A Complete History of The Great Flood at Sheffield
by Samuel Harrison
Web Page 36


On the very day on which the flood swept over the town, the Mayor issued circulars to a number of the principal gentlemen of the town, convening a meeting at the Council Hall on the following Monday, "for the purpose of considering and adopting such measures as may be deemed necessary to meet the sufferings occasioned by this dreadful calamity."

A numerous body of gentlemen responded to the call of the Mayor. Among those present were F. W. Bagshawe, Esq., W. F. Dixon, Esq., James W. Dixon, Esq., Aldermen Brown, Jackson, Hoole, Fisher, Vickers, Holland, Saunders; T. Dunn, Esq., George Wostenholm, Esq., M. J. Ellison, Esq., M. Firth, Esq., E. Vickers, Esq., E. Bramley, Esq., J. Jobson Smith, Esq., T. W. Watson, Esq., H. Watson, Esq., H. Wilson, Esq., W. Wake, Esq., B. Wake, Esq., W. Fawcett, Esq., R. Sorby, Esq.; the Revs. Dr. Sale, J. Livesey, W. Wilkinson, C. Wilkinson, J. Battersby, J. H. James. C. Larom, J. P. Campbell, and others.

The MAYOR said: It is unnecessary for me to allude to the unfortunate and sad calamity which has befallen us, as you will doubtless have visited the scene of wreck, or have read the accounts which are given of it in the newspapers. I was communicated with by Mr. Jackson, our excellent Chief Constable, on Saturday morning, and at once went down to the Town Hall. From there I went to the Wicker, and although the water had subsided I could see what fearful havoc had taken place. I spent most of the Saturday at the Town Hall rendering what assistance I could to Mr. Jackson and our excellent Town Clerk; and here I must bear my testimony to the great exertions and attention of Mr. Webster, the Coroner, who was there anxious to aid and assist in every way possible. (Hear, hear.) About noon on Saturday information was received that a number of persons in the neighbourhood of Hillsbro' and Owlerton were carrying off furniture and property not belonging to them, and the civil power not being sufficient to meet all demands, I applied to the Colonel at the Barracks, who readily granted me any number of men that might be required. (Applause. ) Those men were on duty during the remainder of the day and night and again yesterday. Vast crowds of people visited the scene of the calamity yesterday, and by the admirable arrangements of Mr. Jackson everything went off exceedingly well, and I believe there are very few offences, in fact I do not know of more than two which have been committed in consequence of the calamity. I think that speaks well for the good feeling and orderly disposition of the inhabitants of Sheffield. (Hear, hear. ) You are aware this is a preliminary meeting, and that it will be followed by a town's meeting, which I should like to be held tomorrow. I should wish it to be held on that day, in consequence of a letter which I have received from the noble Lord Lieutenant of the Riding, and which I will read:--

"Wentworth Woodhouse, Rotherham, March 13th, 1864.

"DEAR SIR,--I am anxious to hear some account of the terrible calamity which had occurred at Sheffield, and to learn to what extent the vague reports which have reached me are true.

"These reports place the numbers who have perished at considerably more than 300. I also wish for information as to what steps have been and are now being taken for the relief of those families which have suffered.

"I feel sure that in a town whose inhabitants have on previous occasions shown such a large amount of liberality, the immediate want of the sufferers will have been attended to. It will be necessary, however, that some enlarged and systematic scheme of relief should be set on foot, as many persons no doubt will be plunged into the deepest distress, if not left entirely destitute.

"Should any committee have been already formed for this purpose, I beg that my name may be added to it. I could attend a meeting on Tuesday at eleven or twelve o'clock, unless I learn in time that one has been arranged for tomorrow (Monday). I suggest Tuesday, as it would give one day to give notice on the subject.

"I feel sure you will forgive me troubling you on such a distressing occasion.-- yours respectfully,

"The Mayor, Sheffield.'


Whilst the Mayor was reading the letter, Lord Wharncliffe entered the room, and was loudly cheered.

Mr. DUNN moved: "That the persons present in this meeting, being inhabitants of the borough of Sheffield, respectfully request the Mayor to call a public meeting, to be held at the Town Hall, for the purpose of considering and adopting such measures as may be deemed necessary for the relief of the distress and suffering occasioned by the late great calamity." The resolution was confined altogether to the raising of subscriptions to relieve the distress. (Hear hear.) All who had been up the valley along which this calamity has occurred would be aware at once of the vast amount of distress that must have been caused, not mental distress merely from the loss of friends and relatives, but real bodily suffering from loss of property and want of food and clothing.

JOHN BROWN, Esq., said: I regret very much it is a duty incumbent upon me this morning to second this resolution. I am sure that the inhabitants of this town and neighbourhood have but one feeling with reference to the sad calamity which has befallen us. I feel persuaded that, as Sheffield men, we shall deal with this question in a practical manner. (Hear, hear.) We have, unfortunately, before us substantial marks of wreck, distress, and loss of life, and our first duty and desire will be, as in times past--without stopping to investigate the cause of the calamity, or who is to blame for it--to meet, and relieve in a practical and warm hearted manner the sad consequences which are now before us. (Applause.) We have now in Sheffield an amount of distress unparalleled--certainly unparalleled in my time--and that distress must be relieved as quickly as possible. (Hear, hear, and applause.) We are not to stop to say, "Let the parties who are responsible meet the calamity; let us wait until circumstances show whose duty it is to relieve this suffering;" but we have a practical matter before us, and it must be met in a practical way. I quite concur in this being a preliminary meeting, but let us put our names down for something at once, and do not let that which is already bad be made much worse by delay. (Applause.)

The proposition, on being submitted to the meeting, was carried unanimously.

Lord WHARNCLIFFE was received with cheers and said: Mr Mayor and gentlemen.-- I must begin by apologising for being late in my attendance here to day, but there were so many people in the train coming to see the results of the calamity, that it was delayed, or I should have been here in time to assist at the beginning of the meeting. The Mayor has been good enough to put into my hand a resolution which I have pleasure in moving, and I hope you will believe me when I state, with the greatest sincerity of mind and heart, that nobody in the town or district feels more acutely the intense suffering, both of mind and body, that has been caused by this fearful visitation of Providence. (Applause.) The resolution which I have the honour of submitting to you points to the fact that those who sympathise ought to subscribe. (Hear, hear.) It is about a year ago since I had the honour of addressing an audience in this room on the distress in Manchester and Lancashire, and we contributed then according to our means, I may say handsomely--(hear, hear.)--but it is now incumbent upon us to do more. (Hear, hear.) Whatever may have been our feelings towards operatives elsewhere, they must be warmer and more sincere now that our fellow townsmen and neighbours want assistance. (Hear, hear.) We must now lay aside every thought of niggardliness and avarice, and come down handsomely for the credit of the town and for the relief of those who are suffering. (Applause.) The town of Sheffield has not occupied the position in the eyes of England in this particular that it ought to have occupied. There can be no doubt of this. (Hear, hear.) I don't think we are held in equal estimation with some towns of smaller population and less prosperous trade, but events like this, which call us together give us opportunities to raise ourselves in this matter and to improve our reputation. Don't pinch your contributions. (Hear, hear.) I have now to move--"That this fearful inundation, which has caused such an awful loss of life and immense destruction of property, necessarily occasioning wide spread misery, the inhabitants of this borough and neighbourhood are called upon to sympathise with the sufferers, and to subscribe as far as possible." If we carry that we shall then be in a position to say what we have done for ourselves, and we shall be able to say that we have not shown any backwardness in coming forward on this occasion. (Applause.)

W. BUTCHER, Esq., seconded the proposition, and it was carried unanimously.

Mr. DUNN announced that during the time Lord Wharncliffe had been addressing them, the following sums had been promised:-- The Mayor, £200; Messrs. W. Jessop and Sons, £200; the Sheffield Coal Company, £200; Messrs. James Dixon and Sons, £200; Messrs. Naylor, Vickers, and Co., £200; Messrs. John Brown and Co., £200; Messrs. Thomas Firth and Sons, £200; Messrs. Sanderson Brothers, £200; Messrs. W. and S. Butcher, £200; Henry Wilson, Esq., £200.

Alderman SAUNDERS said: Perhaps it will not be wrong if I, as chairman of the Sheffield Board of Guardians, inform the meeting of what has been done at the Workhouse. There must be great anxiety existing to know what is being done for the poor people until the subscriptions for their relief are raised. Mr. Jackson, the Chief Constable, sent up to my house early on Saturday morning, and, I believe, to other members of the Board, and about seven o'clock, I and the deputy chairman went to the Workhouse, and gave directions as to the distribution of relief To the relieving officers we gave simply one order, and that was, without considering whether or not the applicants were persons belonging to the Sheffield union, or in each officer's district, all who came to them suffering from distress in consequence of the flood, were to be relieved, not with the usual stint, but liberally, and those who had no friends to go to, were to be received and provided for in the house. (Hear, hear.) So far, the number of applicants has not been large, but I have not the least doubt they will be so very soon. We had dead bodies in the house to the number of 102, which were placed in the dead house and four other rooms. The sight was a fearful one. Two thousand persons, all saying they were looking for their relatives, applied to see the bodies, no mere lookers on being admitted, and I have no doubt that the loss of life will turn out to be greater than has been represented in the newspapers. With regard to burying, we are providing coffins for all those whose friends have not the means to provide them; and those whose friends are unable to bury them, we bury. Without considering the poor' laws, or consolidated orders, or anything of the sort, we are trying to do everything in our power to relieve the distress. (Applause.)

S. MITCHELL, Esq., said:--As Vice Chairman of the Ecclesall Board of Guardians, allow me to say that the poor have not been neglected there. A portion of the Ecclesall Union extends to Malin bridge and Owlerton, and down to Philadelphia, which, I understand, is greatly damaged. I have directed the relieving officers to give ample relief to all who may be in need of it. (Applause.)

F. HOOLE, Esq., said: Yesterday a telegram was handed to me. It is directed to my brother, and I find it to this effect;--"Reform Club.--Mr. Hadfield to Mr. H. E. Hoole.--I will send you £500 tomorrow. Please consult the Mayor."

The reading of the telegram was received with cheers.

W. FAWCETT, Esq., thought it very wise that a public meeting should be held, but was of opinion that a temporary relief committee should be appointed at that meeting, so that those who were then suffering distress should not have to wait for relief.

R. J. GAINSFORD, Esq., said he had no doubt that ample funds would be supplied, and one great thing would be to see that it reached those who were actually in distress, and was not taken advantage of by persons who were not entitled to it.

The following additional subscriptions amongst others were handed in:--Messrs. Mappin Brothers, £100; George Wostenholm, Esq., £100; Messrs, Spear and Jackson, £100; Henry Unwin, Esq., £100; Messrs. T. and H. Wake, £100; Messrs. R. Sorby and Sons, £100; Fras. Hoole, Esq. and wife, £100; Henry Newbould, Esq., £100; Messrs. W. and B. Wake, £100; Charles Atkinson, Esq. £100; Thomas Youdan, Esq., £100; Messrs. Tennant Brothers, £100; Frederick Thorpe Mappin, Esq., £100; Thomas Marrian, Esq., £100; Henry Harrison, Esq., £100; Alfred Rowbottom, Esq., £50; Messrs. Bramley and Gainsford, £50; Messrs. Thomas and Rodgers, £50; Henry Rodgers, Esq., £50; Messrs. W. Fisher and Sons, £50; Rev. John Livesey, £50; Messrs. H. Wilkinson and Co., £50; John Jobson Smith, Esq., £50; Messrs. Davy Brothers, £50; Messrs. Daniel Doncaster and son, £50, many smaller subscriptions were also announced, making the total amount promised at the meeting, £4,775.

On the motion of Alderman JACKSON, seconded by Mr. E. VICKERS, the Mayor was appointed treasurer.

Lord WHARNCLIFFE moved, and Mr. Councillor IRONSIDE seconded, a vote of thanks to the Mayor, who, in acknowledging the compliment, expressed a hope that through this trying time he would have their sympathies, aid, and support.

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