in carriages on the shore. On Saturday afternoon last I was employed by Mr. Storr, the manager of the Skegness Steamboat Company, to take persons to the unfortunate boat, which was in charge of a man named Grunnill. I went twice to the boat, and conveyed either ten or eleven people altogether—namely, seven the first time, and about three or four the second time. I did not see anybody get from the boat into my waggonette. No one was in the boat when I took my first load passengers. I did not think the load in the boat was a dangerous load, but I am no judge in the matter. The boat went off all right so far as I could tell. Witness was further examined as to the number of persons lie conveyed to the boat, but his reply was to the effect that he did not think there were more than eleven. When he started for the boat they tried to overcrowd the waggonette, but Mr. Storr prevented this. His waggonette was only licensed to carry seven. The people were all in a hurry to get into the boat.

Mr. Brearey: There would be eleven in the boat besides the boatman?.—Witness: I should think there would, but I cannot say to one. There would be either eleven or twelve passengers.

Frank Ward Moody, licensed boatman, said : On Saturday afternoon last I was working one of the boats alongside the Clara. I had started with three passengers for a row about five minutes before the Clara left the beach. When I had got 400 or 500 yards away I heard a scream. I turned round, and saw that the Clara had capsized and the people were in the water. I was then beyond the steamboat, but I immediately went to the spot where the accident had occurred and rendered all the assistance possible. I did not notice the Clara when loaded with passengers. I know the Clara well.

You are not supposed to know the number in it. How many could she carry safely ?—Nine or ten. Do you know the dimensions of the boat ?—I know her length.

Mr. Brearey : You did not see the boat when she was loaded ?—Witness : No sir. It was comparatively smooth that afternoon and she would safely carry nine or ten.

The Coroner : Can you tell how many there were in the water ?—No sir, I picked up three. Mr. Tweed : Did you notice the people in the boat ?—No, until I heard them scream.

By the Jury: The surf striking the boat would not upset it if the people would only sit still. It would be dangerous if they stood up. It is a difficult matter sometimes to get people to sit still. Amos Grunnell, licensed boatman, who was in charge of the Clara at the time of the accident was called, and the Coroner informed him that his name had been mentioned in connection with this unfortunate occurrence. If he was likely to incriminate himself he was not bound to say anything. Did he wish to give evidence and tell the Jury what occurred ?

Grunnell having expressed a wish to give evidence he was sworn and said : On Saturday last I was employed by Mr. Story to put passengers on board the steamer May. Mr Hall brought them to the boat in a waggonette. He came twice. I had from 10 to 12 persons in the boat, but could not say exactly. I could not tell whether a woman got out of the boat into the waggonette. I did not consider that the boat was overloaded, because I had had more in her before safely. When I left the beach most of the people with the exception of two or three were standing up. They were standing principally aft of the boat. One gentleman complained of the seats being wet. I requested them to sit down several time, but could not say whether any of them did so. I told them that they would get wet if they did not sit down. They added very much to the danger by standing up and rolling the boat. I believe I could have taken them to the steamer in safety if they had only have remained seated. I could have accommodated two or three passengers more. One person requested me to turn back, but I could not do so; I could not turn round in the surf. There would have been much more danger in returning than in proceeding towards the steamer.

The Coroner : To what do you attribute the swamping of the boat ?—Witness: To the people standing up and rolling her. She filled over the side.

By the Jury: I account for the seats of the boat being wet by having done a lot of work that day, and there had not been time for the seats to dry. I do not think there was half-a-bucket full of water in the boat when I started. The boat, when loaded, was about two planks out of the water, or about eight inches. The number of passengers I was allowed to carry was not stated on my license.

The Coroner : Then it is left to your own discretion and judgment as the number you shall carry ?—Yes. The Coroner read an extract from the bye laws in operation, showing that due precautions were to be observed against overcrowding, but no number of passengers was mentioned. Witness (continuing) said he would swear that he did not think he was putting more people in boat than he could safely carry.

By Mr. Tweed: Had had 15 or 18 years’ experience as a boatman. Had never had the boat capsized before, although he had carried fourteen persons in her. He could swim. In taking the load he did not think he was running any risk whatever.

By the Jury : He did not think any of the passengers were very much afraid before accident happened. John Burnett, in charge of a boat called the Harkaway, said he was engaged taking passengers to the steamer. As the Clara was leaving the beach, getting outside the surf, he saw some people standing up. Witness hailed twice to them to sit down. In witness’ opinion they would have been perfectly safe if they had remained seated. Robert Keightley, boatbuilder, Boston, said he had had 49 years’ experience; he had inspected the boat called the Clara. It was 14ft. Sin. long, 14ft. 4in. beam, and about 19in. deep. It was of the west country build, and about three years old. It was a strong boat and appeared perfectly tight. It would reasonably carry ten or twelve persons in smooth water. He dare go out in her with twelve ordinary passengers. The boat was perfectly flat, which added to her safety. He would not go out with the number he stated if some of them were standing. He thought that in a boat the persons should be properly placed. The Clara was a handsome little boat for the beach.

The Coroner (to the Jury) : Do you require any further evidence?
Mr. Brearey said he should like to ask one question. How came the water in the boat ?
Witness said he did not know but that ought to have been thrown out. The boat was perfectly lit, and there was not a bad seam or split in her.
Inspector Watkin, of Skegness, proved searching the body of deceased, and finding 6s.4d. in money, a pipe, and a knife. He had made full inquiries into the circumstances attending the accident, and to his knowledge there were rescued four men, four women, and a boy. He had also ascertained that another passenger was picked up and put on the pier. He believed the gentleman went home. The four women and the boy went away the same night, but the men remained under medical treatment.
Mr. John Hunt, managing director of the Hallamshire Steel and File Company, who volunteered his evidence, said most of the men in the boat at the time of the accident were in the em. ploy of the firm at Sheffleld. He resided at Sheffield. He was at Skegness on Saturday last. To his mind there seemed to be considerable difference of opinion as to the number of people in the boat. He could certify as to the number, and could furnish names. There were in the boat six men from Sheffield, five employed by the Hallamshire Company, and a companion. There were also four women and a boy from Leicester, and a gentleman from London. Altogether there were eleven people, the boy, and the boatman. Inspector
Watkin stated, in reply to the Coroner, that there had been no inquiries for any person believed to be missing. The coast had been watched for any body which might be washed up.

The Coroner remarked that the jury would see how important it was in inquiries of that nature to attend only to the evidence, and not to take heed of the reports which were circulated. Having briefly summed up, he observed that the point for the jury to principally consider, was whether anybody had been guilty of criminal neglect in connection with the death of the unfortunate young man.

The room was then cleared, and the jury deliberated for about twenty minutes, at the end of which time they announced that they had agreed that Walter Seaton came to his death by drowning caused by the accidental upsetting of a boat in the sea on the 4th of August.” The foreman said the jury really that the boatman should be cautioned to be very careful in the future.

This concludes the newspaper coverage of this article.

Source: Skegness Herald 1883

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