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Masbrough Boat Disaster

     Shall Not The Judge of All Earth Do Right
Evening Standard, 7th July, 1841

A letter has reached town this morning giving a brief description of a most dreadful loss of life which took place yesterday afternoon at Rotherham. It appears that a small vessel, with about 150 persons of both sexes on board, was launched from Chambers Boat Yard, when no sooner had it touched the water than it suddenly rolled over and every individual on board was immersed in the stream. The piercing cries for assistance from those whose lives were in jeopardy were truly heart rending, while the frenzied shrieks from persons on shore, who were witnesses of the catastrophe, added to the frightful scene. The grand jury, who were sitting at the time in the neighbourhood, ordered instantly, every policeman and other officers to proceed to the spot and render all possible assistance, which was promptly and eagerly complied with. A postscript to the letter above alluded to, dated half-past 6 last night, states that 70 bodies had been recovered. These are all the particulars which have yet reached us; tomorrow, perhaps, we shall have full details of this mournful event.

Sheffield Patriot, 8th July, 1841

To give an accurate description of it would be impossible; to depict the misery and sorrow it has brought on scores of human beings, would be out of our power; and our readers must imagine for themselves that which we are unable to convey. The intelligence of the accident we are about to relate reached the court house a few minutes after 3 o'clock, when the chairman gave the jury leave of absence for 20 minutes; but it was found almost impossible to re-assemble them, and the business of the court was adjourned.

On hearing the tidings we immediately proceeded to the scene. The accident took place a few minutes before we reached the spot. It appears that Mr. Chambers had been building a new vessel at his boat and raft yard in Masbrough, and that yesterday afternoon was appointed for the launch to take place. Previous to this being done, and as is usually the custom, a number of persons assembled on board to ride off the stocks into the water, and we believe it is also necessary that they should be on board, in order to weight the vessell. On this occasion about 100 had congregated on board, consisting of men and boys, the latter being from about 11 to 16 or 17 years of age. All being ready, preparations were made for the launch, and those on the vessel were in high glee at the expected treat. But alas! how fearful the result, how futile their expectations, how unthought of the destiny which awaited them. The fastenings were let loose, but from some cause or other, instead of the boat sliding gently down into the water, she suddenly upset, amis the screams of the unfortunate beings on board. In a moment the whole body of the people on the deck were precipitated into the water, many of them falling beneath the vessel. Every assistance was rendered by those assembled to witness the launch, and who succeeded in rescuing some few of the sufferers from a meloncholy death. But their efforts were limited, and we are sorry to say that a great number of them who had missed being covered by the boat were taken out dead or soon afterwards expired. The scene at this moment was truly pitiable; the women in every direction uttering their cries for their lost husbands, the brothers and sisters anxiously enquiring after the relations they had missed but for a moment, parents solicitous for the safety of their children - in fact, the whole was one indescribable scene of confusion, which was increased as each dead body was drawn forth from the fatal river. While those poor sufferers who were in were being taken out, Mr. Chambers was most actively employed in making efforts to bring the boat to its proper position, in order that those beneath might be extricated. In order to effect this purpose ropes were attached to it, and the assistants of Mr. Chambers, as also the bystanders, endeavoured to effect the object in view, but without effect. Horses were then procured, and the ropes and chains re-attached, but this time the fastenings gave way and it was not until further efforts were made and a delay of nearly two hours that the object was gained. Each time as the boat was partially lifted up, the bodies of unfortunate sufferers kept floating from beneath; and when it was set right, eight or ten bodies were taken out in the space of as many minutes. Every moment the extent of the calamity became more awful, and as each corpse was taken to the tenement which the living body had so lately inhabited, added another tale of distress to those which had preceded. At the time of our leaving Rotherham upwards of 50 dead bodies had been taken out of the water; but to the time of our going to press, the total amounted to no less than 64. Among others we learn the names of Samuel Heathcote, principal joiner to Mr. Bentley, brewer, George Bradbury, John Parrott, but we shall give further details in our second edition.

Second Edition, - further particulars

The relation of the appalling accident at Rotherham yesterday will be found in another column. We this morning visited the scene in order to obtain for our readers the fullest and latest particulars. We are happy to find that some of those whose lives were yesterday despaired of are in some degree recovered; others are yet lingering in a dangerous state, and great doubts are entertained for the safety of their lives. The greatest exertions have been made by the medical gentlemen of Rotherham, to whom the highest praise is due, and also to Mr. Chambers, the proprietor and builder of the boat, for his attention to the wants of the unfortunate sufferers. The whole of those missed were got out of the water by 7 o' clock, and, from what we have been able to learn, we trust that the whole of those who met with their death by the accident have been taken out of the river. The greater part of them were taken to their respective homes, others to the adjoining public houses, where they await the coroner's inquest, which will be held this afternoon at 2 o clock. The immediate cause of the accident has not yet transpired. Many rumours are prevalent.

Some assert that the planks from which she was pushed into the water were too short, and that as she struck the water too soon. Others state that being launched sideways into the water, the people on board running to the lower side, and the keel not clearing the stocks in sufficient time, the boat was overbalanced. Be this as it may, we cannot yet speak positively or certain but only from heresay. The names of the dead will be found below, amounting to 50 in numbner. The young man John Greatorex, whose name appears below, was of age yesterday, and would have shortly come into considerable property. His relatives and friends are in the great distress. The occurrence seems to have cast a gloom over the whole inhabitants of Rotherham, and in every street appears signs of mourning and affliction. The awful calamity is the general topic of conversation throughout that town and Sheffield, and the most anxious inquiries are made after the names of the sufferers. Nothing can equal the sensation it has caused among all classes, and the vessel which is considerable damaged, has been visited this morning by a great number of people.

The following are now lying dead in the township of Masbrough: James Straw, 10; Charles Robinson, 11; John Hargate, 15, roller; George Brown, 15; Joseph Furniss, 12; Thomas Woodger, 13; William Woodger; George Earnshaw, 7; John Jaques, 11; Charles Hanley, 12;John Fox, 16; William Greenfield, 10; Alfred Garfield, 5; William Boler, 10; Thomas Dale, 7; John Bradbury, 15; John Haywood, 13; John Gillott, 17; John Smith, 40, waterman; Charles Smith, 8 and Henry Smith, 5, sons; William Wood, 11; George Carter, 16; Samuel Freeman, 16; William Freeman, 8; George Ramsden, 14; Richard Shaw, 17, of Harlow, by Wentworth. The following are now lying dead in Rotherham: Charles Matthewson, 14 son, of G. Matthewman; Samuel Woodhouse, 18, son of B. Woodhouse; John Shillito, 14, and Richard Shillito, 11, sons of Jonathan Shillito; Joseph Earnshaw, 10, son of John Earnshaw; John Pattison, 10, son of John Pattison; William Hall, 9, son of George Hall; George Nixon, 7, son of George Nixon; Andrew Dobson, 9, son of George Dobson; Henry Goodhall 8, son of George Goodhall; William Bradshaw, 14, son of Robert Bradshaw; David Cundell, 13, son of Robert Cundell ; Henry Crowther, 8, son of William Crowther ; John Kent, 10 son of Robert Kent; Joseph Buckley, 33, Alfred Buckley, 6, son of Joseph, joiner; Samuel Heathcote, 41, joiner; Robert Lancaster, 13, son of Joseph Lancaster ; Samuel Dobb, 10, son of Samuel Dobb; William Blackburn, 14, son of Thomas Blackburn; John Parrott, 19, son of Thomas Parrott; James Yates, 11, son of Mr. Yates, ironfounder; John Greatorex, 21, apprentice to Mr. Tomlinson, joiner, Westfield Terrace, Sheffield; David Cundy, 11.

The Inquest - Source The Doncaster Gazette

An inquest was held at Rotherham, on the bodies of the 50 persons who met with so melancholy an end at the launch of a vessel at Rotherham. The coroner and jury assembled at The Angel Inn at 2 o'clock, and were occupied for four hours in going from one house of woe and desolation to another for the purpose of viewing the bodies. The following evidence of one of the witnesses shows the precise manner in which the accident happened.

Mr. Edwin Cadman of Pitsmoor, Sheffield said:

The vessel was built by Mr. Chambers, for Henry and Edwin Cadman. Robert Marsh is to be the captain. I was present when the vessel was launched. I saw the launch; and as the vessel was leaving the stays, about half over on the balance, the parties on board (men and boys) rushed to the leeward side of the vessel to see the effect of its dashing into the water. By that means the weight of the men and boys to the leeward side caused her to overbalance and to overturn before she reached the water, which was about three feet from the stays. I was standing on a fly boat in the cut at the head of the vessel which was launched, and I had a good view of it. I had examined the vessel, the ways, and the packings, and I thought it altogether perfectly safe, having seen vessels launched befoore from the same yard. I thought it so safe that I was inclined to go on board, but from an impression among the boatmen that it is unlucky for an owner to be on board when a vessel is launched, I was persuaded not to go on board. The men were perfectly sober and quite steady, and conducted the business in the usual manner and to my satisfaction.

By the Jury. She did not pause till the rush took place. I think she was within 18 inches of the end of the ways. I considered it to have been entirely accidental. Have seen many boat yards, and have been on vessels which had to drop six yards or more into the water.

On Wednesday upwards of 40 interments took place in the parish churchyard. From 9 oclock in the morning until about 6 in the evening, the mournful funeral processions were seen approaching from all parts of town, and at 4 o clock about 12 coffins were in church at the same time, and these on being removed therefrom, were met by others on their entrance. The church and churchyard were crowded with spectators, who evinced by their broken sentences the deep impression which so mournful event has made upon them. During the greater part of the day, bells, which were muted, were telling the approach of the departed to their last resting place, and the solemn sound gave still greater effect to the mournful proceedings.

In order to somewhat alleviate the distress which exists, a subscription has been opened for the poorer class of those who have been bereaved of their friends. Mr. G. W. Chambers the proprietor of the boat-yard where the accident occurred has subscribed 20 and his father, Mr. Chambers has sent the same sum from London. Mr. Bentley of Rotherham has given 10 and we understand that about 200 is already raised for the benevolent purpose.

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