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Boating Fatality on the River Wear - 24th February 1911
We, the undersigned, were appointed by the Durham University Boat Club
Committee to enquire into And report on the boating accident of 24th
February, and to make such recommendations as seemed likely to prevent the
recurrence of such a disaster.
We have fully examined all the crew of the St. Chad's Graduate Boat, to
which the accident occurred, the crew of the St. John's Graduate Boat, and
the coaches of the St. Chad's, St. John's and Hatfield Graduate crews and
two other witnesses.
On nearly every point there was substantial agreement on the evidence and we
believe that we have, as far as is possible, ascertained exactly what
On the day of the accident, Friday, 24th February, the river was in the
afternoon about six inches above its normal level, a strong west wind was
blowing straight upstream at the point where the accident occurred, some
fifty yards above the Bandstand.
The waves were fairly high, but not dangerously so, being if anything,
higher than one foot. We are unanimously of the opinion that the weather
conditions did not render it injudicious for a coach to take out his crew;
and three other crews were on the river above Baths Bridge that afternoon.
The St. Chad's Graduate crew left their boathouse about 2.20 p.m., composed
as follows:- B.R.H. Tudor (bow), R. Clayton (2) L. L Michelsen (3) J. A.
Price (stroke) J. Parsons (cox), with G.B.H. Bishop as coach on the bank.
During the journey upstream nothing of an unusual nature happened and little
water, if any, was shipped.
The crew turned a few yards below the Ash Tree. On starting to row down the
Crew appear to have got into trouble, partly through uncertainty as to
orders; partly through the roughness of the water.
It is not clear whether the cox gave the order to paddle, or whether the
without the word. Before ten strokes had been taken a large quantity of
water had come over both sides of the boat, mainly in the centre, and she
filled in the stem and became submerged about the middle of the river, some
15 yards above the entrance to the wood. The oars, however prevented her
from sinking far.
Number 3 was the first to attempt to get to the shore on the Pelaw Wood
side, but not being a strong swimmer got into difficulties, and was saved by
the exertions of Mr. Lee, and Mr. Bishop, the coaches of the Hatfield and
St. Chad's Graduate crews.
While these three were still struggling in the water in the centre of the
river, St. John's Graduate crew, whose cox had caught sight of them from
higher up the river, rowed down to them. One or two of these three men in
the water grasped the side of the boat which finally grounded in fairly
shallow water near the gate at the entrance of the wood, and was upset, the
whole crew being precipitated into the water near the bank where they all
No, 2 of the St. Chads crew, after going overboard to try the depth of the
water, got back into boat which drifted downstream, only partially
underwater. He was subsequently taken ashore by the St. John's Senate Crew,
bow and stroke swam to the Pelaw Wood side without difficulty.
The cox, who lost his life, was last seen at the stern, quite clear of the
rudder lines, and after that no-one seems to have observed what became of
him, for the attention of those who soon collected on the banks was entirely
taken up with the rescue of number 3, and the upsetting of the St. John's
boat. Parsons was supposed to have reached the Racecourse bank, and eight or
ten minutes had passed before it was ascertained that he was missing. There
is no doubt that he was unable to swim, and it is possible that, being
chilled from sitting in the boat on the journey up stream, he may have been
seized with cramp. Two boats were soon on the spot dragging for him, but his
body was not recovered till over two hours after the accident
It is difficult to say that anyone in particular is to blame for what
occurred, but there seems undoubtedly to have been some want of presence of
mind amongst the crews themselves, which is in a measure accounted for by
the fact that only three of the five members were able to swim, and one of
these three only imperfectly.
It is much to be regretted that any of the crew who could not swim left the
boat. The oars are held fast by strings over the rowlocks, which prevent
their getting loose, and thus give sufficient buoyancy to keep a boat afloat
even with a crew holding on.
We have to commend highly the action of Mr. Bishop and Mr. Lee, two of the
coaches on the bank, to whose efforts the saving of one life is undoubtedly
due. It is unfortunate that the attentions of both appears to have been
drawn away from the coxswain, Mr. Parsons, by what seemed to them the more
dangerous position of number 3.
Our endeavour in holding the enquiry has been to arrive at a correct
appreciation of the facts, with a view, if possible, of gathering from this
painful experience some hints for the prevention of similar accidents in the
We strongly recommend:-
(1) THAT men who boat should be urged if not compelled, to learn to swim, if
they are not already able to do so.
(2) THAT at least SIX life-lacks should be kept easily accessible on die
riverbanks in known places, such as (inter alia) the Baths and Browns
(3) THAT proper draggin irons should be kept at the Baths and in at least
one other place always ready for immediate use.
(4) A copy of the Life Saving Society’s Handbook should be in the Boathouse
of each College Club, from which boating men might 1earn the best methods of
rescue, release, and resuscitation.
J.A. ORMSBY, (President DARC) (Chairman)
VINCENT K. COOPER
A.CONAN DAVIES – President DUBC
M.A.O. MAYNE – Hon. Sec DUBC
18 March, 1911. Durham University Chronical