Historic Shipping - facts, pictures, presentations on ships from yesteryear; Robert Wigram, Family and Associates - Shipbuilders and Ship Owners Money Wigram & Company - Shipbuilders and Ship Owners The Plymouth Emigration Depot Plymouth Hulks - the forgotten ships around Plymouth Sound, The General Screw Steam Shipping Co. Ltd. The African Steam Ship Company


From ‘The Western Daily Mercury’- 23rd July 1880

A Mystery Of The Sea

On of those mysteries which often defy elucidation was a matter of inquiry by the Plymouth borough coroner (Mr. T. C. Brian) in the evening of the 22nd July 1880. It appears that while a small Plymouth hook boat, the ‘Secret’, was about three miles south of the Breakwater, one of the crew named Pearce descried what he considered was a log of wood. Thinking that it would do for firewood, he bore down on it. Upon nearing it, however, he discovered that it was a box or case. Ropes were put around it and it was hoisted alongside. One of the crew, in order to see what the contents of the box were, took a hatchet and slightly lifted the cover. To the astonishment of those on board it was found to contain the dead body of a man. The boat was at once put about, and on arrival in the harbour, the box was handed over to the proper authorities.
The Inquest
The Coroner, in his opening remarks to the jury, said the case which was about to be laid before them was rather an extraordinary one. He had never heard of such a case being brought to Plymouth before. He (the coroner) thought the deceased might have died on board a steamer outward bound, the captain of which could not stop to bring the body to land.
The first witness called was Edward Pearce, who stated that he belonged to the fishing boat ‘Secret’, of Plymouth. At 10 a.m. that morning they were three miles south of the Breakwater, fishing, when he noticed something floating in the water. Witness thought it was a plank, and consequently bore down on it, as he thought it would be of service as firewood. Upon nearing it, however, he discovered that it was a case. Ropes were put around it, and it was hoisted alongside. One of the crew obtained a hatchet and slightly lifted the cover of the box, when they found it contained the body of a man. They spoke to a pilot with respect to the discovery, and it was suggested that they should take it to shore, which they did, arriving in the Pool, near Cattewater, about 12 minutes past one. Witness informed P.C. Damerell, the Barbican constable, and who, he believed, communicated with Dr. Fox. Mr. Damerell took possession of the box at four p.m.
Edward Damerell, Barbican constable, said the above witness came to him about 1·30 p.m. and told him a similar story as that told to the jury. Witness did not at the time go and see the box, but first communicated with the sanitary authorities. Dr. Fox subsequently went aboard with him. The body was landed at 4 p.m., and taken to the Mortuary. Every precaution was taken in putting disinfecting fluids about the corpse. Witness, who has been Police Constable at the Barbican for nine years and a-half, said he had never had a like case brought before his notice. Two fire bars lashed with spun yarn were inside the box, and a pillow was under the head of the deceased.
The Foreman of the Jury (Mr. Roberts): “Could you ascertain whether the deceased was a seaman or passenger?”
Witness: “I could not say.”
The Coroner, in summing up, said he was bound to hold an inquest before he could give an order for burial. The deceased, by the appearance of the box, had died at sea, and was thrown overboard. Iron bars were put inside of the box to sink it, but there being no holes in the box whereby the water could obtain access, it floated. There was no evidence to show who the deceased was; he might have been a Frenchman, and have been thrown into the water off the French coast. The jury returned a verdict of “Found dead in English waters.”

Back to Home page | Back to Strange Old Stories Index
Copyright © Historic Shipping 2011.