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Published May 24, 2019

Life in Victorian London could be dirty and hard, especially for the working classes. However, the introduction of affordable transport and bank holidays offered a chance to escape, even if just for the day. Taking a train or a pleasure boat to the coast allowed people to relax and enjoy fresh air, take a dip in the sea or explore a range of delightful attractions. Of course, all holidays come to an end, and eventually it’s time to go home.

Source: Unsplash

Sheerness, on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, began as a fort built by Henry VIII; later a dockyard was added, and a town grew around it to accommodate its workers. When a railway station was built there in 1863, the town’s seaside location and pleasant climate made it an ideal resort to cater for the growing demand of day-trippers and holiday makers. It gained a promenade and a pier, allowing tourists to enjoy a stroll along the seafront and offering them a variety of entertainments.

It was not the only destination along that particular part of the coast, either; a little further inland along the River Thames lay the Rosherville Gardens. Covering some 17 acres, they were laid out in 1837 and became a very popular attraction. The gardens had much more than just flowers to entice visitors in; they also boasted an archery lawn, bowls, a maze, a lake, cliff walks, and a floral bazaar, as well as an aviary, a bear pit and the skeleton of a whale which had got lost in the Thames.

The gardens were frequently referenced in literature either of or about the time; they were mentioned by Gilbert and Sullivan in the comic opera The Sorcerer, and in the first Jeeves story by PG Wodehouse.

For Londoners towards the end of the nineteenth century, such attractions were easy to reach by train or by boat along the Thames. Both were popular options. However, on the 3rd of September 1878, there may have been a few more people than usual on the river as opposed to the rails; a few days earlier, there had been a deadly train crash at Sittingbourne in Kent, when a passenger train collided with goods wagons killing five people. With that in the news, and a subject of much conversation, some felt safer on the river.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The SS Princess Alice was just one of the boats available to make that trip. She was a paddle steamer, a little under 220 feet / 67 metres long, just over 20 feet/ 6 metres across at the widest point, and about eight feet/ 2 and a half metres deep, originally built in Scotland. She was originally named the Bute, and had operated between Wemyss Bay and Rothesay for two years before being sold to the Waterman’s Steam Packet Company, for use on the Thames. They renamed her Princess Alice, after Queen Victoria’s third child – a far more fitting name for a boat plying the waters of the capital. She had then been sold to the Woolwich Steam Packet Company. Under their ownership, in 1873, she had carried the Shah of Persia up the Thames to Greenwich, and thereafter was often known as The Shah’s Boat.

In 1876, the Woolwich Steam Packet Company amalgamated with other companies and renamed themselves the London Steamboat Company, becoming a leading excursion business on the Thames estuary. Alongside the Princess Alice, they had a number of other boats with similarly regal names; the Duke of Teck, the Duke of Cambridge, and the Princess Maud.

That day, the Princess Alice left Swan Pier, near London Bridge, at 10:30 in the morning, heading for Sheerness. More passengers waited at Blackwall and North Woolwich. They would, of course, stop near Gravesend to drop off visitors to the Rosherville Gardens, then reach Sheerness at around three pm. Most day-trippers from London would have opted for the gardens; once at Sheerness there would be only an hour and a quarter before the boat left for the return trip. Meanwhile, those enjoying the gardens could enjoy the attractions until past six o’clock.

As well as the day-trippers she had carried out, the Princess Alice would carry back a number of holiday makers who had been enjoying the delights of Sheerness for the last few days. She also took on board people who had come out on one of her sister ships; since the Princess Alice was the Shah’s boat, and bigger, more powerful and more popular than the others, many would choose to board her.

Amongst the passengers, there was a large group of ladies and children from the Clerkenwell Mission Bible Class, led by one Miss Susannah Law. Another eight children were accompanied by their governess, Miss Maria Scholz, who was taking them out as a reward for good work. There were plenty of families aboard, including the family of the Princess Alice’s captain, William Grinstead, and the family of the company’s superintendent, as well as a number of courting couples, and singletons who were just enjoying a day out.

As the Princess Alice left Rosherville at about 6:30 that evening, the band on board played to entertain the passengers into the evening; their holiday wasn’t over while they still had a couple of hours on the river.

The Thames at the time was extremely busy; the pleasure boats were far from the only traffic you’d find there. Cargo traffic had used the river for centuries, and although trade had started to shift to the railways there were still plenty of barges, colliers and other kinds of industrial vessels around.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

One such was the Bywell Castle, a collier ship from Newcastle, 254.2 feet / 77.5 metres long and 32 feet /9.8 metres wide, with a hold 19 feet or 5.8 metres deep. On that September day it was at Millwall Dock, where it had just been repainted, and its master Captain Thomas Harrison was keen to get it back out on the water so he could get home to Newcastle, load up with coal and set out for a profit-making trip to Alexandria in Egypt.

He was not only the captain of the boat, but also a part-owner, so any delays would directly affect his wallet. However, the river and the docks were busy, and maneuvering his big ship out wouldn’t be easy.

Potentially adding to his difficulties was the fact that he had a temporary crew on board. His regular sailors had been paid off at Newcastle – he wouldn’t want to be paying their wages while the ship was in dock for repainting, after all – and he had brought on “runners” to crew the Bywell Castle back there, as they were cheaper hires.

That’s not to imply that any of these men were poor sailors. In fact, the captain considered them to be a “superior article”. For the most part, they were men who preferred short-term work as they had families who they didn’t want to be away from for too long; that gave them a steadier reputation than the crew who’d go anywhere in the world. However, it did mean that the men weren’t familiar with the ship.

In addition, the captain wasn’t familiar with the river – it was a long way away from his usual international routes. This would not have been a particularly unusual circumstance. With the sheer number of vessels plying their way along the river, there would always be some who didn’t know it. For that reason, there were specialised river pilots who would come on board to guide the vessel out into clear waters. The Bywell Castle wasn’t obliged to have a pilot on board, but they did; a man called Christopher Dix.

His familiarity with the river didn’t make it an easy job, though. With no cargo on board, the Bywell Castle was riding high on the water, meaning that the helmsman couldn’t actually see what was directly in front of or behind them.

Indeed, just as they were leaving the outer docks at Millwall, they suffered a collision with a barge which had strayed into their path. Fortunately for Captain Harrison the damage was minor – damage to the barge, that is; the smaller vessel would have difficulty denting the collier’s hull – and the incident didn’t hold them up for too long. The Bywell Castle could finally get underway towards the sea.

Mr Henry Reed, a stationer from Oxford Street, was on board the Princess Alice.

“My wife and I had been down at Gravesend, spending the day. We did not go down by the Princess Alice, and our returning by her was quite accidental. We were during the voyage on the upper fore-deck, where there were other first-class passengers – men, women, and children; but the deck was not crowded. The other portion of the ship seemed to me to be very much crowded, chiefly by pleasure-seekers. I never before saw so many children on board a Thames steamer, and the proportion of women on board seemed to me very large…”

The atmosphere was described by many of the passengers as merry and jovial; the band played into the evening with popular songs of the time like “We don’t want to fight but by jingo if we do” and “Nancy Lee”. Another passenger, Emma Eatwell, recalled seeing a few girls trying to dance a polka, despite having very little room on the crowded deck.

Reed continued his story:

“All went well and quietly until about twenty-five minutes to eight o’clock, when it was anything but dark. You might not have been able to read small print, but you could distinctly see the picture on a photography. We were near North Woolwich, and had seen the powder-magazine. The captain was standing on the paddle-box, looking ahead, and giving directions to the hands. I am perfectly certain we were slackening speed, and going very slowly. Some of the people around us were straining their eyes, and looking ahead in the same direction as the captain. My wife and I turned to look as the others did… I saw a large vessel, a screw-steamer, several lengths ahead, and coming directly towards us…

As the large vessel came nearer to us… I distinctly heard the captain shouting to her in a loud voice, “Where are you coming to?” … The large vessel was then close upon us. My wife, who had not lost her self-possession, said “Do not leave me;” and I took her hands to keep her by me. I looked up at the vessel close upon us, but could see no persons in her fore part, nor could I hear any cries from her; but her great height above us would probably prevent our doing so. The collision must have occurred at that moment; for, although there was no crash, we felt the Princess Alice tremble under us – a kind of strong shivering motion.”

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Another passenger, Mr George Alexander Haynes, was at the rear of the pleasure boat.

“Suddenly there was a bustle aboard, and low murmurs were audible amongst the passengers, which gradually rose into loud exclamations. at this time our signal-whistle blew tremendously loud and shrill; the wheels of the boat were momentarily reversed and speed slackened. I heard the captain of our vessel and other people shout out as if warning some approaching ship. Being at the after part of the boat, I went to look on the starboard side, when the air was suddenly filled with the terrible tumult of human voices, and within a second afterwards the big ship crashed into the Princess Alice on the starboard side and split our vessel right in half. I cannot describe the scene of confusion and maddening perplexity which seized upon everybody. In a minute or so I could see distinctly the fore part of our vessel sink, the middle going down like a plummet, raising the head of the vessel into the air, and as it sank the poor people seemed to be shot out as if down a shaft into the gulf below.”

Reed told reporters that he heard screaming, and as he and his wife looked for safety they saw people rushing towards the gangway.

“Without any apparent shock, we found ourselves, my wife and I still holding together, in the water, and rose again; we sank again, I believe drawn down by the suction of the Princess Alice. When we rose my wife was black in the face and nearly insensible; I could not swim, and could scarcely hold my wife up.”

Although some of the surviving witnesses claimed that the Bywell Castle had continued on, failing to provide any aid to those in the water, Reed detailed how the collier had thrown ropes over, and he had held on to one, his wife in turn holding on to him, with several others holding on behind them.

“The vessel moved on, and, holding by the ropes, we floated down the river along with her; one of those clinging, a woman, screaming all the while. I believe she had lost a child. We must have floated in this way for more than half an hour, going down the river with the ebb. We were shouting to the men above, and could hear them shouting, but could not hear what they said.”

Eventually, a small row boat took on the twelve or thirteen survivors on the ropes, and took them to safety at Greenwich.

Haynes similarly found himself quickly in the water.

“One of the crew rushed up to the stern and tried to loosen the ropes connecting one of the davits on the port bow, in order to utilise the boat, but he could not get the ropes unfastened, and said, “Who’s got a knife? Have you one, sir?” I replied that I had, and handed it to him, when he cut the rope, and, after shouting out “Below!” let the boat down into the water without a single person in it, although by proper management people could have been got in. I might have seated myself in it easily enough, but I thought it was intended for the ladies and children. After being let down it must have drifted away with the tide. I relied upon my good nerves and swimming powers to save myself.

I don’t think three minutes elapsed between the collision and the sinking of the Princess Alice. Events went speedily on, and at last the portion of the vessel on which I stood slipped away from my feet and I found myself struggling in the water. I seized hold of a lady next to me who was drowning, and supported her in the tide. As well as I was able I trod the water, and was thus better able to keep both of us afloat. Nevertheless, I went under several times, for there was a great surge on then, caused in great part by the screw of the big ship near us.”

He, too, was eventually rescued by a small boat, manned by the manager of the Beckton Gas Works, Mr Trewby. Other boats, often owned and manned by those who lived and worked along that stretch of the river, also came to the rescue. However, many of the passengers aboard the Princess Alice could not swim; even if they had the skill, the voluminous skirts worn by ladies of the time would have made it extremely difficult to stay afloat. Unless they managed to find something to hold onto, their chances of survival were poor.

Bringing bodies ashore. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Duke of Teck, one of the other boats of the London Steamboat Company, was running the same route ten minutes behind the Princess Alice; however that ten minutes meant that they arrived on the scene too late to be of much help. They took on board some survivors and a number of dead bodies pulled from the river.A Mr Warren Hawkes, of the Steam Packet inn at Woolwich, had been on board the Duke of Teck, and several of the rescued passengers were taken to his establishment; according the London Evening Standard, some half-dozen women were wrapped in blankets before the pub’s fire. The Globe mentioned two little boys, about four or five years old, put into the care of Mrs Hawkes; one alternated between crying, “Go and bring me mammy and my baby brother,” and declaring, “It is my birthday today.”

Meanwhile, other boats took both survivors and the drowned to various other places along the riverside.

The Globe reported:

“Nineteen bodies – of whom fifteen were adults – of those recovered were laid out and decently covered with sheets or blankets in the board-room and balcony of the company’s offices at Woolwich; five were men and the rest women and children. Most of the countenances appeared perfectly placid and composed, presenting little or no disfigurement. One fine-looking young man lay as if asleep. There were elderly, stout men and women; one pretty and gentle-looking girl of sixteen, and beside her four infants, all deathly pale but undistorted…

There are several bodies at the Town Hall, a number at Becton, more at Barking and others at Erith. At Barking 18 were saved, and some also at Becton.”

In the first accounts of the disaster, published the following day, it was estimated that there had been between six and eight hundred people on board, and that only around 150 had been saved.It would prove impossible to arrive at an accurate count of the passengers aboard the Princess Alice that evening; children had not required a ticket, and tickets were interchangeable between the sister ships of the London Steamboat Company so sales numbers were of little help.

On the fifth of September, the Daily Telegraph published an account of the scene on the river following the tragedy. A ship named Doris, flying her flag at half-mast, took a crowd of passengers to North Woolwich, the nearest pier to the scene. The crowds there were so thick that the reporter described them as a “living torrent”.

“It was impossible to stand a spectator of such a scene. At daybreak as many as 300 skiffs were abroad on the Thames, in Gallion’s and Barking reaches. Some were carefully searching under the shores, in deep scours of the river bed; and here, especially on the Kentish side, in Gallion’s reach, some twenty bodies were found lodged in the reeds… Freights of twenty persons were speedily chartered at a shilling a head, and the river was soon alive with boat-loads of spectators anxious to say they had been rowed over the sunken Princess Alice… As we near the fatal spot, only a gentle line of rippling water shows where the Princess Alice lies.”

Recovering bodies from the river. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The correspondent went on to describe some of the Thames watermen retrieving the body of one of the victims from the water.

“Carefully and tenderly these Thames watermen dealt with the dreadful burden. No attempt was made to raise it until four of them had placed their long poles with small hooks under different parts of the body. Gently, and with difficulty, it at length came to the surface, and then I am happy to tell, reverent hands laid hold of it. They knew it was a woman, they told me, before they brought it above water.”

The newspapers also reported further deaths amongst those who had been rescued from the water. These were attributed to the state of the Thames at the time. The Princess Alice went down between the sites of the Crossness and Abbey Mills pumping stations. Both released huge amounts of untreated sewage into the river. The Beckton Gas Works – whose manager had helped in the rescue – also released by-products into the river, as did a number of other chemical factories in the region. A chemist, writing in to the Times, described this.

“At high water, twice in 24 hours, the flood gates of the outfalls are opened when there is projected into the river two continuous columns of decomposed fermenting sewage, hissing like soda-water with baneful gases, so black that the water is stained for miles and discharging a corrupt charnel-house odour, that will be remembered by all who have passed through it on these summer excursions as being particularly depressing and sickening.”

Emma Eatwell later told the coroner’s inquest, “I was saved after being in the water for half an hour. I suffered very much from the state of the water and my chest is now very bad. The water was very dreadful and nasty – it was in a very foul state indeed.”

It proved to be just as difficult to identify the bodies as it had been to retrieve and account for them. In several places, the bodies were laid out, and the families of the missing searched through them to try and find their loved ones. Reporters described this scene with various levels of Victorian mawkishness. W.T. Vincent, in the records of the Woolwich District, probably topped them all.

“A sight to wring out tears of blood from the eyes of any beholder. A row of little innocents, plump and pretty, well-dressed children, all dead and cold, some with life’s ruddy tinge still in their cheeks and lips, the lips from which the merry prattle had gone for ever.”

The Daily Telegraph also published descriptions unlike any we’d expect to read in a newspaper today.

“Placid and peaceful in expression the faces of the dead were almost aglow with a sickening ruddy colour indicative of death from asphyxia, and approaching decomposition. The extremities, the hands, and other parts of the body, where exposed, were pale and colourless as wax, and the contrast between the coppery hue of the swollen features and the pallid ashen tint of the limbs was as horrid as it was painful to the beholder.”

Several individuals were described in awful detail, and the correspondent records the horrified reactions of those hoping to make an identification, including fainting women and soldiers, “Strong men, who have beheld death in many forms, stand aghast before an array of corpses.”

Temporary mortuary in Woolwich. Source: Wikimedia Commons

It must have been horrendously difficult for those searching for their loved ones to go through this process; visiting location after location trying to find them. West Kent coroner Charles Joseph Carttar arranged for all the bodies found on the south side of the river to be brought to one place, a large iron shed organised by the military, to make it a little easier. However, many of the bodies found on the north side of the shore fell under the jurisdiction of the South Essex coroner, Charles C. Lewis, and the law made it illegal to move them to another jurisdiction before they had been identified.

This meant the opening of two inquests; Lewis resolved the complication by holding the identification part of his, sending the bodies to Woolwich, then adjourning to allow the matter of the cause of the accident to be handled by Carttar.

The process of identification was also made easier by relying more on the property and clothing of the deceased; as they were brought in, they were numbered, and the property found with them, whether that be shawls, jewellery, hats, watches or other small articles, similarly numbered. The relatives could then view those possessions, and if they recognised something could be taken to view the relevant body.

On Monday, the 9th of September, a day which would become known as Burial Monday, many of the victims of the Princess Alice disaster were laid to rest. There were reportedly more than 150 private funerals that day, as well as the mass burial of many of the unidentified dead at Woolwich cemetery. Those who were as yet unidentified had numbered metal plates attached to their coffins; those numbers corresponded to the numbers attached to their clothes and property, retained by the authorities to allow identification to be made even after burial.

Burial of the unknown dead. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Carttar’s inquest was opened on the 4th of September, the day after the disaster, and dealt with identification up to the end of the day on Friday the 13th of September.When it reopened on the 16th, attention now turned to the question of blame. This had already been discussed in the newspapers, with some accounts asserting that the fault lay with the Princess Alice while others insisted that the Bywell Castle was to blame.

At the time of the accident, the Bywell Castle was moving eastwards with the ebb tide. Princess Alice was going west, against the tide. Each was lit so that, even in the growing darkness, they should be able to see where the other was. They had a green light on their starboard, or right-hand side, and a red light on their port, or left-hand side, with white lights on the central masts.

One thing to remember in these accounts is that, at the time, orders were given as tiller orders; effectively in reverse, meaning that when the helm was put to port, or left, the ship would actually be turning starboard, or right.

Captain Harrison’s account of the accident, given on oath to the Receiver of Wreck and reported widely in the newspapers, was as follows:

“The vessel was going half-speed. The helm was about mid-ships, the vessel being about midstream. Observed an excursion steamer, which proved to be the Princess Alice, coming up Barking Reach, about a mile distant and two points on the starboard bow. She appeared to be about the middle of the stream, and showed her red and masthead lights over Tripcock Point. The Pilot ordered the helm to be ported, the vessel paying off quickly towards the Tripcock shore. The Princess Alice had now rounded Tripcock Point, and deponent observed that she was paying off to the port helm, her red light being visible. That the Bywell Castle’s helm was kept hard a-port. When the vessels approached within about 100 yards of each other the Princess Alice was suddenly observed to starboard her helm, showing her green light close under the Bywell Castle’s port bow. Seeing that a collision was inevitable, stopped and reversed the engines full speed. The vessels came into collision, the Bywell Castle’s stem striking the Princess Alice near the starboard paddlebox, cutting into her with much violence. The Princess Alice immediately began to fill.”

Part of the Princess Alice after salvage. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In layman’s terms, he was saying that when they saw the Princess Alice, she was slightly to their right, but appeared to be crossing the river to their left. The Bywell Castle therefore turned to their right, but the Princess Alice turned abruptly before them, coming into their path.

Captain Grinstead, of the Princess Alice, had not survived to give testimony, however some of his crew had. First Mate George Thomas Long said:

“On rounding Tripcock Point, the vessel’s helm had been starboarded to pass a screw-steamer, name unknown, which was going down the river. The engines were going easy, and he next observed the green and masthead lights of the screw-steamer, which proved to be the Bywell Castle, coming down the river. The Princess Alice’s helm at that moment was starboarded; the engines were stopped. The Bywell Castle appeared to have ported her helm, and was coming stem on against the Princess Alice, being about 150 yards distant. The Princess Alice sounded her whistle, and loud shouts were made to the Bywell Castle, but the collision then inevitably took place.”

In other words, from their perspective they hadn’t changed course; they thought the Bywell Castle had simply turned into their path. The helmsman, John Eyers, gave a similar statement.

What appears to have happened was that the Princess Alice was trying to hug the southern shore, but because she was going against the tide, and going around a bend in the river that turned off to her left (or port), she got swept out towards the northern shore by the strong currents; that meant that her red port light was visible to the Bywell Castle. However, she continued on her intended course, steering to starboard to get back to the southern shore.

The Bywell Castle, having seen the Alice’s red light, thought that she was making for the northern shore, and accordingly steered to port themselves, thinking they should move towards the southern shore to pass her safely. Unfortunately, as the Alice’s steering kicked in and brought her back towards the southern shore, the two came together in the worst way possible.

During cross-examination, Captain Harrison practically said as much;

“On looking at the vessel approaching over the Point and not knowing what her usual course was, I thought she was on a port helm all the time. But now, after looking into it, I am convinced the tide must have swept her over and not her port helm.”

This was not an acceptance of blame on his part. There seems to be some confusion over how the two vessels were supposed to pass. In Joan Lock’s book on the sinking, she describes the rules of navigation as “that vessels should pass green light to green light or red light to red light” – in other words, they could pass either way. However, she also mentions rule 29d of the Thames Conservancy By-Laws, brought up during the coroner’s inquest, which stated that “If two vessels under steam are meeting end on, or nearly end on, so as to involve risk of collision, the helms of both shall be put to port, so that each may pass on the port side of the other.”

That being the case, it would mean that the Princess Alice was the ship at fault; she had remained at starboard, instead of obeying the rule laid down.

However, things were muddled somewhat by the allegation that the crew of the Bywell Castle had been worse for wear. The Bywell Castle’s own stoker, a man named Purcell, had declared on the night of the disaster that the crew had been drunk. “It’s the bloody booze,” he was reported to have said, and when asked if they had all been drunk replied, “Every bloody bung.”

There was also testimony from other witnesses, such as Henry Erb, master of the barge Sarah from Rochester. He said that that if the Bywell Castle had held her course, she would not have gone near the pleasure steamer, but she suddenly hard-a-ported so that, had she not touched the Princess Alice, she would have gone ashore.

The inquest at Woolwich. Source: Wikimedia Commons

William Steer, master of the topsail barge Benjamin Riddell, thought that the Princess Alice’s course made sense. “From my knowledge of navigation I should have said Bywell Castle ought not to have ported after the Princess Alice starboarded – that is what brought about the collision.”

In the end, the coroner’s jury came to a verdict, although four of the nineteen men empanelled refused to sign it.

“That the death of the said William Beachey 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 a 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 regulations were laid down for all steam navigation on the River Thames.Addenda:We consider that the Princess Alice was, on the third of September, seaworthy.We think the Princess Alice was not properly and sufficiently manned.We think the number of persons onboard the Princess Alice was more than prudent.We think the means of saving life onboard the Princess Alice were insufficient for a vessel of her class.

A Board of Trade enquiry, running at the same time, did not apportion the blame as equally. Based on that rule 29D, they found that the Princess Alice was to blame, and that the Bywell Castle had been unable to avoid the collision.

The London Steamboat Company tried to sue the owners of the Bywell Castle for compensation; this went to the Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice, where it was found that both vessels were to blame.

Princess Alice memorial. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the wake of the tragedy, there were several actions taken to ensure that a similar event could not occur again. As many of the deaths were attributed to the fact that swimming was a rather uncommon skill, there was a movement to build new swimming pools throughout the city, and resolutions to teach young ladies as well as boys. The Marine Police Force, who had until then relied on rowing boats to rescue those in peril on the river, were equipped within a couple of years with steam launches. The sewage coming from the Crossness and Abbey Mills pumping stations began to be treated, and sludge boats were commissioned to dump the effluent at sea instead. The rules of navigation on the river were clarified, and the construction of the Royal Albert Dock helped to keep pleasure boats away from heavy goods traffic.

You might think that this would all be enough to avoid further tragedy, and it was – for almost a hundred and eleven years. Then, in the early hours of the 20th of August 1989, the dredger Bowbelle struck the pleasure steamer Marchioness on the River Thames – but that is a story for another episode.

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