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The Death of William Harrison

The following has been very kindly provided by Jane Campbell and is an excerpt from the Liverpool Daily Post Newspaper, 1860.  Jane's excellent website consisting of old newspaper cuttings can be viewed by clicking here


Capt HARRISON, the Purser’s son and Coxswain drowned.

Misfortunes crowd heavily upon the noble but unfortunate GREAT EASTERN. The last, but not least calamity is the death of its able and esteemed commander.  Capt William HARRISON, experienced seaman, able engineer, thorough man of business and honest and independent servant, the originator and designer of the GREAT EASTERN.  The announcement of his death has thrown a gloom over everyone connected with the company in Southampton.

The circumstances in which his death took place are distressing.

Yesterday morning Capt HARRISON had occasion to leave the ship moored in Southampton Waters and to proceed to Southampton on business concerning the GREAT EASTERN. A boat was lowered shortly after breakfast and in the company of Dr WATSON the ship’s surgeon, Capt LEY the purser, his son aged 14yrs and 6 crew, the Captain proceeded to Hythe, where his wife and daughter were residing. After leaving them Capt HARRISON and the other officers of the ship proceeded to Southampton.

The wind which had been blowing fresh increased to a violent gale from the S.E, before the boat reached the dock. As the boat entered and while lowering the sail a heavy gust caught the boat and capsized it. The whole occupants were thrown out, some managed to hold on to the rigging, or boat, Capt HARRISON clung to an oar, by which he was supported for some time.

The INDUS lying in the dock put out two boats and after considerable exertions the men managed to pick up Capt HARRISON, who was then in a state of unconsciousness. Capt LEY was picked up and was bruised about the head and was bleeding. Dr WATSON was rescued in a state of extreme exhaustion, as well as six men who were also in the boat. The son of Capt LEY was not found till some time later, drowned.

The rescued men were attended to with great kindness from the INDUS crew and others connected to the Peninsular and Oriental Company. No fewer than six medical men attended to Capt HARRISON and everything possible was done to restore him to consciousness.

The Coxswain died on Saturday night from the affects of the accident.

Capt HARRISON possessed the confidence of the late Mr BRUNEL and when it became necessary to appoint a commander of the great ship, he reported to the directors his opinion of the qualifications necessary for the Captain.

He stated such an officer ought not to be merely an experienced naval man but should have practical knowledge of naval engineering and should be able to comprehend and deal with many important practical questions arising in the development, to carry out the great experiment. Such a man in every respect was Capt HARRISON.