Loss of the tug Albert and the coal grab Penrhyn 1923

Jan 22nd 1923

Four lives lost in Mersey Dock

Havoc by high wind

Coal lift blown over and sunk

Tugboat ripped on the wreckage

Four lives were lost in the Mersey yesterday as the result of accidents in shipping. A coal grab named the Penrhyn was blown over by the high wind and sunk, one of the three men aboard her being swept away. Three hours later the tugboat ALBERT, steaming over the spot where the Penrhyn had sunk, struck some part of the wreck and went down so quickly that her crew of 7 had to jump into the water at once, only 4 are saved.

The members of the Albert's crew who were lost were :-

Edward Meakin BELLIS, Harland Rd, Higher Tranmere, chief engineer.

William PIKE, Rosalind St, Bootle, 2nd engineer.

Albert John YOUNG, Canterbury Rd, Seacombe. He was only a boy and son of the Birkenhead representative of the Alexander Towing Company, to which firm the tugboat Albert belonged.

The man who drowned on the Penrhyn was Joseph HANDS, aged 45, of Spring Grove, Bootle.

These two disasters are of a peculiar character, they did not take place out in the fairway of the river, but in the sheltered waters of the Canada Dock, where it might be presumed safe from peril.

The Penrhyn, which belonged to Messers R and J. H. REA, was sunk a few minutes before 8am and it was being towed from the Canada Dock coal tips to the Huskisson Dock. Vessels of this type are used for transferring coal from a barge to a steamship in mid-river, and consist of little more than a pontoon bearing a high derrick. By the very nature of their design they carry a big top-weight, while the high derrick offers a large resisting surface to a high wind.

People who watched the Penrhyn being towed along the Canada Tongue, the sheet of water upon which the three branches of the dock converge, noticed its dangerous plight in the high wind which was blowing and were not surprised when a heavy gust capsized it. Its overturn came very suddenly, and the captain of the tug which was towing it along, had barely time to order the towropes to be thrown loose so as to avoid the chance of further calamity.

The three men on the Penrhyn were thrown into the water. The captain of the tug managed to drag out one of them, John LANGTON of Florida St, Bootle, and a member of the crew rescued John SMITH of Litherland Rd, Bootle. SMITH says, that when he first came to the surface HANDS, the third man was close to him, but he drifted away and was not seen again. The two men who were rescued were not seriously injured, but suffered for some hours afterwards from the effects of the immersion.

Sank in under five minutes

The second and more serious accident occurred about five minutes to eleven, the ALBERT with two other tugs, was going from the Brocklebank Dock to the Huskisson Dock to tow the White Star liner REGINA to her berth at the Landing-stage. Passing the spot where the Penrhyn had gone down it struck some part of the submerged vessel and was ripped up so severely that it sank in less then five minutes. One of the crew George DERBYSHIRE, who was rescued says that the jolt was awful.

"Our boat" he adds, "heeled over to port almost immediately, and very soon the water was rushing over the decks. The captain called everyone on deck and advised us to jump for it. I jumped with BELLIS and Jack WILLIAMS and didn't see what happened to BELLIS, but WILLIAMS and I were swimming together for some time before we were pulled out. Lifebelts and ropes were thrown to us, but we were numbed with the cold and could hardly grasp anything. I should think I was in the water for fifteen minutes." Before he was taken out of the water he noticed the boat with no stern high out of the water and the propeller whizzing around.

The wreck of the ALBERT was witnessed by large numbers of people on the dock-side and created great excitement. Happily there several rowing gigs on the water, and the two other tugs were near by to assist in the rescue work. The captain Joseph BARRY, of Liver Ave, Seacombe, and the mate George BUSBY, of Upper Stanhope St, Liverpool, were pulled out by men in the rowing gigs. One of the firemen Jack WILLIAMS was rescued by Major James BENNETT, a Hoylake member of the Mersey Shipping and Towing Company, who got a ladder, lowered it down the side of the dock, and climbed down until he could reach the man's body as he drifted past. He had to reach out nearly five feet, and only just succeeded in grabbing the man's collar. The man was too exhausted to help himself, and when taken out of the water did not come round until artificial respiration had been applied for about half an hour. BELLIS the engineer was also pulled out, he was a heavy man and in the high winds and choppy waters his rescuers had difficulty in recovering him. When brought to land he was unconscious, and on the way to Bootle Hospital, he died.

A point of inquiry

A very important question will have to be determined by official inquiry. Three hours had elapsed between the sinking of the coal grab and the coming of the tugboat. How is it that the captain of the ALBERT sailed over the spot where the PENRHYN had sunk ? There are presumably some means of giving general warning concerning incidents of this kind. Captain PARRY is a well known Merseyside figure and has been on the ALBERT ever since it was built and put into commission, about 15 years ago. In all that time the boat has not known mishap. Did he receive warning as to the location of the PENRHYN ? Was the warning he received adequate, did he do all that was possible to act on it ?

It is understood there is great conflict of testimony on the first and second of these questions, and that searching investigation will be needed to clear the matter up.

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