It was the dark evening of Thursday 27th November 1872 and Mr Matthew, the chief officer of Customs for the port of Exmouth was working at the dock. Helping him to measure a stack of timber were his two sons, George and Joseph. At half past five Mr Matthew told his son, Joseph, to scoot off home and tell mother that he and George would be home shortly looking for their tea.
Joseph needed to take the narrow path that ran by the dock edge. There were no lights and there was no fence and by now all was black as pitch. Young Joseph felt his way forward but somehow he slipped and fell into the dock. His head struck timber and, although he was a strong swimmer, he sank and drowned.
A half hour later Mr Matthew and George arrived home unaware of Joseph’s fate. When they did not find him at home they immediately suspected what had happened and went back to the dock and spent the night searching for the lost boy but to no avail. Before dawn others joined the search. The dock was dragged and the body was found in thirteen foot of water at the dock gates. There were two dreadful bruises to the face.
On many occasions previously Mr Matthew had pointed out the danger of the dock having no lighting and no fencing. Only after Joseph’s death were steps taken to make the docks safer.