The Five Mile Point Boating Catastrophe. 1899

The Five Mile Point Boating Catastrophe. 1899

A Brave Effort to Save Life.

FishermenAn inquest was held in the boathouse, Five-Mile Point, on Tuesday at 11 o’clock, on the body of Frederick Roncliffe, aged 31 years, one of the coastguards who were drowned by the capsizing of a boat off the Coastguard station on the previous Friday. The body was found on the shore some short distance North of Newcastle railway station, about 2.45 on Monday morning. The court consisted of Commander St.George Deane,J.P. and Mr.Henry Sandys, J.P. Sergeant M’Whirter, Kilcoole, represented the police.

The Chief Officer, George Esterbrooke, deposed that on Friday, 24th.instant, he left this station at 9.15 a.m. for Wicklow with four of a crew in the boat. They arrived at 10.25, and went to the Coastguard station, and put some stores into the boat. They left the harbour under oars about 1.10 or 1.15 p.m. As he came outside a light southerly breeze sprung up. He gave the order to lay the oars in and make sail. They came on from that time under sail until within 250 yards of their own station, and about 100 yards from shore. He gave the order to stand by and shorten sail. At the same time he made the half-turn to brail the mizzen-sheet. He knew no more then until he found himself in the water. She went over so suddenly.

Commander Deane — When you gave the order to make sail, could any of the crew have stood up? Witness --- I did not notice anyone standing up. I had given an order going into Wicklow for no man to do so. It was against regulations. I was sitting in the stern. The breeze gradually increased from the time we left Wicklow to about force 2. Deceased was attending to ye halyards. The men were perfectly sober; none of them were ever reported for drunkenness. I heard nothing about the boat. I have sailed in the boat before, and tested her with four reefers to Wicklow, and she went all right.

Witness--- After the boat upset I saw three men struggling on to the top of the boat. I have heard the boatman say that Roncliffe could not swim. I do not know if he could swim. I believe the others could swim. I heard John Flower call out, “Stick to the boat” I said, “We have no chance; come ashore,” and we struck out for the shore, George Hunt and John Flower following me. The other two men remained on the bottom of the boat. They were astride the boat. After I reached the shore I stood up and looked back to sea, and saw the men still there. I called out to the men, and asked them if they were all right. Mumford replied, “We are.” I don’t know what occurred after that. I became very weak ,and partially unconscious, and was led home by my wife and daughter. As I reached the shore, George Hinkly, the watchman, ran to my assistance, he had a rope in his hand; he caught hold of me and assisted me further up the beach.

Commander Deane --- Do you consider the boat was capable of carrying the store she had on board on that occasion?. Witness--- Yes; she was not overloaded. I can form no opinion as to why she capsized. The halyards could not have caught in one of the bedsteads.

George Hinkly, examined, said --- I am commissioned boatman. I was left on watch. I observed the boat from the time she left Wicklow Harbour on the return journey, and by the time she arrived to within about 250 yards south of the boathouse and 100 yards off the shore, I had the launching skids down at the water’s edge ready to receive her on shore. I was looking down towards the boat when I saw her, all at once, go over suddenly. The main-sail was up at the time, and I could not see the men – whether they were standing or not. I ran up immediately to the boathouse for a lifeline and cork life buoy. I ran back to their assistance as fast as I could , and when I got back the crew were just reaching the shore – Mr.Esterbrooke, George Hunt and John Flower. Esterbrooke was nearest to me, I dropped the lifebuoy, and ran into the surf and helped him out of danger. I then went to the next, Hunt, and then to John Flower. There was not much surf. All three were that much exhausted that they could not get up on their legs. After this I directed my attention to the boat, and I should say they were astride of her for about half an hour. After half an hour, Mumford made an attempt to come on shore by swimming. A few minutes after Mumford left, Roncliffe left the boat supporting himself on oars I believe he could not swim. The boat was still about 100 yards off. I saw him in a very few minutes, disappear head foremost over whatever he was supported by, and I saw no more of him. Iwas the only man that could do anything; the others were too exhausted. When Mumford was 30 yards off, I threw him the line and he missed it. When I was coiling it up for a second throw, Mumford sank.

Commander Deane --- How many boats are there? Witness--- There is only one boat. Had there been a second I would have tried to get her out. At 2.45 a m on the 27th. Instant I next saw the deceased, Roncliffe. He was lying dead on the strand, about three hundred yards north of the railway station. When the two men were on the boat, I was speaking to them. Mumford said they were all right. He did most of the speaking towards the end of the conversation. The wives of both of the deceased were on the shore. After the occurrence I immediately telephoned to Wicklow.

Sergeant M’Whirter was inclined to press questions as to the condition of the men on the boat --- whether they appeared unwell or in any way unusual. The court ruled that the evidence of the Chief Officer had cleared the matter up.

Dr. R G Loverock deposed; I have made a superficial examination of the body, and from (what) I have seen and heard, I should say that he died from asphyxia or drowning. I believe the prolonged immersion on that day would be liable to produce cramp in most men.

John Flower, boatman, stated; After the boat capsized , Mumford, Roncliffe and I climbed over the weather gunwales. And then the boat turned bottom up. The first thing I saw was Roncliffe in the water by himself. Mumford and myself swam to him, and brought him to the bottom of the boat, and placed him on it, as he could not swim, apparently. I asked Mumford if he were all right, and he replied that he was. I told the two that I was going to make for the shore, and I came to the shore. As I reached it I was hauled up on the strand by Hinkley, and brought home and my wet clothes changed. Fifteen minutes later I had recovered myself, and I ran to the beach and saw the two men in the water. I swam out to within about four yards of Mumford, when he went down right in front of me. Roncliffe was further out, and I could not swim out to reach him. He disappeared within a minute after the other man . To Commander Deane – I am perfectly acquainted with the management of boats. The foresail was up when I heard the officer give the order. I saw no man stand up, and do not know why the boat capsized. I have often been in the boat before, and have no complaint to make of her. We were down in the bottom of the boat, and could not say if the rolling sea had struck her. In my opinion the boat was not overloaded. The water was very cold. I had a slight touch of cramp before I left the boat, and that was why I left her.

Commander Wellings was examined, and swore that he was acquainted with the boat at that station. She was perfectly seaworthy, and thoroughly well found, and all her gear in good order. She passed her usual inspection this month. Mr. Sandys --- Is it customary to have only one boat at a station of this description? Yes; there being six men at the station. Can you form any opinion as to the cause of the accident? Well, I should not like to express my ideas as they might bias the jury, and perhaps prejudge the inquiry which must follow.

The jury found that the deceased met his death by drowning through the accidental capsizing of a boat, and they attached blame to no one. They recommended that notice be take of the heroic conduct of boatman John Flower, who under exceptionally difficult circumstances attempted to save the life of one of his comrades. They also expressed their appreciation of efforts of the watchman, Hinkley. They recommended that the widows and orphans of the two drowned men merited the consideration of the authorities.

Mumford’s body was picked up about twenty minutes past two, about fifty yards north of where the first body was found. The police acquainted the court of the fact and the two magistrates deemed a second inquest unnecessary.

Reference; Wicklow People 1st.April 1899.

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