Tragic day as sea claims three fathers

This week’s guest column comes from local historian Paul Mould

ON APRIL 3, 1901, three Boston pilots were drowned in the Wash.

Thomas Shepherd, from Freiston Low Road, with eight children, George Dawson, of Tunnard Street, with four children, and Thomas Finn, of Horncastle Road, with five children sailed from the pilots’ sloop in an open row boat to pilot the Norwegian steam collier ‘Harald’ as far as the Lynn Deeps.

They left on the morning tide and should have returned on the same tide, but a strong westward squall sprang up and they were lost.

The S.S Harald, the first boat of a new line of colliers running from Boston to the Elbe, was taken down the river by Upper Station Pilot J. W. Longstaff, who returned on the ‘Privateer’.

Three Lower Station pilots were necessary to take the row boat to the ships, and the alarm was raised when the S.S Southwood arrived in port the next morning without a pilot. W. Parker, the pilot superintendent, immediately launched the ‘Olivette’ to search for the missing men and sent a trap to Freiston Shore.

The bad news, however, had spread through Boston and the only people who could have known of the tragedy were the crew of the steam tug ‘Boston’, who had seen the row boat making for the sloop, when the squall blew up.

The body of George Dawson was found by William Garner and was taken to Fosdyke Bridge and the inquest held there at the New Inn.

Joseph Oldham, captain of the ‘Boston’, said that they did not realise the pilots were in trouble, yet his crew said they were dead, when they returned to town.

When pressed, Joseph Oldham said they could not have reached the pilots, because of the sand between them and he had to escort a boat up the river.

The biggest irony was that Thomas Finn, when 18, had received a Medal of Gallantry for saving 19 lives at sea but, when his own life was lost, nobody went to his assistance. The bodies of Thomas Shepherd and Thomas Finn were washed ashore at Holbeach Marsh seven weeks later, and the jury returned a verdict the deceased were accidentally drowned.

The mayor, Alderman Simmonds, opened a fund for the widows and children of the three pilots and the St Thomas’ Society held a Benefits Concert at Shodfriars Hall, stage-managed by George Gale, to raise money.