A SAD CASE OF DROWNING IN THE RIVER OUSE Cecil Talbot Read
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent, Saturday, 26 August, 1882 page 6 reported as follows:
‘An inquest was held at the Ship Inn, St. Cuthbert’s, on Tuesday morning, before Mr. Mark Whyley, Deputy Coroner, on the body of Cecil Talbot Read, son of Capt. Read, Park-road, who was drowned in the Ouse by the upsetting of a sailing-boat the previous day. The following gentlemen were sworn on the jury: Messrs. T. Hague (foreman), P. W. Barker, E. Peacock, G. Mallows, F. Fuller, Q. Harris, S. Groom, M. Mountayne, J. Jefferies, R. Richards, J. C. Revis, G. Barnes, and W. Coote.
‘Constantine Heywood Read deposed: I am the father of the deceased. He was 18 years of age on the 13th of last February. It is the body of my son which the jury have viewed this morning. He was in the merchant service and had served five years in the ship P. F. Webster. He had been voyaging for the past 5 years. He could not swim. I last saw him alive when he left home at half-past one. He did not say where he was going, but I understood that he was going to Kempston, fishing with his brother. I next heard of him at a quarter past four from Mr. Baxter. I and my wife were going to post some letters, when Mr. Baxter told me that he had been drowned and was being taken to the mortuary. I went to the mortuary and identified the body of my son; it was quite warm.
‘Alfred Ernest Anthony, architect and surveyor, deposed: Yesterday afternoon just after half-past two I was passing along the bottom part of the embankment going in the direction of High-street, when I saw the lad put out in a boat from Chetham’s place. It was a lug-sailed boat with centre board. He went across the river allright. I made a remark to one of Chetham’s men that he did not seem to know very much about boat-sailing. He went once across the river and then put her before the wind, which was due west and very gusty. He had not gone above 30 or 40 yards before the wind struck the sail which jibbed over, and the boat running up into the wind went broadside on and eventually turned right over on her side, and gradually filling with water, sank. The evident cause of the accident was that he either had the sheet fastened or entangled in such a way that he could not let it free. In my Opinion if he could have got the sheet free, she would have righted herself. While I was watching him I saw a boat containing three persons scull straight by the poor fellow. The end of their sculls were within three yards (or five yards at the outside) of deceased and they might easily have thrown one to him.
‘Capt. Read: And might have saved him!
‘Witness, continuing: These people are strangers to the town. Perhaps they were paralysed with fear and dared not go near him.
‘The Coroner: They were strangers to you?
‘Witness: Yes. They were strangers to the town from what I can gather. I think the least they should have done was to throw him a scull. On seeing they went past I immediately ran down the embankment, took off my coat and waistcoat, and jumped into the river. As I jumped in I could see that he was then evidently done for. He was fighting with the water as hard as he could. He soon exhausted himself, and when I was 10 yards from the bank he went down. I knew it was useless to proceed any further. Someone came up with a boat, and two men undressed and dived for him. I sent to Goatley’s for the drags and we commenced dragging. Insp. Haynes first found the body, but owing to the shifting of the boat he dropped. I was the first to take hold of the body and we landed it on the bank. We commenced dragging at 23 minutes to three and it was close on four o’clock before we found the body. Where we found it the water was 14 or 15 feet deep.
‘In reply to a Juryman the witness said the party who passed by hired their boat from Goatley’s.
‘The Foreman: It was very great cowardice on their part.
‘Witness said there was a midshipman with the party.
‘Inspector Haynes deposed: just after three yesterday afternoon I received information that there was a body in the river. I procured the drags and immediately commenced dragging for it. After dragging some time I hooked the body and brought it to the surface, but the man who was sculling me suddenly jumped up from his seat and rushed to the side of the boat. No doubt he thought he could assist me. There was a danger of our being capsized and the body got loose from the drag and sank again. After dragging a little longer Mr. Anthony hooked it. I got into his boat and took it in charge, landing it at Chetham’s on the Embankment side. I then searched the body and found on it the watch and chain which I produce. It had stopped at 21 minutes to three. I also found two tobacco pouches, a key, pencil, a match box, 4s. 9d. in silver, and 7d in coppers. I then put the body straight and had it conveyed to the mortuary. I knew the deceased. I had spoken to him several times.
‘The Coroner asked the inspector if he had instructions to take all bodies found in the river to the mortuary, whether they were known or unknown.
‘Inspector Haynes said if bodies were found in the river they were taken to the mortuary. The coroner had power to order their removal home.
‘In reply to the foreman, the witness said he did not know where the party in the boat came from. One was a midshipman and another member of the party was a man as tall as himself (the inspector) and stouter. They were pointed out to him in the street.
‘A juryman: Did you ask them any questions?
‘Inspector Haynes: No I did not. I had no power.
‘Frank Smith deposed: I am a waterman in the employ of Mr. Chetham and am stationed by the Embankment. I know the deceased. He had several times hired boats of me. He came down about half-past twelve yesterday, but the boat was then out and he said he should like to have it after dinner. He came again at half-past two and started by himself. He had several times been out in the boat. It was a 12 feet boat with a centre board of iron. It also had iron ballast. It was shaped ballast.
‘The Coroner: Under the floor boards or not?
‘The Coroner: Was it made fast?
‘Witness: No it was loose.
‘The Coroner: Did you see it when the boat started away?
‘The Coroner: Whereabouts was it?
‘Witness: In the bows of the boat.
‘The Coroner: How many pieces of ballast were there?
‘Witness: One; it weighed about 56lbs.
‘Mr Anthony said the ballast weighed exactly 48lbs.
’Witness: I did not watch him because I had to start a boat at another part of the Embankment. I left a man in my place. I saw him in the water and rowed towards him as hard as I could. I pulled off my coat and dived after him. I went to the bottom four or five times. I kept on as long as I could, but could find nothing of him. I asked him before he went out whether I should reef the sail. He said “Not for this lot of wind.” I said “I suppose you are not like some. I suppose you can swim?” He replied, “Swim, I should think I can.” I did not notice whether he made the sheet fast by the side of the boat.
‘The foreman: You do not know the people that passed?
‘The foreman: You saw them go by?
Witness: Yes; I saw them as they rowed away to the Embankment.
‘The foreman: It is a great pity we don’t know who they are.
‘Mr. G. Robinson, surgeon, deposed to being called by the police a few minutes after four to see the deceased. He met the body being carried to the mortuary, where he afterwards examined it. The body itself was warm, but the extremities were cold. There was not the slightest pulsation or sign of life. Death must have taken place more than an hour from the coldness of the extremities. There were no marks of violence, and all appearances went to show that drowning was the cause of death.
‘The Coroner, in summing up, said the evidence showed conclusively what was the cause of death, and they had heard sufficient to give a satisfactory verdict as to that. Then the question arose as to the inhumanity and dastardly conduct of those people who went by and did not render assistance. But even if they knew them and they were brought there they had no means of punishing them, and all they could do was to express their indignation at, and their thorough detestation of such conduct.
‘This met with the unanimous approval of the jury, and the foreman said they felt very strongly about the matter: the men in the boat had acted in a very cowardly manner. He commended the conduct of Smith for endeavouring to find deceased.
‘The Coroner said the next point was whether the deceased had sufficient knowledge to be entrusted with a boat of that description. The evidence, however, on that point went to show that he had been out in the boat several times, but although he had been 5 years in the merchant service, yet it was possible that he had no idea of the danger he was running in a sailing boat. They would observe that he asked the Inspector what his instructions were as to the removal of the bodies found in the river (whether they were known or unknown) to the mortuary. He asked the question in no captious [frivolous or vexatious objections] spirit, but he thought if a person was known to live in the town it added to the misery and pain of the relatives if he were taken to the mortuary instead of being taken home. In this case there was no reason for taking the body there; there was no question as to the cause of death; the only question was whether any one was to blame.
‘A juryman thought it would be too great a shock to the relatives to take the body home at once.
‘The Coroner said the police might notify the fact beforehand.
‘The jury returned a verdict of “Accidentally Drowned,” and complimented Inspector Haynes and the others who were engaged in the prompt search for the body.’
According to the 1881 census, the family lived at 6 Park Road. Cecil’s father was Constantine H. Read aged 54, a retired officer of the army. Also living there were Caroline Read his wife aged 52, a son aged 22, an undergraduate, and Sarah aged 16, a servant. There is no mention of Cecil but it is obvious from the inquest document that he was at home on the day in question, having left at ‘half past one.’ Cecil was 18 and it seems he began work in the merchant navy aged 13. Although not regarded as a child at eighteen, either then nor now, his sad demise is recorded here as it illustrates just how easy it was to fall prey to the river even though he indicated that he could swim. Younger children had no chance of surviving should they fall into the river, and woefully this occurred quite regularly. The ‘drags’ used to recover bodies must have been a common sight on the Ouse.
Research has since revealed that ‘Captain Constantine Hayward Read, Late of the Ceylon Rifles, Born September 16th 1826, died at Bedford February 12th 1888’ lost another son, William Wood Dewes Read, ‘Who died off Cape Finisterre Homeward bound, on the 17th May 1882 Aged 21 years’. He is mentioned on the headstone of his brother’s grave. (Grave reference G5 132)
How tragic that these two young men died only three months apart. Both were in the Navy it seems, and both drowned. Captain Read himself died only seven years later. Their mother, Caroline, passed away on the 15th March 1903. (They are buried in Foster Hill Road Cemetery, Grave Reference G5 122)
Copyright: Brenda Fraser-Newstead
1 February 2020
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent, Saturday, 26 August, 1882 p.6
Died c. 21 August 1882 aged 18
Buried in Bedford Cemetery 24 August 1882
Address recorded as 6 Park Road, St Peters (now Glebe Road)
With thanks to Colin Woolf and Maurice Nicholson for their assistance.
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