The Skegness Disaster

(originally published in Journal 61, December 2014, of the NLRHS)

On Saturday the 8th July, 1893, a party, numbering about eighty, of North London Railway men with their friends and relations went on an day excursion to Skegness, arriving at half past ten. It was a happy party that made their way along the road from the station to the beach singing the latest songs and playing toy instruments. They had arranged to have lunch at the Pleasure Gardens Pavilion at about one o’clock.

At eleven o’clock some of the trippers chartered the pleasure boat ‘Shannon’ and went for a sail. At this time the wind was slight and the sea calm. They sailed as far as the entrance to Boston Deeps, when a sudden squall came on, and before the sails could be lowered the boat overturned. There appears to have been thirty-one people on board: thirteen NLR railwaymen, sixteen “friends and relations,” and two crewmen. Only three persons, all passengers, were rescued. Two of those rescued were two NLR railwaymen,

As the Skegness Herald put it, “When the news of the disaster reached the pavilion, where their comrades were dining, the feelings of grief may be better imagined than described.” Worst hit must have been Charles Caplen who lost two sons, John Henry a NLR guard, and Charles a painter, and a son-in-law, Frederick Botley a cabinet maker. To make matters worse for the father, when he returned home that evening he he had to tell his wife of the sad news. This was obviously too much for her and, sadly, she died the following day.

In the afternoon of the tragedy an inquest was held before the district coroner on the bodies that had by then been recovered. The boat was not overcrowded having been built to take carry sixty passengers. The three persons rescued gave evidence to the effect that the weather was fine and the sea calm. Suddenly a strong gust of wind came and the boat overturned, and the capsizing of the Shannon was wholly accidental, with no blame being attached to the crew. The jury returned a verdict that the deceased were accidentally drowned.

The eleven NLR staff who were drowned left nine widows and twenty-seven children unprovided for. The NLR allowed up to £10 for funeral expenses for each of the bodies recovered and made a grant to each widow of £4, payable in weekly instalments. The Railway Benevolent Institution also granted a donation from the Special Benevolent Fund of £7 10s to each of the widows. Further, a general appeal for financial aid for the twenty widows and seventy-one children left unprovided for by the disaster was made. Initially, there was a request by Inspector Bunday of Dalston Junction in a letter to The Times on 11th July and the following day by the Chairman of the Local Board and the Rector of Skegness. In August the committees joined together and by September £6200 had been raised.

After the bodies had been recovered a Mrs J Crawshaw helped in laying them out. In acknowledgement of this she was presented with a silver teapot which bore the inscription, “Presented to Mrs Crawshaw, July 8th, 1893, Boating Disaster, Skegness.” Accompanying it was a beautifully illuminated card, on which was engrossed, “This silver teapot was presented to Mrs J Crawshaw by a few friends in recognition of services rendered to the men drowned by the foundering of the pleasure boat “Shannon ” off Skegness.” About nineteen or twenty of the bodies of those who were drowned were recovered. The last NLR man was that of Samuel Green known as Platelayer Wright whose body was not found until the 29th July. Bodies recovered were returned to London by train.

As is the custom there is an anomaly. The Times of Monday, 10th July, 1893, stated, under men whose bodies have been recovered, ‘Robinson, aged 35 years, platelayer, Bow’. It also stated that Charles Odell, scaffolder, a member of the party who did not go in the boat as he was tired, identified the body of Robinson. Robinson does not appear in the list of those who died in the Board of Trade Register of Deceased Passengers. The NLR Board minute refers to eleven Company servants being drowned, and the first eleven names in the BoT register appear to be railwaymen. There was a platelayer Robinson in the NLR but only one reference has been found for him (injured on duty in 1890).

Peter Bloomfield

David Hanson

additional research Tadeusz Opyrchal


Register of deceased passengers, 1891-1894. [BT 334/2, folios 125/126.]
NLR Board Minutes. [RAIL 529/29 19 Jul 1893, Minute 4998.]
NLR Finance & GP Com Minutes. [RAIL 529/80 11 Oct 1893, Minute 2431.]
The Times. Various issues between Monday 10th July, 1893, and Tuesday, 22nd August, 1893.
Skegness Herald. Various issues from July to September, 1893.
Various census forms and BMD details.

Names of those involved
Those drowned listed in the Board of Trade Register of Deceased Passengers [BT 334/2, folios 125/126.]
William Reed* 33 Platelayer 18 Reeves Road, Devons Road
James Budd* 32 Platelayer 20 Grace Street, Devons Road
William Caine* 33 Platelayer 30 Locton Street, Old Ford
Ernest Elliott* 45 Carpenter 58 Prince of Wales Road, Kentish Town
Francis Shaftain* 28 Carpenter 28 Vicarage Road, Stratford
Alfred Field* 31 Scaffolder 34 Arnold Road, Bow
John H Caplen* 32 Railway Guard 24 College Street, Hackney
James Taylor* 42 Scaffolder 18 Cardigan Road, Old Ford
John Bowyer 37 Scaffolder 9 Burchen Street, Railway Street, Poplar
George Hall* 29 Scaffolder 118 Kerley Street, Poplar
Samuel Wright, otherwise Green 32 Platelayer 98 Devons Street, Devons Road
William Stewart Hawkins NK Agent 128 Clifden Road, Clapton Park
Thomas Goodwin 28 Not known 9 Clifden Road, Clapton Park
Frederick Botley 35 Not known 35 Church Road, Homerton
Stephen Hemmings 30 Not known 7 Rusmoor Crescent, Clapton Park
Alfred John Waterlow 24 Not known 7 Rusmoor Crescent, Clapton Park
James Cooling 34 Not known 2 Queen’s Street, New Stratford
Joseph Rixon 42 Not known Chatworth Road, Clapton Park
Charles Hensher** 28 Printer 30 Fern Street, Devons Road
James Green 31 Solicitor 15 Powerscroft Road, Clapton Park
Charles Caplen** 34 Printer 5 Bishop’s Road, South Hackney
Thomas Waterman 41 Printer 50 College Avenue, Homerton
Samuel Williams NK Compositor 28 Bradstock Road, Hackney
Francis Walter Field 28 Labourer 34 Arnold Road, Bow
Benjamin John Green 30 Gas fitter 5 Berkley Road, Manor Park

*Widows of these men were each paid by the Railway Benevolent Institution: from the Casualty Fund £5; and from the Special Benevolent Fund £7 10s. Those mentioned in the RBI minute are nine widows and twenty-five children (as against nine widows and twenty seven children mentioned in the NLR Board minute). [RAIL 1166/82, f5].

**In the 1891 census Charles Hensher and Charles Caplen are shown as house painter and painter respectively.

Drowned reported in the press [The Times, Monday, 10th July, 1893, p6.]

Robinson 35 Platelayer

Boat’s Crewmen Drowned [The Times, Monday, 10th July, 1893, p6.]

Edward Grunhill Crew of Shannon
Edwin Grunhill Crew of Shannon

Rescued [The Times, Monday, 10th July, 1893, p6.]

Charles Hensher NLR Painter Box Street, Bow (Relative of one drowned)
George Green NLR Boiler maker Beecham Street, Bromley