Weymouth 1873; Rub a dub dub, 3 men (not) in a tub….

Well, o.k. maybe the title is a bit lighthearted for such a tragedy, but when I read that it allegedly concerned 3 butchers assistants that the misfortune had befallen, a visual image immediately flashed in my mind of the popular nursery rhyme. Just put that down to my extremely warped sense of humour which seems to bubble to the surface when ever black moments arise, (Sorry Mum that I got a fit of the giggles at your funeral..but you’ll know precisely why, and would have joined in I’m certain!)

I digress, back to the tale;

One bright and sunny May morning in 1873 a group of 4 young lads decided that the day was too nice to waste, they wanted a bit of excitement.

At that time the Great Eastern was moored in Portland Roads, she was here fueling up for her trip to America laying cables across the ocean floor. (Might write a bit more of her connection with Weymouth another time) To those that don’t know, she was a total legend in her own right. Launched in 1858 she was way before her time, towering over other ships,  nothing even came close to her size wise until 40 odd years later in 1899. She was designed by the famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, he had envisioned this levanthian of a liner which could transport 4,000 passengers at a time on transalantic trips, but  right from her maiden voyage she had led a fated life.

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The 4 lads had heard that they had been letting people on board to view this iconic ship, they didn’t want to miss that opportunity.

Just turned 11 0’clock on that fateful Sunday morning, John Beaumont, a butchers assistant, made his way with 2 of his friends, 19-year-old Mark Stickland and 22-year-old Charles Rogers to Mr Baunton’s slaughter house, where they collected 23-year-old Charles Wilmott.

The 4 lads made their way down to the quayside, calling in at the home of Edward Tizard, a widow  who lived on down on Hope Quay with his 3 young daughters, he was a local pilot, but he also hired out boats. Edward was out that day, had he been present when the young lads came a knocking, and being a knowlegable sailor, he might well have thought twice about the 4 lads, unexperienced oarsmen,  taking out his boat. Who ever answered the door to the lads had no such qualms though, and with the grand sum of 6d for the hire of the boat being exchanged, the lads were ready and eager to set off on their adventures.

With 2 of the lads at the oars they set course for the Great Eastern, but were disappointed when they were refused permission to board her. Undaunted, they rowed to wards the Achilles, which was also moored in the Roads, where they were allowed aboard for a short time.

With a real thirst on them now, once they had disembarked from the Achilles, the lads set course for Portland. On reaching the shore, the first place they headed for was the Castle Inn, where they order  2 quart jugs  of beer. Having enjoyed their thirst quenching tipple, they rose and started to make their way back down to their boat, only they set eyes on 18-year-old Joseph James Torpey, a local lad, and a crew member of the Achilles. (probably why they gone on board her in the first place)

Joseph asked if they would mind rowing him back to his boat, the lads readily agreed. He also told them that they had more chance of getting on board of the Great Eastern if they tried a bit later in the afternoon, so the group of 5 young lads thought that they should kill a bit more time before setting off. With that, they headed for the nearest pub, the Portland Roads Inn. They settled down a enjoy their  glass of beer and a natter , feeling peckish the lads ordered a snack, six penny worth of biscuits (guess that’d be their equivalent to today’s pint o’beer and a packet of crisps please!)

Having chewed the cud for a while, the lads set off in their boat to try their luck again at the Great Eastern. the two Charles’s were at the oars this time.

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Half way across the Roads, disaster struck, one of the tholes  (the part that the oar rotates on) broke,  after picking himself up off the floor of the boat, Charles Rogers stood up with the intention of replacing the broken part…only he made a grave error of judgement!

Whereas the boys had been evenly spaced around the craft before, Rogers stepped to one side, making it perilously low in the water, and with that the boat tipped over!

Having been thrown into the water, the lads were reaching out to try and grasp the side of the, by now righted boat, only trouble was, they were all in their sheer panic hauling on the same side.

John and Joseph, both able to swim, moved away from the boat to give the others a better chance of being able to haul themselves back in, only it didn’t quite work like that. With their combined weights still on one side, the craft flipped right over. By now, John was unconscious in the water, but young James turned round to see the stricken faces of his 3 friends disappear under the water, never to emerge again.

Both  John and James were rescued from the water, and rather ironically taken aboard the Great Eastern where they were cared for.

Over the following days the bodies of the 3 lads were eventually recovered, and another 3 families had to watch their child being lowered into the cold ground.

Charles Wilmott was buried on Portland  the 24th May.

Mark Strickland was also buried on Portland, 9th June.

The final lad to be found was Charles Rogers, whose body was interred on the 17th june at Melcombe Regis.

As a little end note, the media of the time was no different to today’s…they loved sensational stories, and the young often came in for some undeserved flack. Many of the national reports on the incident claimed that the lads were inebriated, larking about in the boat, whereas the facts that came out from the inquest showed this was far from the truth.

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I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
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One comment on “Weymouth 1873; Rub a dub dub, 3 men (not) in a tub….

  1. Pingback: Victorian Weymouth and Portland Roads and the Great Eastern. | Victorian tales from Weymouth and Portland

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