The burning of the Reformatory Clarence, 1884

The burning of the Reformatory Clarence, the Graphic, Jan 26th 1884

Liverpool Mercury Jan 18th, 1884

Destructive fire on board the Reformatory Ship Clarence

About 2pm yesterday an alarming fire broke out on board the reformatory ship CLARENCE, lying in the river a short distance from New Ferry. The number of boys on board was 215, and upon the outbreak of the conflagration great alarm prevailed for their safety. The seat of the fire was in the fore magazine or in the coal bunks in the vicinity, from which dense volumes of smoke issued. Upon the discovery of the fire Captain John HUDSON, the commander of the vessel instantly signalled for assistance, and the crew and the boys used every exertion to keep down the conflagration, which speedily raged with fury. Amongst the first to arrive was Captain SAUNDERS of H. M’s cutter Margaret, who had with him nearly all the crew 18, in number, Captain VRAIN of H. M’s cutter Royal Charlotte accompanied by a large number of his men were soon at the CLARENCE, and by means of pumps and other appliances an immense quantity of water was poured into the hold of the burning ship. The water, however, had little or no effect, the fire had made its way towards amidships. In the emergency Captain HUDSON gave directions for the boys to be taken ashore in charge of the officers. Some of the lads took to the ship’s boats, whilst the great number of them were removed to the New Ferry landing stage in the steamer Eastham Fairy, and they were accommodated on board the Gipsy Queen for the night. Amongst the boys were six invalids, who were properly cared for. All the valuables with a quantity of portable articles belonging to the commander and the officers were conveyed aboard the steam tugs Tyler and Despatch.

Upon the news that the CLARENCE was on fire several tugs and steamers immediately proceeded to render assistance. These included the Dock Board tenders Vigilant, Alert and the Hudson, the steam tugs, Mersey King, Knight Templar and others. About 4pm the goods steamer Oxton, Captain BIBBY, belonging to Woodside Ferry was despatched by Captain PINHEY, ferry manager, to New Ferry. The Oxton took on board at the Liverpool landing stage, the steam fire engine Hamilton, under the direction of Superintendent M’WILLIAM, who had with him Inspector SOMERVILLE and other officers of the fire brigade. Upon arrival at the CLARENCE, the Oxton took a position on her starboard side and the Hamilton soon commenced to play into the hold of the burning ship. The Alert occupied a place on the port side and one or two other steamers also poured enormous volumes of water into the CLARENCE by means of steam pumps. Altogether about a dozen branches of hose engaged in the work. The pumps belonging to the Liverpool Underwriters Association were placed on board the steam tugs Mersey King and the Knight Templar, and both these boats reached the CLARENCE during the evening.

Amongst those who visited the burning vessel for the purpose of rendering assistance was Captain NOTT BOWER, Head Constable of Liverpool, Chief Superintendent SIBBALD, Captain Graham HILLS, marine surveyor, Lieut PARKES, superintendent of the river police etc.

The conflagration was confined to the lower part of the ship, the chief materials for the conflagration being the fittings, the coals and the running gear, which had been stored for the winter months. At a late hour last night there was a fresh outbreak of the fire and the flames burst forth to a considerable height above the deck, but they were got under control by the exertions of numerous firemen, who deserve great credit for the energetic and hearty way in which they worked to save the ship. The masts and yards were standing in tact, but serious apprehensions were entertained that the fire in burning downwards, would penetrate the hull of the vessel and cause her to sink.

The CLARENCE has been under the management of the Liverpool Catholic Reformatory Association, which has for its patrons the Roman Catholic Bishop of Liverpool, the Recorder of Liverpool, Mr J. B. ASPINALL, Lord GERRARD and Mr Thomas WELD BLUNDELL. The president is Mr John TUNNICLIFFE, the treasurer, Mr James BROWNE, the secretary, Mr Richard YATES. The CLARENCE was an old man-of-war ship, and she has been used as a reformatory vessel in the Mersey for 20 years. During that time a large number of boys have been trained on board, the large majority of them turned out well and made good seamen. A couple of years ago the number on board was 232 boys, 42 of whom belonged to Liverpool In the associations report of 1882, it stated in September that an outbreak was attempted amongst the lads, but it was speedily put down, some of the ringleaders were sent to prison, whilst others were birched. The expenditure on the CLARENCE in 1882 was £4814, which was met by Government grants and subscriptions.

It is not known how the conflagration of yesterday originated, although it is said that a fire broke out in the same place last Saturday but was quickly extinguished.

Another account

For some time past considerable insubordination has been shown on the CLARENCE, at the last Liverpool Assizes, the trial of one of the boys for stabbing a petty officer showed indications that some mischief was brewing among the lads. The feeling became so strong that on Saturday last a request was made to Messers THOMPSON and GOUGH, lessees of Eastham Ferry, to permit one of their steamers to stand by the CLARENCE, in consequence of this the Eastham Fairy, Captain ASHWORTH, remained alongside the whole of the night. Nothing occurred then and everything was supposed to be alright, but about 2pm yesterday smoke was observed issuing from the CLARENCE. Mr THOMPSON who was on the New Ferry pier at once despatched the steamer Eastham Fairy to the CLARENCE. In the meantime the steamer got her hoses ready and began to play them on the flames. Whilst that was going on the boys and moveable goods from the cabins were transferred from the CLARENCE. Shortly afterwards the Fairy Queen another vessel belonging to Messers THOMPSON and GOUGH, under the command of Captain HUBBARD, got alongside and seeing that the fire was assuming larger proportions, the captain steered his vessel to the Georges Landing stage to procure the Underwriters Associations steam pumps, which would be sent on immediately. The Fairy Queen returned to the CLARENCE and received on board all the boys, transferring them to the Gipsy Queen another vessel of the fleet of Messers THOMPSON and GOUGH, where they remained for the night. A great quantity of paraffin was stored on the vessel used for lighting the ship, this was secured and taken to the Eastham Ferry. Those endeavouring to quell the flames had considerable difficulty as dense smoke pervaded the vessel, no doubt caused by the fact that she was an old vessel, and a large quantity of oakum had been used in her caulking.

As the news spread of the conflagration there was considerable excitement at Rock Ferry were the parents and relatives of a large number of the boys assembled in their anxiety to ascertain the fate of the burning vessel and the crew. Gallant service was rendered by the river police and the crews of the Royal Charlotte and Margaret revenue cutters, and the officers connected to the neighbouring training ships. Nearly the whole of the members of the committee of the CLARENCE were present at the fire. Mr H. J. HILL the chief assistant to Messers THOMPSON and GOUGH, rendered every assistance in his power to save life and subdue the fire.

Liverpool Mercury Jan 26th, 1884

The destruction of the CLARENCE

Alleged incendiarism

At the Liverpool Police Court yesterday before Mr RAFFLES, seven CLARENCE lads, named Edward RYAN, aged 14,, John LLOYD, aged 15, Martin MANNION, aged 15, Joseph PEATE, aged 16, James MURPHY, aged 15, Anthony BANNISTRE, aged 16, and Christopher SEWELL, aged 15, were charged by Captain John HUDSON, with having wilfully set fire to the reformatory ship CLARENCE on the 17th ult.

Mr MARKS, who conducted the prosecution, said these lads were charged with setting fire to the CLARENCE. Some of them had been charged with absconding after being taken to the hospital in New Ferry as a temporary refuge. One of the boys when arrested made a statement with reference to the manner in which the ship got on fire, which led to further inquiries being made, resulting in the other boys being arrested and they made double statements, on to Captain HUDSON the other to Robert WILSON one of the reformatory officers. It seemed there had been a plan devised among about a dozen boys, who appeared to have taken various parts in carrying it out. One got oil another matches, and a third procured oily rags. They arranged it between themselves with the view of making their escape when the vessel was destroyed.

Mr RAFFLES, “I suppose you will give just enough evidence to procure a remand?”

Mr MARKS, “Yes Sir”

Robert WILSON, reformatory officer was then called and made the following statement.

“About 11 o’ clock on the 23rd of this month, Mr TOMLINSON and I apprehended the prisoner RYAN at 16 Falstaff St. I brought him to the main bride well and locked him up on a charge of absconding from the CLARENCE. On the following morning I took him out of the bride well with the intention of taking him back to school, and after he had been seen by Captain HUDSON he ordered me to detain him. The prisoner them made a statement to Mr TOMLINSON in my presence and about 3pm yesterday he said to me “I wonder how Captain HUDSON got to know I set the ship on fire” and then made the following statement, “I asked 1308 LLOYD, on Tuesday last if he would set the ship on fire. He said “Yes the first time we get a chance we will do it” I asked 1332 MANNION after that if he would do it. He said, “Yes” I asked 28 SEWELL, for some oil and told him what it was for. He said he could not give me any, but he would give me some the following day, and the following day he gave me a salmon tin full, and afterwards a little lamp full. I put them down the hole of the main hatch till we were ready to set it on fire. He also gave me some oily rags with it and told me I could take the whole lot if I liked. I said, “Never mind I shall do with what I have got” and on Thursday being a holiday, me and 1308 LLOYD and 1332 MANNION, and some other boys met on the upper deck and pulled the hatches off, me and 1308 and 1332 went down and the others put the hatches on. I got the lamp out of the case of the platform and 1332 struck a match and lit it. 1332 showed me where the magazine hatch was. I shoved it up and 1332 got up first. We handed him the lamp, I got up and we pulled 1308 up and 1332 gave me the can of oil and I thrower it on the ropes. 1308 made a torch and I dipped it in oil and lit the ropes with it. We came up and put the coal hatches on. I shouted to some of the lads and got no answer, and we looked up the grate and saw the forepart of the deck full of smoke. We went to the after part of the hatch and hid ourselves, and 1308 went up first and shouted for us to come up. We sneaked around by the timber and began to heave at the pumps. The ship was burning.”

When charged with setting the ship on fire RYAN said, “I did set it on fire”

LLOYD said nothing.

MANNION said, “Nothing to say”

PEATE said, “I never set fire to it, I only got the paraffin oil and matches”

MURPHY said, “I did not set it on fire, I was the lamp shop boy, so 1267 PEATE, came down on the Thursday morning and said he wanted oil to polish brasswork and the maintop. He had a condensed milk can and I gave it him full of oil”

BANNISTRE said, “Nothing Sir I did not set it on fire, I only took the grate off”

SEWELL said, “Nothing Sir”

John TOMLINSON, agent to the Government inspector of reformatories said he assisted WILSON in the arrest of RYAN. The prisoner also made a similar statement to him and added, “That he did it for the purpose of getting free, but he would not have fired the ship if some of the other prisoners had not persuaded him to do so.”

Captain John HUDSON, of the ship CLARENCE, said, when he found the ship on fire he ordered all hands to the pumps, and used every means in his power to subdue it. He sent to New Ferry for assistance and a steamer. The smoke was very dense and seeing that the fire was getting on them, he ordered the bell on deck to be rung constantly. He then had the small boys and the boys in the hospital put into the boats. In a short time the Rock Ferry ship was alongside, and they also had assistance from the other training ships. All hands then left the ship and she burned until 1pm the next day, when she was sunk.

Mr RAFFLES, “Rather singular that the late captain took possession on the 17th January1864 and it was the 17th January 1884 that it was burned, just 20 years.”

Witness, “There were 216 boys and 7 officers on board at the time of the fire. When he saw RYAN in the reformatory office, Liverpool, a few days afterwards he asked him if he knew anything about the setting of the ship on fire. He said he did not set the ship on fire, on leaving him witness said to him, “If you know anything about it you had better tell Mr TOMLINSON” On returning to the hospital at New Ferry, witness was told that some of the boys knew something as to how the ship was set on fire. He then questioned, MANNION, PEATE, BANNISTER, SEWELL, MURPHY and LLOYD, they all voluntarily made statements, similar to the of RYAN, showing that the setting fire of the vessel had been made up between them, and each of them took a particular part in the arrangement to carry out the plot. In answer to Mr RAFFLES witness said the prisoners had no business below the orlop deck.

Timothy LEAHY, seaman instructor, William BARRY, petty officer, on board the CLARENCE, and Patrick MELIS, a boy gave evidence to support the previous witness statements.

On the prisoners being asked what they had to say, RYAN replied, “I had reason to set the ship on fire, Mr CARNEY reported me for nothing, and I am glad I set the ship on fire. I would rather do 10 years in jail than 5 years on the ship”

LLOYD, said nothing.

MANNION said, “Three officers were always on to him”

PEATE said, “Mr CARNEY had threatened to tear his windpipe out”

Other prisoners had nothing to say.

Mr RAFFLES committed them all for trial at the assizes

The absconders

Nine CLARENCE lads, Edward TROY, George ASHLEY, Thomas MASSEY, Thomas NICOLLS, Patrick SKERRY, William RYAN, Philip HENEGHAN, Michael COONEY, and Thomas J. MYHAN, were next placed in the dock and charged with absconding from the Port Sanitary Hospital in New Ferry, on various dates. Mr RAFFLES having been informed that the prisoners ASHLEY and SKERRY had absconded before, sent them to jail for 3 months, the other lads, one month each.

Captain HUDSON, Superintendent asks the friends of the boys to take notice that the usual visiting Sunday privilege will be stopped during their stay in the temporary reformatory. The boys, he adds, are all well.

Liverpool Assizes, Monday February 18th, 1884

Crown Court

Before Mr Justice BUTT

Sentence on the CLARENCE BOYS

The six lads lately belonging to the ship CLARENCE, who had pleaded guilty to setting fire to the vessel, resulting in its destruction, in the Mersey on the 17th January, were brought up for sentence

. Named Edward RYAN, aged 16, John LLOYD, 15, Martin MANNION, 16, Joseph PEATE, 16, Anthony BANNISTER, 17, and Christopher SEWELL, 15.

The Judge in passing sentence, said all the prisoners had pleaded guilty, to the serious crime of setting the CLARENCE on fire, so effectively that the only course left was to sink the vessel. The destruction of property was very large, but he was willing to believe that the prisoners thought there was little danger to life, although there were some 200 boys on board the ship at the time. All the prisoners were young and consideration for their youth alone induced him to pass a very different sentence than he would in dealing with grown up people. He asked himself whether it was possible for him to inflict upon the prisoners any punishment short of penal servitude, he had come to the conclusion it was not as the offence was so grave. The crime was committed by lads, who had been sent to the ship partly perhaps as punishment, ought to have been aware that they were there also, mainly, in the hope that the discipline and instruction they would get there would induce them to mend their lives and enable them to get a fresh start. All the prisoners had been sent to the reformatory ship for five years, in nearly all their cases the greater part of that period was still unexpired, and he could not help thinking in some measure they were induced to commit the offence with the view of obtaining their freedom, from the further lengthened term, therefore if he passed a smaller sentence than he was about to do upon them, he would be assisting them to that end. Any period of imprisonment he might have the right to impose would be of shorter duration than they would have had to spend at school, and therefore he must pass a sentence of five years penal servitude.


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