The Doric Columns
The Dee Ferry Disaster
The Torry Reaction or Cable Ferry linked somewhere between
the Lower Jetty and Torry 'Beach' near St Fitticks Road. Quite a wide stretch of busy navigation channel water and it is
hard to see how and when it would function as a 25 x 9 x 2.3ft Flat Bottomed Vessel
secured and driven on a Wire
Hawser which could perhaps snag commercial shipping. The local Fishermen
deemed the William Hall built ferry construction unsuitable for the running tides and a
spate but it was allowed to ply on with its trade regardless.
Cable ferries so called, hang on a long wire rope, which divides itself briefly before the ferry. A rope end is passed through friction rollers on the stem and one to the stern of the ferry with a central control wheel (See Inset). Now as the length of the cable ends changes ratio to each other, so also does the angle of incidence of the ferry so change to the river. Only the adjusting of the rope ends allows an engineless ferry to traverse the channel. The pressure of the flowing water against the vessel pushes it to the appropriate bank with minimal effort. The wire rope is submerged in the river and for navigation would be marked by Buoys. When the ferry is docked at either bank the cable is probably allowed to sink to the river bottom, so as not to interfere with navigation as they would have a considerable amount of slack built into them, in order that they sink below the surface as the ferry moves.
The New Quay Jetty
On Wednesday April 5th 1876 some 32 lives were lost in the Dee Ferry Boat Disaster. Large numbers of people were crossing the River Dee by ferry, heading for the entertainment at the fair. The ferry operated on a pulley system, attached by a wire rope looped at each end to either bank, allowing it to be pulled across the navigation channel, without the need for an engine, sails or rudder on the boat. It was a public holiday and hundreds of people from Aberdeen took advantage of the good weather by going to a funfair in Torry. At the end of the day, everyone clamoured to get on board the ferry over the River Dee to go home to Aberdeen. In a vessel designed to carry 32, at least 77 people managed to clamber on board. But while crossing the the new channel of the River Dee, the ferryboat tipped over and all the passengers fell into the fast-running spate current and ebbing tidal flow. There are differing opinions as to why the accident happened. Some said when the boat hit the current it cantered and water came in, with the passengers running to the other side which made the freeboard less. Others said it was the slackening of a rope on the Torry side of the river that caused the boat to heel. The tragedy was watched by hundreds of people on both shores. One of the problems highlighted by the Government Board of Trade inquiry into the Dee disaster was that the boat, which had a wire line used to pull the vessel from the shore to shore, was the wrong type for the circumstances of the currents. The boat, a 25 foot-long substantially-built flat-bottomed vessel, was built by Aberdeen Shipbuilders, William Hall and Company, and had only been in service 2 months. Before the ferryboat was constructed, local fishermen had warned it was the wrong type of ferry for the channel, because of the fast and strong currents. However, it was decided the ferryboat was the best - and the cheaper option compared to a bridge. The Government inquiry criticised the role of the Police, and mentioned the over-laden boat, the spate of the river and the poorly spliced rope. The outcome of the Board of Trade enquiry prompted the construction of a stone and lime bridge – the Victoria Bridge, which still stands today.
As queues began to form on each of the ferry terminals, people became impatient and pushed their way on to the boat before those already onboard had a chance to get off. Heavily overloaded, it set off with more than 70 people on board. After several days of heavy rain, the Dee was swollen and fast flowing. The ferry started to list as it moved into mid-stream of the main river current. The tension on the ropes was too great and they were cast off, causing the boat to drift towards the sea. When she capsized, over half the passengers were able to swim to safety but 32 drowned. There had been plans for some time for a new bridge across to Torry but the final impetus was provided by the disaster and Queen Victoria Bridge was formally opened on July 2, 1881. The bridge was partly funded by public subscription and partly by the Corporation of Aberdeen Council, providing direct access from Torry into the heart of Aberdeen. A plaque commemorating those who lost their lives in this disaster was erected on the bridge belatedly in 2005 instead of at its original inauguration and while still fresh in the memory of the inhabitants and mourners.
The Aberdeen Journal Report suggests a maximum standing capacity of 75 passengers which was about the actual compliment when she floundered in the River Dee Channel spate. 75-80 standing would reduce the stability of the vessel dramatically and no room to sit except on the water lapped gunwales. The ferry was designed to hold 32 passengers maximum load although it was tested by William Hall's to 60 standing as proven stability with 12" of freeboard in calm waters.
The 1.75” circumference wire hawser is quite light - about half inch dia - (Bound to fail under such load strain even without the 2 added cable lengthening splices) and overall may have been made generous enough in length to lie on the bottom except when under tension. This could have been a navigation hazard on the Pocra Quay side if draped from a flywheel crank – not much info about on how that machinery was hand cranked to draw the new William Hall Built vessel 25ft x 9ft x 2.33ft flat bottom with grounding copings across the channel in each direction and perhaps only from the Pocra side with a simple pulley on the Torry side.
It is significant that one of the on board ferry operators Mr Masson – (a family name common in Portlethen) demanded the Tacksman to returned him to shore in fear for his life - he clearly foresaw the increasing risk of disaster – the Tacksman it seems, was driven onward by balancing the ample fares reward against the risk. He did the right thing trying to attempt to use passengers to further trim the boat but as it naturally aligned itself with the spate current this ever shifting 'in panic' high centre mobile weight may have capsized her on the seaward side while also taking on spate water. The bow landing plank saved the life of one witness who reported the line breaking en route to the Aberdeen shore.
A Mrs Craig sadly was drowned - hampered by the harness of her own creel which others desperately clung to: a fatal folly in the impending doom; she should have freed herself from her burden – such are the value of hard won possessions. Her death was made more poignant by her husband urgently attempting to rescue her urgently by dingy before she had traversed too far with this increasingly dangerous crossing. Trusting souls, careless operation pressed by financial gain and overseen by the Aberdeen Police presence and perhaps even the Harbour Master in the Octagon (Roundhouse).
Alexander Kennedy (Tacksman) Lessee of the Ferry survived the sinking of his twice overloaded vessel - only to drink himself to death and he died at 5.30am on 2nd January 1877 aged 42 after 14 days of intemperance in the Ferryboat Inn, at Pocra Quay, Aberdeen close the scene of the disaster and before his indictment for Culpable Homicide Trial which was due to take place on the 2nd of October.
Precognition against Alexander Kennedy for the crime of culpable homicide and culpable violation and neglect of duty on the River Dee between the shore known as 'The Reclaimed Ground' (Pocra) and the south side
DAVIDSON, 2ND OF BALNAGASK:
ALEXANDER DAVIDSON, 3RD OF BALNAGASK:
Alexander had Probate granted of his will on 12 April 1869. He left pecuniary legacies and the Craigshaw part of the estate to James Molison, his nephew, and the Balnagask portion of the estate to his grand nephew James Davidson. James Molison, in turn, died the following year.
Alexander was a flour miller in London, and made a lot of money at this trade.
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