One of my grandfather’s brothers, Abraham Neville Sheepwash, was born in 1884 and baptised at St Anne’s Church in Hoxton. Another researcher recently alerted me to a newspaper article about his death in 1898, aged just 14. My grandfather was born in March of that year.
In August 1898, The Essex County Chronicle reported on an inquest held concerning his death on board the training ship Cornwall, which was lying in the Thames off Purfleet.
His mother, Alice, my great grandmother, wife of Edward Sheepwash, a fish salesman of Hawkesley Road, Walthamstow, told the inquest that Abraham had been on the Cornwall for two years, enjoying good health. She had visited him frequently and he had been home 3 times.
One Sunday morning in August 1898, Abraham was found by the instructor, “lying down on a stool, insensible and breathing heavily”. Despite being conveyed to the sick bay, he expired a short time later. The post mortem showed that the cause of death was “venous engorgement of the brain”, the result of heat.
Weather records from August 1898 indicate that it was very hot at that time, and London saw temperatures of between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (26 – 29.5 C). It seems odd to me that a healthy young boy would succumb to the heat early in the morning, but perhaps he had been on duty the previous day and became ill then.
HMS Cornwall was a reformatory ship , a naval training ship for boys. Originally she had been the HMS Wellesley (built in 1815) but was fitted out as a training ship in 1868, renamed, and moored off Purfleet.
So far I’ve been unable to find out why Abraham had been sent to HMS Cornwall, but it’s clear that he must have had a brush with the law in some way.
Dickens’s Dictionary of the Thames, 1881 , states of HMS Cornwall: “This reformatory training-ship of the School Ship Society is anchored off Purfleet. As a general rule the committee do not admit boys unless the three following conditions are satisfied:
1. That the boy be sentenced to not less than three years’ detention.
2. That he be not less than 13 years of age nor more than than 15.
3. That he be certified as sound and healthy.”