Thames Police: History - Princess Alice Disaster

'Inquest findings'. (12)

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The Board of Trade concluded their hearing: finding that the Princess Alice had swung across the bows of the Bywell Castle and that the Princess Alice was not properly and efficiently manned; also, that the numbers of persons aboard were more than was prudent and that the means of saving life onboard the paddle steamer was inadequate for a vessel of her class. (They were unable to say more, because there was no agreed legal maximums for such a vessel in 1878.)

Wednesday November 13th. 1878. The Coroner's directions were very long, precise and accurate as to the various events which led to the deaths and to the rights and wrongs of the navigation of both vessels. He ended by asking the jury for the verdicts on:

  1. Which vessel was to blame?
  2. Was the cause wilful, criminal, culpable, gross negligence or accident?
  3. Did the other vessel contribute to the accident?

His review and summing-up finished at 1625, he had been speaking all day and the manuscript record runs into two hundred and thirteen pages of foolscap. The nineteen man jury remained to deliberate in the inquest room, the Coroner leaving them to it and locking them in.

November 14th. 1878. Having spent all night in deliberating in a very cold room, at 0700 the jury announced they had arrived at a verdict by a majority of fifteen to four. Announcing their findings:

That the death of the said William Beachy and others was occasioned by drowning in the waters of the River Thames from a collision that occurred after sunset between a steam vessel called the Bywell Castle and the steam vessel called the Princess Alice. Whereby the Princess Alice was cut in two and sunk, such collision not being wilful; that the Bywell Castle did not take the necessary precaution of easing, stopping and reversing her engines in time and that the Princess Alice contributed to the collision by not stopping and going astern, that all collisions in the opinion of the jury might in future be avoided if proper and stringent rules and regulation were laid down for all steam navigation on the River Thames.

The jury made four addition findings:

  1. We consider that the Princess Alice was on the third of September seaworthy.
  2. We think the Princess Alice was not properly and sufficiently manned.
  3. We think the number of person on board the Princess Alice was more than was prudent.
  4. We think the means of saving life on the Princess Alice were insufficient for a vessel of her class.

The Great Thames Disaster by Galvin Thurston

Which just about says it all.

So with the findings opinions began to change, the small pieces of evidence influenced all the remaining enquiries until finally, the next year no criminal charges were brought. The enquiry fully, more or less, exonerating Captain Harrison and his pilot; nevertheless, having been pilloried by press and public for months; he suffered a breakdown, so his professional name had been cleared, but he was never able to go to sea afterwards.

Continue to the next page 'A Catastrophe'. (13) to learn more about the Princess Alice disaster...

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