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The Torr family tragedy: II

2006/4 pp4–5


The Torr family tragedy: II


Here are more details of the tragedy, as reported from the inquest by the West Sussex Gazette, September 2nd 1858. Many thanks for the research into the family by Rosemary Ryall.


The day of the Littlehampton Regatta in August 1858 was extremely fine, the sea calm and in all appearance exactly the day for a pleasure party to enjoy themselves. Mr. Torr, with his wife and four children and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Mr. Torr’s sister and brother in law and their six children, together with a friend’s child, had taken a house at Worthing for a seaside holiday. Both families had taken occasional boat excursions.


Mr. and Mrs. Torr and Mr. and Mrs. Smith had planned to attend the regatta while the remainder of the party enjoyed another boat trip. Mr. Torr selected a fine, almost new boat, capable of carrying about 30 adults. The party comprised 19, including twelve children, five domestic servants, the wife and child of Mr. Torr’s coachman and the wife of the boatman. There were also two boatmen.


The sails were set lightly to save the children from sea-sickness and the party made merry with songs and childish banter as the boat glided over the ‘glittering’ ocean ‘almost as flat as a floor’.


About a mile from shore there was a sudden gust of wind; the sails filled and the stern of the boat dipped into the water. ‘The boat went down from under us, as if a whirlwind had screwed her down stern first’ according to a witness report at the inquest. The water was 14 feet deep.


Blann, the boatman, said to be an excellent swimmer, was taken to his death by so many small children clinging to him. Jacob Chester, boatman, was caught by his legs in the rigging and by this means was able to stand on the top of the mast. He had on one arm the surviving Smith child and the Torr child clasping onto his hair with one hand and his jersey with the other, the boatman shouting to a not-far distant boat for help. Three female servants were hanging onto him from behind, with the coachman’s wife and child holding onto his jersey neck and despite his pleas strangling him into unconsciousness. He and seven of the party were saved by the timely arrival of the crew of the other boat which had only been about two hundred yards away.


Others of the party were seen on the bottom of the water still clutching onto each other.


The deaths were – Elizabeth (7), Ada (3) and Florence (8 months), three of four Torr children and Martha (9), Richard Torr (7), Thomas (5), George Henry (3) and Clara Ann (one year), five of six Smith children plus Clementine Jackson, an only child (presumably a niece of Mrs. Torr whose maiden name was Jackson); also the domestic servants Ann Henness and Harriett Humphreys, and the boatman Edwin Blann and his wife.


Survivors were George Torr (5), Emma Smith (6), servants Matilda Lacey, Emma Sharp and Elen Redding, boatman Jacob Chester and Louisa Wright and child (the coachman’s wife and child).


As reported in the first part, this great family tragedy was probably behind the Torr family’s move to Garbrand Hall in Ewell in 1859. It is fitting that we should have found a remaining memorial to them in the hatchment. Together with our Father Willis organ, which replaced the one given in memory of their son George, we have a lasting reminder of their beneficence to the church and to the village.


Ian McKillop


(From an article by Ian McKillop in the January 2006 Ewell Parish News).

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