The Brunel Engine House - the Miner's Life Exhibition

A Watery Grave.


Richardson Drowned! 27 June 1827

Two of the Directors, Robert Marten and Richard Harris asked William Gravatt to take them down the tunnel after Isambard Kingdom Brunel had forbidden any other journeys. William Gravatt could hardly defy his directors and so took two of the miners, Richardson and Dowling as crew for a dinghy. Richardson insisted on sitting in the stern of the boat. Water came into the boat and one of the directors was asked to move.forward in order to balance the boat. Neither was willing to move but when the water became uncomfortable, Mr Marten made to move forward. However, he had forgotten that the boat had made considerable progress down the Tunnel, and when he suddenly stood up, he struck his head on the roof and fell backwards. The boat overturned depositing all of the occupants into twelve feet of water. Gravaft and Dowling were the only people who could swim. One of the directors clung tightly to Gravatt and he was forced to dive in order to free himself, Gravatt swam back to the shaft and quickly returned with the punt. After rescuing Marten and Harris, Richardson was still missing. Isambard Kingdom, who had been alerted to the accident appeared on the scene and dived several times in search of Richardson, but in vain. After some time, officials from the Humane Society arrived and recovered the body with a drag-line.

Extract from the Annual Report of the Royal Humane Society

The body was riot found however for twenty minutes, when he was taken to the house of Mr Beamish, and placed upon his bed. Mr Randel, surgeon, Rotherhithe, was sent for, and, Mr Beamish further observes, 'every means was resorted to which have been pointed out as calculated to restore life. A warm bath, hot bricks to the extremities, inflation of the lungs, friction. &c; these applications were persevered in for four or five hours but all in vain - the silver cord was broken, and the spirit had returned to God who gave it.'

So highly regarded was Richardson that Isambard Kingdom ordered that work on the Tunnel should cease for the night.




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