Men of the sea; 1869

Not surprisingly, local folk have always looked to the sea for their favour and fortunes.

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However, old Father Neptune is a fickle master, sometimes he gives us untold riches…but he also has the ability to take those we love.

Such was the sad case in September of 1869.

You and I might think of Greenhill as a place where we dabble our toes when the weather is warm, or somewhere we sit in the pleasant sunshine to enjoy stunning views with a cup of tea or an ice cream. The long shingle beach littered with the last of the sun worshipers and the hardy bathers.

To our ancestors though, Greenhill was very much a workplace.

One September Sunday became a memorable day in Weymouth’s history.

It was when rich pickings entered the bay, a vast shoal of pilchards had been spotted heading for the beach. Of course, despite atrocious conditions, local fishermen did what had to be done, chase the liquid money. ‘During the whole of the day parties of fishermen had been engaged on the beach near Greenhill, in the pilchard fishery.’

But it also harboured tragedy for the fishermen of the town.

The blustery weather certainly wasn’t in their favour that day, ‘the wind which was blowing in very strong gusts from the north-west’ had made for a ‘very sloppy sea.’

Our Victorian ancestors  were out in force that Sunday, partaking in the day of the Lord, dressed warmly to keep out the Autumn chill, little knowing that as they strolled ‘in the presence of hundreds of promenaders, bent on pleasure,’ they were witnesses who  would be  ‘entirely unprepared for the terrible sensation that awaited them.’

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Folks stood along Greenhill common , watching as men dragged their wooden boats and heavy rope nets down the beach and into the water. Time after time they rowed out into the wind swept bay, laying their nets behind them. Having circled round, then began the hard work.  Men heaved and hauled in their cumbersome nets, moving ever closer to shore. The sea literally boiled with thousands of erupting fish, screaming gulls circled above, diving again and again to greedily snatch their fill.

A productive days fishing was on the cards, many a celebration would be enjoyed that night at inns and taverns around town.

About four o’clock that afternoon,‘opposite the house of Mr Trenchard,’ four men clambered into their vessel, ‘a trough, a little flat-bottomed craft.’ They too were going to grab their share of nature’s riches.

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First to climb in was fifty-seven year old William Watch. Despite his good age, William was a strong man and a powerful swimmer. He sometimes worked as a porter, but fishing was in his blood, it  didn’t always pay the bills though.

William lived on Chapelhay Stairs along with his wife Elizabeth and their growing brood.

Fellow fisherman, Samuel Chick, climbed in next, he was a mere youngster at 27. Samuel Charles was the illegitimate son of Eliza Chick. Mother and son lived in Conygar Lane.

Also in the boat was William Chick of West Quay (or John, depending on which newspaper you read!)

The forth man to board that fated vessel was George Watts, a Blandford carpenter, but one who had moved recently to Wyke Regis. During the inquest he was referred to as ‘George ‘Smuggler’ Watts,’  maybe he was a man with a checkered past?

Rowing hard against the winds, the four headed for the tell-tell signs of the rich vein of pilchards, their vessel sat low in the water at the back, weighed down by nets and rope.

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Once they reached their destination, the fishermen hurriedly began to lay their nets. Only problem was, added weight at the rear of the boat made her sink her even lower.

Fate waited patiently in the wings.

With that, a sudden swell swamped their low-lying boat, overturning her and catapulting all four men in choppy seas.

William Watch, Samuel Chick and George Watts tried desperately to right her again.‘Hampered as it is supposed they were, with the ropes or net, they could not manage it properly,  and turned her over three or four times.’  But it was not to be, ‘ at last, exhausted, they sank.’

Back on land, the unfolding tragedy was watched by horrified crowds.

Boats set out from the shore, rowing furiously against the waves in a desperate attempt to reach the floundering men.

One of those boats heading for the upturned vessel contained Sergeant Brine, P.C. Hansford and William Burt.

Old William kept his eyes firmly on the spot where he had witnessed ‘ Watch rising and sinking,’ but once they reached the spot, he was not to be seen, only a  man’s cap being tossed around on the swell. William reached in as far as he safely could and managed to grab hold of someone’s hair. Hauling in the fully clothed, sodden body was difficult, but the men managed and lay it out in the bottom of their boat.

He was still alive, but only just.

This was William Watch.

William Chick, (or  was it John?) had launched himself clear of the tangled nets and rope as their boat overturned, he was found exhausted, frozen, but still clinging onto an oar some way away from the boat. William was hauled ashore by one of the many men who had taken to the waters in a desperate bid to save the drowning fishermen.

By now the upturned fishing boat had righted itself again, but no sign of any of its other crew members. Fears were that they had been trapped by their own heavy nets and ropes which were now dragging the seabed.

Sergeant Brine and P.C. Hansford clambered into the empty vessel. They frantically tried to free the dragging nets,‘but the party found they had but one knife between them.’ It was a slow and arduous task as they cut one rope after another. Far too late to save anyone that was still entangled in the waters below.

William Burt, of a goodly age, but one that hadn’t robbed him of his strength, rowed a semi-conscious William Watch towards the beach. At one stage, Watch rallied slightly and muttered “Oh, Burt,” and he moved his hands and feet,’ but soon after fell silent.

It took old William nearly fifteen minutes to finally reach the shore, where crowds had gathered.

Once on land, Watch’s now motionless body was laid out on the shingle, he was soon stripped of his sodden clothing. Desperate to help, residents of Brunswick Terrace had been busy, they ‘pulled the blankets from their own beds, and hurried down to the beach.’ 

Even Mayor Devenish arrived on scene to take charge, bringing with him stone water bottles and a supply of suitable stimulants.  He ordered that troops be sent to keep the rapidly gathering crowds back from the scene of the tragedy.

Two surgeons from the 51st Regiment arrived, they attempted to help local doctors in their frantic attempts to revive a seemingly lifeless Watch.

For the next two hours, Dr Tizard, Dr Griffin and Dr Rhodes tried all within their means to resuscitate William Watch’s stone cold body, but to no avail.

Back out in the bay, men were still searching for the missing bodies of George Watts and Samuel Chick.

There was not a sign of them.

The inquest on the death of William Watch was held in the Burdon Hotel Tap, where his corpse was laid out for jurors to peruse.

When Superintendent Vickery was questioned by the coroner about William Watch, he rather oddly replied that ‘he believed Watch had left eight or nine children; but Burt made a mystery about that.’

The body of 57-year-old William Watch, (father of an undisclosed number of offspring,)  was laid to rest in Wyke Regis churchyard on the 24th September 1869.

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Three days later, 27-year-old Samuel Chick followed in his friends footsteps, his body having been washed ashore.

He was also buried at Wyke Regis.

There is no further mention of George ‘Smuggler’ Watts. Presumably old Neptune wound his cold tentacles around him and there he stayed.

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Why not check out my ‘Tales from around the Victorian World.’ 

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for all sorts of Victorian snippets.

https://victoriantalesfromaroundtheworld.wordpress.com/2017/01/

 

or if Weymouth’s military history is your cup of tea try Nothe Fort and Beyond…

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https://nothefortandbeyond.wordpress.com/blog/

A Sorry Tale of Love and Betrayal; 1880.

During my  perusals of various sites and old local newspapers I often come across some intriguing stories.

Such was the case a few weeks ago when I was mooching through the old Police Gazettes, a periodical which gives a fascinating and highly detailed insight into our Victorian ancestors lives and their mishaps or misdemeanors.

Should such a publication be issued nowadays, goodness only knows how many tomes it would run to and just imagine the poor old paper boy trying to shove that through your letter box!

In the said gazette of April 23rd 1880 a sad but unfortunately not rare case was reported.

“A child was left on the door-step of a house in Belgrave-Terrace, Radipole, Weymouth between 9 and 10 pm, on the 19th inst. £2 reward will be paid by Mr Superintendent Vickery to any person who will give such information as will lead to the discovery of the person who placed the child where found;”

The  house receiving the little live bundle was no 3 Belgrave Terrace, the home of 70-year-old Glaswegian lady.

What on earth could an elderly Scottish lady have in connection with a seemingly unwanted child?

(Belgrave Terrace no longer exists, but it was off Dorchester road, somewhere in the Lodmoor Hill area)

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The article goes on to reveal yet more details- “a Male Child five weeks old, fresh complexion, dark hair, blue eyes, large mouth and nose; dressed in two head flannels, a white shirt, three under ditto, a white night dress, a black wool shawl, a white wool jacket, a white wool hood, a white fall, a piece of white gutta percha between a white cloth; these articles are all new. ” 

Obviously the baby had been warmly dressed for its night time doorstep delivery therefore presumably up until then had been well loved and provided for.

“The Child had a ticket placed on its breast, addressed to ‘P. Peck Esquire.’ Also on a piece of paper written -‘Take care of me, I have no mother.-Baby.’ In a bundle, tied up in a black and white Indian silk handkerchief, 3/4 yards square, were five napkins, two shirts trimmed with lace around the sleeves, a nightdress trimmed with lace around the neck and sleeves, a child’s flannel (old), a new mouth piece for child’s bottle, two brushed for cleaning the same, and some new wadding.”

Yet more evidence that someone had obviously adored and cared for this tiny scrap of humanity, so why would they give him up now?

A fairly vivid description of the person deemed guilty of the baby’s abandonment followed in the piece

“Supposed by a young woman, dark complexion, medium height, rather slightly built, speaking with a French or Italian accent; dressed in black dress, black jacket trimmed with black fur, black hat with heavy black fall, carrying a small bag or waterproof done up with straps. she had the appearance of a governess,”

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The police, ( and no doubt those in charge of the parish finances) were eager to apprehend this ‘terrible’ being. They knew she had left via the railway station…but to where?

“£2 reward will be paid to any person who will give such information as will lead to the discovery of the person who placed the Child where found, by Mr Superintendent Vickery, Police Office, Weymouth.-Bow Street, April 23rd.”

But like most sensational stories of the day, there lies a lot more behind the melodramatic newspaper headlines.

Come the 30th April 1880 and the  Western Gazette declares that the good old police had got their man, (or woman as in this case.)

Superintendent Vickery had “Traced her to Waterloo Station, London and then left the Criminal Investigation Department to Apprehend her. this was done a day or two ago, and on Tuesday the woman (who is a German governess named Rasch) was brought to Weymouth. She admits her guilt”

At the start of May, the case was brought before the courts held in Weymouth’s GuildHall.

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Of course, human nature being what it is and has always been, locals jostled for space in the already packed out the courtroom, eager to absorbed every sordid detail of the terrible affair.

The numerous attending reporters jotted down all the juicy bits, well aware that such highly emotive tales sells their papers far better than boring old Council matters and the usual drunks and debtors that normally filled their columns..

One of many reporters following the case, the Bridport News declared that it was a story of “ALLEGED SEDUCTION AND HEARTLESS CONDUCT.”

Before the panel of local judges stood a sorry looking lass, German born Emma Rasch.

With Weymouth solicitor Mr Howard defending her, Emma’s sad story that was revealed before one and all was one that must have occurred numerous times over the centuries.

She had been employed by a gentleman and his wife as a governess at their home, Templecombe House, Templecombe, Somerset. (Oddly enough, I lived there for a short while and used to visit the doctor’s family who lived and had a surgery in that very same house!) Not surprisingly, this family were wealthy land owners.

Originally from Hanover in Germany, Emma was a well educated, well brought up young woman, who was staying with a friend of the family in Templecombe at the time of her employment.

Of course, their two tales of the tragic events differed widely.

Emma claimed that Peter was the father of her child, and that come the November of the previous year, when things were beginning to become too obvious, he paid her off with £50.00 in gold coins. She was told to take herself off to London and find herself some rooms there to have the baby. Off she obediently toddled and duly found a place to live, only problem was, that £50.00 wasn’t going to go very far at London prices, and babies don’t come cheap. Undaunted, Emma had written to Peter asking for support, surely he wouldn’t fail her and their child?

Poor gullible Emma, she wrote not once, not twice, but a whole series of letter to the errant father, by now she was destitute and had absolutely nowhere to turn to.

Finally, in desperation,  she wrote a final letter informing Peter that if she didn’t hear from him then she would take the child to his mother’s as she could no longer care for it.

His mother was the Scottish lady of no 3 Belgrave Terrace, Weymouth, the recipient of the baby bundle that April’s night.

The dye was cast, Emma boarded the waiting train, her journey from London to Weymouth was all too quickly over, a last few precious moments with her child.

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In court, a tearful Emma vehemently declared that she hadn’t simply abandoned her child, “I did not desert it, as I rang the bell and waited and waited about until the door was opened.”

Having seen her child being safely taken inside and the door closed, a heart broken Emma turned and walked away, her only consolation being that she knew it would be much better off with family who could afford to care for it and love it.

Therein lay the crux of the problem.

For what ever reason, the family didn’t accept any responsibility for the poor child.

A young local girl, Annie Ames, was left to care for the abandoned baby that night and during the next day and a terrible chore befell her later that evening. Annie was made to take the hapless tiny bundle along to the Union Workhouse and handed it over to John Lee, the Weymouth Receiving Officer who took delivery of it.

Baby Rasch was now “chargeable to Weymouth Union,”

Weymouth Workhouse

A terrible crime in the eyes of the law and an offence definitely not taken lightly by those who held close to the town’s purse strings.

There was a certain amount of sympathy for Emma, after all she did what many young gullible girls had done before her, fallen under the spell of her employers false promises.

While she was in Weymouth standing trial she was “being allowed to remain at the house of a policeman under the care of his wife.”

The supposed ‘gentleman’ concerned, not surprisingly denied any knowledge of such events, claiming he didn’t know about the baby until it was placed at his mother’s home, he had never received any of her letters. As far as he knew Emma had simply left to return to Germany to take care of her sick mother.

All that was left to do was for the men of the town who sat in judgement to make their decision.

Who would they believe?

How harsh would their punishment be?

“Emma Rasch, we have come to the conclusion, and it is the only conclusion we can come to, that you have brought yourself within the limits of the law, insomuch that you have deserted your child, so as to leave it chargeable to the Union. The punishment we shall inflict will be of the very slightest description. Upon the consideration that first of all what you did we believe you did for the best of your child under the circumstances, and in consideration that you are a foreigner, the sentence we shall pass on you will be one day’s imprisonment, dating from this morning. you will therefore be discharged at the close of this court.”

With that closing statement the courtroom erupted, loud cheers and clapping echoed around the walls.

Though the spectators were ecstatic with the lenient verdict, Emma walked slowly from the courtroom, her head hung low. She was taken up to Dorchester Gaol and put into a cell where for 24 hours she sat and undoubtedly had time to deeply reflect.

Here she was, an unmarried mother, her child now in the Workhouse, her respectable family back home who possibly didn’t know anything about her ‘crimes’ or even worse, didn’t want to know. For not long after her release Emma packed her trunk and sailed back to Germany

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…without her son.

The man of the tragic case didn’t get off lightly either, “As Mr Peck left the Guildhall he was hooted by a large crowd and he took refuge in the Golden Lion.”

Good old Weymouth folk, never slow in coming forwards with their views on such matters!

A little footnote to this sorry tale sees the abandoned young child christened at the Holy Trinity church on the 9th May…

Holy Trinity.

…his given name was Victor.

A note hastily scribbled in the side column says it all, “Left at the Union-mother returned to Germany.”

Tragically, little Victor wasn’t destined to make old bones.

He died on October 23rd aged just 8 months and his tiny body was buried in a paupers grave along with others from the union Workhouse, their bones lay congenially in adjoining graves at the Wyke Regis churchyard.

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R.I.P. little man.

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Interested in more old views of Weymouth and Portland, check out my numerous local Pinterest Boards to see how our town once looked when your ancestors strolled its streets, browsed the shops and relaxed.