Echo of a barge tragedy, 1935 Apr 2, Hull Daily Mail

Echo of a barge tragedyHULL SALVAGE CLAIM


A graphic story of efforts to save a blazing barge in the River Trent, after the skipper had been drowned, with firemen running about on the bank unable to get to the vessel, was told at Hull County Court to-day.

It was in a case under Admiralty Jurisdiction of the Court, in which masters and crews of the motor barge Direct and the lighter Rosa Mary, of Hull, claimed £300 from the owners of the barge Bertha H (owned by Messrs John Harker, Ltd, of Knottingley).

The claim, heard before Judge Sir R. Mitchell Banks, K.C., was for salvage services said to have been rendered to the Bertha H and its freight and cargo while the barge was in distress on the Trent on September 9, 1934.

Plaintiffs were represented by Mr Benno Pearlman (Messrs Pearlman and Rosen), and defendants by Mr O. L. Bateson (instructed by Messrs Sanderson and Co.).

Outlining the case Mr Pearlman said that as a result of plantiffs’ efforts the bulk of the cargo of the Bertha H had been saved.


Richard Arthur Haywood, of Lime Tree-avenue, Waterloo-street, skipper of the Direct, told of the dramatic rescue efforts.

He was engaged, he said, in towing lighters from Nottingham to Hull, when about 9.45 on the morning of September 9 he observed an oil-barge blazing near the bank of the River Trent. He ascertained there was no one on board.

She was head on to the tide when they first saw her, and she contained petrol. As she came a bit higher up the river, by the tide, she was caused to swing round with her bows out into the middle of the river. When that happened it was not possible for any other vessel to pass.

The vessel later turned end on, and witness, with his two lighters, passed it. The Bertha H was lying about the middle of the river. They towed the lighters past the burning vessel and moored them, and then went back.

In the vicinity there were other boats carrying petrol, and there was a wind blowing.


When they first saw the flames they would be about 40 feet high, but as the Bertha came up, and as she rolled about flames shot up about 80 feet.

Witness had a conference with his mate, and they decided to try to get the Bertha H to the bank to firemen, who were running up the bank and could not get near the vessel. They followed her about a mile, and eventually they got within about six feet of the vessel. Then the heat was tremendous, and they could not stand it and the fumes, so had to get away again.

At Redhill the river became narrower, and one of the lightermen got a rope ready and got it fast to the bollard of the Bertha H, lassooing it as they went by.

As they were towing the Bertha H into the bend of the river the wind was blowing on them, with the flames still big.

When they got the Bertha H to Naith Hall the Gainsborough fire brigade arrived, and then the Lincoln fire brigade was sent for.

As near as he could say the Lincoln Brigade arrived at about 12.30, and the Gainsborough Fire Brigade was there from 11.30. The fire was out by about 1.0.


After the fire was out witness went on board the Bertha H, along with members of his crew and of the fire brigade.

There was nobody on board belonging to the ship. The captain had jumped overboard and was drowned, and the crew had left some time after she caught fire.

Witness went on to mention the eagre (tidal wave) and Mr Pearlman said: “Will you explain to learned judge.”

The Judge: I know it. I was nearly drowned by it at Gainsborough.

From start to finish, said witness, he and his colleagues were connected with the Bertha H over seven hours.

The owners took the vessel over at 6, the managing director of the company and a ship’s husband coming from Nottingham by car. They warned witness that the Bertha H was liable to blow up.

Cross-examined, witness said nobody came near them till the fire was out.

A representative of the Bertha H Company did then come on the Direct shortly after one, and witness refused to hand over the Bertha H to him.

Eventually, witness rang up his manager, wanting to know whether he had to stay with Bertha H or go on to Hull.

Witness was told he had better leave the vessel, and they did so.


Samuel De Pledge, Derringham-bank Estate, Hull, a maritime engineer, gave evidence, and George Cree, of Newark, master of the lighter Rosa May, told of helping the witness Ward to get a rope on to the Bertha H.

John Frederick Holmes, of Kirkella, told of attending on the Bertha H at Knottingley. She was built of steel, and about two years old. She was specially built for carrying petrol. There was extensive damage caused by fire, and there was buckling of the plates. She had a cargo of 107 tons of motor-spirit. He estimated the value of the ship before the fire at £1,200, and the cost to repair £725. There was a total net value of ship and contents of £778 16 s.

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