Sunday, 14 December 2008

Postman's Park (16): Harry Sisley


In mid-Victorian Britain, swimming became a popular leisure activity. Outdoor swimming pools began to appear, including the marvellous Thames Lido. However, with entry a shilling, the Lido was less appealing to many than the ponds, rivers and canals of London.

Unfortunately, swimming in open water poses greater dangers than bathing in a pool, and there is a generous scattering of drowning accidents on the Watts Memorial. I've already considered the tragic stories of David Selves who died in the Thames like his brother before him; John Clinton, swept fatally under a pier; and Alexander Stuart Brown who caught pneumonia after rescuing someone drowning at sea.

Yet another such tragedy occurred in May 1878:
a very distressing fatality occurred at Kilburn, by which two little boys, brothers, lost their lives. Some excavations have recently been made in St Mary's-field in connection with building operations, and in one of the hollows thus formed a good-sized pool of water, several feet deep, had accumulated. The two boys - Frank Sisley, aged 11 years, and Harry Sisley, aged nine - sons of a cabdriver, living at 7, Linstead-street, Palmerston-road, were, it appears, returning home from school, when they placed a plank on the pool mentioned, and amused themselves as if in a boat. The raft capsized and the two boys were drowned.
At the inquest, a fuller account of the event was given:
Having got on a raft, Frank Sisley, in attempting to reach something, fell into the water. His brother jumped in and tried to save him, but they both disappeared. One of the other boys, named Pye, then entered the water with his clothes on, and succeeded in getting Harry to the bank. He was returning to rescue Frank, when Harry uttered an exclamation of distress, and either jumped or fell into the water again. His brother "cuddled" to him, and they went under the water together. Pye then raised an alarm, but when after some delay the bodies were recovered, all efforts to restore animation were fruitless.
Hence the description in Postman's Park:

HARRY SISLEY OF KILBURN, AGED 10, DROWNED IN ATTEMPTING TO SAVE HIS BROTHER AFTER HE HIMSELF HAD JUST BEEN RESCUED, MAY 24 1878.

For all Postman's Park posts, click here.

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