Seaham Harbour Boat Accident of 1873

Seaham Harbour Boating Accident, June 23rd 1873

Sunderland Times – June 23rd 1873
transcribed by George Turns

Dreadful Boat Accident at Seaham
Five Men Drowned

Much excitement was caused on Tuesday night at Seaham Harbour in consequence of a report being freely circulated that a coble had capsized with eight men a little to the north of the North Pier. Thousands of people hastened to the Docks and Pier End, and the intelligence proved to be too well founded. It appears that seven Bottlemakers named John Jefferson, Ralph Hush, James Coyle, Robert Miller, Joseph Hall, Benjamin Turns and Andrew Davison wished to go to sea on a pleasure excursion, and in order to effect this they engaged a coble, and placed themselves under the charge of Morley Scott junior, an assistant pilot. The boat was in good condition, in fact almost new. The men took their departure through the north and south piers laughing and jesting with each other, and as they proceeded on their way the sea was perfectly calm, nor was the slightest breeze felt.

When they were about three hundred yards from the North Pier the boat was seen gradually to sink, and the men were thrown into the water. Three cobles were immediately dispatched from the rocks, and hastened to the rescue of the drowning men. They first picked up Scott and Turns, who were floating upon two oars. Both men were with all speed brought on shore, and appeared to suffer little from the effects of their immersion. Hush was afterwards brought in, and was almost at his last gasp. He was taken to the Infirmary, where he shortly afterwards expired, although all possible attention was paid to him. Jefferson was afterwards brought ashore, and was at first thought to be dead, but on landing him on the sands it was seen that their was a little life, but that it was fast ebbing, and in a short time he too was dead. The bodies of the other three men up to eleven o clock last night had not been recovered. The deceased men all leave widows and families. They were employed at the Seaham Bottleworks under Mr.J.Candlish M.P., and were very deservedly respected.

The assistant pilot’s statement is as follows:- After they had been a short time at sea, there being no breeze, he gave charge of the sail to Coyle until he sewed a button upon his trousers which had caused his brace to become detached. At the time a squall filled the sail, but he thought that was not of any particular importance. On again looking, after finding the boat to one side, he found the sail in the water. He hastily rushed to the rescue, but the other men, being inexperienced, all went to the contrary side of the boat, and in a moment she was capsized and it’s occupants floating about. He was drifted a short way from the boat, and on looking round he found the sail was visible, and swam to it. He had been there only a few seconds when he discovered Turns floating upon two oars. He swam to him, and whilst doing so Coyle caught hold of his shoulders, and he had some difficulty extricating himself from his grasp. Had he not done so, it would have resulted in his death. Turns gave him a place on the oars, where they rested until they were rescued.

The boat was raised without much difficulty, being in only two fathoms of water. A light vessel was anchored within 200 yards of the scene of the accident but, for some unexplained reason, the crew rendered no assistance.

The following are the names of those drowned:-

Robert Miller, aged 32 years, leaves a widow and five children
John Jefferson, aged 32 years, leaves a widow and four children
Joseph Hall, aged 28 years, leaves a widow and four children
James Coyle, aged 33 years, leaves a widow and six children
Ralph Hush, aged 38 years, leaves a widow and seven children

The following are the names of those rescued:-

Benjamin Turns, aged 38 years, married with five children
Andrew Davison, aged 35 years, married with five children
Morley Scott junior, aged 25 years and single

Mr.Crofton Maynard Esq. held an inquest at Seaham on Thursday, on the bodies of the drowned men. Morley Scott, pilot’s assistant, gave evidence that on Tuesday night he was solicited by these men to give them sail in his coble. They rowed out of the Harbour, and when outside a proposition was made to hoist the sail, which was done. In pulling up the sail he broke one of his braces, and he asked one of the men, named Coyle, who was conversant with cobles, to take charge of the sail while he mended it. Coyle did so, but before he got the needle out of his pocket a “Luff” came and filled the sail. He made an effort to ease the sheet, but before he could do so the boat filled with water and went down. The coble came back again, when one of the men, Miller, and he, clutched at the sail, but finding that would not keep both of them floating, he swam to the westward, and meeting Coyle, the latter grabbed him, but he pushed him away, and kept afloat until the boat came from the Harbour by which he was rescued. None of the men were drunk. There was no quarrelling or misunderstanding in the boat.

Benjamin Turns, who was one of the men rescued, gave corroborative evidence, and declared emphatically none of the men were drunk. Police Officer, George Stephenson said he was standing on the pier when the coble passed. He could see all the men quite distinctly, and in his opinion the coble was not overladen, nor were any of the men intoxicated. Dr.Gibbon was called from the Infirmary, where Hush had been taken. He thought the latter had been dead when taken from the coble. The deceased ought not to have been taken from the beach to the Infirmary, but means used to restore animation either in the coble or immediately on landing. Dr.Marshall Hall’s method of resuscitation was tried, and about three quarters of an hour spent in attempting to restore life. The doctor, whilst giving evidence, took occasion to remark upon the want of some place where apparently drowned bodies could be conveniently removed, somewhere near the beach or docks. The jury concurred, and the coroner said he would undertake to write to Mr Eminson on the subject. A verdict of “Accidental Death” caused by the upsetting of a coble was returned.

None of the other bodies have been recovered, although during Wednesday night and last night cobles manned by the fellow workmen of the deceased were out dragging for them. Several of the fellow workmen of the drowned men have contributed large sums of money for the benefit of the widows and orphans left, and much active sympathy with the sufferers, by this unfortunate affair, has been exacted among the general inhabitants of the town.

* The bodies of the other three men were found about three weeks later. Hall and Coyle were buried on July 17th 1873 and Miller was buried on July 23rd 1873.

Burials from St.John’s Church [Seaham Harbour]

28th June 1873 Ralph Hush, aged 38 years
28th June 1873 John Jefferson, aged 32 years
17th July 1873 Joseph Hall, aged 28 years
17th July 1873 James Coyle, aged 33 years
23rd July 1873 Robert Miller, aged 32 years

Family details of the eight men involved – [Adapted from the 1871 Census]

Note: These are not actual census returns, they are inferred family details as of 23rd June 1873

Ropery Walk, Seaham Harbour
Benjamin Turns, 38, Bottlemaker, born South Shields [Survived]
Louisa Turns, 28, born South Shields
Benjamin Turns, 10, born Seaham Harbour
Jane Turns, 8, born Sunderland
Mary Ann Turns, 6, born South Shields
Ralph Turns, 4, born Newcastle
David Dick Brown Turns, 9 months, born Sunderland

26, South Terrace, Seaham Harbour
Morley Scott [Snr], 51, Pilot, born Sunderland
Jane Scott, 51, born Southwick
Morley Scott [Jnr], Pilot’s Assistant, born Seaham Harbour [Survived]
George Scott, 23, born Seaham Harbour
John Scott, 20, born Seaham Harbour
Isabella Scott, 14, born Seaham Harbour

Bottlehouse Cottages, Seaham Harbour
Andrew Davison, 35, Bottlemaker, born South Shields [Survived]
Jane Davison, 31, born Cassop, County Durham
Robert Davison, 13, born Sunderland
Sarah Davison, 11, born Seaham Harbour
Elizabeth Davison, 7, born Seaham Harbour
Mary Davison, 4, born Seaham Harbour
Jane Davison, 7 months, born Seaham Harbour

17 Adolphus Street, Seaham Harbour
Ralph Hush, 38, Bottlemaker, born South Shields [Drowned]
Margaret Hush, 34, born South Shields
Alice Hush, 11, born Sunderland
Elizabeth Hush, 9, born Seaham Harbour
Henry Hush, 7, born Sunderland
Ralph Hush, 5, born Sunderland
Margaret Hush, 2, born Seaham Harbour
Frances Hush, infant, born Seaham Harbour
+ 1 other child [name unknown]

Bottlehouse Cottages, Seaham Harbour
John Jefferson, 33, Bottlemaker, born Newcastle [Drowned]
Elizabeth Jefferson, 29, born Sunderland
Richard Jefferson, 11, born Seaham Harbour
Mary Jefferson, 9, born Seaham Harbour
Thomas Jefferson, 4, born Seaham Harbour
Louisa Jefferson, 2, born Seaham Harbour

Bottlehouse Cottages, Seaham Harbour
Joseph Hall, 26, Bottlemaker, born Sunderland [Drowned]
Jane Hall, 26, born Sunderland
Margaret Ellen Hall, 8, born Sunderland
John Joseph Hall, 5, born Sunderland
George Hall, infant, born Seaham Harbour
+ 1 other child [name unknown]

Back North Railway Street, Seaham Harbour
Robert Miller, 32, Bottlemaker, born Scotland [Drowned]
Barbara Miller, 32, born Sunderland
Margaret Miller, 10, born Seaham Harbour
Luke Miller, 8, born Seaham Harbour
Harriet Miller, 6, born Seaham Harbour
Grace Miller, 4, born Seaham Harbour
Robert Miller, 3, born Seaham Harbour

John Street, Seaham Harbour
James Coyle, 33, Bottlemaker, born Seaham Harbour [Drowned]
Mary Coyle, 35, born South Shields
Mary Ann Coyle, 13, born Seaham Harbour
Dennis Coyle, 11, born Seaham Harbour
Isabella Coyle, 7, born Southwick
Elizabeth Coyle, 5, born Hartlepool
Edward Coyle, 3, born Stockton
John James Coyle, 9 months, born Seaham Harbour

— by Tony Whitehead