The Drowning of Thomas Short
An eyewitness account of the events of Saturday July 22 1871
The author of this account is unknown
I started from Torquay by the 1-19 train with the intention of taking an afternoon walk to Brook Hills, Kingswear Castle and along the cliffs. The train was late in starting as we had to wait for the corning in of the Dartmouth train and I don't think I got over to Kingswear much before quarter past 2 o'clock. I mention this to fix the time as near as I can. I sauntered over to Brook Hill and applied for leave to see the house and grounds and was kept some time waiting before I could get a final answer, which was - as Mrs Johnston (Neale).was at home and I had no card - I could not be allowed to see them. I then inquired if this was the road to Kingswear Castle and was answered in the affirmative and I proceeded slowly along the road until I saw Kingswear Castle below me, and went down to it; there I found Casey and Short at work, fixing apparently a landing rope. Short was cutting a hole in the rock and continued his work. I never spoke to him.
Casey came up to me and his wife joined us and I requested leave to see the castle - they said it was occupied and did not think I could but they would ask Col. Maillands tennants. She went with me and showed me some of the rooms - on coming down I passed into the kitchen with Mrs Casey and she explained to me how the gales had driven in the windows, in a gale of wind etc. I then enquired respecting the road around the cliffs and she told me I had better speak to her husband, I went outside to do so, when he said he was going up that way, and would show me the road.
He turned round as if to fetch something he wanted to take with him and as we passed the wall of the castle we could see down into the cove and somebody cried "Murder, Murder, Murder" next "hold her up Short, hold her up, there’s a good fellow" – next "a rope, a rope, for God-Almighty's sake a rope". All this took place as we ran down to the cove, I had stepped forward clear of the castle wall and could see there were two persons in the water. And on his utterring this last exclamation - took my knife and with it cut the hand rope, so as to clear the loop eye and ran down and cleared it of the eyes of the other irons, as I went Casey had taken the rope coiled off the last irons and was drawing it through the eye of the last iron to me. When I pointed out to him there was a knot at the end he then drew it through from my end gathering it in coils in his hand ran down to the edge of the water and threw it to Short who had let go the woman and was at that moment sinking. Short got hold of it, and Casey called to him to catch hold of the woman. Shorts hand rose out of the water by a last effort, and fell on her gown which was like a balloon her head under water.
They were then both easily drawn to the side together insensible. I got hold of the woman, Casey got hold of the man. I lifted her head by putting my hand down the back of her dress quite out of the water, and her body, so far as to be able to put the end of the rope I had got round her waist which I was doing, and just as I had done this Casey said "For Gods sake sir lift her off my leg, as I can’t hold him much longer". To explain this I must mention that Casey was next the rock and could not move till I lifted her out of his way. I sat down on the rock and with great difficulty succeeded in raising her quite clear of the water, and she lay perfectly insensible, her face ghastly blue, when Casey again spoke seeing "Sarah, Sarah there's a good girl, do make an effort and try to get up". He had scarcely spoken when she struggled - drew up her legs, and with a great effort, and by assistance stood up.
I then told Casey to fasten the rope round Short which he did and I told the woman to sit behind me or above me and assist to draw him out of the water. Whilst Casey lifted his shoulders I took care his head did not strike against the rocks. I well recollect many times saying take care of his head. When Short was clear of the water, Casey said, "call a Boat Sir. a Doctor and a boat", I ran up to the rocks, the other side of the castle next Dartmouth and called boats repeatedly, but no boats came. I may as well mention, as I passed the castle door Mrs Casey said to me how thankful we might to be sir, to Providence that sent you here this day to be the means of saving two lives. As I could make no one hear, and saw no boat moving, I returned to Casey and remained with Short while he went up and called for a boat . He was also unsuccessful.
On his return the rope was taken off Short as we found we could not by any efforts of ours raise him any higher. He was lying on his back with Casey's hat under his head. I don't know if this was right but it was the position both were in. Again at Casey's request I went up to try and get assistance and at last saw two boats coming round the Point. I waved them on with my hat. The two men in the first boat appeared to me to hesitate and look about the rocks, to see if there was anyone there. At last they came on and I went down lower to the point of the rocks, to show them the entrance to the Cove and that it was there I wanted them to enter. I then ran up again to the Castle, and by the time I got round they had put Short into the boat and were shoving off, so quick had the three men been.
There was nothing more that I could do and the excitement of the scene that had just taken place so overcame me that I sat down on the rocks. As I sat I heard someone behind me and on looking up saw an Artilleryman. I said sharply to him "Where have you been all this time, that you did not come and help us?" His answer was, "Sir, I have just come over from Dartmouth." In my excitement I quite forgot the second boat. I then got up and said we had better see how the woman is going on and I went with him to the Castle door and called several times "Is anyone there?" The artilleryman thought he heard someone answer, but I did not. I then went up the stairs, still calling "Is anyone there?" When I nearly reached the top, I heard a door open and on going to it, saw the young woman had taken off her wet things, and was just putting on her gown. Seeing she was alright I went down and told the Artilleryman so, soon after which he left. I waited till Mrs Casey came back. I learnt from her, she had not been able herself to go for a Doctor but had sent a neighbours' girl. As I could do nothing more I gave her 10/- for Short and left.
As I ascended the rocky path lending from the grounds, such a palpitation of the heart came on, I was obliged to sit down, and it was only with great effort I was able to reach the road when I walked slowly down to Kingswear, meeting first by the way, the woman of Brook Hills, and then a gentleman and girl. I addressed him and inquired if he was a doctor? He answered yes and that he was going to Kingswear to see the woman that had just been saved from drowning. I informed him she was all right, but that it was the man that required his assistance. He said that another doctor was attending to him. He hesitated a moment and then said he thought he had better go on and see how she was. I then continued on to Kingswear and near the station saw a crowd and Casey came up to me and enquired how the woman was. I told him she was all right. He went on, and feeling ill I hastened to the station as I did not wish to become the centre of a crowd .
Before I returned to Torquay by the 4.40 train I decided to leave a Sovereign with the station master for poor Short's widow, as I heard it was thought he could not recover. On going out of the station for this purpose I met Rowe the Boatman, and asking if he was the Station Master he said no, but it was him who had just brought in Short. I gave him 5/- for himself on which he observed he did not think he ought to take it but on my pressing him he took it. I then gave him a sovereign for the widow, and just at that moment a Porter called out, "any more for this train" and I got in and started to return to Torquay. I wish to observe Casey's whole thoughts seemed to be to get a boat and a doctor. As a proof of this, I may mention that his wife followed me down on my first cutting the rope and Casey, seeing her, called out Why? Why? You stupid old woman why don't you go for a Doctor. I heard no screams or cries but those I have mentioned, indeed the woman behaved very well. Casey certainly used every effort to save his friend. No man could do more, or have been in greater distress than he appeared to be. In fact his cries of "Oh poor Short, poor Short" rendered it impossible for me to speak to him for fear of becoming quite upset myself.