Site of Lavernock boating tragedy

Site of Lavernock boating tragedy

Seven volunteer soldiers drowned off the coast here in a boating accident in 1888.

The Merthyr Vale detachment of the Welsh Regiment’s Third Volunteer Brigade was on summer camp at Lavernock at the time. On the evening of Wednesday 1 August, 10 soldiers hired the boat Maggie to take them to Penarth. The boat was operated by Joseph Hall, aged 31.

It was almost high tide when the boat passed the Ranny pool, where several fishing poles were located and a reef caused a strong current. Joseph tried to pull clear of a fishing pole which was submerged by the tide, but the heavily-laden boat struck it. Reacting to the collision, the passengers became agitated, stood up and moved about. Their movements caused the boat to ship water and eventually capsize.

Four soldiers tried to swim to shore but were drowned. The rest managed to right the craft, but it capsized again as they scrambled to get back into it. This happened a number of times. At one point Joseph was lucky to extricate himself from beneath the upturned boat.

By the time help arrived, three more soldiers had drowned. Joseph was saved along with three of his passengers: Albert Williams, William Dowdeswell and Watkin Moss. The drowned men’s bodies were recovered the following week: two on Monday, two on Tuesday and the remaining three on Wednesday. Most were recovered fairly close to the accident scene but the last to be found, James Potter, was picked up off Barry, c.10km away.

At the inquest it was noted that the Maggie was licensed to carry eight passengers. Joseph said he had taken the 10 men because they had told him he must take them all or none of them would go. He was found guilty of “gross neglect”. He was severely reprimanded by the coroner but exonerated from guilt of a criminal offence.

The drowned men, aged 17 to 20 years, were buried at Aberfan Cemetery, Merthyr Vale, where you can still see a monument in their memory which was unveiled in 1890.

With thanks to Michael Statham

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