The Accident – York Courant, December 28th, 1833

Ouse at Kelfield, in winter

It is this week our painful duty to present our readers with the details of an event which happened on Thursday afternoon, on the river Ouse, about seven miles from this city, more dreadful in regard to the extent of its fatality, and somewhat resembling in circumstances, the heart-rending accident which occurred opposite Acomb landing in the summer of 1830.

Like that afflictive dispensation of Divine Providence, it took place on the same day of the week, and about half-past four, nearly the same hour of the day, It has been an annual custom for the singers of the church at Stillingfleet, at Christmas time, to visit the principal farmers within the parish, which includes the villages of Stillingfleet, Moreby, Acaster-Selby, and Kelfield.

On Wednesday last, (Christmas day) the party aided the solemn services of the church by singing the Christmas Hymn, and on the same evening they were entertained at the Rectory, where they supped, and afterwards passed the evening in singing the praises of God. Thursday was the day appointed for their annual excursion, and they set out under emotions of innocent pleasure, little dreaming of the dark dispensation of Providence which was to clothe the evening of that day, to them with the darkness of the night of death, and fill their happy villages, and quiet homes with lamentation, and mourning, and woe.

They had been to Acaster, and the party consisting of FOURTEEN PERSONS, got into a boat the property of a fisherman named Turner, for the purpose of proceeding to Stillingfleet ferry, where they intended to land. At a place called Mill Mouth, about a quarter of a mile from Acaster, they met a vessel, coal- laden, coming down the river, – hauled by a horse. The party in the boat called out to Stephen Green, the hauling man, to hold the line tight, so as to allow them to go under it. Green replied that he would not do that, – for if they attempted to do so, he should sweep them out of the boat. He therefore slackened the rope, to let the boat go over it, – when one of the men in the boat seized the rope, and attempted to throw it over the boat; – in this he failed, and the line catched the stern of the boat, which being thrown on her broadside, instantly filled with water, and capsized.

The boat in which the sufferers had embarked was one of rather small dimensions. The current was running at the rate of five miles and hour, – the boat consequently going at a rapid pace, and in about the centre of the river. The vessel had the current against it, and was on the off side; and the party in the boat unhappily came inside. When the line got under the boat, one of the men attempted to clear it, by throwing it over the boat. After the boat was swamped, the unhappy people, as they were dragged by the current, in the most heart-rending manner called for assistance, but in vain.

The boat belonging to the vessel had been lost from its moorings; but by what means the sailors could not explain; it is most probable that they had unfortunately let go the painter, by mistake, in their endeavours to throw out lines to save the sufferers. – Turner’s boat had turned [ ] uppermost, and was found at Cawood, by George Liddle, waterman, and Thomas Smith, labourer. When found, she was floating rapidly down the river, and on being righted, the fishing net belonging to its owner was found in it.

At the time of the accident it was quite dusk, and it was with difficulty that the towing rope could be seen. The following is a correct list of the sufferers: – Henry Spence [sic], labourer, aged about 50; and his two daughters, Sarah aged 16; and Bessy, aged 15; Christopher Spence, [sic] brother to Henry, labourer, aged about 40; John Turner, fisherman, and common carrier, aged about 59; and Jane Turner, his daughter, aged 16; Thomas Webster, labourer; William Bristow, officiating parish clerk; Sarah Eccles, aged 16, daughter of George Eccles, one of the survivors; Elizabeth Buckle, aged 15, daughter of Mr. Buckle, inkeeper; Clarissa Sturdy, aged 17, daughter of Mr. Sturdy, schoolmaster, and formerly of this city, linen-draper. Within a quarter of an hour, and not more than a quarter of a mile from the fatal place the body of Miss Sturdy was picked up, when floating, by a vessel in the river, which was coming up shortly after. She was quite dead. The mother of this unfortunate young woman, at the time of the accident was in this city attending the funeral of a nephew, when the dreadful event was made known to her.The following are the names of the three survivors: – George Eccles, Richard Toes, and John Fisher, – all agricultural labourers, with wives and families. Eccles has a large family of seven or eight children; Toes has a wife and four children; Fisher has a wife and two children.The men who have suffered, have left the following families: – Christopher Spence, a wife and four children; Henry Spence, a wife and eight children – five of whom are under his parental roof, and were dependant upon his labours for support; John Turner, was a widower, and left two daughters – one married and the other single; Thomas Webster, a wife and one child; Thos Bristow, [sic] a wife and three children.

The moment the news of this afflictive catastrophe was circulated the greatest gloom and affliction prevailed, in the respective villages, and on Friday morning by four o’clock several parties had arrived at the fatal spot from Cawood, Lower Acaster, Nun Appleton, and the neighbourhood, in boats, and commenced dragging the river, – but without success, until about ten o’clock, when Christopher Spence was found, in a place called the Willow Hole, about half a mile from where the accident happened. Turner and Webster were found soon after, a little lower down the river, and were brought up by one drag. It is supposed they had been clasped together, and sunk in each other’s arms. About half past eleven o’clock, a shawl was found belonging to Sarah Eccles, and shortly afterwards the bodies of Henry Spence, a fine robust man, – and Jane Turner were found. A little after two o’clock, Bessy Spence, one of the daughters of Henry Spence, was found. This family was sorely afflicted. The disconsolate widow, who has a child at her breast, and is herself in a delicate state of health, having recently been a patient in the County Hospital. At the same time that Bessy Spence was found – another body was also found, which turned out to be that of the parish clerk, William Bristow. Both bodies, as well as all the others, were conveyed to their respective homes.Great praise is due to the Rev. D.F. Markham, the worthy vicar of the place, for his kind and sensible attention to the distressed relatives of the deceased. With all the benevolence of feeling, which may be expected of a spiritual pastor, he visited each, and administered, so far as human aid could do it, the consolations of religion, and pointed out to them to unerring wisdom of that kind Providence who has promised to make all things work together for good to those who, in humble resignation, place their confidence in him. Mr M. we hear, also ordered mourning to be provided for them, at his own expense.

To Paul Beilby Thompson, Esqu., M.P., equal praise is due; for he was personally indefatigable in the search for the bodies of the unfortunate people. We understand that he not only engaged and paid the labourers who dragged the river, but also, at his own expense, has provided the coffins, and the requisite appendages, and we have no doubt but he will hereafter aid, by his princely fortune, the hapless widows and helpless orphans of the deceased.


At six o’clock on Friday evening, John Wood, Esq., Coroner [ ] Stillingfleet, and immediately the constable summoned the following Jury, who were sworn :-

William Triffit, (Foreman,) Mr. William Cooke, Mr Thos [ ], Mr William Camidge, Mr Thomas Hornshaw, Mr Francis Robinson, Mr. Thomas Brown, Mr George Lazenby, Mr [ ] Creaser, Mr John Thompson, Mr Thomas Simpson, Mr [ ] Lazenby, Mr Robert Nottingham.

On the return of the Coroner and the Jury to the White Swan inn, the examination of the witnesses was proceeded with.John Fisher was the first witness examined; having been sworn, he stated as follows:

-I am a labourer, and reside at Stillingfleet; I am one of the singers at the parish church, and went along with the deceased persons whose bodies are found, and George Eccles, Richard Toes, Sarah Spencer, and Sarah Eccles, to sign the Christmas hymn; we set out yesterday, about half-past one o’clock in the afternoon, as we had done for the last two years at Christmas; we were the singers at Stillingfleet church; we first went to a house at Moreby, near the river, and afterwards crossed the river at Low Acaster, in a boat belonging to John Turner, the deceased; about four o’clock, or a little after, we all returned , and got in the boat to re-cross the river, at Stillingfleet-landing, which required us to sail down the river about half a mile, to reach it; George Eccles and I were rowing the boat: we met a vessel soon after we got into the boat, coming up the river; it was drawn by a horse and a line; Eccles and I wanted to keep on the off-side of the vessel, that is, towards the Stillingfleet side, the horse being on the Acaster side; John Turner said we were to row to the other side; I told Eccles to ease his oar, and I would pull; we did so, and came to the inside of the vessel; Turner said we could clear them easy enough, and called to the man with the horse to slacken his line, fancying, as I believe, that we could get over the line; the ebb ran sharp, and the vessel was going up; I saw danger, and caught hold of the line, and lifted it up, in order to clear it from the boat, and throw it over our heads; in consequence of the boat running down so very fast, the line caught hold of the side of the boat, and threw her over, and we were all instantly pitched into the water; I still kept hold of the line, and I thought I heard one of the sailors call out “Hold thy hold, lad” and, I did so; they then drew me and Richard Toes out, by the line onto the vessel, and we were both, in consequence, saved; after I had got on the vessel, I thought I saw three men’s heads, as though they were on the bottom of the boat; they were some distance down the river, and I saw no more of them, it was getting very dark, and we had drunk a little ale during the day, but we were all perfectly sober, and every one was as capable of helping himself or herself, as though we had not had any.

William Rogerson deposed;

I reside at South Hindley, nearBarnsley: I am captain of the Perseverance, belonging to John Jewitt, of York; I was coming up the River Ouse yesterday, with my vessel, about four o’clock in the afternoon; when near Low Acaster, we met a boat with several persons in it; it was nearly dusk at the time; my vessel was drawn by one horse and a line; and the wind was blowing very strong in our favour at the time, we had our sails up; the boat was coming down, and the two men were rowing, and we endeavoured to keep clear of them; in consequence of the men in the boat calling out to slack the line, we immediately ran to loose the line on the vessel, and the man on the shore did the same. The rope was considerably slackened, and astern the vessel some way, before the boat reached it, but in consequence of the strength of the current, it did not sink; when the boat came into contact with the line it upset her and, all the people were thrown into the water; my man and myself pulled out Fisher and Toes, with the line they had laid hold of; we ran the vessel ashore for the purpose of getting into our boat to render assistance; when just as we had loosed our boat, we saw the two men holding by the line, and we had ran to draw them out, without having sufficiently secured the boat, as afterwards appeared; when we had got the two men out, we ran to get into our own boat, when we discovered she had washed loose, and was gone adrift to the other side of the river; and by running the vessel on shore she had stuck fast, so that we could not get her off; we were thus prevented from rendering further assistance; we could see two or three men hanging to the boat bottom, and going down the river, until they reached a corner of the bank called the ‘Ness End’, and then we lost sight of them; the man with the horse stopped immediately; he was told to do so, and I do not think there was any blame attributable to him: in endeavouring to pass the vessel with the boat they should not have come on the inside; they ought to have been on the off-side; in that case it is probable no accident could have happened, as the rope could not have touched them, and there was plenty of room for them to have passed.

George Eccles, of Stillingfleet, labourer, deposed;

I was one of the party that was in the boat yesterday, when the accident happened; we then set out from Stillingfleet, and went to a house in Moreby; we then crossed the river in Turner’s boat, for Low Acaster; and about four o’clock again got in the boat to return, intending to go to Stillingfleet landing; it was about dusk; a little after we got into the boat we met a vessel; John Fisher and I were rowing the boat towards the off-side of the vessel, when John Turner called out for us to keep at the inside; Turner was accustomed to the river, being a fisherman, and it being his boat, we complied with his directions, because we thought he understood it better than we did, as we were quite unacquainted with managing the boat; we went on the inside; some one called out to the hauling-man to lower the line of the vessel; the line was lowered and John Fisher and, I think, John Turner also, got hold of the line to throw it over our heads, but the current was so strong, and the boat went so fast, that they could not clear it, and the boat was upset; I continued to keep hold of the oar with which I had been rowing; I also got to the boat, which was upsidedown, and I got hold of her with my other hand, and I held there as long as I could; William Bristow had likewise hold of her; the boat turned over several times, and he and I at length got into her, she being then full of water; in that state we went down the river about two hundred yards; she then turned over again, and we both lost our hold of the boat, but I still continued to hold by the oar; I never saw any more of Bristow after the boat had turned over; after holding by the oar for some time, the other oar came near me, and I caught hold of it with my other hand; I was supported by the two oars until I saw another vessel coming up, and then I called out for help; the captain got into his boat, and got me out of the water; after I had got into the boat I saw something floating before us, and I desired the captain to assist me in reaching it. We first overtook two hats, the next was the body of Clarissa Sturdy, who was floating on the surface of the water, and we took her onto the boat. She was quite dead. I afterwards got into the cabin of his vessel, and sat by the fire, until we got to Acaster ferry, and I then went on shore. And two neighbours led me home. My own daughter was drowned, and her body has not yet been found.

BY A JUROR – I cannot say that there was any blame to be attributed either to the people on the vessel, or to the hauling-man.

JOHN FISHER was recalled by a juror, and also interrogated as to the conduct of the watermen, and the man who had the charge of the hauling horse. He said, he did not think there was any blame to be attributed to them.Stephen Green said, I live at Cawood, and am a hauler and labourer. I was driving the horse which drew the vessel. When the boat came up to the vessel, some of them called out to lighten the rope; I thought they said “Tighten it”. I replied, it was impossible to lighten it, without throwing them over, but I would slacken it, and they might go over it. I did slacken it immediately, I ran to my horse’s head, and held him. I cannot say whether the boat would have gone over the line or not, if the men had not lifted it up. The reason the rope was so slack when the boat came up, was, that they had been letting me some line out from the vessel. The current would not let the line sink.John Fisher , stated, that Turner called out for the rope to be slackened, and he called for it to be tightened. MR CORONER WOOD, said, this appeared to be the case. If necessary he would read the evidence; but he thought it hardly was, as the jury had paid great attention to it [sic]. In his opinion it was clearly an accident, – if they were satisfied it was so, it would not be necessary to make any further comment.

They would return a verdict of accidental death, and find a deodand on the boat, which was the moving cause of the accident, as a forfeiture to the crown. It was the province of the jury to fix the amount of the deodand. The jury, without hesitation, returned a verdict in each case, of ACCIDENTALLY DROWNED, – with a deodand of 1s on the boat. The indentures of inquisition were then filled up, and signed by the Jurors, – in which their verdict was recorded in the following manner: -

“ We find that on the 26th day of December, being in a certain boat then belonging to John Turner, of Stillingfleet, and now the property of his legal representatives, and sailing therein on the river Ouse there, it so happened that the said boat was accidentally upset, and by reason thereof the said deceased were accidentally drowned in the waters of the said river; and do find that the said boat was moving to the death of the said deceased, and is of the value of one shilling.” The inquiry terminated about eleven o’clock at night.

THE FUNERALThe Coroner granted his warrants for the interment of the unfortunate sufferers, – which is expected to take place at Stillingfleet on Sunday afternoon (to-morrow) at two o’clock.

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