Remembering the Coalport ferry disaster
In the evening of 23 October 1799, a ferry boat carrying 43 Coalport China Factory workers started out to cross the River Severn between Jackfield and Colaport in the dark and thick fog.
Halfway across the river the ferry capsized and 28 men, women and children drowned. The 43 workers had left the china works at 9pm after an extra shift and walked alongside the canal to a ferry boat provided by Richard Reynolds to cross the Severn to the south bank to get to their homes in Jackfield and Broseley.
Mr. Rose of Rose and Company, had previously closed the china works at Caughley and Broseley and amalgamated the work forces to work at a new works in Coalport, hence the need for a passage or ferry boat.
The tragedy is little known today and Ironbridge resident Bob Herrick wants to change that.
“The 1799 Coalport Ferry Disaster has become a largely forgotten piece of history that deserves to be retold as it greatly affected so many local people and their families” says Bob, who has been researching the disaster for several years.
“I would like to see a permanent memorial to those who perished on that dark, cold night”.
Bob has sought the Council's help to retell the story and with a commemorative event tomorrow (23 October), at 6pm outside The Boat Inn, Jackfield.
Twenty eight fire cans, one for each victim, will be lit across the Coalport and Jackfield memorial bridge, while members of Jackfield Brass Band will play hymns and Bob will tell the story of this tragedy.
“This must have been a truly shocking and heartbreaking incident for the communities of Jackfield and Broseley. Seven of the dead were under 13 years old,” says Cllr Carolyn Healy, cabinet member with responsibility for the World Heritage site.
"Thanks to Bob’s research we know who the 28 were and can ensure their story is told for another generation”.
Many of the drowned were related. Three of the passengers were never found, while one body was discovered near Gloucester.
It is hoped that the event on Wednesday will be the start to build a project to fund a memorial plaque for the victims of the disaster.
There are many factors which contributed to the death toll – shock of immersion, darkness, the fog, the fast flowing river, and few people living nearby to offer assistance. Few of the workers would have been able to swim and their heavy winter work clothes would have waterlogged quickly, dragging them down into the water.