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July, 1817. MELANCHOLY CATASTROPHE.
I THINK it my duty to record the following disaster which occurred a few years after at RochesTer Bridge, that others may not endanger their lives, and be precipitated into the wide yawning gulph of one common destruction! Recollecting that my little parly had importuned me to pass through the arch of this FATAL BRIDGE, I shuddered when I heard of the melancholy transaction. The Appendix io a Discourse, delivered by the Rev. Mr. Slatterie, at Chatham, on the sad occasion, is too interesting to be abridged, and shall be transcribed entire.
.“ On FRIDAY, the 13th of September, 1816, THOMAS, son of the late Mr. GILBERT, of Chatham, having attained his twenty-first year, a party was formed to enjoy the pleasure of a fine afternoon in a water excursion on the Med WAY; consisted of the following persons :
Mr. Mills, aged 26, a tailor and draper, at Chatham.
Mrs. Mills, his wife, aged 26.
Eliza, their child, about three years of age.
Miss E. Gilbert, who, with her sister, kept a boarding-school for young ladies, in Clover-street, Chatham ; sister to Mrs. Mills.
Mr. Thomas Gilbert, aged 21, of Chatham, late apprentice to Messrs. Beeching and Edmett, Maidstone.
Miss Brock, aged 11, daughter of Mr. Brock, linen-draper.
Miss Morson, aged 7, daughter of Mr. Morson, attorney, of Chatham.
Miss Mathews, aged 11, of Essex.
The party walked to ROCHESTER about three o'clock, and took the water above bridge, from whence they proceeded up the river, and went as far as HALLING, where they passsed the afternoon, in the most social and harmless hilarity; little antici. pating the fatal doom which so speedily awaited them; and, after taking tea, re-entered their boat in order to return. On leaving Halling, they passed away the time, and amused themselves by singing hymns, as the boat glided down the stream. On approaching Rochester Bridge, many persons were
arrested in their progress, and stopped to listen to the joyous harmony of the happy party, rendered more melodious by the serenity of the evening. It was particularly remarked that the HYMN they were sing. ing, as they approached the fatal spot, was that interesting piece which concludes with the following verse :
66 The hour is near, consign’d to death,
I own the just decree;
I'll cry, remember me."
The boat shot under the arch with the velocity of lightning, the tide being about half ebb, at which time it dashes through the arches of the bridge with immense force, and the deepest fall of about four feet ;-in a moment a sudden crash was heard, and one general heart-piercing shriek of agony announced to the trembling passengers above, the dreadful work of desolation! A beam, at that time about a foot under water, against which the boat had struck, was the cause of the aceident. On looking over the balustrades, nothing was seen bút the boat driving impetuously over the boiling surges, with its keel upwards, and a little dog which was fastened to it by a string—nothing was heard but the roaring of the waters! Thus, in a moment, were engulphed FIFTEEN rsons, who, in the innocent enjoyment of that pleasure which youth, health, and religion bestow, were suddenly consigned to a watery
grave: not one was saved, every soul instantaneously perished.
The arch which they entered was under repair; and the workmen, on the morning of that day, had placed a piece of fir-timber, about twelve inches square, from one starling to the other, and secured it with cleets and chains. As the tide rose it was hid from sight, and the waterman had gone over it in the afternoon, in going up the river, without perceiving it.
There was a notice placed over the top of the arch, informing the public, that “that arch was dangerous at low water, being under repair;" the letters, however, were not large enough to be seen, until too near to avoid going through, or running against the starlings. The brace, at the time they entered, was partly above the water, but it was too dark to be perceptible. The boat's bow struck the top of the brace, when the current forced down the stern, and the whole were immediately plunged into the stream to rise no more! This dreadful accident must certạinly cause feelings of remorse to the individuals, to whose inattention to the safety of the navigation, the catastrophe is to be solely ascribed.
To attempt to describe the agonizing feelings of the families and friends of the unfortunate sufferers would be as vain, as the tearless agony
parental affection, searching all night in a solitary boat to
discover the remains of a beloved daughter ;-the · breathless anxiety for hoped for intelligence, but too
frequently disappointed ;-together with the despair produced by the certainty of their fate, may be conceived, but defies description. The bereaved Mrs. Gilbert, aged 64, is by this afflictive dispensation deprived of all her family two daughters, her son, grand-daughter, and son-in-law,—all that remained to console her widowed heart-all--all is lost!
At intervals, on Sunday, several discharges of cannon were fired over the river, to cause the bodies to rise, but without effect.
After two or three days and nights spent with indefatigable anxiety, in dragging for the mortal remains of the sufferers, they were fortunately all found ; and subsequently interred, with a solemnity which did honour to the feelings of the thousands who flocked to render their last tribute to this heart-rending scene.
On Monday the 16th, a Coroner's Inquest was held “to investigate the cause of the boat-party drowned at RocHESTER BRIDGE.” They returned, late in the evening, the following verdict : “ Accidentally drowned, occasioned by the negligence of the Bridge Warden."
To expatiate at length upon the characters of THE INDIVIDUALS who were so fatally and so prematnrely lost to society, would be to castigate the feelings of the reader--they were all respectable, chaste, worthy and devout members of the community-and the remembrance of their virtues will be cherished by their friends, as long as “ memory holds its seat." But