100 YEARS AGO: TRAGIC DEATHS OF AMERICAN SAILORS AT IRWELL WHARF, ECCLES
This story comes from the pages of the Eccles and Patricroft Journal, August 1921 tells of the sad deaths of two American sailors in Eccles, and with a Coroners verdict that is slightly puzzling.
The S.S. Hartford was an American registered ship which moored at Irwell Wharf on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal, Eccles in late July 1921 and the crew headed off out for a night in Eccles to enjoy the local pubs, and with an added relish because at this time, America was a dry country due to the controversial Prohibition Act of the same year.
After an evening drinking the crew made their way back to their boat at about 10.30pm, a fight broke out between several men on the deck of the boat, resulting in the death of two crew members, Irvin Siers and William Fentress, and John Munden being taken to Green Lane police station and charged with the murder of Irvin Siers.
An Inquest was held at The Grapes Hotel, Peel Green by the Manchester Coroner, Mr G. S. Lereche to determine their causes of death, also in attendance was the American Consul to Manchester, Mr Holliday watching on in the interest of the accused, John Munden, an American citizen.
The Coroner told the Jury of nine men that many of the crew had been drinking in Eccles before returning to the ship, a drunken row broke out in which Siers was involved, a cry of "man overboard" was heard, a sailor by the name of William Fentress jumped overboard to help save Siers, lifeboats were thrown down to them, however Siers continued to struggle and was dragging his rescuer, Fentress down with him.
Edward Darling another crew member clambered overboard on a rope and urged the men to grab his legs, sadly the men were too exhausted and sank into the murky water, their bodies were recovered the next day by the police using grappling irons.
Mr Lereche then said that several witnesses would be called who had said, that they seen, John Munden strike Siers in the fight and then drop him overboard, and it would be for the Jury to decide how Siers and Fentress had met their deaths adding that there would be three alternative verdicts.
The First would be a deliberate killing by Munden, Second, that without intending to kill he committed an act resulting in Siers death, which would mean, Manslaughter, the Third alternative being that the man got into the waters accidentally, the verdict on Fentress would be accidental death.
Lee Galvin the Chief Officer told the inquest that he was informed there were men fighting on the deck, and found a number of men brawling, when he heard the cry of, "man overboard" and saw Fentress enter the water.
David Blackwell the Second Cook said that he saw two men fighting and that Munden picked up Siers and dropped him over the side of the boat, he added that both men had been drinking and he didn't think that Munden intended to throw the man into the water.
The Inquest was adjourned for the day.
Fred Gentry, an engine wiper, took the stand and said that he saw both men fighting, when Siers was held back, he demanded to be released so he could carry on fighting Munden, he then described Munden as looking, "half crazed" as he picked Siers up and dropped him overboard, although Munden did help lower a lifeboat to aid the rescue of the two men in the water.
Edward Darling a friend of Siers said that they had both been drinking in Eccles, and had drank about seven or eight glasses of beer before returning to their ship, he too heard the fighting but did not see Munden, and to his credit Darling did overboard on a rope in an attempt to save his pals life.
P.C. Duggan of the Ship Canal Police told the Jury that he was on duty at Irwell Wharf when he heard the commotion, he questioned and detained Munden, who told him that he was drunk and had been beaten up in a fight, he was taken into custody and removed to Green Lane police station for further questioning.
Finally, a John Crowe a night watchman said that he saw Siers pushing and shoving Munden despite being told by several people to calm down, and when questioned by Munden's Solicitor, Mr Hockin gave some evidence that would prove crucial.
He said that the S.S. Hartford had a list to the starboard and that the ships handrails were only three foot six inches high, and that, "anyone capering about or carrying on might easily go overboard, if under the influence of drink"
After hearing all the evidence, the Coroner told the Jury that in the case of Fentress his cause of death was accidental and as for Munden it would be mere assumption that he deliberately pushed Siers overboard and that it was possible that he dropped him overboard to, "cool him down"...
The Jury retired to consider their verdict and came back with the verdict that Siers met his death through accidentally falling over the hand rails whilst staggering about on deck, and Accidental Death verdicts were delivered on both men.
Munden appeared at Eccles Magistrates Court and was told by the Chairman, Mr C, Fenton that to a great extent he was responsible for the deaths of both men, owing to him being drunk and fighting, and that has had come from a dry country it was pity he wasn't dry whilst in this country and was then free to leave the Court.
Words fail me, surely the witness statements about him dropping Siers overboard was enough evidence to give a verdict of Manslaughter?, could it have been that with Munden being American the authorities didn't want to ruffle any diplomatic feathers?
A strange story with no consolation for Irvin Siers.
Photos: S.S. Hartford