The Flood Came and Took Them All Away (1852) - Appendix: Opening of the Inquest

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The Flood Came and Took Them All Away: A Sermon on the Holmfirth Flood (1852) by Rev. Joshua Fawcett

Opening of the Inquest.

Holmfirth, February 6.

The excitement, consequent upon this heart-rending occurrence, yesterday, was of the most intense character. At Huddersfield, the railway station was literally besieged by a dense crowd of persons, of all classes, who evinced the greatest impatience to possess themselves of a ticket, for the purpose of going to view the scene of the dire calamity. The struggling and pressure was severe, and despite the utmost perseverance, great numbers were left behind. On the arrival of the trains, the parties dispersed themselves in groups, and gratified their curiosity by examining those parts of the place which had been most exposed to the resistless torrent. The day being beautifully fine, the usually quiet village of Holmfirth presented an appearance of great animation, consequent upon the hundreds who thronged the various thoroughfares. The authorities, anxious to prevent accidents, caused a printed notice to be issued intimating that the bridges were in a very unsafe state, and cautioning the people not to assemble upon them in large numbers. So eager, however, was the multitude to accomplish the object of their visit, that this caution was wholly disregarded, but we are happy to say that no serious or unpleasant consequences followed the neglect of this timely injunction. We need scarcely say that a deep feeling of regret was manifested on the part of all who had an opportunity of witnessing the desolating effects occasioned by its awful visitation. The town hall was made a receptical for such property as had been found, which we need scarcely say was of a multifarious kind. In the course of the day a number of the magistrates attended, for the purpose of receiving information, and giving such instructions to police officers, and others who had been sworn in special constables, as might be deemed necessary. The following were present till the close of the proceedings, before the coroner: J. Charlesworth, Esq., Joseph Armitage, Esq., George Armitage Esq., William Leigh Brook, Esq., and Joshua Moorhouse, Esq. We may here state that a strong recommendation was given by the magistrates, to the public, through the medium of the press, not to contribute any money to the relief of the surviving sufferers, except through a properly authorised channel, which has been duly announced. This caution was necessary, in order that imposition might be prevented, and the sympathy of the public directed to legitimate objects. George Dyson, Esq., the Coroner, arrived in the morning, and accompanied by the gentlemen who had been summoned as Jurymen, were occupied several hours in the painful duty of viewing the bodies, which had been taken to the various public-houses in the village. Having fulfilled this necessary preliminary, they proceeded to the Town Hall, for the completion of the remaining forms. The following is a list of The Jury.

Mr. Godfrey Mellor, manufacturer, Foreman.
Mr. Thomas Mellor, manufacturer.
Mr. Thomas Moorhouse, gentleman.
Mr. Thomas Dyson, manufacturer.
Mr. James Brook, manufacturer.
Mr. William Day Martin, clock and watch maker.
Mr. Joseph Crawshaw, saddler.
Mr. Charles Taylor, draper.
Mr. Joshua Moorhouse, general dealer.
Mr. John Burton, schoolmaster.
Mr. Richard Bower, manufacturer.
Mr. Joseph Crosland, stationer.
Mr. John Wylie, schoolmaster.
Mr. James Horn castle, manufacturer.
Mr. David Brook, manufacturer.
Mr. Thomas Hinchliffe, manufacturer.
Mr. Ralph Carter, manufacturer.

These gentlemen having taken their seats, the Coroner expressed the deep regret he felt in having to meet them on so melancholy an occasion. The loss of life as they were aware, was very fearful, and must excite a deep feeling of sorrow in the breasts of all. He might state at once, that he did not then propose to go into any evidence, because he thought that the public mind was hardly fitted for it, and because it would not be possible that such evidence as they would require could be brought before them in so short a time. He proposed to suit their convenience, and what he now suggested was, that the reservoir should be examined by some competent engineer, with a view to ascertain its original capability, and also, that the rules and regulations agreed to by the company of proprietors, might be referred to, for the purpose of ascertaining how far they had been observed, or otherwise. This would necessarily occupy some time. He should feel it his duty, moreover, to make a communication to the government, as they might think proper to send down an engineer of their own. The next question was, to fix the day for holding the inquest, which he thought ought to be so far extended as to afford the fullest opportunity for such explanations as would satisfy the public, and particularly, the inhabitants of Holmfirth, with reference to the future condition of the reservoir. They ought to be satisfied that their lives and property would not again be placed in jeopardy, by any thing in the shape of neglect on the part of those who were more immediately concerned. It would be necessary for the Jury, in the discharge of their duty, to view the reservoir, in its present state. That would impose upon them the task of walking almost over the same ground again, but it was a duty which could not be dispensed with, and he believed that the Jury were quite ready and willing to devote to this painful inquiry whatever time and labour might be requisite.

Foreman. — I believe that every gentleman summoned is of opinion that we ought to view the reservoir, and to institute the closest examination into the cause of this lamentable occurrence.

A conversation ensued with reference to viewing the reservoir, and the period of holding the inquest. The Foreman and a majority of the Jury expressed a wish to visit the place that afternoon, but one or two of the body objected, on the ground that they had already undergone sufficient fatigue. On this objection being urged, the Coroner observed that seventeen Jurymen being summoned, he might be able to dispense with the attendance of one of them, but it was of the highest importance that as many should attend as possible. Ultimately, the Jury determined to visit the reservoir on leaving the hall. It was then agreed that the inquest should take place on Wednesday, February 18th, at half-past ten o’clock, in the Town Hall, Holmfirth.

The Jury were then sworn to inquire into the death of Eliza Marsden, and this portion of the proceedings then terminated.

The adjourned inquest was held on Wednesday, February the 18th, and two following days, and by further adjournment, on Friday, February the 27th.

It will not be necessary to trouble the reader with the mass of evidence which was produced during the examination; the following valuable documents will amply supply all needful information, as to the origin of the reservoirs, and the probable causes of the bursting of the one called “The Bilberry Reservoir.” The documents referred to, are the history of the undertaking given at the inquest, by Mr. Jacomb, law clerk, and by Mr. Leather, late C. E. to the Commissioners ; also, the Coroner’s summing up, — the Verdict of the Jury, — and the report of Captain Moody, the officers sent down from the Home Office.

Mr. Jacomb, solicitor, Huddersfield, said — I was appointed Clerk to the Commissioners of the Holme reservoirs on March 3rd, 1846. The original clerks were Mr. Stephenson, afterwards, Messrs. Floyd and Booth, and afterwards Mr. Martin Kidd. I produce the order book in which these appointments are entered. Mr. Stephenson was appointed on July 3rd, 1837, just after passing the Act. Mr. Floyd succeeded to the office upon the death of Mr. Stephenson, on December 30th, 1841. (Witness read the terms of the appointment.) On December 10th, 1845, Mr. Floyd tendered his resignation. On January 19th, 1846, Mr. Martin Kidd was appointed, and on March 3rd, 1846, I was appointed clerk; and I should like to explain how I became appointed clerk. Mr. John Brooke, of Armitage Bridge, and Mr. Joseph Brook, of Huddersfield, (two of the Commissioners,) with whom I was in communication on professional matters, not connected with the reservoirs, in the course of a conversation stated that they were in difficulty in respect to the Holme reservoir, for which they required my professional services, stating that Messrs. Floyd and Booth either had, or were about to give up the clerkship, and they requested to know whether I would accept the appointment, I told them that I would consider the subject. I afterwards saw Mr. Floyd, to ascertain of him the circumstances which induced him to give up the clerkship, telling him that I would not accept the appointment unless with his full approbation. In reply he stated that the Commissioners were involved in much litigation and other difficulties, causing much difference of opinion among the Commissioners, and, as that several of them were connexions or clients of his, he found it difficult to act with pleasure to himself, and therefore he thought it would be better to give up the appointment; and that if I accepted the appointment it would be with his full approbation, and he saw no reason why I should not do it. In consequence, I afterwards told Messrs. John Brooke and Joseph Brook that I was prepared to accept the appointment. But——

The Coroner suggested that he did not see that this statement hardly affected the appointment.

Mr. Jacomb said — Only as showing the difficulties in which the Commissioners were then involved.

The evidence was consequently proceeded with: — For several weeks after that, I heard nothing of the subject, and concluded that Messrs. Floyd and Booth had obtained the appointment. I heard nothing more until I received a letter from Mr. Kidd, dated on or about March 3rd, 1846, stating that I was appointed. I afterwards received from Mr. Floyd all the books and papers connected with the reservoirs, for the purpose of enabling me to put all the powers of the act into execution. The date of the act is June 8th, 1837, and the first meeting of the Commissioners was on July 3rd, 1837. The meeting was held for the appointment of officers and the qualification of Commissioners. The names of the Commissioners who qualified at that time are — John Brooke, Armitage Bridge; John Harpin, Burnlee; (since dead), Edward Butterworth; John Hinchcliffe, Horsfield House; Thomas Cockin Wrigley; Joshua Moorhouse; John Hinchliffe, Scholes; James Horncastle; Geo. Battye; Joshua Littlewood; William Battye; Thomas Battye; George Parker; John Hobson; B. Butterworth (since dead); Joseph Beardsall (since dead); William Lockwood; Thomas Moorhouse, and John Hinchliffe, Upper House. Mr. Hugh Watt, was appointed treasurer; and Mr. William Stephenson, clerk. These are all the appointments made that day. (A notice was entered upon the Books which the witness read, ordering that the three reservoirs should be proceeded with, and that Mr. Jones should value the respective sites, and the land-owners should attend at the next meeting of the Commissioners to treat for the sale of their land. There is the appointment of a committee but not with respect to the Bilberry reservoir. I find a meeting on October 80th, in which it is ordered that a committee, who were appointed to treat with land for the reservoirs, should call in valuers for the purpose of assisting them in valuing the land required. At a meeting of the Commissioners, August 8nd, 1837, the following Commissioners were appointed a committee to treat for land to be taken for the reservoirs:—John Brooke, John Harpin, John Littlewood, Edward Butterworth, and John Hinchliffe, of Scholes, with power for any three of them to act. The resolution of October 80th, has reference to this appointment at this meeting, it was ordered that Joseph Brook, Esq., of Huddersfield, be added to the committee. On the 6th of April, 1838, Messrs. John Brooke, Joseph Brook, John Harpin, John Littlewood, and John Hinchliffe, of Scholes, were appointed as a committee to engage a competent engineer for the making of the reservoir upon such terms as they think proper. At a meeting on the 26th of October, 1838, it was ordered that the making, forming, and completing of the Bilberry mill reservoir, agreeably to the plan$ and specifications, be let to Messrs. Daniel Sharp, sen., and Daniel Sharp, jun., of Dewsbury, for £9,324. I am in possession of the original contract with Messrs. Sharp, which I now produce.

The Coroner. — Can I have a copy of that document?

The witness said it was an exceedingly long one, but it should be copied if it was thought necessary.

The Coroner. — Captain Moody says it is absolutely necessary that he should have it.

The Witness. — Then I will furnish him with a copy of that, and also another document which he may require, but the Commissioners are in such a state of absolute insolvency that I was desirous of saving them as much expense as possible.

Captain Moody said he must have copies of any documents which passed between Mr. Leather and the Committee, and also between them and the contractors.

The witness said he was not aware that he had any such documents, having received the summons only on the previous afternoon, but he said the Commissioners had desired him to furnish every information, and search should be made for any documents, the nature of which the Captain would furnish him with.

Examination continued. — I find an order, under the date of February, 1840, which says that the salary of Mr. John Tait, the overlooker of the works, should be advanced £2, so that it is quite evident he had been employed before that time. Tait was paid by the Commissioners, and not by the engineer. I gather that Tait was overlooker of the Commissioners, and not of the contractor. Up to March 25th, 1840, I find no entry relative to the Bilberry reservoir, except payments in current to Messrs. Sharp, the contractors. On the same day I find an order by the committee that the clerk write for Mr. Leather to send over a competent person to examine and measure the work at Bilberry reservoir, and the state of the works there, with as little delay as possible.

Captain Moody. — And to report?

Witness. — No, it does not say to report.

Examination resumed. — I find an order under date of January 4th, 1843, at a meeting of the committee that

“Whereas, Messrs. Daniel Sharp and Son, the contractors for making the Bilberry mill reservoir, having performed part of their work at the valve pit at the said reservoir, in an improper and unsatisfactory manner ; it is hereby ordered that the clerks write to them to inform them, that unless they immediately alter the said work, and agree to complete the same to the satisfaction of Mr. Tait, the superintendent of the works, they shall cease to proceed therewith, and other workmen will be employed to complete the same at their expense.”

On the 12th of May, 1843, at a meeting of the Commissioners it was ordered—

“That the committee employed for general purposes be and are hereby empowered to take such steps, and enter into such contracts for the purpose of repairing the breach of the embankment of the Bilberry mill reservoir, and of making the same secure; and that any three of them be competent to act.”

At the same meeting it was ordered—

“That John Harpin, and John Brooke, Esqs., be appointed a committee to wait upon Mr. Leather to consult with him relative to the Bilberry mill reservoir, and the most effectual mode of repairing the breach in the embankment there.”

I find at a general meeting of the Commissioners, held on August 3rd, 1843, a committee was appointed to consider the tenders, and to let the work to such parties as they think proper. At a meeting of the committee, September 9th, 1843, it was ordered

“That the repairing of the embankment of the Bilberry mill reservoir, as advertised to be let on the 30th ult., be let to Messrs. David and George Porter at the prices contained in their tender, as specified in the schedule hereunder written, and that the contract be signed on Tuesday next.”

There is a meeting of the Commissioners on September 27th, 1843, at which Mr. Littlewood (who was one of the Commissioners) was ordered to measure and inspect the work contracted to be done by Messrs. Porter at the Bilberry mill reservoir, “and that he do give such orders and directions respecting the same to the said Messrs. Porter or either of them as he may deem proper.” I find an order under date December 20th, 1843, that Jonathan Thorp, of Holmfirth, mason, be appointed inspector or overlooker of the work at Bilberry mill reservoir at 5s. per day wages. On December 6th, 1844, there is an order by the Commissioners for the purchase of land from Messrs. Dyson for the site of a dwellinghouse for the drawer.

The Coroner said that was immaterial as the house was never built.

Witness. — On January 30th, 1844, there is an order that whereas an action at law had been commenced against the Commissioners by Messrs. Sharp for £8,405 10s. 4d. and interest thereon; Messrs. Floyd and Booth do defend the said action. The clerks were also ordered to apply to Mr. Leather for his report of the work done by Messrs Sharp. There is also the appointment of Mr. Jon. Woodcock, tailor, as drawer of the Bilberry mill reservoir.

The Coroner. — Are his duties defined?

Witness. — I do not see that they are.

The Coroner. — Do you find the appointment of a committee of management as is required by the 87th section of the Act.

Witness said there was no subsequent appointment to that committee he had already mentioned, which appeared to be annually re-appointed. I find nothing further connected with the Bilberry Mill reservoir until October 24th, 1845, when Messrs. John Brook, and Joseph Brooke, John Harpin, — Dyson, J. Littlewood, T. P. Crossland, C. Beardsall, George Hirst, C. Moorhouse, J. Moorhouse, J. H. Farrar, and John Hinchliffe, were appointed a committee to investigate into the whole circumstances relating to the reservoir, and that they report to the next general meeting of the Commissioners what, or if any further, powers are necessary, and that they do take such steps therein as they shall think proper, and that any five of them shall be empowered to act; and also that the next general meeting of the Commissioners shall determine whether application shall be made to Parliament to alter and amend the present Act. At a meeting on November 5th, 1845, it was ordered that the committee order the clerk to write to Mr. Leather to prepare a plan and estimate for the repairing of Bilberry Mill reservoir. On December 10th, 1845, it was ordered that application be made to Parliament for further powers, and nine gentlemen were appointed as a committee to consider the necessary details. It appears there was a division upon that question; the numbers who voted for going to Parliament were 28, and against it 17.

The Coroner. — It does not appear that that application was intended for the repair of the reservoir.

Witness. — Oh, I beg your pardon; the application was for powers to borrow more money; and the previous resolution was for estimates for repair of the Bilberry Mill reservoir.

By a Juror. — Was it a repair of the embankment that was intended?

The Coroner suggested that the copy of the bill would show that; and the witness said he would produce a copy, and also copies of the notices of application to parliament. There is no other order I can find previous to my appointment, excepting for an application to Mr. Leather. On January 28th, 1846, it was ordered at a meeting of the committee, that inasmuch as Mr. Leather had not prepaired an estimate, Mr. Joseph Hall, the late surveyor, and Mr. Joshua Littlewood, be requested to do so. At this committee meeting it was also ordered, that the Bilberry Mill reservoir be completed, and this completes the proceedings of the committee, up to the time of my appointment. The first managing committee under the 86th section of the Act was appointed on September 10th, 1840, “to manage and regulate the sluices and other works regulating the flow of water from the several reservoirs.” There is a resolution renewing this committee every year, saving and excepting the last year; so that they appear to have been continued in office. Sometimes this committee have been re-elected, and sometimes other names have been substituted. The date of the last appointment is July 9th, 1850, when Messrs. John Roebuck, James Robinson, John Haigh, George Hirst, Edward Butterworth, Joshua Moorhouse, John Hinchcliffe, (Scholes), David Hinchliffe, Sidney Morehouse, Able Cuttle, John . Moorhouse (Tenter Hill), and Joseph Broadbent were appointed the committee. There are no other duties assigned to this committee, except the regulation of the sluices, and the regulation of the supply of water mentioned in the 80th section of the Act. I understand there has always been an arrangement between the committee that three of the committee (I think that is the proportion) or some number of them residing nearest to each reservoir, should take the management of such reservoir, and that the remainder of the committee should be a sort of general committee.

The Coroner. — Do you understand anything by the word “management,” beyond the supply of water and regulation of the sluices mentioned in the 86th section.

Witness. — I understand that it refers merely to the regulation of the supply of water, and the Commissioners had the drawer under their direction, but they had nothing to do with the reservoir or the general construction of the works. Under the 86th section of the Act, a drawer was appointed for each reservoir, and who resided near each reservoir. Charles Battye was the drawer of the Bilberry mill reservoir, and his salary was £5 per annum. Application had been made to Parliament when I was appointed clerk; at that time the Commissioners — as Commissioners, were insolvent, and have remained so ever since. By the Holme Reservoir Act of Parliament, they were authorised to make four pairs or eight reservoirs, and to borrow £40,000 at 5 per cent interest for that purpose. I found they had borrowed the whole of the £40,000, and not only expended the same in the construction of the three reservoirs which they had then made, but also they were indebted, or had claims against them, to the amount of several thousand pounds. Amongst other debts there was one of £2,000 to the Huddersfield Banking Company for money which I understood they had borrowed of that bank, and expended in bare repairs of the Bilberry mill reservoir. There was also some money claimed by Messrs. Floyd and Booth, by Mr. Leather, by Messrs. Porter, and Messrs. Sharp.

By a Juror. — Do you know the sums?

Witness. — The claim put in by Messrs. Sharp was upwards of £3,000, but which could not be paid until Mr. Leather had certified that the work was properly done. Mr. Leather refused to certify that the work was correct, or had been properly done; and Messrs. Sharp filed a bill against the Commissioners in Chancery, and an action at law was pending when I was appointed clerk. The Commissioners were also involved in some litigation with the rate-payers, who had refused to pay their rates. The Commissioners had levied distresses upon them, and the rate-payers had brought actions of replevin, which had been taken down to York for trial, and an order of reference had been made to the late Frederick Robinson, Esq., barrister-at-law, which reference was pending when I became the clerk. Mr. Kidd had prepared a bill and deposited it in Parliament: the object of which was to repeal the existing act, and grant a new one to alter the mode of rating, and to authorise the borrowing of a further sum of money; to repair and make perfect the existing reservoirs, and to pay off the floating debts of the Commissioners over and above the £40,000 which they had authorised to borrow by the existing act. I took it as it was proceeding upon the standing orders. It passed the standing orders committee. This was in the great parliamentary session of 1846. We did not get into a committee of merits until the month of June. A proposition was made to get rid of the opposition, which was that the great and important question of the rating should be left to scientific men to decide. The acting Commissioners who were the promoters of the bill (if I may be allowed the expression) were to name one person, and the opponents another, and these two gentlemen were to appoint a third, and these three gentlemen were to lay down a mode or principle of rating. By the existing act, there were some clauses setting out that the mode of rating was to be by the feet of “fall;” but other clauses were inserted which overrode those clauses, (and which were called the beneficial clauses,) and which, according to the construction given in Mr. Frederick Robinson’s award, made by the mode of rating to be by the horse power. It was to be left to the three scientific men to say whether or not they could lay out a mode of rating which would do justice to all parties. The opposers of the bill proposed Mr. George Crowther, as their engineer. I, on the part of the promoters, both went and sent to all the neighbouring towns, and every place where I thought I could get some competent engineer who would undertake the reference on behalf of the Commissioners; but alter adjourning the meetings from time to time, at last we could get no person to undertake it, such was the pressure of the demand for that kind of talent at the time. We were, therefore, obliged to go to parliament. (The witness read an extract of an order made at a meeting of the Commissioners, on the 22nd of June, 1846, embodying this statement and ordering the bill to be proceeded with forthwith). Upon appearing before the Commissioners an objection was taken as to the form of the bill; inasmuch as it was a bill to repeal the existing act, and not a bill to amend and for further powers; and the committee held the objection to be valid, inasmuch as by repealing the act they might interfere with vested rights.

The Coroner. — Then the bill was lost.

The Witness. — I am sorry to appear tedious, but you will see the force of the statement I have further to give. The committee held the objection valid, but stated that they were willing to grant us a bill for the purpose of raising a further sum of money for the repair and completion of the reservoir, and for the other purposes contemplated by the bill, and they gave us time to consider whether we would bring in such a bill. The promoters of the bill and myself then communicated with the opponents; and I also made inquiries of different parties in parliament whether there was a probability in the then pressure of public business, if we brought in such a bill, that we could carry it that session. The result of that enquiry was, that it was not. We then renewed our negotiations with our opponents, which ended in an arrangement between myself and their solicitor, which arrangement is contained in two letters dated June 29th, 1846, and was, that both should agree to apply for such an Act in the succeeding session as would do justice to both parties. Previous to that session I prepared, and gave notice of depositing a bill for the purpose of raising a sum of money, and for similar purposes to the former one. After depositing such bill, at a meeting of the Commissioners held December 29th, 1846, (at which both the letters alluded to were read), a resolution was come to that it was inexpedient to proceed with such bill. In January 1847, an extraordinary meeting was held, at which it was resolved that no further proceedings should be taken, and of course none were taken. Between these applications to Parliament Mr. Robinson made his award (dated November 26th), and by which he decided, that the mode or principal of rating hitherto made by the Commissioners had not been the legal one, — that it should have been per horse power, and not according to the foot of fall. Subsequent to that first award, some of the ratepayers gave in notice of appeal under sec. 71st, and another reference was made to Mr. Bateman on behalf of the ratepayers, and Mr. F. R. Jones for the Commissioners; but as they could not agree upon their award, Mr. F. Robinson was called in as umpire. His award was that the rating should not be according to the horse power, but according to the schedules he appended, setting out the amount of rates to be paid per horse power; but according to his award a sum of only some £700 or £800 could be raised, instead of £1,800 as usual. Previous to the session of1849, the mortgagees gave notice of an application to Parliament for a bill. A meeting of the Commissioners was held February 9th, 1849, and it was ordered that a petition on behalf of the Commissioners be lodged against the bill, in order that the Commissioners might be in a position to protect their interest before Parliament. No further proceedings were to be taken without the consent of another meeting, and a committee was appointed for the purpose of making arrangements with the mortgagees, if possible. This bill was supported by a portion of the Commissioners, and opposed by other Commissioners, on account of the proposed increase of rates. The bill passed through the Commons, but was thrown out in the Lords. In the bill before the Commissioners a clause was inserted for the repair and completion of the Bilberry reservoir. During the time I was clerk I always understood, from what was stated at several of the meetings, that the Bilberry reservoir was safe up to a certain height; but I never saw the reservoir until the other day. At a meeting of the Commissioners on August 16th, 1846, the following order was made—

“That an opening be made in the waste-pit of the Bilberry reservoir, at the height of 18ft above the clow or shuttle, and that Mr. Littlewood be requested to see that the same be forthwith carried into effect.”

I never knew to the contrary, until this accident, but that this had been done.

By the Coroner. — Can you say that after that, it was thought necessary to do anything at the reservoir? — It was thought necessary to do something, because we applied for powers to borrow more money for the purpose of repairing that reservoir; it was thought that it would become dangerous if the water was allowed to accumulate. As I understood, in consequence of our not obtaining that Act of Parliament, it was considered advisable to let this prudent measure be recorded on our books.

Were you then aware that the waste-weir was higher than the embankment? — I was not.

Do you find any other order in reference to this waste-pit? — I am not aware of any other. When we went to Parliament in 1846, part of our estimates deposited included the completion of the Bilberry Mill Reservoir; when we went to aid and assist the mortgagees’ bill, we were also prepared with evidence that it would require a sum of money to complete this reservoir. I understood the object of the completion of the reservoir, though we had the power of making eight reservoirs, this alone, if it were made a perfect reservoir, to hold all the water that it was capable of containing, would supply the mills quite as well as the eight.

That was the object of the intended repair? — Yes, it was to make the reservoir capable of containing equal to its capacity. Not that in itself it was dangerous, but that it would become so if the waters accumulated in it.

The inquest was adjourned while the jury partook of refreshments. On their re-assembling,

Mr. George Leather, C. E., was sworn, and said — I had nothing to do with the application to Parliament for the Holme Reservoir Act. I have a plan showing who were then employed. I received a letter dated June 18th, 1838, signed “H. and S. Stephenson,” enquiring whether I would undertake the management of making the Holme reservoir. The letter was read. It stated—

“The Commissioners will employ a surveyor under you, viz , Mr. John Crowther, or some other gentleman, to attend to the works, so that you will only have to give directions, and therefore will only be required to come over now and then, as circumstances might require.”

(Mr. Leather stated that Mr. George Crowther was meant in this letter.) On the 23rd I wrote, stating my terms and accepting the appointment, and recommending the Commissioners to have plans and specifications prepared, and the work properly laid out, and then to employ practical men to be constantly on the spot. In pursuance of that appointment, I prepared plans and specifications, and amongst others for the Bilberry Mill reservoir, which I forwarded to Messrs. Stephenson, on October 3rd, 1838. The letting took place at the latter end of October, but I was laid up of a lame leg at the time, and was unable to attend. I have original copies of those plans and specifications, which I produce. (Mr. Jacomb produced the specifications which had come into his possession.) This is the specification for the whole of the reservoirs, with Sharp and Son’s estimate; and this is one of the plans (No. 3), but No. 1 would be for the Bilberry reservoir. I can, produce you my originals. I produce a plan of the ground of Bilberry reservoir, prepared by Mr. G. Crowther, No. 3A., which is a series of sections, two across the valley, and six; of the embankment, showing the puddle and the embankment. I produce my original copy of the specification, and my original to No. 3B.

By Captain Moody. — I will ask you a few questions as to what were your data for the area of the drainage. What was your calculated area of the drainage to this reservoir? — 1,400 acres; the data were furnished to me in a letter from Mr. George Crowther.

What were your data as to the fall of rain on the said area? — I had no data for that, but in making my provisions for a case of this sort, I generally suppose that two inches of rain shall fall and pass off in 24 hours. That might happen, but it would be a rafts case; but I assume that fall in 84 hours in providing for the necessary outfall. Then two inches of rain on 1,400 acres .would produce 10,164,000 cubic feet. This would pass off over a waste-weir of 86 feet, if it had a depth of 16½ inches; and the area of the culvert at the bottom of the waste-pit at the Bilberry reservoir, would have to take that away, and it would require a velocity of very little more than three feet per second, to pass off the same quantity, being more than two inches an hour.

I notice a difference in the dimensions of the culvert on this plan (the copy produced by Mr. Jacomb) and on your original? — I put this (pointing to the original) in, as my original plan.

You have stated the dimensions of the culvert as you conceive it to have been. Perhaps you know enough to explain the description of the rock and subsoil at the bottom and sides of the reservoir? — There is a table of bearings which will explain that to you; it was furnished by Mr. Crowther. (Mr. Jacomb promised to look for it.)

Perhaps you will describe, generally, the dip ?—It is shale and rock.

Have you any idea of the direction or bearings of the dip? — It ran across the valley. The rock about the reservoir consists of millstone girt and shale alternating.

And the direction of the dip? — It is across the valley.

At an angle of what? — Not a very great angle. It rather lays flat.

Are you aware at all what dip it is? — No, I really can’t tell.

Is it gentle? — Rather gentle, I think.

By the Coroner — Can you at all state whether your specifications and plans were carried out, or whether the work varied in any way? — All that I can say is this, that I received repeated statements from the overlookers that they could not get the contractors to carry it out according to the specifications; and I always insisted upon their doing so as much as possible.

Then of your own knowledge you are unable to state anything? — Of my own knowledge I am.

By Captain Moody. — These, you know, are the important points? — Well, I will endeavour to answer any questions which you may put.

I notice in the specifications that it is required that “the puddle trenches shall be cut their full width down to the rock, and that they must be footed five feet into the rock, in the manner shewn in the cross-sections,” — do you know whether that was done? — It was reported to me as done.

You did not see it? — I did not see it, of course.

By Mr. Martin. — Was Tait appointed by you? No, he was appointed by the Commissioners. They applied to me to recommend a man, and I sent him to them.

By Captain Moody. — Tait will be able to state what was done? — Not the whole time, a man named Cheeseman was also there.

By Mr. Martin. — Were they appointed by you, or by your direction? — I recommended them as two practical men.

By the Coroner. — Did you recommend both Tait and Cheeseman as overlookers of this work? — Yes, and they were appointed by the Commissioners.

By Captain Moody. — Did you see the bottom of the puddle-trench before they commenced puddling? — No, I believe I did not.

Could you state the mode in which the puddle was filled in? — When I saw it, it was well mixed, and lain-in in layers.

According to the specifications? — Yes; the puddle was a mixture of clay and gravel; a small quantity of water was left on the top, and it was well worked with spades.

By the Coroner. — As far you know, the puddling was done according to the specifications? — Yes, as far as I know.

You occasionally examined it? — Yes; whenever I saw the puddling, it was done according to the specifications.

By the Foreman. — Was the breadth of the puddle when you saw it according to the specifications? — I think it was.

But are you sure it was? — I am sure that it was 16 feet at the bottom, and it gradually decreased to 8 feet at the top.

By Captain Moody.—Was any report made to you of any springs or drippings from the rock at the bottom of this trench before they commenced to puddle it? — No, no such thing.

You were not aware of any such report? — Never. No report was made to me of any such thing. I know of no such thing.

By the Coroner. — Was it part of your duty to examine whether there were any such spring? — If there had been anything of the sort reported to me, I should necessarily have come over, because it is very important to take all springs out of the bottom of the puddling.

If you had any knowledge of such a spring you would have diverted it, I suppose? — Yes.

By the Foreman. — During the process of forming the embankment, did you never hear anything of a spring at the bottom of the embankment? — At the outside of the embankment there was a spring.

None at the bottom of the embankment? — No.

By the Coroner. — You did hear of a spring at the outside of the embankment? — There was a spring below the embankment. That was after the water had risen a little in the reservoir. It was coming out of the rock, I have no doubt.

By Captain Moody. — Coming under the embankment? — Yes; the spring was on the right-hand side of the wall as you go up.

By a Juryman. — And a very strong one too? — Yes; but it was not under the embankment.

By Captain Moody. — It got clear of the embankment? — Yes, quite clear; and it ran clean water.

Will you be good enough to describe how the original brook lay during the progress of the work? — It was passed into the old channel to Bilberry Mill by troughs and a puddle. It is specified here (pointing to the specifications), and was done according to that specification, so as to give Bilberry Mill the advantage of the water.

Was there any failure in that? — Yes, on one occasion there was a flood came down, and it destroyed the troughs, washed them away, and also took a piece of the embankment away; but it was not then very high.

Did any of that water fall into the side of the puddle or dam? — It washed part of the puddle away, which was replaced.

Did you see that it was replaced? — I gave directions. I could not see it done, for it would take weeks to do it; but I gave instructions that in putting in the puddle they should perfectly unite it, by chipping part of the old wall and puddling it together.

By the Coroner. — Did you consider yourself the engineer from the commencement to the completion of the work? — Why, not to the completion, for it never was completed in fact.

The Foreman. — A very just remark!

By the Coroner. — Then you considered yourself engineer from the time of the commencement of the works up to what period? — The last time I was there I will tell you. (After referring to some papers.) I was there four times in 1844, and the last was in September that year.

That was the last time that you visited the reservoir? — It was.

What was the reason of you discontinuing? — In July 1844, when they were going on with the repairs of the reservoirs.

But I have had no description of these repairs? — At that time I was perfectly satisfied that the reservoir could not be made to hold water without a puddle line. I described that to some of the Commissioners who were present, and how it ought to be done, in which they seemed to acquiesce, and I gave orders to the overlooker to have the water got out of the bottom for the purpose.

By Captain Moody. — You are speaking of a failure in the dam? — I am speaking of my conviction that what was going on could not make it good; in answer to the Coroner’s enquiry why I ceased going. When I went in September I found nothing had been done; and the overlooker told me that my orders had been countermanded. (Sensation.)

By the Coroner. — Who was the overlooker? — Jonathan Thorp.

By Mr. Martin. — Did he tell you who countermanded the order? — Mr. Littlewood; and I did not go afterwards.

And you considered that you had no connexion with it? — I did. I think I did go over on the following September.

By the Coroner. — What was the nature of the defect? — I had a written specification for it to try to make the bank good.

In what respect had the bank failed? — There was no doubt that there was a run through the puddling at that time.

That was in July, 1844? — No, that was in 1843. I wrote specifications in August, 1843, for a portion of the embankment to be taken out and replaced, and the culvert to be re-built.

Can you describe what the failure was for which you had gone over in July, 1844? — In July they were progressing with this work, but from the appearances of very muddy water coming out, I was quite sure it could not be cured without a puddle line.

[Some little confusion having arisen as to the dates, an explanation which we need not further notice, was here made.]

By the Coroner. — What was your reason for drawing up the specification of August, 1843? — We had previous to that gone down with a pit in the embankment and found it unsound, particularly adjoining the culvert. A part which ought to have been solid masonry in the middle of the puddling was only rubble. Having found that defect, I then concluded that it might be the sole cause of the leakage, and I wrote these specifications of August 1843, to remedy it.

Were those specifications complied with, and was that work carried out? — It never was finished so long as I had to do with it; but I think it was, under the superintendence of Mr. Littlewood, afterwards.

And the work was never done during the time you had to do with it? — I was never called to pass the work at all. During its progress I received frequent communications from Jon. Thorp complaining of the masons not doing it according to the specifications.

By Captain Moody.—In September, 1844, to what height had the work progressed? — I cannot answer you that question, I’m sure.

To go back to where we had parted from; I want to ask you, did you appoint the overlookers, and did you consider yourself responsible to the Commissioners for their performance of their work? — Certainly not. I did not appoint them; and the Commissioners could discharge them at any time. I only recommended them to the Commissioners.

Are you aware that any differences occurred between the overlookers and contractors from time to time, but particularly at the commencement of the puddling and with reference to the puddling? — There were frequent differences betwixt the overlookers and the contractors almost from the commencement.

Were they reported to you? — Yes, and I insisted upon their seeing the specifications complied with.

This was from their not complying with the specifications? — Yes.

By the Coroner. — Did you report these to the Commissioners? — They were reported to the Commissioners by the overlookers constantly.

By Captain Moody. — Do you know whether the differences betwixt Messrs. Sharp and the Commissioners were anything in connexion with the puddling; or what those differences were, were they engineering difficulties, or pecuniary ones? —They were both, but more pecuniary, with regard to the Commissioners.

How high had the embankment got up when this first fault was discovered? — It was approaching fast towards the top, but I can’t charge my memory how high; it was a good way up.

Was there any head of water in the reservoir? — There had been a head of water, which had taken part of the puddle away at the foot; I conceived that because it ran muddy.

What date was that first failure? — I think it would be in 1842, the latter end of 1842, but I can’t exactly charge my memory with it now, it is so long since.

Captain Moody. — Oh, that will do.

By the Coroner. — Have you any memorandum of your journies to the reservoir? — I have nothing except the letters of the overlookers.

The first defect found out was in 1842, and not in 1848? — It was at the latter end of 1842 or early in 1843, I am not quite sure which.

There was a head of water in then? — Yes, there was; but it was run off soon after and there was a settling in the puddle. It came through the culvert more particularly, but it came muddy, showing that the water was acting upon the puddle, and therefore no doubt must have taken away the puddle at the bottom of the embankment.

At the bottom of the embankment you say? — Yes, at the bottom of the embankment.

What steps were taken to remedy that? — It was stated by some of the men that part of the masonry of the culvert was bad, and instead of being solid masonry was only erected with rubble. We sunk down and found it so; then we sunk a pit down the puddle outside.

By Captain Moody. — At the back and top of the culvert? — Yes.

By the Coroner.—Was that defect remedied? — Yes, we sunk a pit down through the puddle and put it right, but that did not remedy the leakage.

You replaced the masonry belonging to the culvert? — Yes.

By the Foreman. — Was the masonry belonging the culvert done according to the specifications? — No, it was not.

What depth of solid masonry was there to be? — I think 8 feet, but it is specified here (pointing to the specifications).

(The evidence as to the discovery of the leakage and this first ineffectual remedy was then read over, and the witness added — “That was done by Sharps’.”)

By the Coroner. — What was the next defect for which you drew up the specifications in August, 1843? — It was the same defect, as we had not remedied it; the specifications were to take out a piece of the embankment and replace it, and to rebuild the culvert.

And the work so far as you know was never done, that is, you don’t know that it was done? — I don’t know. I was never called on to settle the work nor to look at it.

The next defect was in 1844? — No, it was still the same defect.

The defect you mentioned in July, 1844, was it the same you specified for in August, 1848, and noticed at the end of 1842, or beginning of 1848? — Yes.

By Captain Moody. — Do you know who took the contract under these specifications? — I don’t; some persons took it, but who they were, or how they took it, I don’t know.

The Coroner read part of the specifications as to the construction of the culvert, and asked — Can you from your own examination, otherwise than from the reports of the overlookers state that either this or any part of these specifications was executed according as you would have had them done? — Not to my own knowledge. I did not see it, I could not see because I was not there. I only went very occasionally.

By the Foreman. — How was it that the part which should have been solid masonry was allowed to be proceeded with in rubble? — It was reported to me as done in solid masonry.

By the Coroner. — In point of fact, it was no part of your contract with the Commissioners to see your specifications and plans carried out; — I could not possibly see them carried out. No, it was rather the contrary. My engagement was to write the specifications, and there were to be practical men upon the spot to see them carried out. I made the plans and specifications to the best of my ability, and believe they were as good as I ever saw any reservoirs made. The letter of Messrs. Stephenson specifies that some other gentleman would attend the works, and I should only have occasionally to attend.

By Captain Moody (pointing to the plans). I believe there is no grating or bars in front of the shuttle? — I am not aware there is not. They are generally put to the last thing.

By the Coroner. — What was the height of the embankment when these works were completed, and what was the height of the waste pit? — 59 feet was the waste-pit, and the top of the embankment 8 feet above that, that is according to this plan.

What was the opening or size of the shuttle? — 18 inches diameter.

What do you call that? — The supply valve.

And the size of the culvert? — 6 feet 6 inches broad, by 6 feet 6 inches high. The superficial area is 37 feet and ¾ths, say ½.

What is the proportion between the water coming from the shuttle compared with that which it will allow in the culvert? — Very small indeed, but you will naturally see that that depends upon the head of pressure.

In any event it will be very small? — Yes; compared with what should come through the culvert by means of the waste-pit. One rule is — 5 times the square root of the head gives the velocity; and that would want correcting. The flow of water through the supply valve would be larger when the reservoir was higher.

By the Foreman. — Supposing the water was four feet from the top of the coping, would the shuttle be capable of discharging the quantity of water which came in on the 4th of February? — Certainly not. The valve was not calculated to discharge flood waters at all; that was not its object.

But the pit could not discharge them when the mouth was above the top of the embankment? — That is quite clear; but if it had been 8 feet below the top of the embankment?

By the Coroner. — Suppose the shaft of the waste-pit had been in proper order, in case of flood was it sufficient to have taken away the water? — Oh dear, no doubt about it; the waste-pit would. If it had run over at 16 inches deep it would have discharged 10,164,000 cubic feet in 24 hours. That quantity would have been equal to a rain-fall of two inches perpendicular upon 1,400 acres of land — a very large and almost unprecedented thing, but I always think it necessary to provide such an outlet.

In your judgment, if the specifications made out here had been properly executed, were they sufficient for the security of a reservoir of this size? — The embankment was sufficient for any sized reservoir. The internal slope was 3 to 1, and the external slope 2 to 1, which would give a base of five feet for every foot vertical, besides the width of the top, which was sixteen feet, I think.

How do you account for the subsiding of the embankment subsequently to its being formed? — It was from the leakage which evidently affected the puddling, and took part of the puddling away; there is no doubt about it. The water ran muddy, and that showed that it took part of the puddling.

Was that the leakage you noticed in the beginning of 1843, and specified for in August, 1843? — Yes, and what was attempted to be remedied.

And you had noticed the subsiding of the embankment at that time? — I am not certain whether it was the latter end of 1842 or the beginning of 1843.

Whichever it was, had you noticed the subsiding of the embankment at that time? — Yes, it very soon made its appearance at the top.

And you made out some specifications as to the supposed cost of repair, the amount of which was £7,800? — No.

You made a subsequent specification to this dated August, 1843, for remedying the defect? — Yes; it was an estimate when they were about to go to Parliament.

Can you refer to the date of that estimate? — Yes, that was on the 2nd of February 1846. I made an estimate for going to Parliament.

You made it for the Commissioners? — Yes, and I sent it to Mr. Kidd. The amount is £7,800.

For repairing and rebuilding the embankment? — No, it was for lining the embankment' with puddle to make it water tight.

Were you to raise it up to its height at that time? — I did not see it at that time and therefore don’t know what height it was then. I did not come over; but haying the plans of the reservoir I measured the space that I had to puddle, and made an estimate of that, as well as another for securing the sides, which amounted to £7,800, and that was for the purpose of going to Parliament.

By Mr. Jacomb. — Was that solely for the lining of the Bilberry reservoir? — It was. I produce the original estimate.

The Coroner read the letter accompanying it which (omitting the formal introduction and conclusion) is as follows:—

“After a very careful consideration of the subject of the Bilberry reservoir, and the difficulties there are to contend with in making it water-tight, in consequence of the rocky sides and bottom, I am of opinion that the only efficient mode which can now be adopted will be to take down the swallow-walls from the waste pit into the reservoir and in lieu thereof to build a substantial Ashlar culvert for conveying the water to the supply pipe — to clear away the earth forming the embankment to a sufficient extent, to unite a puddle with the puddle round the waste-pit and the puddle wall which must be brought out to the foot of the embankment, — to take up the present pitching of the inner face of the embankment and the earth beneath it to the depth of 6 feet, when a puddle of 3 feet thick should be laid on over the whole face and covered up to the present level and re-pitched — to clear out the bed of the reservoir as far as any cracks or open strata appear, and to cover it with good puddle 3 feet in thickness — to examine carefully all the fissures and crevices in the rock or shale in the sides of the reservoir as the water rises, and to make them good with puddle walls where they can be applied, and in other places where the sides are too steep for puddle walls, by masonry set in cement or the Welsh mountain lime, such as is now used at the Liverpool Docks. The expense of doing this work and making the embankment perfect again will, of course be heavy, and is difficult to calculate. After the fullest consideration I can give it, I estimate the cost at £7,800, and for that sum I feel no doubt the reservoir may be made perfect and water-tight.”

Mr. Jacomb. — There is more than, the puddling stated there.

The Coroner then read the estimates over, and asked—

That sum of £7,800 you would have required to have made the reservoir water-tight? — Yes.

Without this work being done, do you think this reservoir has ever been in a safe or secure state?—Why, not having seen it for a long period, I can’t tell; but if it has settled so much, I don’t know that it has, it would not be safe to be below the top of the waste-pit. I should have felt very great fears about it, because when it ran over, it must take away the outer slope. It was formed of the debris of the valley only, but I gave them instructions to mix the great and small together as much as possible.

And as is usual in works of this kind? — Yes; the puddling is the great thing to depend upon. The embankment is merely to add weight; but when the outer slope was washed away, then the puddle would be left unsupported.

It appears in evidence before the jury that, on February 4th, the water ran several hours over the embankment; looking at your own estimate, and if this statement be true, to what do you attribute the bursting of the embankment? — Not being there I——

I am merely asking your opinion? — My opinion is that it is rather astonishing it has stood so long as it has, considering there was a leak through it. (Great sensation.)

Now give me your opinion of the cause of the bursting? — My opinion is that when the water began to run over it washed away the outer slope, thereby taking away the support of the puddle, which would already be weakened by its subsiding; and then, inasmuch as there would very likely be a space or crack between the inner bank and the puddle, the water getting in would cause it to give way all at once when it was relieved from support on the outer bank. If the waste-pit had been seven or eight feet below the inner embankment, the inference is that the embankment would have stood. If the orders of the Commissioners had been carried into effect, for the making of a hole of a proper size in the waste-pit above the shuttle, it might have prevented the accident. If I had been consulted I should have recommended the lowering of the waste-pit to the depth of seven or eight feet below the top of the embankment. No great expense would have been incurred in this, and the stones might have been kept for further use. This might have been done at the expense of 3d. per cubic foot. A very small sum would have sufficed for this, and it would have been easily done.

The Coroner. — Can you say how much would have sufficed; for it is important that it should be known how small a sum would have sufficed to have prevented this terrible accident. Would £20 have sufficed?

Mr. Leather. — I should say that £12 10s. would have been the expense of lowering the waste-pit some 7 or 8 feet below the embankment (sensation). I infer that this accident might have been prevented from the fact of the embankment having stood some time after the water began to overflow it. I have heard since the present inquiry that the water overflowed it. (The following witnesses were called upon this point.)

Charles Battye, the drawer, said — At 9 o’clock the water did not flow over the embankment. It began about 11 o’clock. The embankment gave way about 12 o’clock).

Joseph Whiteley Broadhead said — The water got into the cavity at the top of the embankment about half-past 11 o’clock. The depth of this cavity was one yard and a-half. I should say it was about a quarter to 1 o’clock when the embankment gave way.

Mr. Leather. — My original engagement was not to superintend the works, and after I gave up the work in September, 1844, I was never again applied to.

By Mr. Jacomb. — The last time I was at the reservoir was in September, 1845. I then saw the embankment, and saw there was a settlement at the top; but whether more than one I cannot say. I cannot form any opinion as to the depth of that settlement; my object was to ascertain if the leakage was stopped, and with a view of making an estimate for you to go to Parliament. I did not notice whether the top of the waste-pit was higher than the embankment. I did not suggest to the Commissioners the lowering of the waste-pit. It was out of my hands altogether. I ceased to be employed to pass the work in September, 1844. In July I recommended certain things which I found were countermanded by Mr. Littlewood, and I never went again, nor was I called upon by the Commissioners to pass the work. It was during the time when the Messrs. Sharp were performing their contract that the first defects were observed. Jonathan Thorp was only employed while a portion of the embankment was taken out. By the contract I made, I was to certify that the work was properly executed before payment was made. I never did certify, and I refused to do so, because the work was not properly executed. When I made the specification of August, 1848, it included the cutting down of part of the embankment, and the building of the culvert. There was a cutting made in the embankment. I came over to see it. The contractors employed to do this work were persons of the name of Porter. I was over in 1844; and Messrs. Porter were proceeding with the work at that time. When I was over in September, 1845, I think the work was complete; but I really don’t know, for it was not under my direction. I cannot charge my memory upon this point. I was sent to make an estimate for Parliament, and it was no part of my duty to see whether the hole was made up or not. During the two or three weeks preceding the 1st of February, a considerable quantity of rain has fallen, and we have had a very wet time. Whether it continued up to the morning of the accident in the neighbourhood I cannot tell, for I was in London at the time. I know that there have been very heavy floods during that time, and according to reports they have had great difficulty in other places in preventing accidents. There are places where water has never been so high before — Manchester for instance, where I hear the water was higher than during the flood of 1828. In my judgment and belief, I infer that this embankment having stood till it was overflowed, it is a fair inference that it would have stood if the water had not gone over it. (The other witnesses were ordered out of court during this part of the enquiry.)

By the Coroner. — Never since 1841 have I received one penny from the Commissioners on account of these reservoirs. There is an account yet owing for my coming over in 1844, and for making out my estimates in 1845, and February, 1846. I came four times in 1844 to examine the works, and considered I had done with the works, inasmuch as they were transferred to other hands. When I came over in 1845, it was entirely upon a fresh retainer.

After a lengthened examination of witnesses, which lasted two more days, the Coroner then proceeded to sum up the evidence at great length, but, owing to the indistinctness with which he was heard, we can only give a brief epitome of his charge to the jury. He said it was not his intention to occupy much of their time in going through the great mass of evidence which had been taken upon the present enquiry. It was at once evident that, previous to the 4th of February, the embankment of the Bilberry Mill reservoir had been in a very imperfect and defective state; but he was of opinion that there had been no criminal responsibility incurred by the Commissioners. A. great amount of evidence had been given which he would save them the trouble of reading over. The real origin of the disaster seems to have been the fact of the wash-pit being suffered to be higher than the embankment. The Commissioners in 1849 reported that the reservoir required repairs, and there was ample time for lowering the wash-pit. The liabilities under which the Commissioners were placed had nothing to do with the question and ought not to enter into the inquiry. The jury would observe from the wording of the Act of Parliament, that the Commissioners were made into a body politic — in fact, became a corporation with a common seal. The Act was passed in 1837, and in June, 1838, Mr. Leather was employed as engineer, but as he was not so engaged as to be criminally liable under that Act of Parliament, it was not worth while troubling the jury with the evidence upon that point, excepting to add the remark that if Mr. Leather’s plans and specifications had been fully acted upon, the reservoir would have been safe. John Tait was employed as overlooker; and it appeared that from the very first, complaints were made as to the mode in which the contract was performed. In 1839 a spring was discovered which perhaps was the remote cause of the present calamity, but as the immediate cause of it was the waste-pit being lower than the embankment, the Commissioners could not be personally responsible. The next point was to consider what efforts were made by the Commissioners to remedy this state of things. He was not aware that the pecuniary liabilities of the Commissioners ought to have any weight with the jury in the consideration of their verdict. It appears that in 1846, an order was made that an opening should be made in the waste-pit, and that Mr. Littlewood took the necessary steps for doing so, but from some threatening interference he desisted from making the required opening. Mr. Littlewood not only took no further steps in the matter but never reported to the Commissioners, or did what he ought to have done, viz., call a special meeting of the Commissioners for the purpose. He would not say, if the Commissioners had been liable that this would not be a criminal act on the part of Mr. Littlewood; but he could not be fixed with liability. No doubt he ought to have called a meeting of the Commissioners, and possibly they might have taken such steps as would have prevented the misfortune which has happened. Mr. Littlewood was highly censurable for not making an opening in the waste-pit or immediately reporting it to the Commissioners. He would now come to February 4th. There had been very heavy rains, as they were all aware, on that day; so much so that Battye, one of the witnesses, found that the water had risen 40 feet in the reservoir, and that something had been fastened against the shuttle. But it would seem that if such had not been the case, and the shuttle raised to its utmost limits, it would not have been large enough to admit all the water through it which came into the reservoir. It appeared that Charles Battye and others were upon the embankment during the evening; and he proposed to read over to them the evidence of Whiteley, because it appeared to him to be the most connected account of what had transpired, and because it referred to some matters which he wished to mention to them. (The Coroner then read over the evidence of this witness.) They would observe that he had described the bursting of the reservoir almost in the very words Captain Moody had made use of in his statement as to how he supposed the embankment would give way. From Whiteley’s evidence it appeared there were several expressions made by John Roebuck relating to the danger of bursting. These expressions were first used about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. At that time it was too late to alter the waste-pit so as to have taken the water away. It was certainly very extraordinary that these parties should have remained upon the embankment without giving early warning to those living in the valley; and that no person should have given any warning at all until it was too late. It was incumbent upon all of them to have given warning when they saw the danger; and not more incumbent upon John Roebuck than the rest of the party who were there. The embankment burst about one o’clock, and the immediate cause of the catastrophe had been described by Captain Moody. (The Coroner quoted largely from the statement made by Captain Moody.) As he had said before, the jury must discharge the engineer, contractors, and overlookers from all responsibility. The next point to consider was as to the criminal liability of any one else. It was evident that the Commissioners had been guilty of very gross and culpable neglect, and nothing which he had seen would at all justify them in what they had done. Most certainly if they could have been fixed with responsibility, they would have been indicted for manslaughter; but from an opinion of high authority he held in his hand, and which he should hand over to the Foreman when they retired to consider their verdict, it would be seen that by reason of their being a corporation they could not be made personally responsible. He could not however say that in his mind the Commissioners had done what they ought to have done. It appeared to him that when they failed in their application to Parliament, they ought to have taken the water out of the reservoir altogether. There might be penalties laid down in the Act to which they would perhaps be liable, by not giving a sufficient supply of water to the mills down the valley; but when it was seen that the sum of £7,800, according to the estimates put in, would be required to repair the reservoir, and that the Commissioners had failed in their application to Parliament, he felt satisfied that supposing the Commissioners, by emptying the reservoir, had rendered themselves thus liable, no jury or magistrate would have inflicted them under such circumstances. The law secured the Commissioners from personal responsibility, but he was not aware that any Act of Parliament secured them from actions in another court. That point, however, was not included in their inquiry. He was not aware that he had any further remarks to offer. There were three points for their consideration:— First, the state of the embankment; secondly, the state of the waste-pit; and thirdly, the want of giving sufficient warning. It certainly was most extraordinary that timely warning was not given. In considering their verdict he thought they ought to consider whether some means should not be taken to prevent similar accidents; and, as they had other reservoirs in the districts, to point out, if possible, what would best secure their own safety, and that of their families also. The jury would also bear in mind that in charging any one they must charge them according to law. He would now leave the case in their hands, and hand over to them the opinion to which he had alluded; for he did not see that John Roebuck was more liable than any one else standing on the embankment at the time.

The jury retired to consider upon their verdict at a quarter to two o’clock, and returned into court at five minutes to four.

The Coroner, — Gentlemen of the jury have you considered upon your verdict.

The Foreman. — We beg to hand you the following written verdict (handing in a paper).

The Coroner read the following verdict to a crowded court, who listened to it with breathless silence:— “We find that Eliza Marsden came to her death by drowning, caused by the bursting of the Bilberry reservoir. We also find that the Bilberry reservoir was defective in its original construction; and that the Commissioners, Engineers, and Overlookers were greatly culpable in not seeing to the proper regulation of the works. And we also find that the Commissioners, in permitting the Bilberry reservoir to remain for several years in a dangerous state, with a full knowledge thereof, and not lowering the waste-pit, have been guilty of gross and culpable negligence. And we regret, that the reservoir being under the management of a corporation, prevents us bringing in a verdict of manslaughter, as we are convinced that the gross and culpable negligence of the Commissioners would have subjected them to such a verdict had they been in the position of a private individual or a firm. We also hope that the legislature will take into its most serious consideration the propriety of making provision for the lives and properties of Her Majesty’s subjects exposed to danger from reservoirs placed by corporations in situations similar to those under the charge of the Holme reservoir Commissioners.”

The Flood Came and Took Them All Away (1852) - Appendix: Opening of the Inquest


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