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the Sharpness Canal


Dock Policeman Missing

The Canal Company employed a small team of policemen to provide security around the docks at Gloucester, and there was much consternation on Thursday 30 Dec 1869 when it was realised that policeman Thomas Flavell had not been seen for two days.

Search Instigated
      Flavell's colleagues said they thought he was away on holiday, but when the matter was reported to the Dock Master, Capt. Browne, he suspected Flavell had fallen into the dock and drowned. He therefore employed two men to search for the body using the drags – three hooks attached to a metal bar on the end of a long rope. The mystery deepened when nothing was found, and handbills were printed offering a reward of £1 for information about the missing man.

Bowler Hat Found
     Then on Saturday night it became known that a young boy had found a bowler hat floating in the Victoria Dock and had sold it to his brother who was wearing it on a visit to the Alhambra Music Hall. The brother was called out of the performance, and another dock policeman immediately recognised the hat as having belonged to the missing man. The boy pointed out the spot where he had found the hat in the corner near the Albert Flour Mills, and on Sunday morning, after a boat was moved out of the way, Flavell’s body was recovered. The body was conveyed to the Albion Hotel where an inquest was held on Monday.

     The coroner said it was common for sailors to be drowned in the docks while returning to their ships late at night and the worse for drink, but he was concerned as to how an officer who knew every step of the docks had entered the water and why his disappearance had not been reported sooner. William Schollar reported finding the body with the help of the drags. Thirteen year old George Davis described how he had recovered the hat using a hook-shaft that he had been allowed to borrow from a nearby boat in exchange for collecting half an ounce of tobacco from a shop in Southgate St. James Davis, father of the boy, explained that he had not initially connected the hat with the missing man as it was not a high hat as normally worn by a policeman. It was only when he heard on Saturday night that Flavell had been wearing a bowler that he realised what his son had found.

Delay in Reporting
     Dock policeman Solomon Fudge said he had been on duty with Flavell on Monday night and had seen him talking with a gentleman by the Albion Hotel at 2.15 am, but had missed him at 5.40 am when he should have opened the dock gates beside Llanthony Bridge. When asked why he had not reported the matter, Fudge said Flavell had talked about taking holiday, and he denied that he had assumed Flavell had gone drinking. A juryman asked if Flavell was disliked by some people for doing his duty, and Fudge replied “I don’t think so”. This question may have been inspired by a feeling that Flavell was inclined to be over-zealous. Two years earlier, Flavell had forcibly arrested an accountant on a charge of stealing copper and not allowed him to contact a solicitor. When the matter came to court, the owner of the copper said that the accountant was only doing what he had been asked, the magistrates dismissed the case and Flavell’s behaviour was severely criticised.

More Evidence Needed
     After other witnesses at the inquest had given evidence, the coroner thought that the death of Flavell was still fraught with suspicion, and he adjourned the inquiry in order to find the gentleman, said to be a Mr Jenkins, seen talking with Flavell shortly before he was drowned. When the inquest reconvened Anthony Frederick Jenkins of Brunswick Square admitted that he had accompanied Flavell and a city policeman to the Squirrel Inn in Southgate St around midnight on the night he died. Flavell drank at least two pints of warm beer with some gin in it. It was said that one of the Custom patrols who was on duty that night had seen Flavell the worse for drink just after 2.00 am, but when the Coroner asked for the officer it was found that he was on duty at Sharpness.

     In summing up, the Coroner criticised the policemen for not reporting their missing colleague sooner and said it was desirable to have chains around the dock walls so that a person falling into the water had a chance of saving himself. The jury returned a verdict of “Found drowned”. Following the Coroner’s comment, the Canal Company agreed to fix chains or vertical ladders at the most dangerous spots and to provide two additional lamps and three or four more life buoys.

Sources: GJ 8, 15 Jan 1870; GJ 2 Feb 1867; RAIL 864/1. 

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