Sunday, 9 September 2012


On Sunday 6th August 1815, a couple of months after the Battle of Waterloo and a couple of weeks after the excitement of Napoleon being off Brixham aboard the Bellephoron, four people, a manservant and three women servants, were enjoying a quiet day's boating on the Estuary.   They had hired an Exmouth boat skippered by a  fifteen year old boy.   In the evening they found themselves in the Bight where the great colliers were moored and a sudden squall of wind drove their boat in such a way that it fouled the hawser of one of the ships lying there.   The boat was upset and a young woman was drowned.   The others were helped aboard the collier by the 'active exertions' of the crew.

As well as being squally weather, it was probably that time of ebb when the infamous 'race' is running    Even today,  when there are no colliers' hawsers to plague us,  many a small boat gets into a tangle in that part of the river.

 The report does not tell me,-  I am reading this in the Woolmer's  Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of August 12th 1815, -   but I imagine that these were four young people from a local household enjoying the one day in the week when they were allowed out.   We are not told the name or age of the girl who died.  She was, after all, only a servant!

It is no doubt perverse to feel much sympathy with someone whose death took place two centuries ago when there are so many contemporary tragedies shouting for our attention but I am in a melancholy mood today so I am wondering what this lost 'young woman' was like.  One moment she was perhaps laughing, chatting, joking, the next she was fighting for her life in the chilly waters of the Exe encumbered by her impossible Regency petticoats.  Was she still a teenager?  Was she pretty?  Did she have a sweetheart to weep for her or aged parents to grieve?    The distance and the very casualness of the newspaper report somehow make her sad death seem all the sadder.


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