The story of William Daniels



William Daniels was born in Hemblington, Norfolk in 1840. Of his early years nothing is known, save that he ran away to sea at the age of 13. Clearly he set out to make the sea his career, in spite of his believed two shipwrecks, and we know that he had been working on the 965 ton ship called "Anglesey", registered in the Port of London and used on the Australia run. He left this vessel on 10th April 1865.

He joined the crew of the ill-fated ship ss London, an 800 horsepower ship of 1752 tons, 267 feet long 36 feet wide and drawing 24 feet, with 5 bulkheads launched in 1864 at Blackwall. She had been built for the Australia passenger trade and in addition to her steam-driven screw used masts, sails and rigging for propulsion; she had completed one return trip to Melbourne when William joined her.

Not only were Money, Wigram and Sons, the owners reputed "One of the oldest established and most justly renowned of our shipping firms" but the ss London herself was said to be "one of the finest passenger ships out of the Port of London" whilst her Master, Captain Martin was acclaimed "one of the ablest and most experienced commanders"

In May 1865 William joined at the Poplar Shipping Office as an AB and was acting quartermaster - he also held a RN volunteer certificate and was "one of the lads" because there is a note that he was absent without leave in Melbourne with a group of other sailors: what they got up to is anyones guess, but he was evidently good at his job, because not only was his character rated as "Very Good" in the ships log, but on the next trip he was quartermaster without the acting label.

There was a nearly two month stay in Gravesend Dock before the London set out again for Melbourne, and on 30th December she departed with William as quartermaster. The weather was not good - she had to shelter in St Helen's Roads on the first leg of her journey to Plymouth, and met gales and rolling seas. It was so severe that the pilot boat sent out to guide her into Plymouth Sound on 4th January 1866 capsized and the pilot was drowned.

The weather improved, and the ss London set out at midnight on the night of the 5th/6th January having taken on a large number of passengers and recording the conditions as calm with a light wind. On the second day of the journey the wind had increased and the London was experiencing heavy seas; the weather was worsening and by the next day in the Bay of Biscay there was a full gale blowing, although a lull occured at midday., but on the 9th January the gales and seas were so bad they carried away the jib boom, the foretop mast, the top gallant mast, the royal mast and spurs. Two hours later the main royal mast was lost and at 3 pm the port lifeboat was carried away. At this point, unknown to them, they were on the edge of the storm and had they carried on all would have been well.

But the vessel was almost crippled at this stage, and it turned back to Plymouth at 4.00am the following morning, then 200 miles south west of Lands End. Conditions worsened: the starboard lifeboat was lost and at 10.30pm a "tremendous sea swept the ship, broke into the engine room and put out fires; passengers were helping to pump out the ship" and It is recorded that 30 ships were wrecked at Torbay in this storm. Somehow the ship survived the night, but it was clear to Captain Martin that all was lost, for at 10 am on the morning of 11th January he told the passengers and crew to "prepare for the worst" A boat was lowered but the high seas swamped it immediately. Those on board managed to return to the London, where there was no panic in spite of the appalling conditions.

At 2 pm some of the crew and passengers decided to "trust themselves to the chances of the sea" and lowered a pinnace successfully. The Captain refused to go with them, and the pinnace stood clear of the ship. Two other boats tried to leave but they were too late, for five minutes after the pinnace left, the London sank, with the loss of 220 lives. The last thing heard from the pinnace was the people on board the London singing the hymn "Rock of Ages".

Wlliam was one of the survivors in the pinnace - 3 passengers and 16 crew - and they were in the gale for a further 20 hours before being rescued from the boat half full of water by the Italian barque "Marianpole" (under the command of a Captain Casara) and taken to Falmouth, landing on 18th January. The survivors of the "London" helped the crew of the "Marianpole" to overcome the storm, and Captain Casara was subsequently given an award by the Board of Trade for his actions.

William gave evidence twice for the official enquiry, on 3rd and 14th February, at which time he was living at 13 Marsden Terrace, Kentish Town. The enquiry was considered a travesty by the family of those drowned, and questions were asked in the House, some saying that the ship was overloaded. All this exitement seems to have dissuaded him from a career at sea, for on September 16th 1866 he joined the staff of the North London Railway as a signalman at 1.1s 0d a week, having been reccommended by a Mr Hales and was recorded as being 26 years old and 5' 9 1/2" tall. He did not care for the post and was at his own request transferred to being a porter at 3/- a week less.

One year after his appointment he got married at All Saints Church, Upper Norwood, Croydon to Harriet Dent, the daughter of a miller from Lowestoft, with whom he raised a family of nine children - all girls.

His time in the railway is well documented. There were several minor infringements for which he was punished - - a 6d fine for being late for example, but he was promoted to under brakeman and then head brakeman at 25s a week, gradually increasing over the years until he was eaning 31s a week by 1907, and when he retired aged 68 in 1908 he was given a "good conduct" allowance of 10s 4d a week, having completed 42 years service.

He died in 1922 aged 82 and on 13th Febrary he was buried with his wife in Battersea Cemetery (Morden). His daughters Alice and Amy were also buried in the same plot later on.