The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

The Sinking of the Princess Alice

and the death of Elizabeth Sewell

By J.A. Hilton

This article was originally published in the April 1998 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.

This may be of interest to SEWELL family historians.

In 1878 there was a terrible disaster on the River Thames when the empty, collier Bywell Castle, proceeding downstream, collided with the paddle steamer Princess Alice coming upstream with a full load of day excursionists.

Such was the scale of the disaster that when the Bywell Castle backed off, the Princess Alice sank within a few minutes, due to the water rushing into the gaping hole in her side and 700 people suddenly found themselves in the River Thames. Most died but some were saved; some bodies were carried out to sea and never found. Amongst those who died was Elizabeth Sewell, aged 61, of Clerkenwell.

When I was writing the History of the South Eastern & Chatham Railway, I acquired a long run of Kentish local newspapers on microfilm and the events of this disaster are well recorded. Fortunately I have the Kentish Mercury for 1878, which is the most detailed, and if Elizabeth Sewell is of interest to you, I can obtain the relevant copies on microfilm. There are a total of 16 pages, which deal with the actual happening, the harrowing tales of the survivors and of those searching for the bodies of loved ones, and the inquest and the Board of Trade Inquiry.

Of necessity, I have to print out the whole page, which measures approximately 17" x 25" but at least it is readable. The cost of all 16 pages is 12, including postage.


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