The newspaper account of the inquest into the Larnax sinking

January 3, 2015

Here’s some more material about my great-great-grandfather James Buskin Frail (and his namesake son, my great grandfather) – it’s the 1873 Gravesend newspaper account of the inquest into his nephew’s death. The Larnax story hinges on whether or not he had a ‘riding light’ or anchor light lit when his ship was rammed. Do you believe him?


Probably something like this (currently on eBay) – although it is described as globular.


Transcript of article in Gravesend and Dartford Reporter – Saturday April 12 1873

[Frail’s name is mis-spelled as Fraill, so have corrected that.]


On Friday evening, the 4th inst., an inquest was opened at The Ship and Lobster, before J. Hills, Esq., coroner, on view of a body recently picked up near that place, which had been identified as that of the young man John Guidott, who was drowned some time gone in Gravesend Reach, through a collision between the Newcastle screw steamer C.M. Palmer and the barque Larnax.

As stated in our columns at the time of the occurrence, the Larnax, which was bound for the Mauritius under Captain J.B. Frail, was lying at anchor about a mile and a half below Gravesend on the night of the 10th February, when the C.M. Palmer was seen steering a course in the direction of the barque, and it was said she was hailed. The steamer came on, and struck the Larnax, which filled and very soon went down. Most of the crew managed to get on board the steamer. The deceased, who was Captain Frail’s nephew, was asked by him to take charge of his child, a little girl aged three years. The young man afterwards tried to get on board the steamer with the child, but in so doing, he fell in the water and both he and the child were drowned. The steward of the barque was also drowned. The steamer was much damaged, but she brought up, and sent off a boat, by which means Captain Frail, his wife, and some others, who had taken refuge in the rigging of the barque, were saved. It was stated on the part of the barque that she had her proper riding (anchor) light up, but on the other hand this was denied.

The only evidence taken on Friday was that of the father and mother of the deceased, who identified the body as that of their son. The enquiry was adjourned till Wednesday at noon, that several other persons who witnessed the accident might be examined.

The inquest was resumed on Wednesday, at the Ship and Lobster, before the same coroner and jury. Mr. Moss, solicitor, of No. 38, Gracechurch-street, London, attended on behalf of the relatives of the deceased; Mr. Pritchard, of the firm Pritchard and Son, of Doctors’ Commons, on behalf of the owners of the Larnax; and Mr. Clarkson, barrister, instructed by Messrs. Geleatly, Son, and Warton, of Lombard-street, City, on behalf of the General Steam Navigation Company, to whom the C.M. Palmer belongs.

The Coroner gave a summary of the evidence given on the previous Friday, after which

George Reeves, fisherman, of Gravesend, deposed that he was out in his boat on Thursday morning, near the Ship and Lobster, when he saw the body of the deceased floating in the water. Brought it ashore, and afterwards gave information to the police. Did not know anything about the identity of the body, nor how the deceased came by his death.

James Buskin Frail, captain of the barque Larnax, deposed that he was uncle to the deceased. Had seen the body, and had no doubt as to its identity. The Larnax left London on the morning of 19th February on a voyage to the Mauritius, witness being in command. The deceased accompanied witness as a visitor as far as Gravesend. They reached Gravesend about half past nine o’clock that morning, and came to anchor in the lower part of Gravesend Reach, intending to stay there till the following morning. All went well until about half-past nine in the evening. About that time the boy on deck called out that a steamer was coming into them. Witness was below at the time, but at once went on deck, but before he could reach the deck the steamer struck the barque with her stem on the starboard bow. Witness’s wife followed him on deck, and the deceased took witness’s little girl from him, saying he would take care of her, and witness could look after his wife. The deceased went forward with the child to go on board the steamer. Before witness could get forward with his wife the barque parted and he saw no more of the deceased or of the child. Witness hailed the steamer as she passed astern, and asked if John (meaning the deceased) was on board. Someone answered “Yes.” Told them to send a boat as soon as they could, as the vessel was sinking and then took his wife up into the mizzen rigging. After the barque sank a boat came from the steamer, and witness sent his wife, one man and a boy to the steamer. Another boat afterwards came and took off witness, the mate and the pilot, to the steamer. When they got on board, witness found that the deceased and the child were not on board, and it did not appear that either of them had been on board at all. Witness believed it was the carpenter of the “Larnax” that called out “yes” when witness asked whether they were on board, but could not account for that answer being given. Did not know whether anyone saw the deceased fall overboard. Deceased had with him when he left London, a green greatcoat, but this had since been found aboard the barque. The steamer was the C.M.Palmer, of Newcastle, of 628 tons burden. The watch was set on board at 8 o’clock in the evening; it consisted of a man and a boy. There was a bright light hanging in the starboard fore-rigging. It was an ebb tide and the barque’s head was up the river. Witness was on deck about twenty or twenty-five minutes before the collision took place. The light was there then and the man on the watch was walking underneath it. It was a dark, hazy night. The barque lay about three-quarters of a cable’s length from the upper powder-buoy, and out of the ordinary course of vessels coming down the river. On getting on board the steamer, witness did not see anybody in charge. Enquired for the captain, and was asked to walk below. Went down into the cabin and there found the crew of the Larnax. Remained ten minutes or a quarter of an hour in the cabin before seeing the captain. Was then introduced to him in a side cabin. The captain said it was a bad job for him, and witness replied that it was worse for him with regard to the loss of life. After a little conversation with the captain about those who were drowned, witness went to his wife, who was in a fit, and saw no more of the captain till the morning. Stayed on board the steamer all night. She was anchored with her stern down the river. In the morning witness saw him again, but did not think it was in his place to ask him anything about the collision, and nothing was said about it. Left the steamer about seven o’clock in the morning, and witness’s wife, with the crew, left the same morning. The stem of the steamer was broken in two place, showing that the collision had been very violent. Heard nothing about the approach of the steamer till the boy on board the Larnax called out. When witness was on deck, shortly before the collision, he did not see the boy. At that time a light could have been seen more than half-a-mile off. At the moment of the collision, there was very little difference in the state of the weather. Did not know how fast the steamer was going. – By Mr. Moss: The pilot in charge of the barque anchored her. After the collision, witness saw the light still burning. After the collision, witness saw the light still burning, and remarked to the pilot and the mate that the steamer had not struck there for want of a light. It was a proper light – the usual globular light – and might have been seen half-a-mile off. When the captain of the steamer spoke about it being a bad job, he said nothing about the light. At the time of that conversation, witness knew his child and nephew were lost. The conversation was cut short in consequence of witness’s wife being ill from the shock. The place where the barque was anchored was not a proper place for a steamer going down the river. Other vessels were lying at anchor, close by the barque. – By Mr. Clarkson: At the time of the conversation with the captain of the steamer, witness was naturally distressed in his mind on account of the loss of his nephew and daughter. The other captain knew of the loss of witness’s relatives. Witness’s wife was in a fit at this time, making a noise which they could hear. Would swear that the captain of the steamer said “It’s a bad job for me.” Another vessel called the Boreas was anchored something short a quarter of a mile from the Larnax on the starboard quarter. Another vessel was anchored 60 or 70 fathoms off, on the port bow, and another nearly right ahead, about a quarter of a mile off. The boy who had the watch on board was named John Thomas, and the man John Ward. Knew the boy had said he took the riding light down, and put it up again just before the collision, but had never heard the boy say so himself. Was in the Admiralty court at the enquiry lately held, but did not remember hearing him asked whether he told a man named Hoar that he and another had lowered the riding light to clean it, just before the collision, nor the answer the boy gave. Heard the boy in the Admiralty Court say he had told the waterman that the light was down a quarter or half an hour before the collision to wipe the glass.

James Buskin Frail, jun., said he was the son of Capt. Frail, and was on board the Larnax on the 19th February – not as part of the crew but as a visitor. Was on deck about seven minutes before the collision, and then saw the light in the fore rigging burning brightly. Did not notice the watch on deck. Did not see any steamer approaching. Very soon afterwards, having gone below, heard the boy Thomas call out that a steamer was coming into them, and ran on deck again. Went forward, and found the steamer in collision with the barque, and got on board the steamer. Felt the collision just before this. Never saw his cousin nor his little sister. After getting on board the steamer, witness saw that the light was still burning in the rigging of the barque. Witness heard his father ask if deceased was on board the steamer, and heard someone whom he believed to be the carpenter say, “We don’t know yet.” Believed someone else shouted “Yes.” The collision took place before the witness got on deck, while he was on the companion ladder.

Thomas James Cook of Great Yarmouth, boatswain of the screw steamer Boreas, said that ship was lying at anchor in Gravesend Reach, on the night of the 19th February, about half a mile from the Larnax. Was on deck from nine o’clock on that evening, on the look-out, in company with another man. It was a very dark night, and a little hazy. The last time the witness noticed the clock, it was about ten minutes past nine. Saw a light, belonging to some vessel, about a quarter of a mile ahead. It was impossible to see a vessel at that distance. Witness was standing near the windlass when he heard a noise, and went on in the forecastle, and then saw the lights of a steamer near the light he had previously seen. This would be about half-past nine. Between the time when witness noticed the time and the time of hearing the noise, he saw the light before mentioned two or three times. Could not see the light while standing against the windlass, and therefore had not seen it for a period of about ten minutes before hearing the noise, and could not tell whether or not it had been taken down in the meantime. After hearing the noise first, witness heard cries for help, and a boat was then lowered from the Boreas, and sent in the direction of the light he had seen. Witness did not go in the boat.

Samuel Press, able seaman on board the Boreas, said he was on board that ship about nine o’clock on the night of the 19th of February, and saw a riding light about a quarter of a mile ahead, a little on the port bow. It was very dark. Was sometimes on the forecastle and sometimes on the main deck. About a quarter or twenty minutes past nine, as near as the witness could tell, he heard a crushing noise, as if a collision had taken place, followed by cries for help. About ten minutes before this, witness was on the forecastle, and then saw the riding light. After hearing the cries for help, witness went with it to where the riding light had been seen, and then found it was the barque Larnax. The steamer was near the barque, which was sinking. There were three people on the quarter deck of the Larnax, which was still above water. The riding light was still burning in the rigging. In witness’s opinion, both the Boreas and the Larnax were anchored in places where they would be out of the way of the ordinary traffic of the river, and the steamer’s course ought to have been much nearer the north shore.

Matthew Conway, seaman, of Limehouse, deposed that on the 19th of February he was mate on board the Larnax. At a quarter to nine, witness went to bed, and at half-past nine, hearing the captain say another vessel was running into the barque, he turned out again, and went on deck. The collision took place before he could reach the deck. After the barque sank, witness was taken off by the steamer’s boat, and on getting on board the boat, saw that the riding light was still burning.

John Ward, able seaman, of Greenock, deposed that he was on board the Larnax on the night in question, and was on the look-out, in company with the lad, John Thomas. The barque’s riding light was put up at sun-down. A little before nine o’clock the light was taken down, and the boy wiped the glass. Witness then took it from him and wiped it himself. It was then put up again and witness heard two bells strike on one of the ships lying near. The boy asked what that meant, and witness told him it meant nine o’clock. It took about a minute to take down the lamp, wipe it, and put it up again. The lamp did not want trimming but only wiping, Witness saw the red light of the steamer when she was about two lengths from the barque. He hailed her, and she then struck the barque. The night was dark and the light could not be seen more than four or five lengths off. It was about twenty minutes after putting up the riding light again that witness saw the steamer’s light. Witness did not hoist the light, but carried it up himself; it burnt clearly both before and after that. Did not carry up the light after seeing the steamer. – By Mr. Clarkson: I did not see the steamer’s green light and therefore she must have been under a port helm. When I was examined in the Admiralty Court I said the lamp was down two or three minutes. I took the lamp to the galley to wipe the glass. When I took the light up again, John Thomas was walking about on the deck. I cannot be certain whether I said anything in the Admiralty Court about Thomas wiping the glass. It took about a minute and a half so far as I can tell, to take the lamp to the galley, about a minute or so to wipe it, and about a minute and a half to put it up again. I saw Thomas about once a week since the collision, but have never said anything to him about the light.

Andrew Grant, Trinity House pilot, of Bow, London, deposed that he was in charge of the Larnax on the night in question, and brought her from London as far as Gravesend Reach, where she anchored, with her head up the river. Had been a pilot twenty-six years, and was aware that certain rules were laid down by the Thames Conservancy for the regulation of the navigation of the Thames. The place where the Larnax was anchored was about the best he could select considering that she had to take some powder on board. The steamer had as much right there as the Larnax, so long as she did not touch the Larnax. The riding light of the barque was put up about dusk, and it seemed to witness a proper riding light. Just before collision, witness was below, when the watch called to him, saying a vessel was getting foul of them. Went on deck, and saw a large steamer, which was afterwards found to be the C.M. Palmer, with her head to the southward, athwart the tide, and approaching the barque. In about two or three minutes, she struck her on the bluff of the starboard bow. Did not hail the steamer, but understood the watch to say they had hailed her. They did not hail her while witness was on deck. When he first saw her, she was only a short distance off – perhaps only a few fathoms. Had no doubt it was the intention of the captain of the steamer to bring her up; could not tell at what speed she was then going, but judging from the force of the blow, she must have had some way on her. If the Larnax had not been there, it would have been a proper place for the steamer to bring up. Was on deck about a quarter of an hour before the collision; the riding light was then burning properly. – By Mr. Clarkson: Considering the darkness of the night, witness considered it would have been prudent on the part of the captain of the steamer to bring up. The speed with which she struck the Larnax was her own speed and the force of the tide. Apart from the fact of the Larnax lying there the steamer would require some little way on her to come round with her head to the tide, and two knots’ headway, and the tide would account for the force of the blow.

This concluded the evidence for the present sitting, and the inquest was then adjourned to Wednesday, the 14th of May, at noon.


The public house is still there:





The Frail family (Camberwell and Sunderland)

December 17, 2014

My mum’s surname was Frail. It is a nuisance item for family history because it is often mis-transcribed as ‘Trail’; and it is also a nuisance in the Google department because it is a real word, and newspapers quite like it in headlines as it has only five characters. There again, as a surname it is very rare – only about 120 in the 1911 census. I generally think to myself I have explored all the possible outcomes, and that dead ends should remain cul-de-sacs. But I never did know much about my Mum’s family, and she didn’t want me to find out. Her father Ernest had been brought up by a maiden great-aunt (‘a chapelkeeper’ – his grandmother’s sister – it must have been an austere existence), rather than his parents, who opted to ‘keep’ his younger sisters. An unusual choice. His grandfather had been a mariner (I knew that) and so had his father – but his father was allegedly unemployed. (He is certainly at home in the censuses, whereas his father was away, every time.) My mother was handed the first name of the chapel-keeper, Grace; her elder sister was awarded the other two sisters of the grandmother, Mabel and Eleanor.

I knew a few other things, but suddenly I have found out a great deal about my great-great-grandfather, who had the same middle name as his son and grandson, my grandfather: Buskin. No-one knows why exactly the first man got the Buskin middle name, but my grandfather reportedly would not risk the public humiliation of a dog licence application, fearing Buskin would need to be spoken aloud. (I am not sure he ever had a dog; he had a cat, I recall, a Siamese; perhaps the moral of the story was ‘thus, he never had a dog’.)

And the first James Buskin Frail, or rather the first in direct line of ascent, had quite a story. Here it is. I hope not too many references are in-family ones.

The sad story of James Buskin Frail (1824 – 1895)

JJF: Joshua Jones Frail, father of
JBF1: James Buskin Frail, father of
JBF2: James Buskin Frail [father of EBF] and Richard Broom Frail [father of Francis Robert Bernardi Frail].

When you are a master mariner and lose or damage a certificate, you are in breach of regulations, and you are in danger of losing your livelihood. So the first thing you need to do is to replace it. This involves a fair amount of bureaucracy – which is the only reason I have managed to find out more about my grandfather’s grandfather, a man only rarely visible in a census – he’s at sea. I knew a little; but there is a story I have uncovered that oddly leads to his being named in Hansard; and to an understanding that anyone descended from him and his wife and his son of the same name, is lucky to be here. We nearly weren’t.

JBF1 was born in Southwark/ Camberwell in 1824, the son of Joshua Jones Frail, a wiremaker, who was in turn the son of Thomas Frail, a brickmaker, and his wife Ann. There are not many Frails in England in the 1841 census, and there are three significant family groups, all probably related: Burslem in Staffs; Portsea Island in Hants; and Camberwell/ Greenwich/ Southwark. It is likely that they all come from the same stock, and that the name Frail is Irish (the name Friel is a significant variant, as in Anna Friel). The Portsea family definitely had Irish roots.

At some point, the name Buskin has acquired significance, perhaps actually the names ‘James Buskin’ have acquired significance. I don’t think I will get to the bottom of this, but it seems likely that Ann Frail’s original surname was Buskin, and that her father or grandfather was called James Buskin. She calls her first son Joshua Jones Frail; but the later one is called James Buskin Frail, another wire-maker who drifted to Bristol.

So when JJF had his first son, in 1824, he called him perhaps after his grandfather, or otherwise certainly after his brother: James Buskin Frail.

There are two mysteries about JJF. The first is why he was apparently required to marry the same woman twice. The second is why he chose to move to Sunderland.

His first wife is a widow called Elizabeth Johnson, and he marries her in St. Mary Newington in 1821.


James is Elizabeth Johnson’s child. So too is an Elizabeth, born in 1826 (on whose birth record is the first appearance of ‘wire worker’, regardless of the reference to bricks below). But the next child, his sister Susannah [a very popular Frail name] would appear to be by a new wife, as she was born in June 1834, about six weeks after JJF married another Elizabeth, also a widow, in Clapham. Her previous married name was Field. One of the witnesses was called William Guidott.

1834 JJFrail and Eliz Field

However, just to keep us on our toes, JJF marries again, in 1841. What is genuinely puzzling is that he marries the same or another Elizabeth Field (née Houghton). I can think of no clear reason why anyone should marry twice, each time in a church; but logic goes out of the window with family history. I’ve never seen this elsewhere. And the Guidotts from Marriage 2 are still involved with the Frail couple rather later (1873), and that suggests that the two Elizabeth Fields are one and the same. Another insoluble mystery. I assume there is a technical fault with the first marriage. Note that they even give separate addresses at the time of the re-marriage!


I have never seen a second marriage like this. Any suggestions?

Perhaps the Jones who is a witness is related to the Jones who gave him his middle name. Devonshire Street, by the way, is the one in the Mile End Road district. It was the site of a now-defunct railway station of the same name. (Okay, it disappeared in 1840.)

At this point, JJF and Elizabeth Frail move to Sunderland. JBF1 marries in Sunderland in 1845, so it must be at about this stage. The question, why Sunderland? It may just be logic – where the work is. Wire-working is a specialism that would come in handy in a ship-building town on the up. There is at least one Frail in Monkwearmouth when they get there, as there have been others in Southwick. There is even a curious individual called Frail who is born in Sunderland, but who by 1861 is in a prison… on Portsea Island. It is also possible that JBF1 went first. He was not there long before he was married to Elizabeth Broom (1846).

The Brooms were an established Monkwearmouth family. They appear as early as the 17th century; Eleanor’s father was called Richard Broom, and descended from a Humble Broom – the side effect of a Broom-Humble marriage in 1761. Richard’s father, another Richard Broom, had some kind of status: he leaves a will in 1802, and is described as a yeoman.

Elizabeth Broom came from a family that had suffered more than its share of infant deaths. She had three sisters surviving: Mabel and Grace and Eleanor, and a brother, Richard. She had other brothers. Eleanor and Mabel and Grace had no children – although Eleanor was married in 1849 to George Lee, a shipwright who had been born in 1816. Grace was a chapel-keeper; Mabel, three years younger, lived with her.

When she was over 50, Mabel suddenly married a widower, a carpenter called John Ferry. (My uncle, Jim Frail, asked me not long before his death where ‘Uncle John Ferry’ fitted in. He appears in a couple of Jim’s photos, a cheery, eccentric OAP. I didn’t realise what had happened until now. John and Mabel Ferry moved to the same area in Gillingham – round the corner – where my sister Clare lived before she died. It is hard to believe that Mabel’s flight into marriage was anything other than shocking, but perhaps I am being melodramatic. They would have been at home in Gillingham, too. Local streets were designed by a Sunderland architect to look like Sunderland. Jim still had some wood that had been cut by John Ferry.) Sunderland – and Monkwearmouth especially – were non-conformist. The biblical names Susannah and Joshua suggest that Frails were, too. The name of JBF1’s son in 1865 suggests they were Baptist (oddly enough, the Greenwells across the river were also Baptist).

Mabel – often spelled Mable, by the way – lived to be 90. She could well have met Jim – who also lived to be 90. Her husband John died in 1913 at the age of 81, in Gillingham.

Ferry page 001

‘Uncle’ John Ferry and Mabel nee Broom. About 1909? Note his rumpled appearance, and his hat – similar to the ‘carpenter’s hat’ made famous by Tenniel’s drawing of the carpenter in ‘Alice’ (who was in turn dreamed up on the beach at Whitburn, two miles at most up the coast from Monkwearmouth).

After Mabel left, Grace took on or continued a new project: her great-nephew, my grandfather Ernest (EBF). He is living with her in 1891 and 1901. She died in 1909, after he married. She was fifty years older than him. An idle thought: the names Mabel and Grace (applied to EBF’s daughters) clearly come from these sisters. So why did the elder daughter get Mabel (the one who moved away) and the younger, nine years later, get Grace?

In 1841 and 1851, JJF and Elizabeth Frail were living on Brewery Bank in Monkwearmouth-Shore. JBF1 and his wife lived nearby, although JBF1 wasn’t often there.

In 1861, when applying for his master’s certificate as a mariner, JBF1 had to provide a list of the ships he had worked on. It may be that this gives us a clue as to how he came to Sunderland – on a ship. As Elizabeth Broom lived in a seafaring community, her marriage to JBF1 would have been something she knew about, and it may have been what persuaded JJF and Elizabeth Frail to come north as well – with Susannah.

JBF1’s list gives you an idea of what a tough life a sailor had – as did his wife. During the sixteen years from 1845, when he first served, aged 21, as an able seaman, JBF1 clocked up over twenty years away. No-one seems to have complained about the odd maths that lets him use up 20 years in only 16: and he passed the examination, too. The only way to read this is to assume that he was at sea from about the age of twelve, which certainly sounds feasible. He was in Sunderland every Christmas and every spring, excepting those times when he was away for over a year, as in 1850-1852.
Here is his record:

JBF ships

And here is his certificate. This is a document he was to damage in distressing circumstances.

Frail master's cert 1

JBF’s sisters Elizabeth and Susannah had both married, although Elizabeth does not seem to have come to Sunderland (I am fairly sure she married a bricklayer called David Webb, and remained in Camberwell all her life). Susannah was in Sunderland too, and had married a seaman/ naval volunteer called Thomas Farrant, in 1851.

The next decade – JBF1 being hardly there – was filled with domestic disaster. The easiest way to do this is to look at the pattern of Susannah and JBF1’s families together.

1849 JBF1 and Elizabeth Broom have a daughter, Eleanor.
1851 Eleanor Frail dies at 18 months.
1851 Susannah marries Thomas Farrant (he is from Essex). She is 17.
1851 Son Thomas Farrant born.
1856 Daughter Elizabeth Farrant born.
1856 James Buskin Frail the second born (JBF2).
1858 Mabel Frail born.
1859 Ann Isabella Farrant born.
1861 Richard Broom Frail born.
1861 Joshua Frail Farrant born.

Now it starts to go wrong.

1862 Joshua Jones Frail dies, of typhus. He is 63.
1863 George Lee Frail (named for his uncle) born.
1863 Elizabeth Farrant dies, aged 7.
1864 Susannah Farrant is born.
1865 Joseph Graham Frail born (has to be proved this is correct, but I know of the descendant of Baptist preacher Joseph Graham who lived in the nearby street). I suspect he died that year.
1866 Betsy Frail Farrant is born and dies.
1866 Susannah Farrant dies in childbirth, aged 34.
1868 Thomas Farrant dies, aged 14.
1868 Thomas Farrant marries again to Hannah Rowe.
1868 Hannah Rowe Farrant has a first child: Mary Hannah Farrant.
1869 Elizabeth Frail is born. She is known as Lily.
1870 Hannah Rowe Farrant has a second child: Thomas Rowe Farrant.
1871 George Lee Frail dies, aged 7. (He is buried in Mere Knolls Cemetery; years later, EBF looked for the grave and found it, only to be told he was its owner – much as I am now accidentally the ‘owner’ of EBF’s grave.)

It’s 1871. The Frails have lost two, perhaps three children. They have JBF1, Richard, Mabel and Lily left. The Farrant children are orphaned, and two have died. Ann, Joshua and Susannah remain, with two new half-siblings. This is how the 1871 census stacks them up.

At 1 Waterloo Place, Monkwearmouth, Thomas Farrant is away at sea. His new mother-in-law, Elizabeth Rowe, has Thomas’s children Joshua and Susannah from his Frail marriage, and another grandson from another daughter, called John McIntosh. Above them is Hannah (Rowe) Farrant. She has Annie, her stepdaughter, with her; and her two young children Mary and baby Thomas with her – and a nurse called Mabel Caress. She will have three more children in the next four years. Thomas was to die at the age of 14, and a subsequent brother, when he was 23.

Joshua Frail Farrant is never recorded on any index after this.

At 25 Dock Street East, Monkwearmouth, James Buskin Frail senior is away. Elizabeth is downstairs with JBF2 and Mabel, Richard and little Lily.

At 27 Society Lane, Monkwearmouth, Elizabeth Frail, JJF’s widow, formerly of Shoreditch, is on her own.

In 1872 JJF’s widow, Elizabeth Frail, dies, aged 81.

James Buskin Frail – JBF1 – is abroad in 1872. Master of his fourth ship – the “Larnax” – he spends from February 1872 to January 1873 taking cargo to Singapore and New York. When he comes back, he and Elizabeth have an idea, and it is at this point that his life goes just a little crazy. The “Larnax” is a barque, a sailing ship. He takes his family – the two sons, the daughter, the little girl – on the ship, together with some paying passengers. Also there are some nephews of his wife – the children or grandchildren of William Guidott (last seen on the 1834 marriage certificate as a witness), including the lithographic artist John Guidott, who is 21. (I can’t work out the precise relationship, but it may be that Elizabeth Field’s sister married a Guidott.) There are thirteen aboard. The youngest, Lily, is three. The boat is set for Mauritius, but it does not seem likely he was attempting to take his family with him. It is February 19th, three days after his birthday, and it is in the early hours. They are at anchor off Gravesend, and the fog is thick. James Frail goes into the belly of the ship to be with his wife and daughter. Out of the fog comes another ship, a steamship, a Tyneside ship called “C.M. Palmer”, named for the joint boss of Tyneside’s Palmer’s yard. The apprentice at the wheel shouts “Steamer coming into us, Captain Frail!” and, just as the men get to the deck, it smashes into the fore-rigging. There is a violent crump as it hits the “Larnax”. There is nothing to do but to abandon it. Torn between two impulses – Lily and the ship – he takes the three-year-old with him as he tries to see if he can stop the boat from sinking. In the fog and the dark he hears someone shouting: his nephew, John. John motions to Lily. He’ll take her. James Frail sees this, understands it, feels a relief. John takes Lily and hurries into the dark. Now he guides his wife, his mate, and the apprentice up the rigging to the boat.

He waits till the last of the ten minutes they have until he allows the steamer to rescue him; he stays with his ship as long as he can. On board the “C.M. Palmer”, he sees his wife. She asks him where Lily is. And has he seen John? Only then does he realise that neither John nor Lily have been seen again – they have drowned after trying to climb the rigging and falling. The ship’s steward (cook), a man called Boucher, is also missing. Her body is not discovered for ten weeks. His nephew’s body is buried at a local chapel; Boucher is also accidentally buried, and has to be exhumed for an inquest. This coroner’s court comes out very firmly in favour of James Frail. There is an inquiry, as there must be. The Admiralty inquiry finds against the “C.M. Palmer”. But in May there is an appeal to the Privy Council, and Palmer’s has the decision reversed: a technicality. No light being shone, against regulations. The case finally returns to a tribunal in June, and the focus is all on whether or not the “riding-light” was lit. (Curiously, a Hull paper, one of many from Portsmouth to Liverpool that feature the case, notes in its first report how bright the riding light is. This looks very much like a reporter being nobbled. The other newspapers are mostly in agreement, but prone to being wrong. One – and I have seen 11 – says the son has died.) There is a right royal compromise (stitch-up) at the end of the third session, a Board of Trade enquiry: “After giving this extraordinary case their best consideration, the court is of the opinion that both ships were more or less to blame, but under the very special circumstances, to which they need not further refer, they do not feel justified in dealing with the masters’ certificates.” The certificates are returned to the masters.
The end result is a side-effect of the case exciting a fair amount of public interest. The Devonport MP, Montagu Chambers, an ageing defence Q.C. at the end of his parliamentary career, and his life, asks the President of the Board of Trade in the House of Commons whether he will place upon the Table of the House the Minutes of Evidence taken by the Shorthand Writer at the recent official investigation by the Magistrate, assisted by the Nautical Assessors Captain Harris and Captain Oates, at Greenwich Police Court, into the circumstances of the collision between the screw steamer “C. M. Palmer” and the barque “Larnax,” on the night of the 19th of February last, in Gravesend Reach, which resulted in the loss of three lives: viz. Lily Frail, the captain’s daughter (of the “Larnax”), Thomas R. Boucher, the steward of the “Larnax,” and John Guidott, visitor on board the “Larnax,” together with the official report or decision of the Magistrate and Nautical Assessors? He gets a coded reply, saying it is sub judice. Chambers obviously smelt a rat, and his intervention plainly is a coded piece of advice to the board of trade: let Frail off. It works a charm, despite the political dissimulation.

M Chambers

Montagu Chambers

James Buskin Frail realised his master’s certificate was damaged. He explained how it happened, and received a replacement. The name “Larnax” was transferred to a steamship, and James B. Frail gained its command. In 1877, he was described as returning the boat to London from Singapore. At some point, he was relieved of his work probably in early 1878. In 1881, he is at home with his one-year-old grandson Ernest, and describes himself as unemployed. In 1878, the “C.M. Palmer” had gone down after a boat had ploughed into it in fog – the “Ludworth”. The master was suspended, and it was plain that his crew were not qualified. Several people were killed. A couple of months after the census, the “Larnax” went down in a journey between Maryland and Nova Scotia.
It looks from Chambers’ threat of intervention as if it was widely agreed that there had been sharp practice in the Privy Council, but James Buskin Frail had no choice but to soldier on. There would probably have been a dent in his reputation, since, although there was sympathy for the death of his daughter, he had been, at the time of the collision, in the warm with his wife. He does not seem to have sailed after the 1870s. He died in 1895, at the age of 70. His wife followed three years later.

When his daughter Mabel married a man called Metcalf, she gave her son the name “James Buskin Frail Metcalf.” Many families of the time did, but the Frails seem to do it more than once: just look at the names of the two brothers: Joshua Jones and James Buskin. Or Richard Broom Frail, JBF2’s second son. Or Richard Frail’s twin sons, the ones whose birth killed his wife, Annie Bernardi. The first – who survived as Frank Frail – was Francis Robert Bernardi Frail. The second, who did not survive, was William Pollock Frail. William Pollock was a shipwright next-door neighbour to JBF2 in the 1870s. (This is why I think Joseph Graham Frail in 1865 is part of the same family; and there was certainly a Joseph Graham around: he owned a timber yard in exactly the same place as Joshua Jones Frail and Richard Broom lived – and by a fluke, his great-great-granddaughter has contributed to a colossal Sunderland web-site. Joseph Graham had also died just before this; and he was a local Baptist preacher.) As it happens, the Baptists across the Wear in Sunderland were Greenwell relatives.

But that really is another story.

Here are some charts to chew over:

The different Buskin Frails: a guide

Buskin Frails 001

The Broom sisters

Brooms 2 001

The family of James Buskin Frail (the elder)

JBF family

The family of Joshua Jones Frail

JJF family

A quick peek at Monkwearmouth. [Annie Maxwell was EBF’s wife, my maternal grandmother.]

MW Frail scan 001

And finally, the clue that got me going: JBF explaining what happened to his damaged certificate

JBF lost cert

Kathryn Simmonds – Love & Fallout (Seren)

October 5, 2014

Love & Fallout  Kathryn Simmonds Seren £8.99

Love & Fallout

Those of you who know Kathryn Simmonds from her (brilliant) first two collections of poetry, Sunday at the Skin Launderette, and last year’s The Visitations, might well be surprised by Love & Fallout, her first novel. It isn’t that it’s good, it’s that it’s so good. It’s not peculiarly common for poets to be able to manage a novel, and novelists vice versa. The structure and the rhythm of each genre is different. Sophie Hannah has done it (but I still think she’s a stronger poet); Adam Foulds has (but I don’t think he’s a successful poet, and I don’t mean as in reputation: he won the Costa. I just think his poetry is over-rated). Helen Dunmore does both (I like, guardedly, both genres by her). I know one could go on (yes, Plath; yes, Lawrence; yes, Hardy, although Hardy was interesting in that he effectively stopped the novels and turned on the poetry instead).

But this is no jobbing poet’s novel. It’s an arresting debut, quite the match of (and in a curious way, related to) Marina Lewycka (A Short History of Tractors in Albanian, Two Caravans, Various Pets Alive and Dead). I’ll come back to the problematic title at the end, but it’s intended to tell us there are parallel experiences – that of Tessa Perry, a forty-eight year old mother and wife whose relationships with both her husband and daughter are fracturing (her teenage Goth son is rather more amenable), and whose best friend has just persuaded a TV makeover show to give her a lift she doesn’t need or want. Or does she? The doubts that are filtered through Tessa’s perceptions of what is around her (it’s all told by Tessa) are really skilfully handled, handled with a wit that is very like the wit in Simmonds’s poetry. Simmonds is an ironist. She doesn’t do the ridiculous: she stages scenes so that the dialogue is teasingly on an edge between thoughtful and the comic (dialogue and structure are two of her strengths).


Kathryn Simmonds

Once she has established Tessa, who agrees to go along with the makeover because it will give television airplay to a campaign against the local common land being prepared for developers, Simmonds starts the novel on a gentle oscillation between the 1980s and the present. In the 1980s, Tessa has been dumped, has been a university refusenik, but has found some self-respect by joining the Greenham Common peace campaign. This is laugh-out-loud but mockery-free. It’s a wonderful talent to depict absurdity without ever lampooning it, and the trick is the believability of Tessa. Tessa is a far from perfect individual, but she has good, honest doubts about everything, and her seriousness (and innocence) make her an expert narrator.

Unhappy in the present, ill-equipped in the past, Tessa is nevertheless an engaging presence. The Greenham months (the novel switches exclusively to them at one stage) are documented as a kind of rite-of-passage tale. Tessa experiences all kinds of conflicting emotions, including the important one, love; we are shown how Tessa finds out what satisfies and dissatisfies her, and what helps us understand her edginess in the present. It is a dissatisfaction that goes much deeper than having her friends suggest she is the next best thing to a bag lady. Emotionally, she is tethered to the past, although the Greenham experience is a tag she would rather not wear. For her, Greenham has been about love above all else.

One of the pleasures of reading Love & Fallout is the inventiveness of the language. ‘The nearly full moon was encircled by a fuzzy white halo.’ ‘[The cold spaghetti] has congealed, solid and contoured like a section of brain.’ ‘… the particular tang of woodsmoke, a smell like old kippers…’ ‘I pictured her face, so small and pale and closed; it made me think of a shop in sunlight with the blinds pulled down.’ For page after page, these images appear, reminding you that Simmonds is above all else an observant writer. The observation is equally good when it comes to the relationships – perhaps most brilliantly of Tess’s mother and father, but also of Tessa’s husband Pete, of her teenage children, of the well-individualised characters at the peace camp. There is not a whiff of stereotype anywhere. Even the TV makeover queen is deftly handled, silly but believable. And Simmonds (whose research is impeccable) also lobs in treats, such as that the now-ubiquitous absolutely was posh-child speak in the early 1980s. I had deep-sixed that in my brain.

The novel is also remarkable for the way it fuels itself with narrative lines. As the present and past intertwine, we bare led to speculate about several aspects of the future. What will become of Tessa and Pete’s marriage? What will happen to Tessa’s relationship with her daughter? What will become of her latest project (Tessa is constantly taking on new challenges)? How will the past reach forward and snag her (when it does, in reuniting her with one of the most testy Greenham women, everything is a brilliant surprise)? What is the real nature of the friendship at the camp with Rori (short for Aurora), the relationship that makes her have a powerful emotional flashback when glimpsing a girl of twenty, Rori’s age at the camp, at a swimming pool – the incident that triggers the unfolding of the story? Simmonds braids all these plot-strands together with panache.

The cover of the novel is an invitation to chick-lit readers, I think – the curly shower, the suggestion of wallpaper, the pastel shades; and I’m not sure that ‘Fallout’ works, as the pun on nuclear fallout doesn’t really work at the Greenham end. But it will be a great pity if readers give this a miss because of supposed genre. This is a fantastic novel – so sure of its ground, so astute in its understanding, so emotionally true, and all this with a light, deft, amusing touch. If this is chick-lit, or a women-only novel, then I am a hobbit. My favourite novelist is Liz Jensen, and structurally, this first novel (for that’s what it, unbelievably, is) is quite the equal of early Jensen. This is perhaps the first novel to feature Stevenage (!) but I think it deserves first-novel plaudits, and prizes, and above all, as many readers as hope to find themselves happy.


Eric Burdon, The Animals, Colne

August 31, 2014

I’ve liked – that isn’t strong enough, since as a young teenager, I used to celebrate his birthday – Eric Burdon for such a long time that it seems a little strange that I haven’t seen him since 1968, when the five original Animals reunited for two sets at Newcastle City Hall, for charity. I was 16, and not quick enough off the mark to get a ticket for the later performance; but I did see the first one (the second was said to have been better, by a friend who bought a ticket for each). So going to see Eric Burdon, now 72, at Colne – his only UK date in three or more years, as far as I can work it out – was an overdue kick. (He headlined on the Sunday night, August 24th.)

Colne, in East Lancashire, was having its 25th anniversary ‘Great British R&B Festival’. (Actually, it wasn’t, it was having the 25th consecutive festival – it can use the 25th anniversary tag next year, since it began in 1990.)

This was the first gig for Burdon since the end of nearly a decade in court came to an end in 2013, with a judge overturning a 2008 decision that the original drummer, John Steel, had the rights to the name ‘The Animals’, something he claimed in 2004. You can read the judgement here. Fittingly, he appeared as ‘Eric Burdon and the Animals’, although any hopes that the one original Animal with whom he is still speaking, guitarist Hilton Valentine, would be there, were soon put to one side.

The venue – ‘The International Stage’ – at Colne turned out to be a pleasantly down-at-heel municipal theatre, capable of taking about 500-600 people (I would say there were fewer), including a balcony, although I opted for a place by the stage, until the pressure on my left eardrum was so severe that I moved away.

The last time I saw The Animals – or Eric, at any rate, since I’ve seen Steel’s outfit, ‘Animals and Friends’ a couple of times – they had grown apart in every way. Steel and Alan Price had left the band (I should say ‘group’, shouldn’t I?) before the end, and been replaced by two musicians, Barry Jenkins and Dave Rowberry, who I thought were actually better. Their last album, Animalism (sic, not to be confused with Animalisms) had been released with no fanfare in the US only – in fact it has still had no official release in the US or UK on CD, and it has never had a release on vinyl in the UK, a weird fact about the best R&B band of the sixties. In 1968, Chas Chandler (died in 1996), the bassist, and Valentine were in denim. Steel was in a smart-casual button-down shirt and tie. Alan Price was in a dinner jacket. And Eric Burdon had long hair, and was wearing a striped poncho. He’d also forgotten the words to ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’.

It has always been a mystery to me how Price was ever allowed to appear onstage with the others, since all the royalties on ‘House of the Rising Sun’ accrue to him. All four of the others say that he wasn’t keen on the song, while Price claims he did the arrangement. It’s suggested that the manager, a truly shady character called Mike Jeffery, and who died in a 1973 plane collision over France, in some way colluded with Price to place his name on the ‘traditional’ song as the arranger. No-one is ever going to know the truth, although Price left the band the moment his first royalty cheque arrived, and on the eve of a Swedish tour, without telling the others. They had to rope in a teenager called Mickey Gallagher for the tour – Gallagher subsequently ended up in The Blockheads, and currently plays for ‘Animals and Friends’ with Steel. But they reunited twice more, once for a tour in the early 1980s, which must have messed with Burdon’s head in no small way, since the song is identified so much with him (I have lost track of the number of times he has re-recorded it, and so has he, I would guess). There is a Japanese CD called ‘Last Concert’ in which you can hear how fed up Burdon is with the venture.

Burdon was asked in a local Colne interview if he had any advice for his teenage self. He starts ‘Never trust your bandmates.’ You can see why.


Burdon’s band at present must be one of the strongest – he says it is the strongest, but I guess he would – ever to back him. Terry Wilson on bass, Wally Ingram on percussion, Billy Watts on guitar, Tony Braunagel on drums (the last three have all won or nearly won awards) and the veteran Red Young on keyboards. I am going to except Ingram from what follows – he was terrific. But the band was accurate and passionless. It was an average performance, and perhaps the result of the unconscionable time they took setting up – Burdon apologised for them, and said that he would sell any one of them into white slavery if we emailed a name in. He did the right thing. The audience had become restive enough to slow-stamp-their-feet and to sing ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ while the band members tweaked everything. ‘You want it to sound good, right?’ tried Braunagel. The audience wasn’t impressed. Perhaps some of them, like me, had to catch the last train to Preston at 2330.

Is there any good news? Yes. The band may have played without fire (it is bizarrely the case that Mickey Gallagher would have been far, far better), but Eric, all 5ft 6 of him, was in ridiculously good vocal shape. Surprisingly (since he has made three brilliant CDs in the last decade, the most recent, ‘Til Your River Runs Dry, being the best), the balance of the show was a crowd-pleasing hits package, with just three, maybe four from the new CD, and only two (When I Was Young and the curiosity Spill The Wine) from the later sixties. We had Don’t Bring Me Down, Inside Looking Out, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, It’s My Life, We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place, and, inevitably, this being its fiftieth anniversary, House of the Rising Sun. Nothing else came from any time else, unless you count ‘Shake’, which is on that ‘missing’ Animalism album, but had been in the Animals’ repertoire for much longer, and which turned up in an encore that combined Boom Boom, Shake and Around and Around. The surprise, and for me the oustanding number, was I Believe To My Soul, the Ray Charles number that The Animals did so brilliantly on their second album. That was the icing on the cake.

Burdon is a shouter. He doesn’t train or rehearse his voice. He just lets it rip. His idol as a young man was John Lee Hooker, who lived to be 83. (Hooker wrote Boom Boom.) With a bit of luck, Burdon may go further – I hope so. You have to respect a singer who has sustained his enthusiasm for singing songs he first tried out half a century ago.


A Life Of Jerome K. Jerome: Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton

January 6, 2013

At long last, a writer has given JKJ (or ‘Arry K. ‘Arry, as his contemporaries rudely dubbed him – “‘Arry”, as Oulton explains, being more or less on a par with “chav”) a decent biography. The earlier efforts have been hobbled by JKJ’s destruction of his own papers, and also by the way in which he concealed himself, either playfully or deliberately or even mistakenly, in his own autobiography. His name alone is a problem – He was certainly named Jerome Jerome, although his father was born Clapp, and changed it to Jerome not long before JKJ, his last child, was born (his previous biographer gets that completely the wrong way round). The middle ‘K’ disguises the fact that he (the son) was Jerome Clapp Jerome, something he was still admitting to census-takers and the like until well into the 1870s. The story he put round was that a Hungarian general called Klapka had been a family friend. There was a Klapka, but the dates are all wrong, and the connection is beyond implausible.

Three Men In A Boat (Not To Mention The Dog) was perhaps a mixed blessing for Jerome, because it made his name and defined him as a comic writer (ironically, the book was intended as a sort of travelogue, offering glimpses of the history of the Thames, but a good editor, and good sense changed all that). Little of his other work was taken very seriously, although he did write a much-performed (and now little-known) play, The Passing Of The Third Floor Back. As a working journalist, however, he defined a new and entertaining style, and influenced a number of other writers, including Robert Lynd, the mainstay of New Statesman from 1913 to 1945, and who wrote for ‘Today’, one of JKJ’s magazines. Another, now-forgotten journalist, Gerald Gould, was also much influenced. Indeed, JKJ had a profound effect on the very magazine that took a critical cleaver to him more often than most: Punch.

JKJ cover_0001

Below The Fairy City: A Life Of Jerome K. Jerome by Carolyn W de la L. Oulton (Victorian Secrets, 2012)

What I love about Oulton’s study is that it gets under the skin of the man. Sometimes, as Oulton admits, he can be hard to like. His views on women and suffrage were far from breezy, and his views on race contradictory: nonetheless, he can be found denouncing the lynchings that took place in the southern USA, and, in his very private life, he protected his wife and his children – there is almost no trace of them, merely stray references by others. And yet their courtship must have been extraordinary, since she divorced her first husband – far from easy then – a husband who was actually related to Jerome. No real trace of it survives, and what little there is is dealt with with a really impressive caution by Oulton, who is not given to speculation. (Jerome also believed he had, as a child, met Dickens. He believed it. I doubt it. Oulton is properly careful. If he didn’t, he should have.)

I first came across the oddity of Jerome’s life when I had the idea – about the only one that has ever attracted a publisher – of writing vignettes of a variety of figures in the 1881 census whose lives were becoming ‘lost’ – misunderstood, confused, subject to rumour. Quite often this was, it’s true, because the figures had tried to erase their footsteps, as Jerome did. I had a great two years, and then was swallowed by a job, and simply put the outcome up on the internet for anyone to have a go at. In Jerome’s case, it was the wonderful Frank Rodgers who set me straight (he is the fount of almost all Jerome wisdom, and what’s more, possesses Jerome’s mother’s diary). And if there is a family relationship to get tangled up in, it’s Jerome’s. I thought my own family had a stunner in that my great-grandfather’s cousin married her father’s brother-in-law. The Jeromes created a web of marriages and cousinry (no such word, but there should be) that it would take a genius to put it simply.

Oulton, like me, has had Frank Rodgers on her case. He ticked me off very generously.  Unlike me, she’s completed a full-scale biography. That curious Amazon trick of letting you read what feels like a lot of the book had the desired result: press Order Now. I didn’t regret it, and read the whole thing straight through. I really advise you to do the same. Do it here.

Spartacus in Darlo

November 18, 2012

It looked like another pizza advert, half-pushed through the door.

It was no surprise. Most days, living as I do in the takeaway zone of Darlington, there is a glossy flier poking through the letter-box: Chinese, Indian, but mainly pizza. Sometimes they go straight to the bin. Sometimes, because I’m one of those troubled people who cannot pass print without reading it, I have a gander at the contents. A quick one. Oddly, however, I could see no obvious reference to food. I was surprised, therefore, to see that I was in fact being invited, the festive season being almost about to wash over us, like effluent, to buy into a new scheme. In fact, into private policing. Here’s part of the cover:

Happy Christmas!

Yes, if I wanted guys in berets and bulletproof vests to be the ‘eyes and ears of the streets’, to ‘detain trespassers’, and to ‘enhance resident’s [sic] peace of mind’, I could get all this for £15. I am not quite sure whether the detention of trespassers is legal, but most things are. I wondered what they did. Came in and restrained your trespasser, and phoned the, er, police, I assume. A later part of the glossy leaflet does say they are in communication with the police, who possibly envy their thermal imaging, and training in Conflict Management.

Still, wondering vaguely why they had gone for the lean, mean, rather puritanical Greek state of Sparta for their inspiration (why not the less cerebral Visigoths or the Vikings?), I spotted an insert slipping to the floor. This was something else again. It was a bargain offer from Sparta, and here it is:

‘Commander of Darlington’

I don’t quite know how successful this is going to be. If there really is a man dressed up as a Roman centurion, all beefcake and slightly dicey padding, I find it hard to believe that anyone is going to go up to him and say ‘Spartacus Domesticus Protecticus’, in the hope that he will hand out a discount card. For one thing, if you try saying ‘Spartacus Domesticus Protecticus’, it is pretty hard to do it without exuding spit, and that’s a big sword he’s carrying.

The weird thing is that Spartacus (nothing to do with Sparta, alas: but the classicists have to cope with this kind of limited understanding of the ancient world) wasn’t Roman, wasn’t an official soldier, but (by most accounts) a gladiator who went a bit Robin Hood and wished to end slavery, and was killed when the authorities turned their attention to him. Besides, I find it impossible to take Spartacus as seen here seriously, because he hasn’t got a dimple, the defining feature of the Kirk Douglas rendition (if Kirk Douglas was roaming my streets, I might be tempted). There is no sign above of a hammer and chisel having been taken to that chin:

This is the kind of thing we need round here.

I think I’ll go and check the door’s locked.

The Ord sisters and Ethel Stokell (2), May 2 1897

November 7, 2012

It was, as I suggested, pretty easy to find more on the story behind the Piercebridge memorial. Given that the four girls drowned on Sunday, and late on Sunday too, the reporter from Darlington’s Northern Echo was pretty swiftly on the scene. The first account is in the newspaper the very next day – before, in fact, all the bodies had been recovered:

The reporter does pretty well, all things considered. He gets the surname ‘Ord’ wrong (he has it as ‘Auld’); he doesn’t know which girl has not yet been found; and he doesn’t know Ethel’s first name. He does get the nicknames of the Ord sisters: Hannah is Hannah, but Genevieve is ‘Vevie’, and Winifred is ‘Winnie’. Nor are the details lurid, but they are of course sad, and a little sentimental – probably the two details he picks up on would now be treated with the same eye for detail, but with a lot less respect. The four girls had been collecting flowers: gathering primroses. Four bunches were found on the bank. They’d taken off their boots and stockings, and – although, as the reporter says, this is surmise – decided to test the water for a paddle. Did one slip, and the others try to rescue her? he asks. He also makes an illogical remark (well, I find it illogical): that they had not spent long on the bank, because, close to where the shoes and stockings were found, the name of one of the girls was found ‘written in the sand’. (This factoid is never repeated.) Two of the girls have been found in shallow water, but 600 yards from the shoes and stockings, in the Darlington direction; the other is 150 yards further on.

It was finding the shoes and stockings that started the alarm, according to the reporter, although this story is to change. What subsequently turns out to be the true story is that a Colonel J.G.Williamson – not Wilson, as first reported – of Cliffe Hall, has been out for a late Sunday afternoon walk with a friend and two of his sons, when one of them, Maurice, has spotted a body. He and his brother have pulled it out, only to discover a second. And at this stage, the alarm is raised, the third body is found, and the search starts for the fourth (it is still going on late on Sunday evening, before being abandoned). In the meantime, Ethel’s father, who has been over to visit the Ords with his daughter, and has left her with them, has blithely gone homewards in a train – from Piercebridge Station, leaving at 8.30. This doesn’t fit with the suggestion that the alarm has been raised. He has been stopped before reaching home – either Whitby or Hartlepool, it never says, and I’m not clear – by a telegraph sent to Bank Top station. You have to say that this is all amazingly efficient. And that the fact that you could hop on a train at Piercebridge seems somehow admirable. I suppose a mobile phone call would have reached him more quickly, which would have been awful (he was informed of the drowning by a railway official, not by a random call). Always odd to contrast the technologies.

The bodies have been taken to a local farm (Low Fields Farm, the property of a Mr. Dickinson). The search for the missing fourth girl is resumed at first light on Monday, by which time, they know they’re looking for Hannah, the eldest. She isn’t found until three o’clock, ‘in a deep pool  … close to a large rock’. By deep, about ten to twelve feet is meant. Grappling irons have been used in the search, but they don’t seem to have been used in the discovery. By the time Tuesday’s Northern Echo has reported this, the inquest is already fixed for Wednesday, at The Crown Inn, Piercebridge.

Not surprisingly, Mr. and Mrs. Ord – particularly the former, who was in poor health, and who had only a year or two to live – were horribly distressed. ”The father and mother seem[ed] almost demented.’ They were spared having to identify the bodies, which were laid out upstairs, above the inquest – for viewing by the jury. Their bodies were unmarked, according to Annie Thoroughgood, who had laid them out. A young girl called Annie Graham says that she saw them at four o’clock, near Cliffe Hall, on the Durham side of the river. This in itself is odd, since the original reporter clearly says the boots and stockings were on the Yorkshire side. He may have been wrong, as this is never challenged. There is some speculation that they have walked along a stone shelf, when one has fallen into deep water; there is some speculation that they were thinking of crossing the river (the river incidentally had no footpath, something perhaps we take for granted).  As the coroner remarks, the only thing they can say is that ‘these bodies have been found drowned, but … there is no evidence how it occurred’. The foreman assents.

Two odd things turn up at the inquest – one is that Ethel Stokell has had 2s 8d (quite a lot for a 14-year-old!) on her, a silver ring, and a watch that had not stopped. The other is that only one pair of boots has actually been found, one additional boot, and five stockings. But to look into that mystery, relatives would need to be called, and the Coroner doesn’t wish to involve them.

After this, the Northern Echo – preoccupied not only with the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria, but also with a pit accident at Kelloe, and plenty of other incidents (the death of a young girl falling off a trap, as in pony and trap), moves on. The funeral is not mentioned. However, about a fortnight later, the members of the Victory  Harmonic Social Club organise ‘a smoking concert’ – the Mayor in attendance – in Darlington, proceeds to the parents of the girls. (Actually, the parents were quite well off. Stokell owned houses in Hartlepool, and Ord had a reputation as a decorator and photographer, having originally been a hatter and mercer in Bishop Auckland.) It would be interesting to find photographs of the four. And also to find out what on earth a ‘smoking concert’ was (actually, this last bit proved to be easy. It was a musical concert only attended by men: rather odd, in the circumstances. The term is apparently still in use in obscure men-only circles).


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