The following is the report that appeared in the Hampshire Advertiser, dated 28th July 1877. I have transcribed it exactly as it was printed using the same spelling, grammar etc. The only exception to this is where the reporter has confused the relationships, I have corrected these to avoid confusion.
MELANCHOLY AND FATAL BOAT ACCIDENT AT SOUTHAMPTON
A fatal boat accident occurred at Southampton on Wednesday night, and one which sent three young persons in the enjoyment of health and strength to their last account in a very melancholy and distressing manner. It seems that Alfred Blanchard, Captain of the yacht Zephyr, belonging to Mr Henderson, of Hythe, together with his wife, Clara, and her cousins, Sarah and Mary Barnes, went to the Dock Railway Station to meet Edwin Barnes (brother of Sarah and Mary), who is in a gentleman’s service at Ellesmere, Shropshire, and arrived by the mail train from Leamington for the purpose of spending a few days with them at Hythe. From thence they proceeded to the Town Quay, where Alfred Blanchard had a wherry in readiness to take them across the water, the craft belonging to his uncle, and has always been looked upon as a very safe one. The night was dark and boisterous, and it rained and blew heavily. Blanchard was a capital boat sailor, and he took the precaution to have short sail, there being two reefs in the mainsail. The party got in to the wherry at the steps where the Hythe steamer lands and embarks her passengers, it being then between half-past 12 and a quarter to 1 o’clock, and Blanchard had no sooner pushed off from the quay, and was just in the act of taking the rudder lines, when she was caught by a heavy squall, which threw her over on the starboard side, where she filled, and the whole five were thrown into the water. Just about that time Mr O’Callaghan, a clerk in the London and South-Western Company, who have box office near the steps, happened to be going home, and hearing shrieks and seeing someone was in the water, he ran to the end of the quay, where a life-buoy was kept, and this he threw to one of the females, who could not grasp it, but Edwin Barnes was able to do so. By this means he was able to get his sister Sarah Barnes to a post, where she held on until rescued by a customs-officer and some others, and he also got another female to the steps, but he became exhausted, let her go and she sank before Mr O’Callaghan, who deserves every credit for the prompt manner in which he acted, could reach her, although he used every means to do so. The two rescued were taken charge of by the police, who had by that time arrived on the spot, and taken to the police station (as the officers had been unable to gain admission at any of the houses at which they had rapped, their knocking evidently being unheard by the inmates in consequence of the boisterous weather), where they received all the attention that could be given, and from thence to the George inn, Above Bar. There they were attended by Mr Cheesman, jun. In the mean time the police searched for the bodies of the other three persons, and at low water found them under the quay, near the place where they had got into the boat. Alfred Blanchard was a capital swimmer, and from the position in which he was found it was evident that the poor fellow was doing his best to save his wife, but probably he was dashed against the piles supporting the quay by the waves, and stunned. He was the eldest son of Mr Alfred Blanchard, owner of the steam water tank, Fannie, and 29 years of age. His wife was 28 and Miss Barnes 19, and the news of their untimely end cast quite a gloom over the whole of Hythe, of which village they were natives, while the greatest sympathy is felt for the their family and friends in the sudden and distressing bereavement that has fallen upon them. Alfred Blanchard was a young man of great promise, and we may mention that his brother, George Blanchard, is the “skipper” of the cutter Excelsior, the property of Mr G. C. Easton, and only left Southampton for Cherbourg a few hours before unfortunate catastrophe occurred. He was much respected and esteemed at Hythe, as were also his wife and Miss Barnes.
The inquest on the bodies was held at the Sun Bar, on the Town Quay, on Thursday afternoon, by Mr Edward Coxwell, the borough coroner.
The jury, of which Mr W.H. Martin, was the foreman, having been sworn, the coroner said they had been called together in more than usual melancholy circumstances, as three persons in the prime of life had been suddenly called to their account. It was a very sad and distressing case. In single cases, perhaps not so much notice was taken, but when three persons were drowned at one time it assumed a much more melancholy aspect than otherwise.
The jury viewed the bodies, which were at the dead house, and presented a sad spectacle as they laid side by side, the following evidence was adduced;-
Edwin Barnes said he was a gentleman’s servant, and lived at Ellesmere in Shropshire. Alfred Blanchard was a yachtsman; Clara Blanchard was his wife, and Mary Barnes her cousin, and unmarried, and resided with her mother, a laundress. Witness came from Leamington to Southampton by the mail train on Wednesday night, and the deceased met him at the station. They went together to the Town Quay, where they took a boat with the intention of crossing to Hythe, another sister (Sarah Barnes) being with them. They left the quay before 1 o’clock, the weather being wet and boisterous, and Alfred Blanchard had the management of the boat. Three sails were hoisted, and after she had gone about twenty yards she capsized, having been struck by a heavy squall, filled and seemed to sink beneath them. The ropes holding the sails were all tight and Blanchard was just taking the tiller rope when she filled. All five were in the water together, and witness swam to the quay side, and to the steps. He was not a good swimmer. Both his sisters were washed on to the cross pieces of timber under the quay. He did not hear or see Blanchard at all, or know what became of him. They shouted for help, a man lowered a buoy, and witness put it on and went to his sisters, who were then clinging to the piles. He got hold of his sister Sarah, and the man dragged him to the steps of the quay. When there witness seemed to have lost his presence of mind, being exhausted and all he remembered was seeing a man seize her (Mary) by the cloak and she sank. He thought she was dead before he took her off the timbers, as she did not cry or moan at all and her other sister had been holding her up. They were first taken to the police station, and afterwards to the George Inn. He knew nothing of what occurred after that.
Charles O’Callaghan, a clerk in the services of the London and South-Western Railway Company, said he was at his office, on the quay, rather late on Wednesday night, and just as he was leaving, at a quarter to 1 o’clock, he heard shrieks opposite from the water. He saw a black object, which disappeared, and then some people floating in the water, and knowing there was a life-buoy at the bottom of the quay he ran and fetched it. He heard a woman crying, but could not see her, and he threw the buoy over to the place whence the sound appeared to come from, but she did not catch hold of it. He could see the man (Barnes) in the water, and he threw it to him. He caught it, and witness pulled him towards the piles. He then asked him (O’Callaghan) if he could hold on while he went for his sister, who was right underneath the quay, and on replying that he could do so, he made a dash for her. When he found he had hold of her he began pulling her towards the steps (an upright pair on one of the piles), which Barnes got hold of, and also induced his sister to do the same, and by that time a custom-house officer came up. That sister then called on her brother to save her sister, who was floating near. He went to her, caught hold of her, and three of them tried to drag them over the steps. They got near, and witness was lying down ready to grasp her when she came near enough to the bottom of the steps, but in pulling Barnes, who was very much exhausted, out of the water he left go of his sister, and she sank head foremost, and close to witness, before he could get hold of her. He assisted the two who were saved to the police station, and they were thoroughly exhausted. Barnes did everything possible to save his sister. It was blowing very hard at the time, and the tide had just commenced ebbing. He did not see Alfred Blanchard, and he thought all were drowned until he shouted to them.
Robert Gwen, an outdoor officer of customs, stationed at the Town Quay, deposed that at about twenty minutes to 1 o’clock he was on duty, and while at his post heard a man shouting that a boat was upset. The man took the life-buoy, and witness got the grappling irons in case they should be wanted, and followed him as quickly as possible. He saw a man and two women in the water, close by the quay, the former had hold of the buoy, and was holding a woman up. Witness told him to tell his sister to hold on at the post, which she did, while he went for the other sister who was about four or five yards distant. They towed them to the steps, where Barnes who was so exhausted that he shouted he was going, and let go his sister. Another man came up, and the sister had then disappeared under the quay. The waves were rolling in heavily, and witness had not seen such a gale at the quay for months. Barnes was pulled out, and witness with the assistance of a man, rescued the other sister from the post, and handed her over to the police, as witness could not leave his post. He was present when the bodies of the deceased were taken out of the water about a quarter past 4 o’clock. The police commenced to search at 2.
Police sergeant Vass stated that at about a quarter to 1 o’clock that morning he heard shouting on the Town Quay, and on going there saw a man and woman just rescued from the water. It rained very much, the wind blowed very hard, and as he knocked at several houses and could make no one hear he took them to the police-station. Ascertaining that there were some drowned he went back to the quay, and searched with his light, but could see no one. At 3 o’clock the rain and wind ceased. He got a boat, and with the assistance of two other constables, dragged as close to the quay jetty as possible. At half-past 4, when the tide had nearly gone, he saw Mary Barnes lying close to the steps, and between those and the piles, and Blanchard and his wife were about ten yards further under the quay, locked together. He got the bodies out and conveyed them to the dead house. Blanchard’s watch was stopped at a quarter to one o’clock. Blanchard had his left arm over his wife, who had her right arm round his body at the waist. Both had their faces downwards, and were so firmly fixed that he had to separate them in order to get them on shore.
This being all the evidence, the coroner said it was a most melancholy case, and no doubt it was one of a very distressing nature, but it was clear it was an unfortunate accident, and that no one was responsible for it. The weather was very violent and furious, and he thought, probably Blanchard had more sail than was needed, but still he had hardly started, was under the lea of the quay, and was not aware that there was so much wind. He could not suggest to the jury any other verdict than that of accidental death.
Mr John Fair (one of the jury) remarked that Blanchard was a capital swimmer and also a very clever sailor.
The coroner remarked that might be but there was a nasty lump of sea on, and it was exceedingly squally.
Mr R Knights, uncle of Blanchard, said he had very short sail indeed, and had two reefs down in the mainsail.
The coroner replied no doubt that was so, but with all the care these melancholy accidents sometimes happened.
The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental Death.”
Blanchard’s father was present during the enquiry, as was also Mr P Benning, and Mr W Burbidge, the harbour master.
The remains of the deceased were conveyed across to Hythe in wherries yesterday (Friday) afternoon and they will be interred there tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon. We regret to state that some person has made himself over-officious, and gone about with a petition soliciting subscriptions towards defraying the expenses of the funerals. This has given the friends of the deceased much pain and caused them considerable annoyance, as such a thing was not authorised or desired by them, and we are requested to ask the public not to give one single farthing should they be appealed to by him. Alfred Blanchard was a member of the Hythe Lodge of the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows, and had therefore made provision for the proper and decent interment of himself and wife when death came upon them, and little did either anticipate that it would be simultaneously, so soon, and in such a melancholy manner.