At Woolwich Dockyard, where the bruised and swollen remains of the dead lay side by side in long and fetid rows, or on the river, where the watermen, amid wrangling and coarse jokes, hauled in the bodies like any other fish which might come to their net, a sufficiently horrible side of the calamity was seen, but not its tearful and sorrowful side. At the cemetery on Monday week many eyes were brimming with tears, and the people were all hushed and quiet. Women and children who shrank from the tussle on the river shore or the blackened row of corpses in the Dockyard, had come here to be present at the burial of the unnamed dead, some with the view of thus paying vicarious honour to the unfound remains of their own relations. Here, as elsewhere, there were many spectators mixed with the mourners, but it might be gathered from the conversation that those who were not the nearest relatives of persons lost had personal recollections of the victims of the collision. Just such groups of women and children stood and sat on the saloon decks of the Princess Alice in that glad hour of her last voyage, of which one of our Artist's presents a souvenir. It was twenty minutes past five when the ambulance-wagons of the Transport Department of the Army Service Corps containing the thirty-two unidentified corpses approached. The ambulances mounted the hill, the unloading of their freight was begun; and the clergymen, the Hon. and Rev. A. Anson, the Rector of St. Mary's, Woolwich, and the Rev. J.T. Love, his Curate, read the earlier portion of the funeral service several times, while the later arrivals were being taken out of the ambulances. So long was the operation that a second train of three ambulances joined the first with twelve more corpses, and as the sky grew dark above the hill six more wagons ascended with seventeen of the unidentified dead. Thus sixty-one were brought to be buried at once, and these, added to the thirteen interred at the first service, made seventy-four for the day. But a remarkable incident came to diminish the number of interments. At the very moment that the thirty-two were leaving the dockyard gates two young men, unconnected with each other, who were searching for their friends, had recognised among the articles of clothing preserved at the Dockyard undoubted marks of the identity of two corpses of persons they had lost. William Alfred Codling was thus identified by his brother, and Mrs. Wayman by her brother-in-law. As soon as the discovery was made, Mr. Wayman and the surviving Mr. Codling were put in a cab, and followed the funeral procession. The admirable system of registration adopted enabled the coffins containing their relatives to be separated from the others as soon as they were unloaded. They were replaced in the ambulances and returned to the Dockyard. The survivors will have the mournful satisfaction of burying them, with a headstone on which the names of the deceased may be recorded. The rest are only known by a number and a letter.
When the coffins which were deposited at Wickham Cemetery had been lowered to their place, and before the first spadefuls of earth had been thrown upon them by strangers, a member of Mr. Anson's congregation, Miss Broughton, of New-cross, went to every grave, one by one, and cast into it sweet-smelling flowers, heartsease, fuchsias, and geraniums. These bodies, although unknown, have thus not lacked care and tender attention. The graves for the unidentified are on the brow of a hill a few yards below the space reserved for little children. The officiating clergyman stood on the top of the hill to read the service of the Church, his figure, and those of the few with him, standing out in relief against the sky as he intoned to the hushed and expectant crowd the touching words of the Burial Service. The Dissenting body, which is numerous and influential in Woolwich, was represented by a well-known minister, the Rev. Thomas Tuffield, who was present as registrar and member of the Burials Board. The evening service did not end till twilight had deepened almost into night, but in the morning the Rector made an impressive address, the pith of which was given in the last Number of the PENNY ILLUSTRATED PAPER.
MUSEUM OF THE DEAD AT WOOLWICH.
Relations and friends of the hitherto unidentified may be able still to discover their lost ones by means of the photographs of the dead, or by their trinkets or clothing, which are preserved in a kind of Black Museum at Woolwich. At this gloomy inquiry office there are upwards of one hundred cigar-boxes, protected by glass lids, containing the jewellery and trinkets of the persons whose bodies have not been identified. There are many significant tokens of recognition, such as rings having initials engraved on them, and watches and trinkets of various kinds suspended to gold or metal chains. One has a French Exhibition medal, and others coins and charms of peculiar designs, but the Press has discreetly been prevented from giving a description of them. There are upwards of a score of umbrellas and a dozen or so of leather bags which have not been claimed. Amongst the relics were a brass waist-belt and a bamboo stick, and glove, numbered "11," evidently belonging to young Broadrib, of the 11th Hussars. There also are lying shawls of many colours - amber and black, grey, red, and puce; a pad of false golden-coloured hair, a black-and-white straw satchel, and about a score of hats and bonnets, some of them trimmed with ostrich-feathers. No property is given up to claimants without an order from the Coroner, and the police require considerable evidence as to the rightful ownership of jewellery.
THE CORONER'S INQUIRY
into the cause of the calamity may be deemed to have begun on Monday last only, the previous days having been entirely occupied by the Woolwich Jury, ably presided over by Mr. Carttar, in receiving the indispensable evidence as to the indentification of the dead who had been taken to Woolwich Dockyard. Woolwich Townhall was still the place in which the inquest was held. Mr. Edwin Hughes, solicitor, of Woolwich, assisted by Mr. Hillier, of the firm of Newman and Co., appeared for the London Steamboat Company (Limited) and the officers of the Princess Alice; Mr. Myburgh, barrister, was present on behalf of the owners of the Bywell Castle; Mr. Nelson, of the firm of Lowless and Co., appeared for the Christopher Dix, the pilot of the Bywell Castle; Captain Bedford Pim, watched the case on behalf of Mr. W.L. Bridgman, father of Mr. William Bridgman, who, with his wife, was lost in the Princess Alice; Mr. Beaumont Maurice, barrister, represented the Rev. Mr. Rowley, who lost his son and daughter; Mr. John T. Moss, solicitor, of London, appeared for Mr. Robert Dormer, who lost his wife and son, for Mr. Crawford, whose wife and daughter were lost, for Mr. Christian Stahr, whose son was lost, and for the relatives of Mr. William Isaac Lambert, whose father, wife, and daughter were lost; and Mr. Bury Hutchinson, solicitor, of Gresham-buildings, appeared for the representatives of the Wilkins family, and for Mr. Henry Parsons, whose son was lost.
The Coroner at the outset mentioned a singular circumstance in connection with the work of identification. Mrs. Dalton had by certain clothing identified a body as that of her daughter, and, upon her statement being confirmed by Mr. Dalton, one order was given for interment and another for the property to be given up to the Dalton family. On the following day the property was identified as belonging to another of the dead, and since then Mr. Dalton had informed the Coroner that he and his wife were mistaken, as they had heard from their daughter, and they returned the property. The publication of the affidavits sworn before the Receiver of Wrecks and the insertion of certain letters in the newspapers while the case was sub judice was strongly censured by the Coroner.
Mr. Carttar then said he proposed to limit the inquiry to the case which were represented in that Court. With regard to the other cases, after the receipt of certain evidence which would be given as to the collision, he should deal with them simply as cases of person who had been drowned, and he should no doubt get a verdict from the jury to that effect. This would enable persons to get certificates without the delay which must necessarily result from this full inquiry.
We need but glance at the evidence, which went to show that whereas the witnesses necessarily interested in the Bywell Castle appeared to cast the blame of the collision on the Princess Alice, the surviving officers of the saloon-steamer equally threw the blame for the disaster on the Bywell Castle. Simply formal evidence was given by the first witness on Monday. Mr. Thomas, surveyor to the Woowich Board of Health, deposed to seeing the wreck of the Princess Alice above water on the 6th inst.; and Mr. William Wrench Towse (Superintendent of the London Steamboat Company, and himself one of the greatest sufferers by the disaster) produced the certificate of the Princess Alice, showing that the vessel was fit to carry 936 passengers between London and Gravesend, but that a deduction had to be made in proceeding lower down the Thames. For the longer journey to Whitstable the vessel was allowed to carry 486 passengers in the summer and 336 in the winter months. This witness expressed his conviction that on the day of the disaster the vessel did not carry and excess of passengers.
Important evidence was given by George Thomas Long, the chief mate of the Princess Alice. He stated that he saw the lights of the Bywell Castle when she was about a mile off, and that had each vessel proceeded on the same line, looking at each other's green light, they would have passed in safety. The Princess Alice went down before there was time to lower the boats, which were therefore perfectly useless. The vessel went down at once head foremost, and the passengers sat quietly on the deck and apparently did not realise the full force and effect of what had happened. The witness further deposed that the captain of the Princess Alice and the men at the wheel were perfectly sober.
THE STRANGE MAN AT THE WHEEL.
But upon being pressed George Long admitted that Eyres, who took charge of the wheel shortly before the collision, was a stranger, and that he volunteered and went on board at Gravesend in the place of one of the usual steersmen, who was absent. He went on board by the captain's orders, and had never been steering the vessel before. The examination of John Eyres, 3, New-road, Gravesend, commenced just before the adjournment of the Court. He confessed that he consented to take the place of a regular hand - a friend of his - at Gravesend, and that, although he had acted as a boatswain on board large seagoing ships, he had not acted in the river. Eyres further said: -
"As we were rounding Tripcock Point I saw the Bywell Castle's green light. At that moment we were showing her a red light. A screw-steamer passed us there, but I cannot say how near. I did not take notice. After rounding the point our helm was put to starboard by order of the captain, who communicated with me by word of mouth. I was at the port side of the helm and Creed at the starboard. When I first saw the Bywell Castle she was about a quarter of a mile off, or about four minutes in time. She suddenly showed all her lights and then we were struck. We were then close to the south shore, but by the set of the tide we were carried out towards mid-channel after the collision. I never steered a river steamer like the Princess Alice before. The Bywell Castle ran half through us.
Did she back out clear from you? - We sank, I think, under her bows. I could not see, for I leaped overboard. Her bows were so high that I could not see whether she had anybody on the look-out. Previous to the collision I heard one man on board the Princess Alice sing out to the captain, "Steamer ahead!" and the captain's reply, "All right." The whistle was then blown, and I got the order from the captain to starboard the helm. I was steering purely by the orders of the captain, as I was quite unacquainted with the river. On the helm being starboarded the vessel came round like a top.
To a Juryman - "We came round the point "Easy," but I cannot say at what speed. I heard the order "easy" given."
To the Foreman - I never steered any of the Baltic or Mediterranean going steamers of which I have spoken.
To Mr. Hughes - On rounding Tripcock Point the captain said to me, "Mind your helm on account of the down tide." By that I understood that I was to hold the helm tight to prevent the vessel being swung off. Before rounding the point we showed our red light to the Bywell Castle, but after rounding it we must have shown her our green.
What do you attribute the accident to? - To the Bywell Castle porting her helm against our green light.
Do you know that to be bad navigation? - I should think it was.
You ultimately got on board the Bywell Castle? - Yes; I was picked up by a boat.
What was the captain doing when you got on board the Bywell Castle? - Reversing his engines; and I told him the screw would cut people to pieces. He said, "What am I to do? I cannot let her drift ashore." I said, "Better let her drift ashore than cut people to pieces."
John Eyres indicated on the chart on Tuesday the relative positions of the Bywell Castle and Princess Alice at the time of the collision, and added: - When I saw that the collision was inevitable, I put the helm hard astarboard. The captain said, "Hold on your helm." The captain came off the bridge on to the starboard box. That was the last I saw of him. The last words he said to me were, "Let go that wheel and look out for yourself." I ran to one of the boats on the port side, but by the time I got there the water was up round the rails, and I jumped. The captain of the Princess Alice was quite sober. I don't believe he had had a glass to drink that day.
The Coroner thought there could be no doubt as to the capacity of the witness. He had certificates for good conduct and ability, but he was not in the practice of steering a vessel like the Princess Alice, and the question would arise whether the captain was justified in permitting him to steer her on the occasion in question.
One or two of the jury indicated concurrence in this view of the matter.
John Rand (apprentice and foremast hand on board the Princess Alice), Ralph Wilkinson (second mate), Henry Young (another foremast hand), Thomas Longhurst (engineer of the saloon-steamer for ten years), and Benjamin White, a passenger, likewise gave evidence on Tuesday as to the collision from their points of view; and ere the sitting closed there was an unseemly wrangle between a juryman, Mr. Barnes, and the foreman, who accused the former of insulting him, and was certainly spoken to in an abrupt and impertinent manner by the hasty juryman.
Coming to the important evidence of Capt. Harrison and Mr. Dix, respectively the commander and pilot of the Bywell Castle, that may be epitomized by saying (as deposed by them before before the Receiver of Wrecks), in their opinion, the cause of the casualty was the Princess Alice improperly starboarding her helm; and it might have been avoided if she had continued her course under port helm." On the other hand, it may be repeated that Captain Joseph Smith, master of the Ann Elizabeth, of Goole, deposed that he was an eyewitness of the collision, and that he maintained "the cause of the calamity was the Bywell Castle keeping on port the helm when a collision became imminent." With these and similarly conflicting bits of evidence before them (to say nothing further of the breeze between the foreman and Mr. Barnes), the Woolwich Jury, it will be allowed, will have no light task before them in forming an impartial opinion of their own on the matter.
On Monday Dr. Hardwicke held a mournful inquest at the Court House, Holloway, on the body of Miss Ellen Hanbury, aged twenty, who resided at No. 81, Mildmay-road on the previous Friday and died from the effects of immersion after the collision between the Princess Alice and the Bywell Castle on the 4th. Mr. J.D. Hanbury, a City merchant, and brother of the deceased, said that she went on an excursion with her sweetheart and others. After the disaster she was alive, and was subsequently found at a house near Barking, whither she had been taken by her rescuers. She was a good swimmer, and kept afloat two hours, getting ashore two miles from the scene of the wreck, when she was picked up in a boat. Her sweetheart was with her then, but there was only room for one, she was taken, and he was left behind. He kissed her and said, "Good-by, we shall meet in heaven." He was lost. After hearing medical evidence, the jury returned a verdict that the death was caused by congestion of the lungs and shock from immersion in the River Thames, after a collision between the Princess Alice and the Bywell Castle, but whether it was from an accidental death or otherwise they had no evidence to show.
We may add that the result of the Poplar inquest was also an open verdict. But the jury appended to their verdict a suggestion that in future all ships and boats should carry rafts, or seats, or some other contrivances of sufficient floating power to bear the weight of all on board.
Source: The Penny Illustrated Paper And Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday September 21, 1878, Page 183, Issue 894