A Thames Estuary Boating Accident
Sole of Sheerness
This article was originally published in the November 1997 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
On August 10th 1833 a number of people left Southend in the evening between 7 and 8pm. They were sailing back to Sheerness and proceeding comfortably along with scarcely any wind when suddenly the wind shifted. One of the party, Thomas Huggett, had made the sail secure. The sail could not be released quickly enough causing the boat to turn over, plunging the whole party into the water.
Despite repeated attempts by William Sole and William Barling (who was at the helm) they were unable to right the boat and after some 15 minutes Sole sank beneath the waves. Another member of the party named Abbett drowned shortly afterwards. Greenfield, another member of the party, held on for two and a half hours after having tried in vain to save himself by taking off his jacket and then went down.
It appears that at about 8 pm the master of the schooner 'Prompt' ordered an extra watch that night because of the change in the weather. The watchman heard distress cries and informed Capt Trayte who ordered a boat out and directed men to go and ascertain the cause. Although it was dark the men proceeded in the direction of the sound and were rowing for about three and a half hours before they discovered the two survivors, Barling and Weeks, holding on to the boat completely exhausted. Barling was senseless, and it was scarcely possible they could have lived many minutes longer.
They were taken on board the schooner where they were treated with every kindness by the captain, who changed their clothes and paid them every attention; enough cannot be said in his praise, as there is no doubt that by his kindness their lives were preserved. Thomas Weeks, the other survivor fully corroborated the evidence of Barling at the inquest, where a verdict of 'accidently drowned' was returned.
At the inquest the bodies of Sole, Greenfield and Abbett had not been found, and a subscription fund was set up to offer a reward should they be found.
It was not until August 19th that the missing bodies were picked up and brought on shore, and taken to their respective friends. Following another inquest where a similar verdict was returned, they were buried on Tuesday, August 20th in the same grave in which Huggett had been buried two days earlier.
Nearly 1,000 people attended the funeral, where it was a truly melancholy scene to see four persons in the morning of life laid in the same tomb who had all been hurried prematurely into another world. Such a sight had never been before seen at Sheerness. The hearse calling first at one house and taking a corpse, and then at two others coupled with the manner of their death were circumstances calculated to soften the hardest heart, and in many places might be seen persons weeping at the sad spectacle. The Rev clergyman conducting the service briefly but impressively addressed the assembled multitude on the uncertainty of human life, and exhorted them in the language of the scriptures 'Be ye also ready for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.'
Upon it being ascertained that the four young men were drowned, a meeting was immediately called, and subscriptions entered into by artificers in HM Dockyard, and eight pounds reward offered for the bodies.
The town of Sheerness was canvassed, and a sum amounting to about £50 was subscribed to bury them, and the surplus to be paid over to the wives of the deceased. Great credit is due to the committee organising the subscription for their active exertions and attentions in the matter.
(Reported in the Maidstone & Kentish Journal for August 20th and 27th 1833)
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