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The Ilfracombe Disaster - The first inquest

The first Coroner's inquest took place on Saturday 27th August, 1887, less than 24 hours after the accident had occured when there were still 9 bodies unaccounted for. The following is a transcription.

The inquest on the bodies of Mr. Wareham, Mr. Turner, Mr. Walker, Mr. Pinker and Miss Ash was held at the Pier Hotel on Saturday afternoon at 1.30, before J.F. Broham Esq., coroner for the district. Mr. William Facey was elected foreman of the jury, Mr. Simmonds, solicitor of Bath, watched the proceedings on behalf of the relatives of the deceased Mr. G Turner of Bath. The coroner said that they must all regret being called upon to preside over an inquiry into such a sad occurrence as the present, an occurrence which had cast a gloom over the whole of the town, and had plunged several families into a state of great distress. Their work would be heavy that day, but he hoped to conclude the inquiry that afternoon. The jury viewed the bodies, which were lying at the following places: - Mr. Wareham and Miss Ash at the Tunnels Baths; Mr. Walker at the White Hart; Mr. Turner and Mr. Pinker at the Pier Hotel.

Henry Greaves Walker was the first witness. He stated that the body lying at the White Hart Inn, which had been viewed by the jury, was his father. His name was Samuel Walker, and he resided at the Elms, Edmonton. He was a retired gentleman, and 53 years of age. Deceased was on a visit to the town with the witness's mother, sister, and himself, and witness knew that he had gone for a sail, and he saw when he was brought ashore.

The Rev. John Steadman was the next witness. He stated that he was a clerk in Holy Orders and resided at Bath, who was a member of the firm of Duck, Son and Pinker, pianoforte manufactures. Deceased was the organist of St. John's Church, Weston, the church in which the witness officiated. Deceased was about 30 years of age, and the witness had seen him twice in Ilfracombe during the last fortnight. He identified the body in the adjoining room as that of Mr. Pinker, who was a married man. Deceased's wife was staying in the town, but Mr. Pinker had no family. A certificate for the removal of the body was then given.

Mr. Austin, concert agent, Piccadilly, said he identified the body of Mr. William Wareham. He was a personal friend of his and deceased was staying in the same house as Mr. George Turner of Bath. Deceased was a merchant and his private residence was at Manor House, Hook, near Surbiton, and he was a J.P. for Kingston. He was 65 years of age, and his wife and family were with him in Ilfracombe.

Mr. George Pinson of Milsom Street, Bath woollen draper, identified the body of Mr. George Turner, who was about 57 years of age. He was of private means.

Mary Ann Popham, of the Coffee Palace, stated that amongst her visitors was Miss Annie Ash, of London. She came on the 13th of this month with Miss Blyton, who was also drowned. Miss Ash was about 26 or 27 years of age.

All the bodies being identified, evidence respecting the accident was taken.

William R. Rumson, captain of the yacht Monarch, stated that he and Charles Buckingham had charge of her. She was about 10 tons and the property of his brother, who had owned her for about five years. She had been used for sea trips of about two hours each, each season, and had sailed with 42 on her. (Shame) The average carried had been about 20. She was cutter rigged, and he had sailed in her ever since she was built.

On Friday afternoon they had left the pier 3.06 pm with a party on board numbering 21 or 22, exclusive of the crew of two. The weather was a bit puffy and squally but the sea was smooth. Everything went right until they were about half a mile from the shore. A puff fell on her from the shore, and put her gunwales under. A boat hook went over board. The wind was S.S.W., and she was carrying a double-reefed mainsail and a working jib. He saw the squall coming but had no time to lower sail. She righted herself afterwards.

Buckingham said "The boat hook's gone; we will pick it up again". Witness said "Is it worth it?" He replied, "0 Yes we will go back and pick it up." Witness was at the helm, and said "Then we will stay her round." He hauled up the main tack, and they went round towards the boat hook, when the wind was about three points on the westward, and the boom flew over and put her quarter under. She then went over, and that was all he could tell. He was immediately in the water with the others around him. He caught hold of a piece of fender and then of an oar he could only swim a little. He was rescued at last by the Lorna Doone a yacht which was behind him, in about twenty minutes time. Several boats were about them picking up the people. He never met with any accident before, and the boat was not cranky. She was a staunch boat, and capable of carrying 25 persons or more. The accident was caused by a sudden puff of wind. There were life buoys and other lifesaving things on board. She carried about 4 tons of ballast.

In reply to questions from Mr. Field Evans, one of the passengers, whose friend, Mr. Rayner was lost. The Captain said he did not hear any on the boat say there was too much sail on. If a boat had been at the stern it would have gone down with the yacht.

Mr. Simmons then cross-examined the witness. Rumson said that the Monarch had always carried 4 tons of ballast. She had been altered, being lengthened in the middle by about eight feet. He meant that since she had been lengthened she had carried 4 tons of ballast, but how much before that he could not say. The present length of the yacht was 28 feet 6 inches. Witness had charge of the main sheet and he had it in his hand about two minutes previous to the accident. He made it fast in order pick up the boathook. Whilst it was made fast a sudden puff of wind came up. When the accident happened the passengers were, he believed, all standing up scattered aboard. Witness believed the accident would have happened even if he had only two passengers on board at the time. Witness considered two men sufficient to have charge at the time.

By the Coroner: Witness did not attribute the accident to the number of passengers. Several questions were put to the witness and to the foreman, Captain Fecey, as to the fastening of the main sail. Mr Facey said the sailor would have no right to hold the main sail in his hand, if he had done it might have been blown off and others knocked off.

Thos. P Godfrey, of Westbourne Villa, London, engineer's apprentice, said he was one of the occupants of the boat. The sea was smooth, but the wind was puffy. He corroborated the evidence of the Captain. When he saw the boat was going down be jumped off and swam, and he was amongst the first picked up by Major Yeales. Witness was with his cousin, Thomas Smith 46, Buckingham Palace Road, in the yacht but he is now missing.

Major Yeales, North Somerset Yeomanry Cavalry, who was fishing in a boat at the time of the accident gave an account of what he saw, which corroborated the former evidence. He was on board the "Playmate", with a man named Roderick Brooks, and as soon as they saw the wreck they struck their mast and rode to the spot. They succeeded in picking up seven persons, of whom one was dead.

Thomas Price, lessee of Tunnels Bathing Beach, stated that on Friday afternoon he was fetched by his son, who said that the Monarch had gone down, with he should think, 30 on board, and they were all in the water. He said, "Let us launch the boat and see what we can do". By the time witness got down, he found that some gentlemen had launched the boat. Witness jumped in with his son, Gregory, an assistant, and they went to the scene of the wreck. When they got out there, there were four swimming. They picked up three alive, and some other boat picked up another. After that witness came across a lady and a gentleman floating facing downwards, and took them on board. They then pulled straight for the beach. By the time they came ashore his wife had secured three doctors, and every means were used to restore life.

Mr. Taverner, one of the rescued, did all he could whilst coming in the boat to restore animation to Miss Ash. Efforts were made for two hours to restore animation after the bodies were landed, but with no success in two cases. The jury were of the opinion that Mr. Price and Mr. Taverner both deserved thanks for their efforts. Mr. Taverner said Mr. Price acted right nobly.

William Williams, boatman, said he was with some gentlemen fishing about a mile this side of Lee, when they heard that a yacht had gone down. He and his nephew and one of the gentlemen got into another small boat there and went up to the spot and rescued the body of Mr. Pinker and took it on to the pier.

The coroner in summing up said that this was one of the saddest occurrences that ever happened in his recollection in the neighbourhood. He was glad to hear from the foreman, who was an old seaman, that no blame could be attached to Rumson. He thought that it was an accident, and no blame could be laid on anyone.

The Coroner advised the jury to bring in a verdict of "accidental death". The jury accordingly returned a verdict of "Accidentally drowned."

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