Wednesday, 31 March 2021

 The Chinese Honeymoon murder at Cumma Catta Wood, Grange, Borrowdale, on 19th June, 1928.

On 18th June 1928, a newly married Chinese couple arrived at The Borrowdale Gates Hotel, at Grange, in that tranquil Cumbrian valley; the proprietor was Miss Beatrice Elizabeth Crossley. The man was 28-year-old Chung Yi Miao, and his wife was 29-year-old Wia Sheung Sui Miao, and it would later transpire that she was the daughter of a wealthy Chinese Mandarin and his favourite wife. The two had been married in New York on 12th May, the husband was also a Chinese national whose occupation was believed to be a student, although he apparently had a doctorate in law from Chicago University. She was a highly educated woman, taking great interest in the feminist movement in China. She was travelling on her honeymoon, with jewellery amounting to just under £4,000. She also had cheques to the value of £60 and in her possession was a letter of credit of the National City Bank of New York to the value of $10,000 (then £2,000), of which £500 had been withdrawn and £250 having been placed in the Glasgow branch of the Bank of Scotland, in both her and her husband’s name.

The Borrowdale Gates Hotel. 

The married couple had arrived at Glasgow from Montreal on 11th June, had stayed there a few days before going on to Edinburgh, where they left for Grange, Borrowdale, arriving on 18th. It was noted by the staff and guests that they were on perfectly good terms and on the morning of 19th they had breakfast together in the dining room. A guest noticed that the lady was wearing a solitaire diamond ring and a platinum loop ring studded with diamonds.

29-year-old Wia Sheung Sui Miao


28-year-old Chung Yi Miao

Around 7:30pm on Tuesday 19th June 1928, a local farmer called Mr. Thomas Wilson (at the time it was reported as a Mr. Wright) was out walking from Grange, Borrowdale. He had taken a track to the east of the Borrowdale road and was just south of Cumma Catta Woods, near Grange. Some distance from the track he could see a woman lying on her back between two rocks and she had an open umbrella over her head and shoulders. The location was around 400 yards from Grange bridges (although later accounts state between half a mile or just under a mile), around 35 yards from the bank of the River Derwent, roughly 66 yards from the main Borrowdale road and about 60 to 70 feet above the river itself. She was screened from observation by a bank of trees. Mr. Wright did not approach her but on going back to Grange he mentioned it to others. Wia Sheung Sui Miao was reported to the proprietor of the hotel by her new husband as having not returned, having apparently gone to Keswick to shop. Staying at Manor House, Grange with a relative (George Thomas Mounsey) was a Mr. William Pendlebury who was a Southport police detective by profession, having joined the constabulary in 1914 (he would be promoted to sergeant in November 1930). Through his policing experience he was concerned enough by what he heard related to him by his host that he telephoned to Keswick police station before attending the area with Mr. Mounsey himself. There he found the body of the newly wed Chinese lady who was lain on her back with her skirt and underwear pulled up, and her knickers torn up each side to the central seam. Round her neck was cords which had clearly been used to strangle her. Her left glove was off her hand and her ring finger showed signs of a ring or rings having been worn but were missing. There was no jewellery on her expensively dressed body, except for a platinum wristwatch.

The likely scene of the murder, the two rocks, near the popular Bowder Stone path

A closer shot of the stones

The above stones are just visible in the trees to the right of the rocky outcrop, as viewed from the Bowder Stone path.

Map of the area with the hotel red flagged near top, and likely murder scene located near the bottom. 

(The above location is as best as I can be sure, is to the west of the popular Bowder Stone path. As the crow flies, it is half a mile from Grange Bridges. It also matches the locations of height and distance from the river Derwent; nothing, moving towards a distance of 400 yards, can closely match the distances from the river and road, nor is there a discernible two stone resting place). 

At 9pm Inspector Harry Graham attended and realised there were 4 ligatures around her neck. He made arrangements for Mr. Mayson of Keswick to take photographs that could then be shown to the courts, and also for Dr. Crawford to attend and examine the body, prior to it being moved. The doctor confirmed strangulation as the cause of death, and his expert opinion was that this had occurred between 2:30pm and no later than 5pm; no struggle seemed to have occurred. A later most mortem showed that no attempt had actually been made to sexually assault the woman, despite the layout of the body.

The Inspector made enquires in the neighbourhood and went to the Borrowdale Gates Hotel. There he saw the deceased woman’s husband, who was in bed in his pyjamas. He cautioned him and arrested him on suspicion of causing the death of his wife. In broken English, the man said, ‘What do you say, my wife dead? What you mean by that?’

He was taken by car to Keswick Police Station by Pc Scott and once there, he asked the officer, ‘Did you see my wife?’ When the officer confirmed he had, he curiously asked, ‘Did she have knickers on?’ The next day the Deputy Chief Constable, Superintendent Barron, saw him at the cell and Miao had said, ‘It’s terrible! My wife dead, assaulted, robbed!’ He was asked for his clothing and curiously said that bloodstains were on the coat and were there from their time in New York. When the coat was later inspected, there were no bloodstains at all. These strange comments would form part of the circumstances at later courts, in particular the Assizes trial.

Inspector Graham remained at the room and searched it, finding there a suitcase, a lady’s black grip bag, and one or two other articles. In the suitcase was a snakeskin jewel case, although there was no key. After securing the room, the next day those contents were taken to the police station for examination. 

Enquiries later showed that although the woman had been apparently suffering from a cold the couple were seen at 12:30pm near Grange Bridge. She was last seen at about 2:40pm and that was roughly 120 feet from where her body was found. Her husband was seen later at about 4pm, walking in the direction of Grange Bridge; a little later he was again viewed walking leisurely near the Borrowdale Gates Hotel and was carrying something under his coat. Dorothy Beatrix Holliday was a housemaid at the Borrowdale Gates and had seen him return and heard him in the couple’s room. She had been in her own room and knew that neither had returned earlier. She went to him at 5pm to ask if he wanted anything for tea and whether the lady would want anything? He had replied that she had gone to Keswick to shop and would be back at 6pm. At that time, she had not returned, nor at 7pm. He had dinner and at 8pm and now formerly reported to the staff that his wife had not returned. She reported the matter to her employer, Miss Crossley. He kept on making enquiries of her and Miss Crossley, but at 10pm asked for a candle and went to his bed. 

On the evening of Wednesday 20th an inquest was opened, however, it was adjourned until 21st October that year (it would eventually be adjourned indefinitely following the Assizes Court verdict). At 6pm that same day the prisoner was charged by Inspector Graham with the murder of his wife; he denied the allegation. He was remanded until the following Friday and asked if his brother in Portugal could be informed of his detention, also his grandparents in Hong Kong; he had no friends in the United Kingdom. The inquest was the first time the public and press had of seeing the accused in person and he was described as an unusually tall man for a person of Chinese origin, with jet black hair which was swept back in the modern style; his wife had been small in stature, at under 5ft in height.

That week, greater detail of the two began to emerge. A Chinese merchant living in London told enquiring press reporters that Wai Sheung Sui Miao was known to him. He said that he knew her well, from her visits to London and also from the far east, from some years ago; she had lived with her parents; her maiden name was Wai Sheung Sui. She had come to London in 1924 to open a curio shop at the Webley Exhibition but had been shortly recalled to China as her father had become seriously ill. He died later and she inherited shares in the family business, along with her brother, a fellow merchant based in Lisbon, Portugal, the only other sibling. He met her again in 1927 in Shanghai. She was a great Young Women’s Christian Association (Y.W.C.A.) worker in China and described her only failing as being too generous. He estimated her dowry as around £12,000, with other expensive gifts. She spoke English fluently and had pre-booked rooms in London whilst she had stayed at Edinburgh; he described her as a very capable woman. Her father was described as a Chinese Merchant Prince of great wealth.

The funeral took place at Crosthwaite Church on the afternoon of Friday 22nd. Great secrecy had been observed, with only around 40 other people present, mainly women, who also laid flowers on the coffin. Originally, she was to be buried in a pauper’s grave, but the funeral director, Walter Swinburne, had paid for the grave and oak coffin out of his own funds. Although not certain, no doubt there would be an expectation by him to recover the money from a grateful family. Also present at the funeral were Inspector Graham and several his officers. Her brother was expected to arrive in England later that week. Certain organs had been retained and sent to London for analysis, as questions were being asked as to the exact cause of death, although this would not add to the later evidence.

The accused appeared at Keswick court on remand on Friday 29th, represented by Mr. Oglethorpe, a Keswick solicitor. He had been brought to the court from the railway station, in a horse-bus, having been detained at Preston Prison. He was once again remanded for a further fortnight.

In various remand hearings and at the later Assizes court case, several local witnesses were able to give evidence of witnessing the couple on the main roadway side of Grange Bridges, and near the wicket gate south of them, but only he had been seen to return. The last remand hearing was on Tuesday 31st July and the accused man was committed to trial at Carlisle Assizes court in October; he still denied murdering his wife. 

The Assizes was held on Monday 22nd October at Carlisle, presided over by Justice Humphreys, where a Not Guilty plea was entered. The prisoner had been detained at Strangeways Prison, Manchester, and had been brought from there for the trial. The circumstances outlined by the prosecution were those that had earlier been given to the police court hearings and it further outlined that the murder had not been witnessed by anyone, although the evidence to be given was that only the accused could be responsible for his own wife’s death. The circumstances related were similar in the build-up to those given at earlier courts in Keswick, but emphasis was now placed on the way the body was laid out, to give a clear yet false impression that the victim had been assaulted with the intention of lust. The prosecution barrister highlighted the taking of the rings from the left hand, which would prove important. The whole spectacle suggested one of outrage and robbery, but there was no evidence of rape. The strange comments he had made after arrest were now repeated for the court to consider what the intention was in saying such things, such as the non-existent bloodstains. Although no jewellery was found at the scene or visible at the hotel, the contents that were taken to the police station were inspected and the evidence of this was given to the court. The accused said that he did not have a key for the jewellery box, brought by Inspector Graham to the station, but a bunch of keys was found hidden in the fold of one of his dress shirts. On opening the box various pieces were found including a pearl necklace. The police asked a local photographer, Mr. Mayson, to develop two film spools found with their camera. When one of the spools was opened several days after the murder, a diamond ring and a wedding ring fell out, having been wrapped up inside. It was suggested to the court and jury that the accused had taken them from the deceased’s left hand and hidden them; how could they have been found in his possession, if he had not committed the crime? The suggestion was that this would be done to cause a further belief of robbery after a supposed rape.

The witness evidence was firstly of a formal nature, with the Principal of St. Stephen’s College in Hong Kong, giving some history of her time there and in that province. The bank clerk in Glasgow also appeared. Plans of the area were submitted by Mr. James Peascod of Keswick. Various people of Grange and hotel staff repeated their earlier evidence to the Assize court, which adjourned at 4:30pm, and restarted at 10:30am the next day.

Inspector Graham then gave evidence and said the accused had written three telegrams whilst in the cells. He read one to the court that was addressed to a Mr. Sui. in Hong Kong, it said, 

‘Wai Sheung and myself stayed in Borrowdale Gates Hotel, and I had very bad cold. She asked me to go to bed and she alone went out to walk and go down town shopping and buy medication for me. The police found she had died by strangulation in a wood and not allowed to see her. I do not know where and how she died. She went out with pearl necklace and handbag. I ask police officers here whether these things are there or not, and they do not tell me.’ 

The inspector then explained to the court about the key, the jewel box, and the pearl necklace within, along with other jewellery and five gold dollar pieces. Other forensic evidence was then given by Professor M’Call, the Liverpool pathologist, then by a jeweller on the value of her possessions.

The defence then opened their case and said that the prosecution one was built on a theory only. He said Miao was of good birth, had a brilliant career ahead of him, before he married his wife. The defence claimed that the deceased had openly displayed her jewellery to others, both on the ship crossing and prior to the journey, and put forward a theory that some people existed solely from robbing rich people. He said his client had seen two likely Chinese or Japanese people intently watching them in Glasgow, then in Edinburgh, then in Keswick on the day of the murder. He claimed it was another necklace that was missing, not the one found by Inspector Graham in the case, and that it was an international gang that targeted her while on her own, away from her strong husband. (This would mean that there were two necklaces, not one, but only one had been insured during the journey.)

When the accused gave his evidence, he said that his father was wealthy and a member of a legislative council. He himself had attended New York to qualify in law. He and his wife met in America and married with parental consent. He stated that his wife openly spoke of her expensive jewellery and their honeymoon trip was widely reported in the newspapers. He claimed he saw these people of oriental origin, in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Grange, but took them to be tourists. He stated it was his wife who put the two rings in the Kodak spool that day after breakfast. He said that the afternoon walk was interrupted by rain and they both walked back to the hotel, and she then intended on going to Keswick for underwear and medication; he said he kissed her on parting. All the strange points and jewellery locations were countered by explanations over misunderstood words, such as the word ‘knickers’ when he actually said ‘necklace’, and jewellery wearing, claiming it was a different necklace she took with her other than the one found. 

Another important piece of evidence were three slips of paper with Chinese writing on them, which had been found in the room they had occupied at the Edinburgh hotel. He agreed it was his writing but disagreed with the interpretations. The translations were: (1) “Arrival Europe, again consider”: (2) “Be sure not to do this thing on this ship”; (3) “Be sure of doing it on this ship.” He said the true translations were: (1) “Arrival Europe, and then discuss”; (2) “Do not discuss this on this boat”; (3) “Be sure to discuss this matter on this ship.” Everything he now said was an explanation of how what he said had been misinterpreted; stating that he had told the superintendent that she had been ‘rudely murdered’, not ‘robbed murdered’. As for the location of the key, he claimed it had been mixed up by the police searching the luggage and must have dropped into his things.

The case was again resumed on the Wednesday. The discussion on other Chinese or Japanese people being seen in the area was confirmed by various local witnesses, however the nearest to the scene of the murder any were seen was at the corner of the Royal Oak Hotel in Keswick itself, no closer, which was about four miles away.

After the summing up by the defence the judge them made his observations on the position of the law and certain points of evidence. One crucial point he made was that the rings were secreted, not just placed in the Kodak spools. He asked the jury to consider the point of the defence, that the deceased had herself placed the rings in the spool. They had to consider why she would do that when she had a jewellery case, the contents of which were worth thousands of pounds? He pointed out that the body had been laid out as if outraged, but no such outrage had been done, indeed there was not a single bruise on her body. On the glove being removed, clearly this was done to take the rings, so the jury had to ask themselves how it was that they came into the possession of the accused? A further consideration for the jury was, how did a stranger get close enough to strangle her, but a person who knew her could succeed? How had he known she had been robbed before anyone told him? He had offered an explanation on this for the jury to consider. At the conclusion of the judge’s comments the jury retired, returning an hour later with a Guilty verdict. 

When asked if he had anything he wished to say before sentence was passed, he repeatedly wished to say more to persuade the jury of his innocence. Finally, the judge reminded him that the jury had reached a verdict and he was being asked if he had anything to say before he passed the only sentence of law available to him. Eventually the judge donned the black cap and passed sentence of death, further commenting that he believed the jury had reached a correct verdict. 

***********************

The Court of Appeal heard the case on Monday and Tuesday 19th and 20th November where Lord Chief Justice Hewart and Justices Avory and Acton were sitting. They considered the question of whether the evidence was sufficient for the jury to arrive at a proper verdict. Miao had spent 3hrs 30 minutes addressing the court in his own defence, speaking in broken English going over the whole of the evidence given at the Assizes trial. He finished by saying that he hoped to receive that world famous British justice. 

Lord Hewart then went on to review the evidence and said that there had a concealment of the two rings in the photographic film carton (not merely placed there by his wife). He then continued, 

“These two rings were part of the £3,400 worth of jewellery that this dead woman left behind her. That Miao’s cupidity got the better of his cunning was shown by his questions to one of the young witnesses regarding the bridge near the bathing pool near which the body of the dead woman was found. There have been suggestions that two Orientals were involved in the murder, as thy had been seen in the vicinity. But at no time was either of them found in the company of Miao’s wife. It is impossible to say that there was not ample evidence to find this appellant committed this crime. The Judges summing up was extremely careful and impartial. Miao is truly guilty of a diabolical and calculated crime. Having listened to the appellant, one is satisfied that whatever else his greatest difficulty was not his lack of knowledge of the English language. He has said that he was misunderstood, but his real difficulty was that he was understood too well. The appeal is dismissed.” 

Again, at this court, Miao tried to turn to plead his case further with the Justices, but the wardens quickly closed around him and he was ushered out of the court.

The date of execution was set for early December, at Strangeways Prison, this being the last place he was detained prior to his Assizes trial, although the arrangements were to be made by the High Sheriff of Cumberland. An appeal was sent by his solicitor to the Home Office, asking for a reprieve from that terrible sentence of law being conducted; word was received on Tuesday 4th saying that the appeal was not granted. Even towards the end, others tried to show that the woman had been murdered by one of several secret Chinese societies who it was said he associated with during his time in America and who now had a vendetta towards him, since he had given up his membership. It was said these societies were more fearsome than the mafia themselves. That allegation was put forward by his weeping mother, who a correspondent of the press spoke to as she tried to make her way to England to assist in any reprieve, or be there to comfort her son at the end. Miao had himself spent some time in Paris in the past and had been known to be a womaniser. He would regularly have females back at his rooms and it was also rumoured he had been engaged to be married to an English woman of title. The correspondent spoke to her and she described him as a charmer, but just prior to the wedding she decided that their temperaments were incompatible. All such pleas of clemency had no effect, and the hanging was conducted on Thursday 6th by Thomas Pierrepoint. No family or compatriots were reported as being present and this was supposed to be due to him professing to Christianity, prior to the execution.

The one account that detailed the ‘Chinese Tong’ theory was in the Liverpool Echo of 8th December, so just after Miao was executed. As with all news accounts, there are ‘variations’ with other accounts, such as the father of the bride’s status, a brother of his in Cardiff, etc., but the account is worth considering. 

Liverpool Echo 8th December 1928

MURDER BY ‘TONG’.

Grim Secret of Chinese Honeymoon Drama

AN AMAZING THEORY

WAS MIAO ORDERED TO KILL HIS BRIDE?

An amazing theory has been put forward to explain why Chung Yi-miao, the young Chinese law student who was executed at Strangeways Gaol, Manchester, on Thursday, murdered his young bride on their honeymoon at Keswick. 

Miao was found guilty of the murder, but no plausible motive for the crime has ever been suggested.

 The suggestion is now made, states the London "Daily Express" that the grim tragedy was nothing more nor less than an incident in the deadly "Tong' warfare which exists between rival gangs of Chinese. If the theory is correct, Miao strangled his bride in obedience to the orders of his Tong. 

MYSTERIOUS CHINESE.

Two mysterious Chinamen were repeatedly mentioned in the course of the trial, and attempts were made to throw on them the blame for the crime. It is suggested in the following statement that they were the emissaries of the Tong, charged with the duty of seeing that Miao carried out the death sentence which had been passed on his bride. 

The following is the statement which has been supplied to the "Daily Express" :-

 'Mrs. Chung Miao was the only surviving child of a Mr. Sheung Wai, a wealthy Chinese merchant, of Hong Kong. She was educated in England. During the British Empire Exhibition, she managed her father's exhibits for him in the Chinese section. 

LIFE IN LONDON.

Miss Sheung Wai was an exceedingly pretty girl. and was popular with both Chinese, and Europeans in London. She was known as a frequent visitor to several night clubs, where she was to be seen constantly dancing with her countrymen. 

At the conclusion of the British Empire Exhibition Mr. Sheung Wai and his daughter returned to China. Shortly afterwards her father died, leaving her the whole of his vast fortune. 

For a time Miss Sheung Wai lived quietly in Hong Kong. Her English education. however, made her long for the companionship of cultured people. It was not surprising. therefore, that when she met Chung Yi-Miao in China last summer she should be attracted by him. 

Miao was on a holiday from America, where he as studying law at Chicago University. His western education attracted Miss Sheung Wai, and he soon was seen about as her constant companion. 

Miao was the son of a wealthy Chinese Government official. He had an ample private allowance from his father, and was acceptable in every way. 

SECRET SOCIETY.

His holiday being at an end. Miao returned to Chicago, and Miss Sheung Wai arranged to meet him there in winter. 

Chung Yi-miao was member of a power - Chinese Tong, or secret society. whose activities are world-wide. In the United States, after he returned, he learned to his horror that Miss Sheung's father was an enemy of his Tong and it was stated that his death was not unconnected with the blood feud which had been going on for generations between the Sheung Wai family and the Tong. 

The Chicago members of the Town then discovered his affection for Miss Sheung Wia. He was summoned before them and told that he had been especially selected to carry out the fearful vengeance of the secret society. 

Miao pleaded for mercy, but he was bound to obey the orders of his superiors in the Tong. They threatened him with dire penalties if he did not obey their commands, and at last they wore down his resistance and he gave his reluctant consent to the murder of Miss Sheung. In November last Miss Sheung Wia arrived in Chicago to stay with some Chinese friends.

STRUGGLE TO ESCAPE.

Miao was frequently seen with her in the dance halls and Chinese restaurants of the City. He had a small two-seater motorcar in which they used to go motoring together. On several occasions he was tempted to carry out the orders of his Tong. He had plenty of opportunities for murdering the unsuspecting girl, but always at the last moment held back. 

As time wore on the frightfulness of the deed began to prey on his mind. He eventually decided to save the girl's life and cheat the Tong of its vengeance. 

In May he secretly married the girl in Chicago, and left on the night train for New York. He had booked a passage for his bride and himself in a liner sailing from New York to Glasgow. 

It was his intention on arrival in England to join his brother, who is in business in Cardiff. 

Unfortunately for him, two Chinamen had been ordered to keep a watch on his movements. They followed him to England. 

In vain he pleaded with them to allow him to enjoy life in a new country with his bride. 

THE FINAL TRAGEDY.

The mysterious slips of paper produced at the trial are stated to have been portions of letters which the wretched man wrote to them pleading for a postponement of the murder. They were found by the police after he was arrested. 

Miao was frightened now that his own life, as well as that of his wife, might be forfeited. At Glasgow, when the boat docked, he succeeded in giving his pursuers the slip. 

He made for Keswick in the Lake district. It seemed to him that amid the lakes and mountains of Cumberland he would be safe for a time. 

The two Chinamen, however picked up his trail. He was traced to Carlisle and from thence to Keswick.

 Twenty-four hours later Mrs. Chung Yi-miao was found strangled in a wood. 

Several persons saw the two Chinamen in the district, but the undoubted evidence pointed to Miao as the perpetrator of the crime. 

What passed between him and his sinister companions the world will never know. Somehow or other he was nerved to commit the terrible deed, which he expiated on the scaffold Thursday morning.'

However, such an account still begs the question, ‘Why did he take and conceal the rings’? If financial gain had not been the motive, why, having set the scene to appear as a robbery, had he not thrown the rings in the undergrowth or the Derwent, anywhere between the murder scene and the Borrowdale Gates; had he done so, they would never have been found by the police. A further consideration would be, Why had such a powerful Tong not been able to exact a vengeance on a young innocent girl, since the time of her father’s death, some years previous? Even had there been a grain of truth to the Tong account, it still meant that he murdered his new bride. The only affect, if such an account had been accepted, may have been on the sentence appeal, but clearly the Lordships dismissed this. 

*********************

On the night of Thursday 20th December, under a Home Office Order, the body of Wia Sheung Sui Miao was exhumed by four workers under the direction of the undertaker Mr. Swinburne, and Inspector Graham. The plain Oak coffin was transferred to the mortuary, sealed in a lead cask, and placed in a further oak coffin. On Friday 28th the coffin was placed on board the blue funnel liner Calchas at Birkenhead Victoria Dock in preparation for the sea voyage to her homeland. The Chinese belief was that the body should be preserved and would one day be resurrected and joined once again with the soul. It was said that a Gold Ornate coffin was to be used for the final internment, at a cost of £5,000 for the coffin alone. Prior to the burial at Canton the deceased was to be firstly taken to Shanghai and Funchow, where there were branches of the Mandarin’s family. At Canton the ceremony was expected to last several days, more than one hundred professional mourning women would add to the-mile-long procession, along with a dozen bands of musicians. The Canton Beggars Guild was expected to call ‘delegates’ from all parts of the province to take part in the ceremony. Geomancer ‘magicians’ were to decide on the most propitious date for the internment.

At Keswick Court on Friday 11th January 1929, Deputy Chief Constable Barron applied for an order for dealing with the goods of both the deceased and the executed man. He had written to the latter at Strangeways and he replied that he wished all his goods to be sold and the proceeds given to his brother, and he wanted nothing of the property of his wife. He had signed a document on 6th November confirming this, which seemed pointless, as by English law a person could not benefit from such a crime. The court made such orders for the disposal of both properties. The property of the deceased wife was ordered to be dealt with by handing over to her brother. 

That Miao murdered his wife on their honeymoon was not doubted by all that considered the evidence; what no one could ever truly answer was, why? 

The Property of Chung Yi Miao was disposed of by public auction, conducted by Penrith Farmers and Kidd’s Auction, Co., Ltd., in conjunction with Joseph Mayson on 27th February 1929, at The Drill Hall, Keswick. This was done under Section 1 of the Police Properties Act 1897. This was a white gold wristlet watch, a gent’s gold watch and guard, gold wedding ring, a pair of jade and gold cufflinks in a case, a gold locket, a black leather brief bag, a brown expanding suitcase, leather attachĂ© cases, a small clock, a black trunk, a reading table, a tennis racquet in a press, a camera in a case, a quantity of coins (copper and silver), a quantity of books, blue and grey suits of clothes, blue and grey overcoats, black and brown shoes, a pair of gloves, an officer’s khaki uniform, a pair of brown knee boots, a dress suit, a waterproof coat, and other personal clothing. 

Somewhere, in and around the vicinity of Keswick, there could be someone who is now the unknowing owner of a murderer’s personal belongings. 

**Footnote – 

In later March 1934, 81 year old Tom Wilson died at Grange and the story of his grim discovery in Cumma Catta wood was once again recalled in the local press. 


Thursday, 25 February 2021

The Twitch - an Early Method of Police Restraint on Arrest

 I was researching an officer who had died and was unlisted on the National Police Roll of Honour. He was constable James Armstrong who had fallen from a fell in Cumberland, on 30th September 1847; James is now listed. I was researching his life story, as best as I could, and found he had worked at Carlisle, with that city Police Force. He then moved to Maryport where I found him working with another constable. It was whilst James was dealing with a James M'Keevor on 24th May 1835 at an Inn at Maryport, on the Cumbrian coast, that M'Keevor said to him, “You bloody b------, you once had the twitch upon me at Carlisle, and I’ll have your life tonight.” I couldn't understand this reference and took it to mean similar to 'the evil eye'; that he had marked him in some way, and M'Keevor was aware of it. It was only after I kept running this by other colleagues that one, who had an interest in equine matters, said that a twitch was a restraint applied to a horses upper lip to calm the animal. That colleague went on to describe it as a stick that had a leather strap that extended from it and could be pulled back taught, clamping the lip. (I believe it can also be two pieces of wood with a leather 'hinge' at one end, although the strap was the more common instrument.). Having never heard of, or seen any pictorial view of an officer carrying a twitch, or image in any police museum having possession of one for display, I decided to research these further. 

The first twitch refence I could discover, was used by Glasgow police, and this came from a court case were the arrested person was a complainant in a civil case in October of 1826. A Mr. M'Gibbon had given evidence of his accusation of torture by the use of the twitch on 7th August, and the Police (Watch?) Committee spent 17 hours on the hearing of witness evidence. At the conclusion they decided that not only had the complainant not proven his complaint, they found that the officers had shown a great deal of forbearance towards him in his 'hindrance, obstruction, and molesting, of a watchman', amounting to an assault whilst trying to rescue a Mr. M'Kenzie from the officers of the law. (Nothing changes down the span of years!) The conduct of M'Gibbon was so violent that other members of the public had to intervene and the twitches were applied as a means of restraint, following that violent conduct.

The next twitch reference appears in news reports where on Tuesday 20th November 1827, at the Rev. Jones's house, Raddon Bridge, near High Wycomb, was entered via a ladder. The coachman armed himself with a twitch, due to the robber's violent conduct in trying to vacate the house and grounds, on discovery; another three did get away. This instrument was described as, '.... an instrument for the purpose of securing horses, the loop of this was dexterously passed over the wrist of the robber, and, twisting it round, effectually secured him.' Clearly the description was one of a horse twitch, although I did wonder if the word 'twitch' could itself be used for slang for handcuffs, but there was only a few references to a plural 'twitches', like 'handcuffs'. 

A case appeared in The Carlisle Patriot on 5th January 1833 where a Henry Thorn appeared for 'shoplifting' from the premises of Joseph Railton, on the second hiring day of 17th November 1832. Constable John Wright arrested him and put 'a twitch on his hands' as he tried to put them in his pockets. When searched, found in his pocket were three rolls of ribbon. It sounds as if the singular twitch was used to secure both hands together, as a restraining technique.

On Saturday 7th December 1833, two watchmen and an inspector of the watch, were before Salford Intermediate Sessions on an allegation of assaulting Special Constable Higgins. It had came about after a dispute of one of the watchmen, being known by Higgins to have earlier searched with his lamp, a dye-house for a suspected person; no lighted candles had been allowed on the premise and Higgins questioned this conduct. The inspector told Higgins to go about his business but he refused as it was 'not past hours' and until then he could do as he pleased. The inspector then knocked Higgins to the ground with his stick, placed a twitch, described as a 'kind of handcuff'; another watchman placed a second twitch on the other wrist, and he was dragged down the street on his back. Higgins was so badly injured that he was taken to the hospital when inspected by the police doctor at the cells due to his insensibility. Despite being defended, two by the watch committee lawyers, and one by subscription of local shopkeepers, all three were found guilty and sentenced to 4 months imprisonment. This is an instance that shows the twitch was likely carried as normal issue, and not a personal decision by an individual. The distinction was also brought between the twitch being 'a kind of handcuff' and not a set of handcuffs in their own right. 

On Thursday 1st November 1838, a John Sherrard was brought before the Thames Office, charged with several assaults on members of the public and falsely representing himself to be a police surveyor and Custom-House officer. He had falsely accused a number of people of crimes, dragged one towards the station having also impersonated himself to another officer for assistance. He had grossly abused his 'prisoner' and 'twitched' his hands harshly behind his back, causing great pain. His ruse was only discover by the inspector and sergeant at the police station house. He was found guilty at the court who fined him £5 and imprisoned for 2 months. 

On Saturday 3rd December 1842, at Exeter Guildhall, three men stood accused of assaulting and wounding Inspector Fulford, of the night watch, which led to him being confined in hospital. There had been a large disturbance and the Inspector had been assisted by a watchman called Damerel to try and take one suspect to the station house while more fighting was going on between other officers and suspects. Watchman Damerel had the prisoner secured with a twitch, but in the disturbance the prisoner called on others to help. They did by bringing a knife and the twitch was cut, allowing the detainee to escape. A group were later captured and tried at the court. The interest here is the twitch being cut, reference, clearly not handcuffs; it would be the leather section of the twitch itself. 

Similar to the above, the next reference is on Monday 7th September 1846 again at Exeter, a man was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and managed to cut the twitch on his wrist with a knife, allowing him to escape temporarily. This is another indication of a leather restraint. 

Exeter seems a popular location for the use of the twitch; On Thursday 18th November 1847, a Robert Sanders was at court for an assault on Police Inspector Ellicombe. Another officer had assisted in the arrest, and Sanders was secured, again with a twitch.

Shortly after the above, on Saturday night, 24th November, again at Exeter, Constable Guppy had arrested a violent prisoner using a twitch for a restraint. That device was either broken or cut, leading to his prisoner temporarily escaping. Eventually three men stood trial for the disturbance, which had commenced outside of the Jolly Sailor Inn. 

Again, at Exeter, on Sunday 6th February 1848 an intoxicated married couple had been violently resisting their arrest by a constable who had to be further assisted by a colleague. The news article stated that 'they were quickly got to cuffs, (i.e. to the twitch).'  

As policing began to change from the rural Parish Constable to a desire for a Professional police service, this sea-change caused great debate within local communities, with on the one hand a body of local businessmen and the magistrates largely in favour, but a population still resistant to the idea. The Carlisle Journal edition of 29th April 1850 carried a letter whereby an anonymous member of the public was critical of the officious  parish constable and did not want a new rural officer to replace them, fearing worse to come. Speaking of the parish constable, he wrote; '..... His perpetual talk of how many 'cases' he was going to have for the next sitting, never of the prevention of crime and its disturbance. He recovered the debts of his patrons by a most summary process, not of law, but according to, 'the good old rule, the simple plan,' - cut out a deal of his own work, - imposed and exacted fines, apprehended and liberated, according to his own sovereign will and pleasure and without the intervention of any magistrate, - made use of twitches and other strange instruments of torture, - rode a high-stepping horse, and dragged his captives strapped to his saddle-bow. ........' Clearly here the twitch was in constant use historically by those rural parish constables, certainly in the rural area of the northern city of Carlisle.

On Saturday 8th April 1854, a inebriated soldier was 'twitched' outside of Sunderland Theatre, in the North East. Clearly it can be seen that the twitch use is extensive across the country.

On Thursday 3rd September 1857, two constables arrested a sailor and a ship's butcher at Liverpool and both were before the court the next day. They had violently interfered in the arrest of others. A twitch was used and here, perhaps gives as good an explanation of it. When one of the officers was asked by the the lawyer

Q - "What is that? I have heard of twitches for a horses nose."

A - It is a leather thong, fastened through a piece of wood. It is more convenient than handcuffs."

Back in my local city of Carlisle, a major case of murder of a Water Watcher called Edward Atkinson, who was killed on 14th January 1862, took place in February. Three men stood trial for the murder, which occurred at Brocklewath, which is just east of the city, and on the River Eden. Atkinson was with a Water Bailiff, a labourer, and a Constable, when Atkinson and the bailiff went to arrest a man called Robinson who was poaching salmon. Atkinson told the bailiff to put a twitch on the offender. The bailiff showed the court the twitch, described by him as a looped piece of string, fastened to a stick, and he demonstrated its use to the court which was held in February. Whist the twitch was being applied the other two men came out of the nearby willows and beat both men senseless with sticks.   The three men were eventually found guilty of manslaughter after Atkinson had been knocked into the river during an attempt by all to free the man caught poaching; he was later found on the bank but dead. Clearly, the description of the twitch is much the same as other accounts and not any slang for handcuffs. 

July 1867 sees a return to Exeter Guildhall. Alongside Carlisle, these two areas seem to be the most popular users, or at least reporters, of the use of the twitch by police officers. Sergeants Fulford and Fouracres had gone to arrest a man on warrant, but Fouracres was knocked to the ground as he tried to apply a twitch.

On Monday 28th September 1868, at Dunfermline, John Galloway, a carter destroyed a twitch, by which he was secured by a constable who was escorting him to the lock-up. He was sentenced to sixty days imprisonment, or a fine of £3; he took the imprisonment.

On Thursday 30th September, an apprentice who had illegally left the service of a blacksmith of Combe Street, Nicholas, near Chard, was before the court and committed to 14 days hard labour. The next case was one where a Samuel Larcombe had interfered with the arrest of the apprentice, and was himself arrested and a twitch applied as a restraint. 

Since writing the article I was informed that references to similar articles were referred to as 'snitchers'. (Also see the 1879 and 1907 comments below). The Manchester Evening News edition of 30th July 1874 reports on a case of Glasgow Police 'Brutality'. It took 6 officers to take a soldier to the station, carrying him with the whole of his weight being on the 'snitchers'. When they all arrived at the station both hands of the prisoner were 'quite dead'. At court the Bailie merely admonished and discharged him. 

Another reference to similar devices that has come to light is 'nippers'. The person who informed me had seen a picture of a metal device that was a short chain, with a form of 'T' metal section at each end that would slip through the fingers of one hand; the other end could come back through the same fingers and lock into the others section, like a male and female interconnection. As in the case above of the use of 'snitchers', the use of nippers, just as any modern handcuff/wrist restraint could be used illegally to deliberately inflict pain on an arrested person. On Monday 16th November 1874, a constable Grassie, of Crook, County Durham, was before Bishop Aukland Police Court, and was sentenced to one month's imprisonment for placing two nippers on the wrists of a Henry Ross. He had apparently burst open his door when Ross was in bed, asked him for a light of his pipe, and then placed the nippers on, struck him with his baton, and dragged him to the police station! There is also a reference to 'handcuffs', so they are either a separate device, a slang reference to the cuffs themselves. When Ross appeared at the court as the complainant against Grassie, clearly the magistrates were disgusted with a police officer's treatment of a member of the public, and gave voice to that in open court. 

On Monday and Tuesday 30th and 31st July 1877, at Carlisle Town Hall, a case of perjury was heard against two defendants, namely Detective Joseph Norman and Constable Christopher Fortune. Near midnight on Saturday 23rd December 1876, a John Conkey had interfered in the arrest of a notorious criminal who was eventually sentenced. The twitch had been used on him in the course of his arrest. Conkey was charged on 29th December, found Guilty, served 3 months imprisonment, but on release began a legal action against Detective Norman, and also Pc Fortune who corroborated Norman's evidence. The case was eventually thrown out after two days evidence. This appears to be the last twitch reference for that city, the earliest of which had been 43 years earlier. (Constable Christopher Norman was involved in a nationally famous case in October 1885 following a 'burglary' at Netherby Hall by four men who were disturbed. Later that night, on the outskirts of Carlisle, three were seeen and shot Sergeant Roche in the arm, and Constable Johnson in the chest, both serious injuries, though did not prove fatal. Fortune later came across them on the rail system in Carlisle and was beaten within an inch of his life, later having to leave the city police due to his injuries. At Plumpton, between Carlisle and Penrith, they shot Constable Joseph Byrnes through the eye, and he died later that night. The three were caught, tried, and hung in the city by the hangman James Berry.)

The Glasgow Herald edition of 16th June 1879 reports on an inquest of a John Currie, who had been sentenced on 4th of the month for 7 days. He had died in the prison on 10th. A post mortem showed he died of the effects of 'intemperance', although his brother said that he had been 'ill-used' at the time of his arrest. The doctor had examined the body and found little marks of violence, but there were marks on his right wrist from the application of the 'snitchers' by the police officers.

On 25th February 1880, William Isaac was brought up on remand for assaulting Supt. Quick on 21st. He had struck him with a belt and his own father applied the twitch before the son was taken to the lock-up.

On Tuesday 13th July 1880, there is a case in the Hamilton Times, in Ontario, where a constable Spence was charged to a higher court for assaulting a member of the public by the use of a twitch as a restraint. The detained person's fingers were so discoloured that the public had remonstrated with the officer. The case shows the international use of such a device for restraint, most likely in the British Colonies. 

In October 1881 there was a case against a Perth City County Police officer Cruikshank. He had used a twitch on a mason called Robert Reid, of South Street, Perth. He had seen Reid, but was on the look-out for a notorious criminal called Kenneth Bethune and Reid unfortunately resembled Bethune. A twitch was placed on Reid by the officer. Despite Reid's protests he was taken to the station, where the Superintendent realised the mistake and set Reid free.

At a court case in May of 1890 Henry Govier was charged with wounding Sergeant Hall on 5th May, at the Albert Inn, Somerton, Somerset. Govier had been disorderly in the Inn but refused to vacate it and the police were called. He threatened to use a knife against the sergeant who restrained him with a twitch as Govier cut him across the hand. At court Govier claimed he was trying to cut the twitch. Eventually Govier was remanded for a higher court for trial.

This appears the last case I can come across, through certain search criteria, though there are probably later ones, although I believe they would filter out in the 1890's and the twitch as a method of restraint would be no longer used. For all that, I was never aware of the use of such a device, until I began that earlier research into Constable James Armstrong, who began my involvement with the Roll of Honour research. If this device was previously unknown as a common means of restraint, then it adds to policing history. If it was, well, it was interesting looking it up. I believe there will be other references but will now leave it to any local researchers/museums, to try and discover such for their own interests and local knowledge. I hope I have started a discussion and moved police history up a, 'notch of knowledge'.

*Update (1) Having researched the snitcher reference, as at the 1879 comment above, there is also a much later one for the 11th April Edition of The Bristol Times and Mirror, reporting on the Glasgow Chief Constable's report to The Police Commission of the city. Part of that report was his comment on arrests for drunkenness that occurred some distance from the station and a cab was sometimes employed. He had instructed his officers to humour the prisoner and went on to say, '.... Handcuffs were not carried, but what were called 'snitchers were available, but were very rarely used.' This puts the use of twitches/snitchers well into the start of the twentieth century, so not merely a Victorian implement. 

**Update (2) - Having posted this, an image was shown to me, of similar devices in the Lanarkshire Police Historical Society Collection. I have asked for and kindly been granted permission to display those images on the blog, to assist others to visualise these type of restraints. Please see below:

Twitches - reproduced with the kind permission of the 'Lanarkshire Police Historical Society Collection'. Not for copying to any other source. 

***Further update: I found this article on the internet: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/10020/10020-h/s37s12.html
















 



Saturday, 16 January 2021

 

On 27th March 1948, 27-year-old Mr. Basil Beavan Peachey left his home at 10 The Grange, Shirley, Croydon, where he lived with his parents, and travelled to Ainstable, in Cumberland for an adventurous walking holiday; he was their only child. He stayed with a friend Mr. Ian Joseph Peacock at his home of The Dale, Ainstable, arriving on Sunday 28th March. Although in the previous 12 months he had done little walking, he was used to such adventures. He stayed there for 2 days and when he asked about good walks, Mr. Peacock, suggested a walk to Alston via Cross Fell, although he advised him to take a map and compass if he was to do it alone. He set off on the Tuesday morning with enough food for 2 days. The understanding was that he would be back either on the Wednesday evening, or Thursday morning at the latest. He spent Tuesday night at Alston Youth Hostel where the warden was a Mr. Alfred Herbert Last, arriving at 6:15pm and told Mr. Last that he had come over the fell; Mrs Last was of the belief that he said he had come over Cross Fell. 

Basil stayed the night at the hostel then set off around 9:30am but did not say where he was heading to. A man fitting his description was seen by two other climbers at 1pm near Cashwell mines. The map reference for this mine is NY714360 and is 680m above sea level; Cross Fell summit is 893m. This individual was heading for Cross Fell, so had covered over two thirds of the distance to the summit; the climbers stated the weather on the mountain was very severe. Even in the valleys there was a mixture of snow, hail and sleet, with very high winds, and the rivers rising rapidly. The day was described as one of the worst that spring.

When he did not return to Ainstable by Thursday evening, Mr. Peacock alerted the police and a search was organised utilising the newly formed Keswick and Borrowdale Mountain Rescue team, this unit of expert volunteers having only been commenced two years previously by Colonel Horace Westmorland. He himself was of mountain family stock, the high fells and crags of Lakeland had coursed through his blood, a heritage of his famed father Thomas Westmorland and uncle Edward. His aunt Mary Westmorland was only the second woman to climb Pillar Rock in 1873, in company with her two brothers. Horace himself had trained troops in the Canadian mountains during the war and had since returned to his native Cumberland. Following a call for their assistance, Inspector Bell of Keswick put out a letter stamp dated 2nd April, requesting the team, on the agreement of Col. Westmorland, to assemble at 9am on 3rd and travel by bus to Penrith for the purpose of the search.

The family were informed and Mr. Leslie Beavan Peachey, (a former WWI pilot) and his wife Edith Florence, travelled to Penrith and began a vigil in a local hotel, although due to the severe weather, they were initially asked not to try and assist in the search.

The operation was also supplemented by an R.A.F. Mountain Rescue unit who were based at Topcliffe in Yorkshire, and lead by Flight Lieutenant J. L. Smith. They were able to utilise their walkie-talkies in the hunt and searched around Cross Fell and the Kirkland Valley, which is on the southern side of the mountain but despite three days they were unable to locate any trace of the missing man. Basil himself was a civilian employee of the R.A.F. who had served throughout the war with the service. An ambulance was kept on standby at Kirkland and the local farmers, shepherds, cyclists, and around 40 residents of the area had joined the protracted search over ten square miles, all without success.

They gave up the search at 6:30pm on Monday 5th; their leader reported that the snow was many feet deep in drifts and greatly hindered their efforts to locate the missing hiker. It was obvious that he had likely perished in the adverse conditions, but the snow was beginning to melt and they intended on returning at the next weekend, in the expectation that the snow would have all but gone, making any body location much easier. Two farmers still continued the search along with other local people and Pc Foggin of Kirkland. As the weather improved a little, the parents also ventured onto the mountain, eager to join the search and came to understand the arduous and futile nature of the search; they were also aware that Basil had been inadequately dressed for the conditions he was about to encounter on the fell. He had only been wearing flannels, a sports jacket, and an open necked shirt, and carrying a light picnic lunch and a haversack. They by now knew that there was virtually no hope of their only child being found alive but still held out some, no matter how futile it appeared. Mr. Peachey senior had asked the R.A.F. team to resume the search in the near future, and hoped that bond of kinship for a fellow R.A.F. brother would spur them on. They returned back to Croydon in the knowledge their son was unlikely to be found until the snow melted. The Peachey's seemed cursed with bad luck; Mr. Peachey senior had been involved in several collisions in his lifetime, both road, rail, and in the air. Basil had returned from West Africa during the war, to marry his fiancée, but she had died suddenly just prior to the wedding. Edith was distraught by the culmination of all these events, leading to this final one, the likely loss of her only child.

The Parents had never been to the north of the country before but had never before been met with such kindness and sympathy as they experienced at Penrith, for which they expressed the utmost gratitude to the townsfolk, through the Penrith Observer. They were particularly praising of Superintendent Marsh for his thorough organisation of the search and also went on to praise the R.A.F. team and the Beacon Wheelers cycling club, and everyone who assisted, for their efforts in trying to locate their son.

Rotherhope ('Rudderup') when it was a working mine.

On Wednesday 14th April, four North-East youths who were on holiday in the Alston area, were walking towards Rotherhope mine, along the Black Burn stream. About 250 yards from the mine they saw someone lying on the bank and believed the person to be asleep. When the man did not move, they approached him and realised he was dead. Two of the boys went to a nearby house, which was only 300 yards away, for help and after recovery of the body it was realised to be that of Basil Beavan Peachey. The inquest was held at Alston Police station by the deputy coroner for East Cumberland, Mr. F. W. Soal, without a jury present, on the afternoon of Friday 16th; Mr. Peachey snr. had returned and was in attendance. The above account was given by several witnesses with the addition of the evidence of Dr. J. R. Hassan, of Alston, who confirmed that there was no injury on the body. The deceased was muscular in build and well nourished, although there was no food in the stomach. His expert opinion was that the male had died of exhaustion and he confirmed the arduous conditions on the day he had gone missing, even those in the low valleys. He also stated that it was his belief that he had died that first night, his lack of clothing and conditions would have exhausted him, causing him to lie down and fall asleep; death would then have overtaken him. Mr. Peachey snr. said that his son was not foolish; only the day before his son had walked to Alston he had received a letter from him stating that he had already been on the heights the day he wrote the letter and the mist was so dense he could see little more than a yard in front of himself, yet had navigated himself back down to the valley by use of his compass. Mr. Peachey snr. knew he was very accomplished in the use of such apparatus. 

The mine is marked just left of centre, towards the bottom of the shot, on Black Burn. 

After the inquest was concluded he told the local news reporters that he believed his son would have fought for many, many hours before he gave in to the cold in a state of utter exhaustion. He wished people to know that Basil had not been the sort of chap that would face any hazard foolishly.

The funeral took place on the afternoon of Saturday 24th April, at Penrith cemetery, conducted by Rev. Norman Robinson, of St. Andrews church. Present were his mother and father, his friend Mr. Peacock and his wife, and Inspector Thompson and Sergeant Milne both of whom represented the Cumberland and Westmorland Constabulary.

This was perhaps the first official search for the Keswick/Borrowdale team (although I would be happy to be corrected on this point). Colonel Westmorland had led a party of men in a rescue on 25th April 1946, where they assisted in the search for an injured climber, Captain Wilfred Noyce, who had fallen 150ft when blown off Shark's Fin ridge, into Hellfire Gap, on Great Gable. Col. Westmorland had commenced the start of a team then, recognising a need for a skilled group of volunteers to aid the inexperienced police, but due to movement of some outside of the area he had further appealed for volunteers to be part of the rescue team in November 1947, just four months before this tragic incident.















 

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

The unsuccessful search for Robert James Shannon along Styhead Pass in October 1953.

 

Although there is a vast increase in mountain rescues from the early pioneering days of rescue teams, modern equipment and electronic devices assist greatly in the speedy recovery of those in danger of either injury, or exposure to the harsh mountain conditions. The location of those in distress are now invariably quickly located, and help provided by the MRT volunteers who give their time up selflessly, to assist their fellow man. The times where a person is believed to be in danger when realised by others only through their loss of any contact, are thankfully now more rare, relatively speaking. Because contact is, and can more easily be made (although not an exact science), rescues are shorter although sadly far more frequent. It is perhaps worth considering what incidents used to be like in those earlier days of rescue parties. Here is an account of a 1953 incident that commenced with the Keswick and Borrowdale Mountain Rescue Team, which had been formed in 1946 to expertly assist in helping those who came to distress on the mountains of the lake district.

On Saturday 10th October 1953, 53-year-old Mr. Robert James Shannon, an insurance clerk, of Liverpool, arrived with his 23-year-old son Guy Borthwick Shannon who was a Merchant Navy Engineer, at The Glaramara Guest House, near Seatoller, Borrowdale, for the purpose of a walking holiday. On Tuesday 13th Guy left the guest house with a party of other residents for a long walk over the mountains. Robert was a stranger to the area but later that same day he set out on his own to head through Seathwaite, and over Styhead Pass, heading for Wasdale, intending on returning later that same day. He was wearing a beret, light blue corduroy trousers, a brown jacket, raincoat, and boots.  He had spoken to the landlady, Miss E. M. Reed, and said that he had not been well recently following a breakdown in his health, thus necessitating a holiday. He still set off on his journey, describing the walk as a short one of around three hours. 

The Seathwaite route to Stockley Bridge and beyond to Styhead.

Looking back towards Seathwaite from Stockley Bridge.

Ascending to Styhead, Seathwaite in view.



Styhead Tarn, looing to Lingmell, Wasdale beyond.

Styhead Tarn, looking back to Seathwaite, with Base Brown to the left.

Guy and his party later returned and it was not until they were to sit down for their evening meal that concern began to be expressed for his father's whereabouts and safety. A search party of guests was quickly organised by Guy and they set off in search for his missing father. The night was described as one of the worst that year, with light snow falling on the high fells, with a strong wind, and a low mist had suddenly descended, covering the pass of Styhead. They travelled as far as the Wasdale Head Hotel where it was established he had reached there, had a meal and had then intended on journeying back to Borrowdale. The search party were otherwise unsuccessful in discovering Robert's whereabouts, or path taken, and returned back to their guest house at 4am. The search continued the next day in better conditions, assisted by the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team, under the leadership of Colonel Horace Westmorland, himself an expert on mountain survival and the son of Thomas Westmorland, one of the famed Westmorland brother's and builders of Westmorland cairn on Great Gable. The Cockermouth team also set out to search the Buttermere area, with members, staff and visitors, of the outward bound centre in Eskdale, lead by Eric Shipton, the Everest climber and centre warden, also searching the Ennerdale area. The police set up a walkie-talkie station at Seathwaite and Pc Thompson of Braithwaite acted as liaison officer between the various search teams. All efforts proved to be fruitless, but the search continued despite the growing concern. Due to the weather, little hope could be held out for finding Robert alive. The Keswick Team had spent 16 hours on the Wednesday search, Cockermouth and the outdoor centre staff had been out for eight hours. The task resumed on Thursday; the Keswick team now replaced by the R.A.F. rescue team of West Freugh, near Stranraer. These were also supplemented by another 17 men from the R.A.F. team from Topcliffe, Yorkshire, again with no success. The bloodhounds of Dr. F. T. Madge, who covered the districts of Westmorland, were utilised to try and discover his whereabouts, again without success. The Outward Bound Centre staff spent 4 nights camping in the Styhead area, engaged in the search. Guy had been ceaseless in his efforts to locate his father but when all checks had been done, with discussions even on the tarns of Styhead and Sprinkling being dragged, the search had to be called off following a sixth unsuccessful search on Monday 19th by around 80 searchers; only time would now likely reveal Robert's fate.



On Sunday 6th February 1955, Mr. Claude Holmes, of Helvellyn Street, Keswick, of the Royal Navy and stationed at Anthorn, was scrambling in a deep gorge/ravine above Taylor Ghyll Force, on Base Brown mountain, near Seathwaite, which was not frequented by walkers. He had returned home for a day and went out walking around Taylorgill Force. He turned left up the gorge and  came across a boot with a sock inside it; going further up he found an emaciated body. He quickly reported it and although not certain, it was supposed to be that of Mr. Shannon. Colonel Westmorland, of Keswick Mountain Rescue Team, recovered the human remains, assisted by Dr. J. C. Lyth the team medical officer, Inspector Walton, Pc Thompson, and three other members of Keswick Rescue, Mr. L. Sandham, Mr. S. Edmondson, and Mr. T. Holt. They took the body to the Keswick mortuary. Mrs. Shannon was informed of the sad discovery. On the night of Monday 7th February, an inquest was held at Keswick where Guy Shannon was in attendance and told the Coroner, Mr. Atkinson, that he had no doubt the remains were those of his father. The court established that he had died following a fall from a 50ft crag which had resulted in a fracture of his skull, and the verdict was one of 'Accidental Death'. On the basis of the facts known on times, that it had been approaching darkness when he reached Styhead on his return. He had clearly become lost and had failed to cross Styhead Gill, for Stockley Bridge, and the safe route off the pass. Somehow, he had gained height and fallen, leading to his death in the steep gorge.

It would not be capable of establishing whether a modern incident could have resulted in an emergency call being made by the injured party, before slipping into unconsciousness but there would be various modern influences that could greatly assist in a faster conclusion. There is a possibility that the incident could have been viewed by others, as far more tourists access the routes than in the 1950's, but the time of day and light conditions may have even prevented this. Many people now use social media and immediately self locate by the uploading of photographs of their location, giving modern rescuers a route to extrapolate upon for search purposes. Even where death has likely occurred and no contact made, the use of  trained MRT search dogs, helicopters, and drones, could assist in concluding an incident far quicker. Although the latter may not assist in saving life, these techniques bring conclusion to a family, allowing them to at least grieve. The Shannon family had to wait 16 months for that conclusion, likely one of the longest 'rescue' incidents for all the Lake District teams.


Friday, 1 January 2021

The Kitterland and Brig Lily Disaster and deaths of Constables John Craige and John Wright on 28th December 1852


On Wednesday 22nd December 1852 the 169-ton brig Lily, owned by Messrs Hatton and Cookson of Mersey Street, Liverpool, set sail from that port, bound for Ambriz, Lower Guinea, on the west coast of Africa. Its cargo was 61 tons of dynamite in total, 20 puncheons of rum, some small arms, machetes,  and various goods for bartering with. It was caught in storms, beaten about the channel, when at around 11am on Monday 27th it was driven onto the uninhabited Island of Kitterland, in the sound between of The Calf, and the Isle of Man. The captain was John Owens, and the crew numbered a further 12 men. Despite the waves beating upon the vessel, the crew managed to take to a boat and attempted to get to safety, gaining footage on the rocks. The captain and three of the crew, one an orphan boy, in trying to gain higher and safer ground, were swept away and drowned, the carpenter was killed by the foremast falling on him. Only eight gained the safety of the higher ground of the uninhabited island. The local people of Port St. Mary became aware of the stricken vessel and launched their best boat to save the survivors, and managed to get them back to their village. William Fanning was the second mate of The Lily and had a compound fracture of the leg which was expected to take months to heal.

The vessel was insured by Lloyds and the sub-agent on the island was Mr. Enos Lace, the Port St. Mary grocer and shipbroker; he had also supervised the earlier crew rescue. He got a message despatched to Mr. Boardman, the agent in Douglas and a salvage of cargo was agreed; the vessel was lost, but the cargo could in large be salvaged. At about 4am on Tuesday morning, he and 29 other men set off to recover the cargo; a large portion of the gunpowder was stowed high up and was expected to be still dry; the tide was out which meant that the stricken vessel was high up on the rocks, this would aid the salvage operation. Two of the men were the Chief Constable (the equivalent to a modern sergeant) of Castletown, 32-year-old John Craige, and 26-year-old Constable John Wright; both would be there to ensure the full recovery of the cargo along with Mr. Lace. Suddenly, at 8am, a terrific explosion occurred which was mistaken by many local people to be an earthquake. The miners at the level mines of Ballacorkish, which were three miles away were 35 fathoms underground and were thrown onto their backs and the lights extinguished. Bales in flames were seen hundreds of feet above, flying through the air like meteors; a spar was driven several feet into the ground in a field at The Howe, and debris was strewn all over the parish of Rushen. Even in Douglas, which was 16 miles away, houses were severely shaken by the blast. A second boat had just been launched to assist the salvagers and eight to ten men had been standing a few hundred yards away on the mainland when the explosion happened, which blew the hats off their heads. One was a ‘Tide Waiter’ or customs officer, called J. Watterson, who described the devastating scene. When the view cleared, where a vessel and men formerly stood on Kitterland, nothing at all now remained. The cry went out from the mainland, “Every soul is gone into Eternity.” The second boat managed to then get to Kitterland and only four bodies were found. Although badly mutilated, three of them were identified as, William Cowin, William Watterson, and John Hudgeon.

In the immediate aftermath it was supposed that everyone involved in the salvage was killed but one man called James Kelly had survived, although he was very severely injured with part if his cheek and his his ear blown away. It had been supposed that one of the men had caused the explosion by smoking a pipe, but he was able to give an account that discounted that theory. He said that when Mr. Lace and the others went on board before daylight there was a strong dirty smell, but no smoke could be seen. When day dawned around 7am, smoke could be seen coming from the hold. The men had cleared the cabin of goods and stored them on the island but now became fearful of the smoke and wished to quit the vessel. Unfortunately, a decision was made to extinguish the fire, by cutting a hole in the deck and to pour water inside. He was returning to the vessel having stored some salvage on the island when a terrific explosion occurred which flung him back 30 feet. When he regained consciousness, his face was covered in his own blood, which was gushing from his wounded cheek; he had been found sitting dazed by the second crew, with other body parts lying around him. He was adamant that no smoking implements had been taken onto the ship by the men of Port St. Mary and was certain that the explosion had been caused by a fire not of their making.

The community of Port St. Mary was devasted and there was hardly a residence that had not been touched by the tragedy. The funerals took place at Kirk Christ, Rushen, with the whole community in attendance in solemn mourning. What bodies that could be found were placed in coffins, but most of these human remains were unidentifiable, and were collected and buried together as a mass within the grave. Twenty-five of the dead were from Port St. Mary, two from Castletown, and two from The Howe; the disaster in a split second turned 22 wives into widows and made 77 children fatherless.

The deceased were:

From Port St. Mary

John Fell, 27, (mariner), married, two children,

William Cowley, 42, (mariner), married, four children,

William Kermode, 55, (labourer), married, five children,

Edward Gale, (publican), 42, married, no children,

Henry Gale, 37, (mariner), married, seven children,

John Gale, 45, (labourer), married, five children,

Thomas Witted, 26, (mariner), married, no children,

John Cubbon, 57, (joiner), married, no children,

William Lawson, 52, (master mariner), married, one child,

Thomas Callister, 43, (mariner), married, six children,

William Taubman, 42, (blockmaker), married, three children,

John Callister, 29, (mariner), married, four children,

Samuel Callister, 29, (carpenter), married, one child,

John Callister, 22, (mariner), married, three children,

Thomas Turnbull, 32, married, seven children,

George Costain, 32, (roper), married, five children,

William Watterson, 31, (mariner), married, five children,

Thomas Nelson, 46, (carpenter), married, one child,

Charles, Clugton, 43, (labourer), widower, two children,

Enos Lace, 51, (shopkeeper/roper), widower, six children.

Robert Callister, 33, (baker/mariner), unmarried,

Edward Qualtrough, 22, (assistant tide-waiter), unmarried,

William Watterson, 29, (mariner), unmarried,

William Cone, 22, (mariner), unmarried,

John Hudgeon, 21, (mariner), unmarried.

From Howe

Edward Watterson, 25, (fisherman), married, no children,

John Watterson, 31, (carpenter) married, six children,

From Castletown

John Craige, 32, (chief constable), married, three children,

Constable John Wright, 26, (constable), married one child (and widow expected to be in confined every day).

The only survivor, James Kelly, was from Port St. Mary; he was married, with three children.

Unfortunately, there were no poor rates on The Isle of Man, so there was no legal provision for the now destitute families. A subscription was commenced for the unfortunate widows and their children, both in Liverpool and the Isle of Man where Mr. Gawne of Kentraugh immediately headed the list with a donation of £100. After the first publication of the initial donations, by The Liverpool Mercury on 18th January 1853, the fund had reached £769 11s 1d. They also reported further contributions made, which included £26 5s from Messrs. Curtis and Harvey Hounslow Gunpowder factory, a general contribution of £30 from Messrs Milners’ Phoenix Safe Works, and many smaller contributions. The unfortunate rumours stating that some of the salvagers had been smoking, thus being the authors of their own deaths, began to spread. The Liverpool Mercury had to discredit these false accounts stating that the recovery was supervised by the Lloyds sub-agent and the chief constable of Castletown. They went on to say how these rumours were unhelpful to the relief fund and encouraged people to donate further. A talk was given in Liverpool by the Reverend Hugh Stowell Brown on 14th February on the subject, ‘The State of Religious Freedom on the Continent’; the proceeds were to be given to the Lilly disaster fund. After 5 weeks the fund was announced as sufficient and had reached £4,000, buoyed by the support of The Queen and Prince Consort, who made a £50 donation.

In April 1875 Mr. Thomas Quillam, of The Marble Works, Castletown, erected a large monument to commemorate the disaster. This had been done on the insistence of the committee of the ‘Kitterland Explosion Fund’.

The Monument.**

On 12th February 1889 the Oddfellows ‘Harbour of Peace Lodge’ of Port St. Mary held a meeting. It boasted 500 members and had commenced in 1839. It was highlighted what the purpose of the lodge was, and the work they did in support of its community. It had meandered along until the brig Lily disaster of 1852 when their widow and orphan fund, something the speaker believed other lodges did not have, had been prompt in their duty to the bereaved families at that great time of distress.

In late March 1891, James Kelly died at his home at Willow Terrace, Port St. Mary; he was 68 years old. He had been regarded as one of the hardest working and bravest of fishermen in the area and made a living from catching crabs and lobsters; also, from attending to the Chicken’s Rock Relief Boat, with his son. He was interred at Rushen churchyard.

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My interest in this began with the death of the two constables, for the purposes of The National Police Roll of Honour but due to it being a large part of history of The Solway Firth entrance/Irish sea area, I decided to compile a fuller account on the whole event.

Specifically, on the officers themselves:

In June of 1841 20-year-old John Craige resided at Malew Street, Castletown, with his 25-year-old wife Catherine, nee Hampton. They married on 17th February 1841 at Braddan parish, Isle of Man. It is unclear when he commenced in the police but it 1851, he is recorded as the Chief Constable of Castletown, living on Castle Street with Catherine. They had two boys living with them in 1851, John Hampton Craige (4), and Samuel Hampton Craige (1), both boys born in Scotland, although the reason for this is unclear. John Hampton Craige unfortunately died and was buried at Malew on 4th October 1852. Margaret Catherine Craige, was baptized on 21st April 1852 and was an infant when her father died. All three children were baptized on this same date of 21st April 1852, at Saint Mary’s, Castletown. In 1861 the daughter, Margaret Catherine, was then living with her maternal grandmother and step-grandfather on The Key, Castletown; James Mylchreest, the step-grandfather, was now retired from his former position of harbour master of Castletown. John and Catherine had two earlier children; William John Craig was baptized on 2nd November 1841, baptised at Castletown), so missed the June census earlier that year, and in 1851 he was recorded with his maternal grandmother and step-grandfather  the harbour master James Mylchreest. Mary had previously been widowed under the married name of Hampton; Catherine (constable Craige’s wife) was the child of that previous marriage. When Mr. Hampton died Mary married James Mylchreest on 21st September 1824. Thomas James Craige was baptised on 15th August 1844 but no records show him surviving, so likely died prior to the 1851 census, most likely at or soon after his birth. Catherine died in 1857 and the four children were left orphaned. William John Craig went on to become the Auctioneer and shore-broker, possibly this was an insurance broker for Lloyds. William died and was buried on 27th August 1903 at Braddan.

John Wright was born in Ireland and little is known of him until 1851 when he was a 24-year-old police constable in Castletown. At that time, he was married to 28-year-old Margaret (maiden name believed to be Sennett), who was local to the area. On 13st August of that year Sarah Elizabeth was baptized at St. Mary’s, Castletown. Their son John was baptised on 13th February 1853, and Margaret was known to be near confinement when her husband died in the Kitterland explosion. Margaret appears in the 1861 and 1871 censuses and does not remarry; John junior was still living with his mother and was a mariner; he cannot be followed in later censuses. A John Wright died in 1877 and is believed to be constable Wright’s son, John. This man was aged 24 years old and was buried at Castletown.


**The Monument image is reproduced with kind permission of 1414Jan, and is taken with permission from the 'Find a Grave' website, ID number 48003845.