Chester Courant and Advertiser 18th November 1903
DEE ESTUARY TRAGEDY. FISHERMAN AND BOAT ENGULPHED.
One of the most sensational fatalities that have ever occurred on the Dee Estuary took place on Tuesday. A stiff breeze was blowing in the early morning from the north-north-west, and this increased to such an extent as to make it a somewhat risky procedure to put out in anything smaller than the sturdy trawling boats, which are specially built to withstand the many boisterous seas that sweep over the estuary. The large-sized punts are, however, frequently used at this season for trawling, and while the majority of those who sat out in the darkness of the early morning betook themselves to the mussel beds, several set out in these frail crafts for the fishing grounds at the river mouth. Among these was Thomas Robinson, one of the most able fishermen on the Dee. He knew every trick of the fisherman’s trade, and his pluck and cleverness in handling a boat under the most adverse conditions were proverbial among the fishing fraternity. He was, moreover, an excellent swimmer, and his well-known prowess in this respect lends an air of mystery to what followed He was wearing a pair of light Blucher boots, and William Campion, another fisherman, clad in long sea boots, shewed him the courtesy usual on such occasions by taking him on his back and wading with him to his punt.
Shortly after Robinson was beating out seawards against a head wind, under conditions that would have sent a landsman to Davy’s Locker before he had traversed a score of yards, and which impelled the fishermen to remark that they expected they would have to turn back. But “men must work and women must weep,” and with his jib and mizzen only set, and the mainsail closely furled, Robinson adroitly tacked hither and thither against the wind until he got beyond Heswall. He was followed at a distance of about 200 yards by Thos. Matthews, junr. who in a similar but more sea- worthy boat was bent upon the same errand and followed the same tactics. Another boat lay & mile away, and yet another two miles away, both of the latter being much too distant to witness the tragedy that was approaching.
The doomed man, Robinson, and Matthews had now reached Caldy Blacks beyond Thurstaston and in the ordinary course would soon have put down their trawls. Glancing carelessly towards the leading boat, Matthews noticed Robinson sitting on the side grasping the tiller in one hand, while he worked the sail with the other, and this was the last seen of him alive. Matthews turned his head for a moment, and looking again towards Robinson, was horrified to find that, he and his boat had disappeared, with the exception of a foot or so of the mast, which was just vanishing under the water. There had not been a sound, and although Matthews was sailing over the spot a moment afterwards, there was not a sign of the strong swimmer. An oar floated on the surface. As Matthews hovered over the spot the rudder, tiller, sprit and well lid rose from the depths. It was now about. 6 45. and so light that if Robinson had risen to the surface in any direction he must at once have been seen. Matthews returned home with the sad intelligence, and it was only on their return from fishing that the absent fishermen learned what had occurred.
The deceased sank in the “Deep,” where there is a width of from 200 to 300 yards, and where there is always from 20 to 30 feet of water after the tide has ebbed. It is supposed that Robinson was in the act of bailing out the boat, when it shipped sea that sank it to the bottom like a stone, and that the mast fell over him as he went down, or that he was entangled in some way in the gear, as otherwise, unencumbered as he was with sea boots he would easily have swum over the few hundred yards that separated him from the shore. Up to Friday morning no trace had been found of either de-eased or his boat. Many fishermen made a diligent search over the estuary on Wednesday morning, and on Thursday some attempt was made to drag the spot indicated by Matthews, but without result. It is suggested that a number of the “big” boats should trawl the place in a line, with the object of bringing the body to the surface, but it is doubtful if the scheme will be carried out. The remains may be found at any moment or they may become buried beneath the sands.
Robinson was a member of the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society, and his family are entitled to a payment of about £15, with a small weekly allowance for the two youngest children, but if the body remains undiscovered there will naturally be great difficulty in furnishing proof of death. There are six children in all, but several are grown up. There has never previously been a case within the memory of the oldest in habitant of a fisherman’s boat sinking beneath him in the manner described, and if as there appears to be no reasonable doubt, Robinson was so trapped at the same moment as to render it impossible for him to swim, the coincidence is very remarkable. The value of the boat and its contents would be about £20. The case adds one more to the formidable, list of deaths which have shocked the inhabitants of the Neston-cum-Parkgate district during the last few months. But for the fact, of the youth Matthews being in the vicinity nothing would have been known as to the facts of Robinson’s disappearance, and it is to be hoped that the finding of the boat and body will elucidate the exact cause of his death.