Herald of Free Enterprise

Another ferry sails past in the distance, as the wreck of the Herald of Free Enterprise lays in shallow water on her side.

Today is going to be a fairly short one; it was an event that remains within recent living memory for most of us, over a certain age. And it focuses on a tragedy that resonates deeply with me personally to this day. As a teenager, I traveled several times on the cross-channel ferries between England and France and Belgium in my ongoing research of the Great War, as a young amateur Historian. (It was on those journeys that I got to know Phoebe.) Those journeys were for the most part made on the three specially built Spirit-Class vessels that operated between the home ports and those of mainland Europe. I was never a great sea dog, being blessed with both severe motion sickness and a nausea-inducing terror of the sea and all that goes with it from a seemingly insignificant incident at the age of four when I was startled by something at the beach whilst paddling in the sea with my family, causing me to run away from them, then believing them all to be drowned, when they failed to return. Anyway, one such journey I remember well, was in early 1987. Just two weeks later, that journey returned to haunt me, as the very ship I traveled on, was lost in the worst peacetime maritime disaster since 1919 when the Royal Navy yacht Iolaire sank off Stornaway with the loss of 205 men.

The Herald of Free Enterprise was one of three identical “roll-on/roll off” ferries commissioned by owners Townsend Thoresen, built by Schichau-Unterweser in Bremerhaven, Germany. Branded as the ‘Spirit class’ the ferries were 8 decks, including two vehicle decks, and were designed specifically with the Dover-Calais route in mind. The twin loading doors located at the bow and stern, were capable of aligning with the berth ramps at both ports, to enable quick on-and off-loading. Each ship weighed around 13000 tons and were capable of carrying 1400 passengers. Their safety enhancements, lifeboats and so on, were more than adequate quantity for the maximum passenger numbers.

The layout of the ship, basically allowed for crew areas on decks A and B at the top of the ship. Deck C was the passenger area, comprising lounges, bathroom facilities and restaurant, and complete with access to outer areas which also provided seating. Decks D through G were various fixed and mezzanine level vehicle decks, most particularly decks E and G, which were contiguous open plan drive in decks, accessed via watertight and weatherproof doors at the bow and open portal style stern ends. Each set of doors was constructed differently, by reason of the required movement limitations. Deck H underneath the main car deck on G, provided passenger berths. The wheelhouse was located toward the rear of the ship, meaning there was no view of the front of the vessel.

On the evening of 6th March 1987, the Herald of Free Enterprise was making a detour from her usual run, travelling via Zeebrugge in Belgium, rather than the usual Dover-Calais route, which she had operated earlier in the day. Her crew had been working for several hours since early in the morning; being that there were five sets of Officers and three sets of other crew, it was common practice for Officers to work up to twelve hours and then receive 24 hours rest, whereas the crew would work shifts of 24 hours, with breaks, followed by 48 hours off, thus changeovers were common place and full compliments were interchangeable via rotas. A routine special offer in the Sun Newspaper enabled many passengers to take advantage of a cheap day in Belgium for only a few pounds, some going for a change of scenery, others to take advantage of the availability of “duty free” alcohol and cigarettes.

Assistant Boatswain Mark Stanley had been working since early that morning, on the Dover Calais route, and his duties included ensuring areas of the ship were cleaned between transports as well as assisting with the loading and unloading of the vessel and taking care of relevant passenger enquiries. As the ferry began to load at Zeebrugge, Stanley was stood down by Boatswain Terence Ayling to take his break. He returned to his berth and went to sleep. Zeebrugge runs were longer than the Dover-Calais by around double the time, at four and a half hours. Due to the extended period of the voyage, it was felt officers had ample time for rest, and as a result, there were generally only two Deck Officers and a Master on these runs.

Another difference about this run was the loading ramps at Zeebrugge, which were considerably lower than those at Dover and Calais and single ramps, rather than the twin ramps at the other ports, meaning only one vehicle deck could be loaded at a time. The ferries would have to come in bow first, with front ballast tanks full, (this was achieved by opening the tanks to fill as they approached the port) to lower the front of the ferry down. The higher Deck E (complete with suspended deck D) would be filled first, then the ballast would begin be pumped, raising the trim to enable the lower Deck G to be filled. As a result loading took longer than elsewhere. At a few minutes to seven that evening, the “harbour stations” call went out over the tannoy. This was to give notice to the crew to attend their stations, ready for sailing. Critically, Mark Stanley slept through this call, and so was not at his post, to close the bow doors, prior to voyage.

Personal tension between Chief Officer Leslie Sabel and Second Officer Paul Morter meant a breakdown in understanding, when Mr Morter reported to G Deck to take over the loading duties from Sabel, enabling him to take his own post on the crew deck, instead Sabel stayed on G deck for a further period, before leaving. In the later enquiry both men posed different recollections of the minutes prior to sailing, and their respective duties and actions. After leaving, it would appear Sabel returned to the car deck and relieved Morter of loading duties, instructing him to report to his station.

At five minutes past 6pm and running a few minutes behind schedule, the Herald of Free Enterprise reversed slowly out of her berth, turning to face bow forward, and made her way through inner harbour towards the outer harbour entrance. At 6.22 she passed through the entrance to the outer harbour and just a few seconds later she listed around 30 degrees to port side, before righting herself briefly then, after performing a sudden turn to starboard, keeled over and sank, in the shallow waters of a sandbank. The Herald of Free Enterprise, devoid of consistent procedures, and with a somewhat uncommunicative crew, had set sail with ballast tanks still partially full, meaning she was lower in the water than she ought to have been, and crucially, her bow doors remained open. As she had quickly gained speed once away from the enclosed harbour, her bow had dipped under the waterline, and tons of water had surged through the open bow, and down through the length of the ship on Car Deck G.

As she had listed, her captain, unaware that the bow doors were wide open, had turned to port, and as luck would have it, as the ship keeled over, it came to rest on the sandbank nestled just outside of the harbour wall, with her starboard side above the water line. Had they not landed on the sandbank, they would have been quickly and completely lost in the much deeper water either side, with little chance of survival. The whole drama from first list to capsize, took just 90 seconds. The violence of the capsize threw the still sleeping Mark Stanley from his bunk. The water meanwhile hit the power supply and back-up generator, causing both to blow. The ship lost all power and plunged into darkness, as hundreds of terrified day trippers were thrown violently around into the rapidly rising water.

193 people lost their lives that night, out of the 459 passengers and 80 crew on board. Those figures included 15 teenagers, and seven children aged under 13. The youngest was just 23 days old and was one of several small children to die. A number of families lost three or four members, separated in the darkness and confusion as decks became walls and furniture became hazardous. Mark Stanley, despite his culpability in the disaster, redeemed himself somewhat when finding his way out onto the hull, broke a window and climbed back inside, rescuing several passengers before passing out from severe blood loss caused by the broken glass as he cleared his entrance into the stricken ship.

Emergency response was rapid, most notably the crew of dredger Sanderas spotted the capsized vessel just a few minutes after it went over, and raised the alarm. Zeebrugge harbour had an emergency action plan in place and tugs were quickly dispatched, which minutes later circled the Herald and began rescue attempts. Some passengers had managed to fight their way out, or had been on the outer deck as she sank, and were either in the water around the ship or waiting on the hull. Divers had been airlifted to the wreck within half an hour of the alarm being sounded, and the Belgian Navy, on exercise nearby quickly joined them. Unfortunately, the tide was rising, and this soon hampered the rescue efforts. Eventually, they had to be called off until morning. When they returned at first light, and low tide, many of the survivors trapped on board had succumbed to hypothermia and injuries and had died during the night.

Memorial to the victims of the Herald disaster

Just seven weeks later, the official inquiry into the tragedy was concluded, the presiding official deeming it necessary for both the implementation of preventative measures, learned from the event, and for the victims families and survivors to achieve closure and entitlement to any due compensation for their loss. Following the result of the enquiry, a salvage operation was agreed, and the Herald was recovered and sold to a South African interest. As the ship was righted, the last remaining bodies were recovered. The Herald was towed towards her new home, causing further incident when her tow rope broke, causing her with no power, to drift before being caught, upon arrival, the new owners were unable to find a buyer for her, and she was ultimately scrapped the following year.

At the inquest, it was ruled the first case of corporate manslaughter in such a disaster. However, this verdict was successfully overturned. The senior officers involved were cautioned as to their lack of structure procedurally but three men were eventually ear-marked for their negligence in the tragedy. Leslie Sabel as Chief Officer for his failure to notify the senior officer that the Herald was setting sail without all discrepancy reports noted, including vitally not ensuring the bow doors were closed, which he was aware of before reporting to his station. Sabel claimed to have seen a crew member approach and believed it was Stanley returning to his post. Mark Stanley for failing to be at his post, when his duties included the closure of the bow doors after loading and prior to voyage, (there was special mention made however, of Stanley’s later conduct, in his rescue efforts saving the lives of several passengers) and finally Boatswain Terence Ayling. At the inquest, Ayling was asked, after standing Stanley down and taking charge of the loading, prior to setting sail, and knowing Stanley had not reported to close the doors, why did he not close the doors himself? He replied that it was not within his job remit to close the doors; it was a duty he had never been required to perform.

193 souls were lost on the basis of “it wasn’t my job…..”


Queen Elizabeth

Portrait made for the Sapphire Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II
Portrait made for the Sapphire Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II
UNSPECIFIED :  Queen Elizabeth II of England (b 1926, daughter of George VI) here in february 1952. This is an official picture from the time when she acceded to the throne. Colorized document.  (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED : Queen Elizabeth II of England (b 1926, daughter of George VI) here in february 1952. This is an official picture from the time when she acceded to the throne. Colorized document. (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

Just a short one tonight, ladies and gents.

In honour of the Sapphire Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, I thought I would have a brief look back and share with you some moments from the early life leading up to the begining of the reign of the much loved monarch.

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born on April 21st 1926 by Caesarian at the home of her mother’s father, Claude Bowes-Lyon, Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, in Mayfair. Later baptised in the Private chapel of Buckingham Palace, she was named for her mother, grandmother and great grandmother. Followed by a younger sister, Margaret, four years later, both girls were conceived using assisted methods.

From a very young age, Elizabeth was variously described as “responsible”, “authorative”, “sensible” and “reflective” by family members, her Nanny “Crawfie” and various dignitaries who had occasion to meet the little Princess, including Winston Churchill. Both girls were educated at home, in such subjects as History, languages, literature and music. From her youngest years, Elizabeth “Lilibet” to those close to her, was fond of horses and dogs. Elizabeth was particularly close to her Grandfather, King George V and was credited with aiding his recovery from a serious illness in 1929.

Elizabeth was not expected to become Queen; at her birth she was third in line to take the throne following her Uncle Edward, and her father. As Edward was young and as yet unmarried, it was anticipated that at some point he would become King, marry and produce heirs of his own. Elizabeth meanwhile faced the possibility of being “bumped” by any brothers her parents Albert, Duke of York and Elizabeth could provide her with. At the age of ten, her beloved grandfather died and Edward took the throne as Edward VIII, placing her second in line, only to abdicate later that same year, 1936, thus causing a constitutional crisis, before her father Albert took the throne to become George VI and placing the role of heir presumptive firmly on the young Princess’ shoulders. No sons were forthcoming.

The future Queen Elizabeth II at Abergeldie Castle in Scotland at the age of seven, 1933. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The future Queen Elizabeth II at Abergeldie Castle in Scotland at the age of seven, 1933. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

War broke out in 1939, and the question was raised as to whether it was appropriate to evacuate Elizabeth and Margaret to Canada. Scores of other children were leaving the capital to safer areas in the country in anticipation of invasion or aerial attack. Queen Elizabeth put a quick end to the discussion by declaring “The children won’t go without me. I won’t leave without the King. And the King will never leave.” Instead they moved around the family homes at Balmoral and Sandringham, eventually settling in the relative quiet of Windsor where they spent much of the remainder of the war.

In 1940, Elizabeth made a radio broadcast to the children of the nation, urging them to be brave and to think of the gallant men fighting for them. She staged pantomimes to raise money for wool with which to knit garments for the troops. In 1942 at the age of 16, she was made Colonel of the Grenadier Guards, and the following year was elevated to acting Counsellor of State, by special act of Parliament, in the event that something were to happen to her father during his diplomatic visits and meetings pertaining to the war effort.

In February 1945, Elizabeth joined the Women’s Auxillary Territorial Service, in capacity as a mechanic and driver, in which she would would serve the remainder of the war, and where she was later given an honorary promotion to Junior Commander. As the end of the war was announced and the nation celebrated, Elizabeth and her sister, with the permission of their mother, went out into the streets and mingled with the public, linking arms with strangers as they walked along Whitehall. Neither were recognised.

Princess Elizabeth with a horse at Windsor on her 13th birthday.  (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Princess Elizabeth with a horse at Windsor on her 13th birthday. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

In 1947, Princess Elizabeth accompanied her parents on her first overseas tour, to South Africa. It was here on her 21st birthday that she made an address to the British Commonwealth via BBC Radio, famously pledging “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

On 6th February 1952, following a period of ill-health, King George VI passed away. The news was broken to the new Queen Elizabeth II by her husband Prince Philip, whom she had married in November 1947 in their lodgings in Kenya where they were staying en route to a state visit of New Zealand and Australia. The couple returned quickly to Britain and moved from their home in Clarence House to Buckingham Palace. And so began the longest reign of a British monarch, and Queen of the British Commonwealth, in history.

God save the Queen.



14192564_324647214544034_7929744366459164080_nWe’ve all heard of the German Heavy Metal band Rammstein, I’m sure. Their famous offerings including ‘Ich Will’, ‘Feuer Frei’ and ‘Sonne’. But there’s a story behind their name, and that story is the Ramstein Airshow Disaster. The band initially named Rammstein-Flugschau (Ramstein Airshow- the extra ‘m’ was a spelling mistake which they kept) have since stepped away from the association, claiming the name came from the “ramming stone” of the same name – a large stone doorstop affair found on old gates but the initial addition of the ‘flugschau’ berates that story. But that’s not really the topic for today.

In the Summer of 1988, my friends and I were who were lucky enough to be raised in the warm embrace of the Royal Air Force, paid witness to our annual airshow. The Red Arrows, always a crowd pleaser, were in attendance, alongside our own display of Tornados and other invited guests performing fly-bys and other fun filled attractions. One highlight was the visiting Italian Air Force Display team, the Frecce Tricolori; a ten man display flying Aermacchi MB-339 PAN Jets. The team had been guests in the Officers Mess for several days, lovingly cared for by my own Mum, who brought home shirts to launder for them, amongst various other ‘motherly’ duties. I took some shirts up one day and was introduced to the team who were all very dashing and suave to my 17 years old sensibilities. I got a smile and a wink from ‘Pony 10’ Lieutenant-Colonel Ivo Nutarelli; Mum got a pot plant. “The Triffid”.

On the day of the airshow, we all gathered on the airfield and watched the FT put their jets through their paces. Oh boy! They were awesome. A collective of hearts in mouths and “daren’t look….yet can’t stop looking!” They were all we talked about for days. Yes we were loyal to our own Reds, but these guys….. The grande finale was the ‘pierced heart’ manouvre. Executed by nine of the team flying in split five to one side, four to the other, towards the crowd and joining to be pierced by Lt-Col Nutarelli. Spectacular. The Reds modified the same manouvre in their nine smaller jets. Watch them, you will see what I mean. So a few weeks later, on August 28th 1988, it was with horror that my friends and I, after discussing at length the significance of Nuterelli’s name being for his daring flying, that we learned the team had met with disaster at another airshow in Germany at the USAF base of Ramstein.


Whilst performing their signature manouvre, Lt-Col Nutarelli had come in too fast and at the wrong angle, too low. It is debated that he tried to slow his Jet by dropping the undercarriage however this is speculative; there are a number of different reasons why the wheels could have been down. Ivo clipped Pony 1 flown by Lt-Col Mario Naldini, smashing in the nose of his own Jet whilst simultaneously destroying the tail of Pony 1, and sending it in ricochet into Pony 2, piloted by Captain Giorgio Alessio. Naldini managed to eject as his aircraft slammed into a Taxiway to the side of the runway, hitting the emergency evacuation helicopter, and destroying it; however, his chute failed to open in time and he was killed instantly as he hit the ground. The Pilot of the helicopter was fatally injured with severe burns and died some weeks later of his injuries.

survivor Marc-David Jung.

Alessio went down with his Jet, as the impact sent him straight into the side of the runway. He was killed instantly. Nutarelli’s doomed jet, severely damaged and uncontrollable, smashed into the crowd-line on the runway. Still moving at a tremendous speed, its momentum carried it through a police car, the fencing delineating the active line of the runway, spiraling uncontrollably until coming to rest on an ice-cream van. The crowd were showered with hundreds of gallons of flaming aviation fuel, and burning aircraft parts. They had less than seven seconds to run from the moment of impact between the jets and their hitting the crowd-lines. Nutarelli was also killed as his Jet disintegrated during its snowball down the flight-line. Aside from Med-Evac Pilot Captain Kim Strader, and the three Italian Pilots, 66 spectators were killed in the ensuing fireball, 27 at the scene, with the rest succumbing to their injuries in the next few days and weeks. Hundreds more injured, many severely with up to 90% third degree burns for many.

During the aftermath, there was a great deal of confusion. The only evacuation helicopter had as we know been destroyed. Due to lack of communication and resulting security hold-ups before being allowed onto the base, it took up to an hour to get German medical teams to the injured; many of whom were already being transported away by civilian transport on the backs of pick-up trucks and so on. American military helicopters were commandeered to fly the injured, but lacked facilities or supplies for treatment. German Emergency Helicopters turned up and were also employed in treatment and transport of wounded. Details of the disaster were not forwarded to nearby hospitals, who were already receiving unaccompanied, untreated wounded before the official report was received. Organisation was non-existent.

Ramstein air crash memorial

As a result of the accident, several new guidelines were introduced for future displays. The most important one being that a ban was placed on aircraft performing display manouvres over the crowd, and a minimum distance being placed between the front of the crowd line and the active runway. Emergency procedures were revised and action plans put into place to prevent future chaos in similar incidents. And a standard of medical procedures was introduced, particularly regarding intravenous lines which had shown to be carried out in different ways with different instruments by the German and American teams, causing a breech between the two when handing over patients.

The accident at Ramstein, was at its occurrence, the worst airshow disaster ever. It has however since been over-taken in number of casualties by the 2002 Sknyliv disaster in the Ukraine when one solitary jet crashed after clipping the ground during a manouvre, colliding with a static aircraft and spinning out of control back across the runway into the crowd killing 77 people including 28 children. Both Pilot and Co-Pilot were blamed for the incident and jailed for 14 and 8 years respectively. Ground crew and flight planners involved also received jail sentences.


Little Nadine Fuchs aged five died of her injuries on September 9th. She had celebrated her birthday just a few days before the disaster. Her mother was killed instantly when a large piece of the aircraft hit her and was buried the day Nadine died. Nadine and her father received significant burns.

Learning, Learning Difficulties and Mental Illness

Édouard Séguin (1812–1880)
Édouard Séguin (1812–1880)

Today’s effort is a bit of a mish mash. I don’t have the skill to tell a story as ER does, and I don’t have that element of controversy that AG has in his work, and I certainly cannot weave a factually detailed narrative in the way Phoebe does it. All of our brains work in different ways; some of us are academically gifted, others good at solving problems or creating amazing works of art. Some people are just good at making or fixing stuff. But each one of us is good at something. And that is the point of

my offering today. That mental health is no bar to intelligence, and the two are not mutually exclusive.

I’m not going to give you a run down on each of the people I touch on in this article, not a full one anyway; that’s a job I will leave to the writers. Instead I’m going to lead you on a short journey, and tell the story of how each of these people contributed to that journey. I found the inspiration for this article whilst playing around with a little mystery offered in the form of an inscription in an old book, delivered to the lovely Elizabeth Chadwick the other day, so thanks Elizabeth, this one is for you (and I still firmly believe that the dedication you have in that book, is something to do with the Seguins).

In the early part of the 18th century, Edouard Seguin studied medicine under Jean Marc Itard, who famously took on and worked with the “Wild boy of Aveyron”. Itard achieved limited success in his venture, which led professionals in the field of human development to conclude that there is a natural process to the learning of social skills, and that these skills – the ability to communicate efficiently and function in human society – were learned at specific times during development with appropriate stimulus from others. If those lessons were not forthcoming, the optimum period for absorbing the knowledge would be lost and the lesson unlearned.

Seguin used his time with Itard to develop his own theories regarding the development of the infant brain, particularly those of children who had congenital brain damage or birth related brain injuries. Working from the new angle of physiology rather than traditional theory, that the brain development in these children were neither diseased nor abnormal, rather suffered “arrested development” at some point before, during or shortly after birth, Seguin set up the first private school in his hometown of Paris, treating these children by firstly strengthening their physical carriage, believing this would help them intellectually and then by stimulating the intellectual abilities with specially developed lessons to enable them to learn everyday skills. Seguin published many books and articles, including studies on Aphasia, Lunacy, Idiocy and physiology of brain injured patients. He was credited with the naming of an involuntary muscle contraction presenting before epileptic seizures, known as Seguin’s Sign.

In around 1850 he took his family and his techniques and moved to America, to assist in several educational institutions that had been set up based on his own model, eventually reaching New York in 1860 where he went to work in Randall’s Island asylum in the children’s facility to improve their living conditions. Randall’s island, like nearby Ward’s and Blackwell’s Islands, have since their purchase been associated with various institutions turned over to the housing and treatment of the most unfortunate members of New York society, including those with mental illness, those deemed “idiots”, sick emigrants, vagrants, juvenile delinquents and others. Wards was also later used as a mass cemetery for those who died whilst in these facilities, as well as those pre-deceased from other cemetery clearances.

Maria Montessori
Maria Montessori

Due to the successes of Seguin’s methods, a young Italian Physician, graduating in the fields of both Psychiatry and Pediatrics, followed the teachings of both Seguin and Itard closely and later developed and built on the theories she had learned. Maria Montessori was the first female Physician in Italy, graduating from the medical school of the University of Rome with the highest honours in 1896. After a period working in the free clinics, taking care of the most poverty stricken children of the area, she was given the ominous task of running the new Orthrophenic school, previously the municipal asylum for “deficient and insane” children. Her first action was to dismiss the majority of the “care-taking” staff who were quickly seen to treat their charges with disdain and contempt. Using methods she had developed for breaking down simple social and personal skills into easy lessons, including non-verbal skills, which she had implemented successfully with particularly her blind patients, Maria improvised her methods and was quite quickly able to teach her more capable new patients, to look after firstly themselves and then the other, younger or less able children. Basic self-care regimes, dressing and washing etc were quickly mastered.

As she was able to recruit further staff members who were interested in learning her methods, Maria was able to increase the skills, through new lessons using purpose made materials she had developed. Montessori was desperate to prove the methods could work on other children, but was denied access to school age children. Instead she was placed at the head of a new institute, basically a day-care for pre-school children of the poorest working classes, at Casa dei Bambina. Despite their initial aggressiveness, unlike the mentally disturbed children she had worked with previously who had to be coaxed to use the materials, she was surprised to find these young children responded positively and with genuine interest to the methods she had developed. One day she arrived to find that the children had broken into the school through an unsecured window, and had helped themselves to materials from the cupboard which someone had neglected to lock. They were all sitting quietly working away. From that point, the materials were no longer locked away. Her methods and designs for not just teaching materials, but the aides for young children, small toilets and low hand basins and so on, are implemented in schools worldwide, particularly in the facilities developed as Montessori Schools.

But our journey is not over quite yet. Following in his father’s footsteps, Edward Constant Seguin graduated in New York as a Physician in 1864, after serving during the civil war as a medic. Specialising in Neurological disorders, Seguin was an early mover in the new field of medical thermometry. After a period spent back in his birthplace of Paris, studying diseases of the nervous system under Charcot and Brown-Sequard, he returned to New York in 1870 and was employed by William Draper, in his practice. In 1871 he was given the Chair of Diseases of the Nervous System at the College, which he held for five years before his resignation, founding the Neurological clinic during his employment.

Seguin jr, like his father, published several papers and studies on various aspects of neurosis. His most prominent later work centred on the theory that those suffering mild to moderate mental illness could be successfully treated for their condition, in the comfort and stability of their own homes, with adequate family support and the attentions of a trained physician. His research was thought to be pioneering and changed the viewpoint that sufferers of mental health issues automatically needed to be removed from their comfort zone and kept in isolation, without undue stimulation, in order to prevent further stress.
Sadly, his career suffered a dramatic pause in 1882. Seguin’s wife, Margaret, whom he had been treating at home himself for bouts of “melancholy” perhaps as part of his ongoing research, vanished one afternoon. As a result of her fits of depression, her brother Dr Amidon, who lived a few doors away, had taken to meeting with her daily in an effort to keep up her spirits. Seguin, with his brother in law’s assistance, felt it was better to allow Margaret to remain in the relative comfort of their home, rather than be admitted to either a facility from where she may never return, or one of the private rest-homes which had sprung up, whose mantra was calm and quiet isolation from all previous contacts to minimize distress. Seguin perhaps felt these alternatives unsuitable for his delicate wife and their circumstances.

Despite already having seen his sister once that day, at lunchtime, Dr Amidon visited his sister later in the afternoon, to be informed she was not at home. Upon returning a few hours later, there was still no sign of her, and a feeling of alarm was raised when the hall-boy mentioned that the spare room door was locked, a most unusual occurrence. From being concerned that his sister had thrown herself into Central Park Lake – thereby confirming existing concerns of suicidal tendencies – whilst out with the children, Dr Amidon went to break down the door of the locked room. Upon gaining entry, he found the bodies of his sister and all three of her children aged 4, 5 and 7. Margaret had shot them all to death, after binding their hands and blind-folding them, apparently in a game of Hide and Seek, placing two inside a walk in closet where their bodies still lay, before executing them all with shots to the head. She then turned one of the three loaded guns on herself.

Although Seguin removed himself somewhat from his practices, he continued to publish, and to maintain that his theory was workable. He continued to deny the need for incarceration into institutions for all but the most severely afflicted. His previous statement “It is fair to say that, in the present state of psychiatry in America, to be pronounced insane by physicians, by a judge, or by a jury, means imprisonment for months, years, or for life.” remained his verdict on such establishments. It is sad to note that despite being a pioneer in the more moderate treatment of mental illnesses, Seguin was unable to see the extremity of signs displayed by his wife, in order to prevent such a tragedy. The hall-boy, who had worked for the family for three years later confirmed that Mrs Seguin’s habits were somewhat peculiar, and that she often seemed sad. It was said that the happier the children seemed, the more marked her melancholy, as it troubled her that her children had been ‘doomed to a life of misery and her one object was to save them from the fate which she imagined was in store for them.’

Following the tragedy, Seguin moved away from his home back to Europe, returning to New York in 1885. Despite the horror of the tragedy in his own life, Edward Seguin’s methods of home-treatment of mental illness continued to be trusted and developed by his peers. After working in his own practice, and re-marrying twice, Edward eventually retired in 1896. In 1898, Edward Seguin passed away from cirrhosis of the liver. He left request to be buried with his father who had passed away some 18 years before, and his beloved children in the Seguin family plot at Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx. He left all his professional materials to the college, and his belongings to his third wife. No mention was made of the guns Margaret had used to end the lives of his family, which he owned. It also remained unstated that Margaret had been buried within the vault alongside her children, and Seguin’s final resting place reunited them all.


Gruesome Murder in Kimberworth Park

13221034_270438256631597_1389484053986795851_n It was November 15th, 1912 and Amy Collinson (Nicholson) aged 10 and her cousin Frances Nicholson aged 7 had spent the evening rehearsing for the Christmas Nativity presentation at the Chapel in Kimberworth, Rotherham. As the rehearsal drew to a close, Amy and Frances prepared for a substantial walk home in the dark. Accompanied by several of their friends who lived along the route, they set off after 8pm in the dark. Their number shrunk until the last friend, Doris Stainrod, bade them goodbye in the vicinity of the Sir Colin Campbell Public House, now called simply ‘The Colin’.

The two girls were now on their own for the next leg of the journey which took them down the road to the rear of the pub (now Farm View Road) to its meeting with what is now Grange View Road, at the junction of Upper Wortley Road. From there they would cross onto the footpath behind what is now Hungerhill Road, where it cuts through Barker’s Park to Kimberworth Park Road in the Redscope School Area. Kimberworth Park Farm, locally known as Abdy Farm after a previous 19thC tenant, William Abdy, was part of Kimberworth Park belonging to the Wentworth Estate of the Earls Fitzwilliam and was let to Amy’s Foster father. It stood on the site of what is now Redscope School, and its land covered Barker’s Park from as far as Oaks Lane, up to where the Domino Public House stood until recently.

Amy Nicholson was being raised by her Aunt and Uncle, the Collinsons, whom she called Mother and Father. Her real mother was the unmarried sister of both her foster mother and Frances’ father, Isaac Nicholson. Frances, her cousin, lived further on towards Scholes village in the end cottage of a row at the side of local landmark, Keppel’s column, a folly built on the Wentworth Estate, in a previously wooded area known as Scholes Wood or Scholes Coppice.

The plan was that the girls would make their way to the farm, where Frances’ brothers would be waiting to take their sister on the final leg of the journey to Scholes. But they didn’t arrive as expected. The distance they were to cover was around a mile or so, which should have taken them roughly 30 mins or so, allowing for dawdling, and gossiping with their friends. They were certainly expected by 9pm. At 10pm the boys went to look for Amy and Frances, and walked the route they had expected to follow, coming back by an alternative that ran nearby. Mr Collinson walked down in the other direction to see if the girls had diverted along the route near the Grange Manor. When no sighting of the girls was made, it was proposed that the girls had stayed over at a friend’s house instead, which wasn’t unheard of, and arrangements were made to recommence the search early the next morning. The boys returned home to Scholes to appraise their parents.13177301_270438213298268_3385817623636637883_n

Early the next morning as the family gathered with a few local neighbours to resume the search, Mrs Collinson went out onto the land, and at the rear boundary at its junction with the footpath, found the two girls dead under a hedge. Both had had their throats slashed. Her hysterical screams brought the family running, and the police were summoned immediately. An imprint of what was felt to be corduroy material was found in the mud nearby as though somebody had knelt down in a pair of rough trousers; a cast was made. A partial print of a boot obviously covered with a boot protector was also found and cast, although the tread was indistinguishable. A woollen glove was also recovered.

The girls’ friends who attended the Chapel rehearsal were interviewed and one mentioned seeing Amy talking to a strange gentleman a few days before, whilst she sat on the boundary gate. A subsequent medical examination of the bodies showed Amy appeared to have been raped recently. Frances’ brother and both fathers were questioned at length but released without charge, as no evidence could be found linking them to the crime. Without further leads, the trail went cold. Both girls were released for

burial several days later and were interred in a grave together at nearby St Thomas, Kimberworth. There was a huge turnout of local residents for the funeral, all horrified at the gruesome murder of two small girls from the close-knit community; they lined the route of the cortege, many flower arrangements were given and a substantial sum of money raised by donations which were given over to purchase a lavish gravestone for the two children.

Christmas came and went. Just as it seemed that the crime would go unsolved, as the New Year approached, in the afternoon of Sunday, December 29th 1912, a local teenager named Vesey Haigh, from Kilnhurst a few miles away and worked on the trams that ran through Kimberworth, happened to be chatting to an itinerate fairground labourer, Walter Sykes; Sykes was known to be a little on the slow side intellectually and somewhat vagrant by nature, often relying on the charity of others.
Haigh was surprised when Sykes suddenly and without prompting stated,
“Your bobby (policemen) is watching me for that Kimberworth (Rotherham) murder, and if he’s watching me he is watching the right one, but he cannot catch me as he’s watching a man who’s a sight sharper than himself.”

Sykes then prepared and made his way to Mexborough some miles aw

ay, followed by Haigh who made a report to the police there. Sykes was arrested and confessed his role in the crime. His statement to the Inspector claimed,
“I may as well tell you the truth. It is the first time I have mentioned it to anybody.”
Asked what he meant, he replied,
“That murder at Rotherham. I did it with a pocket-knife. I was the worse for drink at the time. I sold the knife. I am wearing the same clothing now, except the trousers, which were worn out. I slept out that night.”

There were no traces of blood found on Sykes’ clothing.

Dr Dean, Professor of Microbiology at Sheffield University confirmed that the pen-knife which Sykes claimed he had used to cut the girls’ throats and then sold and later recovered, was found clean of blood traces using the most delicate tests. His trousers which had been much repaired, a detail confirmed by Sykes’ employer’s wife Mrs William Gedney who had recently given him an old pair of similar ones to use for patching and repairs, were also recovered after Sykes stated he had thrown them away when he received a new pair from the Workhouse where he spent Christmas day. Again they showed no traces of blood. He later changed his story, indicating that he had disposed of the trousers the next day in return for new ones.

The boots and their boot protectors also given by the Gedneys were also thrown away but never recovered. Sykes landlady, Mrs Copeland, claimed that he did not return to his lodgings on the night of the murders, but when appearing the next morning at between 10 and 11 am, had claimed to have slept in the open. She gave him a pair of clogs to wear that she had previously offered him, which he had initially turned down because of the noise they made and threw away his boots. Mrs Copeland confirmed the accused was absent on the night of the murder; Sykes later claimed he was in his room that night, despite having previously sworn he slept in his van.

His employer was unable to account for Sykes’ attendance at work in the days leading up to the murder, however did confirm that the day following, the 16th November, Sykes did turn in but extremely late. Further questioning of witnesses who came forward following his arrest for identification purposes, swore that Sykes had been seen in the Kimberworth district on the day of the murders, and the following day as the bodies of the girls were recovered from the scene. Further witness statement from one of Amy’s friends swore that Sykes had been seen talking to Amy on three days of the week prior to her murder.

Despite attempts to retract his confession, Sykes was remanded for trial at Leeds Assizes where he was subsequently found guilty of the rape of Amy Nicholson and the murders of both Amy and Frances. On 23rd April, 1913 Sykes was hung by Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Albert Lumb (Lamb) at Wakefield. The prisoner showed no signs of distress prior to his execution, and his last words were “I’m Sorry”.

Despite several witness statements, which appear to corroborate Sykes’ own confession, which he later tried to recant claiming it was all untrue, there was no physical evidence – specifically blood spatter -linking Sykes to the crime. The rape of Amy Nicholson, although forming part of the proceedings, as evidence of motive, was never explored further, nor mentioned by the defendant.

As an interesting side-note, it is claimed by several local residents that they have been confronted by the ghost of Amy Nicholson on that lonely footpath, now used as a short cut from the local pubs in Kimberworth to the housing estate that stands on the former Kimberworth Park, from which it takes its name. I never saw her though.