Portsmouth Point Families related to my family by marriage
Although Portsmouth Point was a temporary, transitory home for many folk, it did
have its core, established families whose surnames regularly crop up in censuses
and rate books like old friends.
This page will describe those families at Portsmouth Point with whom my people intermarried.
This will add spice to my heritage from ‘Spice Island’.
The Coote Family
From the late eighteenth century, some of the Coote men (noted below) were licensed
pilots. Most lived at Point and Old Portsmouth. Some Cootes married settled Point
sons and daughters from the
Beale, Main, Taw and Gawn dynasties. Elizabeth Pamela (Daisy) Tuck (daughter of
my great grand nephew, William TW Tuck) married James’ son, William Henry Coote.
John Crockford Coote
John Coote jnr
(1821 - 1890)
James John Coote
John Crockford Coote was a pilot and married the Beale sisters, Ann and Sophia. They
lived at Point in East Street (1841) and Seagers Court (1851 and 1861).
His three sons were also pilots: John Coote jnr married Elizabeth Main and then Elizabeth
Gawn. He lived at Bathing Lane, Point in 1851. George Coote, lived with his family
at Point in Broad Street, (1861 and 1901), Seagers Court (1871 and 1891) and East
Street (1881). William Coote lived with his family at Ryde.
James John Coote(right) lived for at least forty years at St Thomas Street, Old
Portsmouth. When he died, he was probably the oldest of the Trinity House pilots
Although he retired at sixty, when World War I began he rejoined and was on examination
duty at Spithead. He was a member of the Temperance Lodge of Freemasons and of the
Hospital Saturday Committee. When he died he was living at 49 St Thomas Street -
a street from which he married.
A full Coote tree can be found at this link: Coote tree
News stories featuring the Coote family in the nineteenth century
May 1832. John Cootewas involved in a case when a wherryman, James Foster, was imprisoned
for three weeks for failing to pay a 20/- penalty. Foster had led a collier, Scythe,
into Portsmouth Harbour by tacking exactly where the collier should tack. The collier
had previously been boarded by John Coote, a licensed pilot, whose services were
refused on the grounds that he was not required. Foster’s services were engaged
May 1857, Henry Barron, a waterman, threatened John Coote, a pilot in Portsmouth
Harbour and was discharged after agreeing to keep the peace for three months. however,
although not a pilot. His actions were to the ‘injury of a useful and laborious body
March 1860. Richard Hayman, master of the schooner Cambria, coasting vessel and as
such exempt from compulsory pilotage, was charged by George Coote with having an
unlicensed pilot when sailing from Motherbank to Portsmouth Harbour and continuing
to do so despite Coote offering his services. He was fined twice the pilotage charge.
October 1866. George Coote summoned Thomas Howland, master of the brigantine, Conqueror
with refusing to pay his fees for bringing the ship into Portsmouth Harbour. Coote
had made a signal and boarded the vessel five miles from the Nab Light. The master
refused to pay him saying he was not bound to take a pilot. The Court disagreed and
fined him £4 0s 6d.
A Tuck/Coote Gallery
The Cottrell/Cotterell Family
The Cottrells grew to be a large family at Point. Several of the men were watermen,
fishermen at Point and nearby streets. Others were mariners.Two Cottrell sisters
married Mills brothers (Link: Mills and Cottrells) in the late nineteenth century.
There is a Cottrell family tree at this link:
Cottrell tree. It is not definitive - please contact me with any amendments or extra
As so many were watermen, the family is introduced with notes about the life of watermen
(Above) James John Coote’s son, William Henry (born 1885) (Middle) my great grand
nephew, William Thomas Wright Tuck. (Right) Elizabeth Pamela (Daisy) Coote (nee Tuck).
Daisy Coote and her husband hospitably allowed my grandparents, Charlie and Edith
Mills, to lodge with them after World War I until they found a new home. I remember
her well - visiting her home at Playfair Road, Southsea and enjoying Gales honey
sandwiches, She visited my mother at Northern Parade in the 1950s bringing a bundle
of several weeks back-copies of the boys magazines: Hotspur, Wizard, Adventure and
Rover.The stories of Roy of the Rovers, ‘Tug’ Wilson (the athlete who trained on
fish and chips) and V for Vengeance occupied my reading under the sheets with a torch
for many days.
Above: (Back row, l to r) Lance Tillett, William Tuck, Hilda Tuck and William Henry
Bottom row, l to r) Doris Tuck, William T W Tuck, Ernest Tuck, Elizabeth Tuck, Joan
Tuck and Daisy Tuck.
Above: (Top row, l to r) Millie’s father,William Coote, Hilda Tuck, William J Tuck,
Ernest Tuck, Lance Tillett, William and Elizabeth Tuck. (Bottom row, l to r) Millie’s
mother,Doris Tuck, Millie Joan Coote and ?
The watermen of Point - ‘One more and over’
As they were so experienced, when press gangs roamed the ports at the beginning of
the nineteenth century, watermen were a prized catch. In March 1803, a ‘hot press’
seized 500 men at Portsmouth. At 20.00, a ship’s captain gathered a party of marines
at Monkton Fort, Gosport who pretended to quell a riot with as much noise as possible.
An intrigued crowd of onlookers grew, attracted by the commotion, but as they returned
home from the false alarm, watermen and seamen were ambushed and pressed. Later,
watermen became a protected species, being exempt from the press in 1814.
From 1808, they were regulated: their craft were numbered. In 1812, three water bailiffs
were appointed who earned £30 a year. Every year, watermen applied for a licence
(which cost 8/- in 1872) and boats were inspected for seaworthiness. But, the licenses
were granted only to those who had served an apprenticeship or had been at sea for
a minimum of three years. Sails had a number painted in the middle on both sides,
six inches long - black numbers on white sails and white on dark sails. If it was
a rowed boat, then the numbers and the waterman’s name were painted in two places
on the hull. Should men operate without a licence, they were liable for a fine of
20/- with 7/6d costs. However, if their boats were moored at another location and
they were engaged for hire, they frequently took out boats that were licensed in
Cottrells in the news
Passengers joined boats at Point Beach (right), The Sally Port and The Hard. The
watermen were allowed to wait at the quay side for ten minutes to complete their
quota of eight passengers - hence the familiar, incessant cries of, ‘One more and
over’ as they drummed up trade.
A waterman served an apprenticeship of between five and seven years and often fathers
taught their sons their expertise. They had to be qualified, able and skilled. William
Cottrell was able to battle tides and currents to row from Portsmouth around the
Isle of Wight and back to the Victoria Pier, Southsea!
Any activity at sea is potentially hazardous and watermen died as they worked. In
the Solent where the ‘wherrymen did such a busy trade, boating accidents were neither
few nor far between’. ‘Many a wherry went dancing out of Portsmouth Harbour...laden
with jovial company only to be taken aback with the sad news that she had run athwart
a hawser or upset at Spithead and that some, if not all, her customers had drowned’.
In October 1848, battling a gale, two men (Samuel Lock and Henry Laishley) took five
women visiting a fiancé, son and husbands to the newly-returned Grampus which was
anchored at Spithead.
In 1808, there were almost 1,200 watermen around Portsmouth Harbour. In The Chronicles
of Portsmouth (1828), a ferry service between Portsmouth and Gosport is mentioned.
However, the recommendation of the writer, Henry Slight, was ‘better to take the
boats at trifling expense and thus avoid trouble, importunity and delay... boats
are excellent and the seamen, very expert’ In 1841, there were 36 at Point alone.
But, their numbers dwindled: 1865 - ‘about 500’; 1872 - 240; 1888 – 160 - ‘a decaying
December 1864. The body of a young man, Joseph Crocker (47), was found in the Camber.
Four men named Cottrell and Taw were directed to ‘creep’ the Camber after a floating
hat had been found by a young boy. After an hour and a half they brought up the body
just above the bridge in the Inner Camber. At the inquest, George Cottrell, waterman,
confirmed the finding of the body.
September 1866. William Cottrell accused James Prior (aged about 17) of operating
as a waterman without a license. Cottrell, a waterman licensed both within and outside
the harbour, said he had seen Prior take a note in a small skiff to the mud vessel
at Spithead and return with a gentleman, for which he was paid 1/6d. When he remonstrated
with Prior before he set off, Prior retorted, ‘Never mind what he can do,.
November 1868. An inquest opened on the body of William Bull, (36) a cab driver of
Havant Street. At 20.40 on Wednesday, he was hired to take two people from The Hard
to Portsmouth in his hansom cab. When they were in Ordnance Row, a waterman named
Cottrell saw him suddenly fall off the box to the ground. He went to help Bull, but
he died within a few minutes.
April 1873. Jeremiah Taw and William Cottrell were witnesses in a case of extensive
smuggling of tobacco. Charles Burnett, a waterman, was charged with unshipping 119
lbs of tobacco. At 06.30 a customs officer saw Burnett pass under the Camber Bridge
and haul his boat onto mud opposite the Baltic Wharf. With difficulty, he tumbled
a package into a boat belonging to Jeremiah Taw. After taking Burnett to the Customs
House and retrieving the tobacco, Taw’s boat was found at Bath Square with its bottom
covered in mud. The officer was asked if he knew William Cottrell. He replied he
knew several Cottrells. William, a waterman of Penny Street, was called and he said
that he passed Burnett by the bridge at 06.30 that morning and must have been seen
by the customs officer. Burnett was found guilty and fined £100. If this was not
paid, he was to spend six months in gaol.
February 1877. Four men including Samuel Kitchener, were accused of stealing coal.
They had been trimming the Royal Sovereign with ballast from a barge. Thomas Cottrell
( who was discharged from custody to give evidence) said that the coal was loaded
into the barge. As the coal could not be identified and the only evidence was provided
by an accomplice, the case was thrown out.
October 1875. The Princess Alice was lying under the crane by the Gunwharf. Her boilers
were raised. The decayed woodwork of the crane caused it to give way, but a seaman,
Alfred Cottrell, gave the alarm having had his suspicions aroused otherwise the consequences
would have been serious.
August 1878. Thomas Cottrell, labourer, was charged with being drunk and disorderly
in Broad Street, Point and fined 15s including costs.
February 1880. Henry Page was killed when there was a collision between a steam packet,
Princess Alice, and a wherry near Victoria Pier. Henry Cottrell of Harpers Yard,
East Street testified that he was the master of the yacht, Royal Oak. At about 08.00,
he went to Victoria Pier to catch the first Cowes boat when he saw the masts of the
wherry by the side of the pier. The steamer approached the pier, but Cottrell did
not recall the pier’s bell being rung. The wherry was full of about thirty sailors.
He shouted to them once to warn of the steamer’s approach but no-one replied. If
he had been in charge of the wherry, he would consider it his duty to have looked
for the steamer. There was great confusion and talking in the wherry as she attempted
to push off and one of the oars was hanging in the pier so that the boat was stopped.
When Princess Alice rounded the Round Tower (which was 148 yards from the pier),
she was travelling at about four or five knots. Her paddles stopped but she struck
the wherry which was now about twelve yards from the pier. It was his opinion that
the steamer was attempting to pass between the wherry and the pier but the boat was
stopped by the hanging up of the scull. The steamer put down ropes and launched a
boat within five minutes. Cottrell said he had between twelve an fourteen years experience
as a mate and though the steamer could have avoided the collision by stopping its
engines after passing the Tower. But also, had he been on the wherry, he would have
held onto the steps of the pier until the steamer had passed. Alternatively, the
steamer might have avoided the wherry by porting her helm. In saying this, Cottrell
was given credit for his straightforwardness. He said everything had been done on
the pier to save life and he saw lifebuoys in the water.
March 1880. An inquest was held on three month old Charles James Cottrell, the son
of James Beach Cottrell, mariner of 49 Penny Street. Charles had been found after
being taken to bed with his parents and found dead beside his mother in the morning.
His mother said he had been ill after a vaccination. The surgeon said that death
September 1880. There had been a collision off Ryde Pier of The Alexandra, a paddle
steamer, and The Albert Edward which ferried passengers from Portsmouth to The Needles.
Alfred Cottrell was a mate on the Alexandra who was at the wheel of the vessel. He
was threading his way through several yachts at the Ryde Regatta. Then, he saw the
Albert Edward leave the pier and was 150 to 200 yards away from her when he had the
order to ‘Port’. They were ‘hard a port’ when the collision occurred. The Albert
Edward’s port paddle-box took the bridge of the Alexandra on the port side. The main
damage was a piece of timber being forced up through the Alexandra’s paddle box.
No one was hurt in the accident.
Spetember 1883. The Portsea and Gosport Ferry Commissioners granted permission to
George Cottrell to take his son as an apprentice.
September 1884. A cyclist riding a tricycle was turning from Broad Street to board
the floating bridge when a stone got under his guiding front wheel. The bicycle ran
twenty yards into the sea. The cyclist was unable to swim and was in considerable
danger when Cottrell, a young waterman, and two others jumped into the water. Cottrell
reached him first but was clasped around the neck and dragged into the water. His
father went to his assistance and between them and a passing boat the cyclist and
tricycle were rescued. Later, ‘An Eye Witness’ wrote to the Hampshire Telegraph:
‘A most alarming accident which at one stage appeared fatal occurred off Point Beach
at 10 am....I saw (the cyclist) sink twice when a boy about sixteen, named Cottrell,
swam to his assistance and caught him as he was sinking for a third time. Surely,
sir, a brave deed such as this deserves the recognition of the Royal Humane Society?’
June 1885. Jessie Shugrua attempted to commit suicide by drowning herself off Point.
She was rescued by a young waterman named Cottrell although she was insensible for
June 1885. William Cottrell, a licensed waterman and captain of the launch Victor,
was awarded a medal for rescuing a drunken marine who had jumped overboard from the
launch at 21.00. There was a strong tide running and Cottrell ran a great risk. When
the medal was awarded, the presenter said he had known the Cottrell’s family for
many years and always found them most respectable.
July 1885. Watermen protested about granting watermen and licensed boatmen with joint
licences which would increase competition for their services. W and J Cottrell were
involved in the protest.
October 1885. Ellen Knighton of 6 Parsons Court, St Mary’s Street was charged with
assaulting Ellen Fletcher of 32 St Mary’s Street. A witness was Alice Cottrell of
January 1886. Alice Pearce lodging at the Cross Keys, St Mary’s Street, was charged
with stealing bed-clothing from her lodgings. She had been cohabiting with a man
named Cottrell who was admonished for his conduct as it seemed he had not given the
girl money to keep him and her and was therefore the cause of her position.
September 1886. John Appleton(17), a boy on the merchant steamer, Firefly, attempted
to commit suicide in the Inner Camber at 16.00. He was rescued from twelve feet of
water by George William Cottrell. After recovering, he again attempted to run to
.November 1886. At an inquest on John Henry Cottrell (58) unmarried waterman of 1
White Hart Road, his cousin Thomas Cottrell said he had retired with John (who looked
ill) at 22.15 the deceased complained of coldness at midnight and when Thomas awoke
between 06.30 and 07.00, he found John dead. John had been to Spithead that day and
had been worried because he lost a half sovereign. The surgeon testified that he
had died from cardiac syncope.
February 1888. Alfred Harper (35) was charged with stealing a box of bloaters from
a fish monger of Broad Street. A lad in the shopkeeper’s employ, Richard Cottrell
of 2 Harbins Court saw a man leaving the shop with a box of bloaters under his arm
walking toward the floating bridge. He told his employer who intercepted Harper.
April 1889. An inquest was held on John Alfred Fowler (39) a porter at Portsmouth
Harbour Station. After drinking two quarts of ale with two friends, Fowler was seen
to fall from a piece of wood between the pontoon and the pier which was used to keep
the piles together. It was dark and although several lights were shone, Fowler couldn’t
be seen. Alfred Cottrell, mate on board one of the Railway Companies Steamers, recovered
Fowler’s body at 20.20. It was found floating in three feet of water with no mud
on the clothing. Verdict: accidental death.
June 1890. The fish market was a subject at a meeting of the Portsmouth Ratepayers
Association. The local feeling was that it should be built on rather than be used
by three or four fish traders. Cottrell, a fisherman from Point condemned the scheme
as taking away trade from the area.
October 1891. A constable heard a woman’s screams and a cry of ‘Man overboard’ from
the direction of the Camber. He ran to the Camber Bridge and saw a man drifting out
with the tide under the bridge. He called for help and Henry Mills and Simeon Cottrell
jumped into a boat but couldn’t find the man but locate him and carried him unconscious
to the quay. He was James Mc Donald, a private of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
who had accidentally fallen into the water.
May 1892. Two men were accused of assaulting a woman, wife of one of the men, on
the yacht Petrel. She had engaged two boatmen to take her out to the yacht which
was cruising in the Solent. William Cottrell, boatman of 60 white Hart Road, gave
evidence that he and his son had taken the woman to the Petrel. After she had struggled
with the men and was in danger of falling overboard, she was caught by his son, William
Cottrell jnr, and he put her back on board.
December 1892. Sarah Cottrell (17) was charged with assaulting Harriet Wilcox at
20.15. Sarah went to the Three Horseshoes Tavern at West Street where she struck
Wilcox two blows to the face. She had been drinking on and off for twelve months
and was then not only intoxicated but using very bad language.
August 1893. Margaret Cottrell, charwoman of 11 Seagers Court, was charged with assaulting
Reuben David Main, a hairdresser. She accused him of talking about her and struck
him in the eye. She and her mother then went for him, tearing his hair and trying
to tear his coat off his back. Margaret said Reuben had attacked her first and was
bound over to keep the peace for three months.
July 1894. Albert Cottrell of 12 Seagers Court was charged with using abusive language
to Alice Taw also of the court, the wife of a seaman. There had been a disturbance
but it was ‘six of one and half a dozen of the other’. A similar case against Margaret
Cotterell, the mother of Albert was also dismissed.
July 1894. Albert Cottrell was back in court charged with plying for hire without
a license. Two watermen proved the case.
September 1894. Harriet Jane Williams was charged with assaulting George Cottrell,
fisherman of Seagers Court. Cottrell was at the beach when he saw Williams and the
man with whom she was living. She began to abuse Cottrell, whereupon he asked her
why she had struck his brother with a boot and split his eye open. Her companion
grabbed and shook him and Williams went indoors and emerged with a bottle with which
she struck Cottrell. He had a scalp wound 1 ½ inches long on his forehead and a cut
on his left ear and fainted three times when he was being treated. Williams was sentenced
to a month’s hard labour.
August 1899. Montague A Holbeim, a London long distance swimmer swam forty miles
in twelve hours from Southsea round the Isle of Wight via Bembridge finishing four
miles east of Yarmouth at 19.40. He was piloted by William Cottrell, a local waterman.
Cottrell considered it a marvellous swim and that Holbein did not seem fatigued at
the end – in fact he wanted to do another twelve hours. It was impossible to gauge
the distance as his course was continually altering due to the tides. Cottrell passed
him hard-boiled eggs and other refreshments. Holbeim wanted to continue for another
three hours but Cottrell was frightened of steamers in Southampton Water and it was
getting dark. He rowed Holbeim back to Victoria Pier, Portsmouth arriving at 01.00.
Charles Pound(s) married Ann Cottrell (b 1839). In April 1895. James Beale (66),
a fisherman who was lodging with John Gawn at 17 Crown Street fell into the Camber
and died four days later from pneumonia. He was not in good health and had been in
hospital for lengthy periods. Beale had been leaning against a stanchion on the edge
of the quay when he suddenly threw up his hands and fell face downwards into the
water. Pounds, a fisherman of 13 Bath Square saw his head under the water, removed
his hat and coat and, ‘without a thought for himself ’jumped into sixteen feet of
water to rescue Beale. He was able to hold his head above water and both were picked
up by boats about a minute later. Pound was complimented on his ‘promptitude’ and
pluck. Verdict: accidental death.
It emerged that Beale was the third person Pounds had rescued. In 1891, he had saved
Frank Brooker, a lad who got into difficulties while swimming out of his depth near
The Round Tower. Two years later, he rescued Frank McCarthy from the Camber.
On 22 June 1895, there was an article in the Hampshire Telegraph headed, ‘A Portsmouth
Hero’. It described the awarding of a medal to Pounds from the Royal Humane Society
for his gallantry.
However, Pounds had something of a chequered past. In March 1869, he (described as
a waterman) was involved in an argument at Point with a labourer, John Knighton over
who was to take some iron from a ship. They exchanged words and blows and Knighton
was fined 10/- including costs. In July 1873, he together with another waterman,
Thomas Jenkins and a cabman, John Lillywhite, were charged with smuggling 209 lbs
of unmanufactured tobacco and 40lbs of tobacco stalks. A police constable saw a cab
draw up at the Sally Port and two men with a bag. When they saw him , they put the
bag into the cab and ran off towards High Street. He discovered that the bag contained
leaf tobacco. He also found three other bags five paces from the landing stage. When
charged, Pound said he was ‘scrapping’ or straightening his boat that night around
21.30. The charge against Lillywhite was dismissed. The two other defendant were
fined £100 and ordered to be imprisoned until the fine was paid. The magistrates
believed that there were others involved behind the scenes.
There are an astonishing thirty-three news stories featuring Cottrells and their
spouses. They paint a picture of the waterman’s life at Point - of how they were
closely involved with life and death. They also hint at the overall character of
Many Cottrells were clearly viewed as masters of their trade and were jealous of
their hard-earned occupation as licensed watermen. There appears to have been an
unwritten law that they would help those in difficulties in the water, with little
thought to their own safety - such actions being occasionally heroic.
However, some were not above stealing goods in order to support their families, especially
when times became grim for watermen, faced with escalating rivalry from the team
Watermen operated the water taxis of the era. Using both sailing and rowed wherries,
they ferried people, goods and livestock around Portsmouth Harbour, along the South
coast and to the Isle of Wight. The short ‘voyage’ from Portsmouth to Gosport shaved
hours off the time taken travelling around the coast. Theirs was a rough life which
bred rough folk. (Right, rivals for custom)
There was a published table of fares which varied according to the weather conditions
– in foul weather (when a flag was raised), the charges were doubled. There was also
a fee if they were required to wait for passengers. These are some fair weather charges
set in 1809:
Above, the first floating bridge and, right, a steam launch
The barrister for the accused said that the ship had been piloted until there was
a period of calm and then the pilot left. Coote was ‘watching his little game’ and
when Marshall had anchored for four days, becalmed, then Coote boarded his vessel.
Marshall had not evaded pilot dues as these had been paid to the first pilot. This
was confirmed by the pilot Richard Craft was said he was paid £3 10/-. He had been
given permission by Marshall to leave his ship as it was calm and had seen Coote
board Little Dorritt. Craft then went back on board and asked if Marshall required
him any more – ‘No’. The Court found for Coote and fined Marshall £5 10/-, half of
which was given to Coote for his pilotage dues.
December 1888. Annie Coote of 4 Seagers Court, Point (daughter of George [1832 -1903]
and Jane) was accused with thirteen others of causing an obstruction in St Mary’s
Street for twenty minutes. They were part of a Salvation Army unit that had been
active in the area, with short addresses and singing but no band, and flour, ashes
and other things were being thrown from windows and feelings were running high. The
Army was advised to move away and as marines and sailors were around in high numbers,
a police sergeant began to take the names of the Army. There was no riot, but the
street was only 19 feet wide and people were surging about and no-one could get through
without elbowing their way through. A witness said that the Army had spent about
half an hour in the street for the last four or five months and some residents did
not like their Sunday afternoons being disturbed. After arguing that Englishmen had
the right to hold open-air meetings, agreement was made to use different spots in
future. The defendants were fined 1s and 3s costs. All but two refused to pay and
were threatened with two days in gaol.
February 1889, James Coote was involved in an accident to the Camber Bridge. The
Bruges, a screw collier of 660 tons had landed its cargo of coal in the Inner Camber.
At 06.00 she was manoevering to the Outer Camber under her own steam, before returning
to Sunderland. Coote was the pilot on board. The harbour master ordered a sailing
barge should move from the Custom House Wharf to give Bruges a clear passage. The
Bruge did not wait and as the tide receded, the vessel heeled slightly and struck
the east end of the Camber Bridge. As a result, two large fissures were made in the
plates of the bridge, the machinery which turned the bridge became strained and part
of the stonework foundation of the bridge was also damaged. The vessel was stuck
fast until the tide rose when at 11.30 she was taken safely out of the Camber.
In February 1874, John Marshall, a master mariner of the schooner Little Dorritt
which was in the Outer Camber, was charged with assaulting James Coote. On the fourteenth,
James went to Mr Vandenberg’s office in Bath Square to draw money for pilotage fees
incurred when the schooner left Portsmouth on 27 December 1873. Marshall happened
to be there and when he was asked for the money, he retorted that ‘he would fight
it out’ and seized Coote by the throat, pushing him against a banister. Coote accused
Marshall of insulting him in the execution of his duty. The issue was not about the
quality of the pilotage but whether Marshall assaulted Coote. James’ father, John
Coote and George Gill, both pilots, gave further testimony. A clerk said he had never
seen anything like the confrontation before. It was alleged that another pilot was
discharged from Little Dorritt a short distance from the Needles. The vessel then
became becalmed and Coote had boarded her, said no other pilot was on board, produced
his licence and stayed on board. Marshall said he had already paid one pilot and
was not about to pay another. The Court did not consider it to be a bad case and
fined Marshall twenty shillings. However, this was not the end of the matter. Two
months later, the pair were before Gosport’s Police Court. The case was considered
to be of importance as a precedent might be set. Coote stated that he and two other
pilots were on his cutter when they saw Little Dorritt leave Portsmouth Harbour.
She was towed by a steam tug as far as Spithead when she resumed her passage under
sail. A signal was raised by Coote and he went on board the schooner from his boat.
Marshall was asked whither he was bound: ‘Plymouth’. If that was true, Coote had
no right to board the boat, but he asked Marshall if in fact he was sailing to Corunna,
not Plymouth. ‘And what if I am’, was the reply. (Coote later discovered in the Custom
House that indeed Little Dorritt was heading for Corunna.) Marshall ordered Coote
to leave his vessel. Coote responded by showing Marshall his pilot’s certificate
and asking to be employed as no pilot was on board and it was a pilot’s responsibility
to take a vessel to the utmost extent of the limits – in this case, as the schooner
was going to foreign waters,beyond the Needles. Coote’s father, John (who had been
a pilot for 35 years) confirmed that it was a pilot’s duty to care for a ship until
it was beyond the district for which he was a pilot but would not say that he had
not left a vessel before it reached the limit of his district.
May 1871, John Coote was involved in a rescue effort when the Dutch ship, William
III, was lost. The vessel, a 3,000 ton iron-screw steamer, caught fire ‘at the back
of the Wight’ with 80 passengers, 125 soldiers and a crew of about 90. The alarm
was raised and preparations made to abandon ship. John was on the cutter, Mary,
at the Owers light station when he saw distress signals eight miles away. He steered
for the source of the signals but as the wind was light, the cutter made little progress
until she was towed by a boat with two men at the oars. After almost an hour, they
saw a large ship burning furiously from stem to stern. Around the ship were several
small boats bearing lanterns and Mary immediately took on board the occupants of
four of the boats. Coote directed the remainder of the survivors to another vessel
which was approaching the scene. He was told that eight barrels of powder or ammunition
had been dumped overboard and, although still fearful of an explosion, he remained
close by to see if more life could be saved. Further ships joined the rescue operation
and the burning vessel was towed between Spithead and Portsmouth Harbour, where she
was scuttled. Mary landed her survivors – 114 persons (partly dressed) including
48 soldiers, 20 ladies and 10 children. £18,000 was recovered from the wreck which
was viewed by ‘large numbers of persons lining Southsea beach’. Steam launches and
wherries took sightseers around the smouldering ship at 3d and 6d a head.
When the tide race was at its peak in the harbour and a gale was blowing, it took
two men forty-five minutes to row from Portsmouth to Gosport.
Whilst tacking, the boat took on water which frightened the women who rushed to one
side and the boat capsized. They were in the sea for about twenty minutes before
being rescued. One waterman and four women drowned.
There were also opportunities for illicit activities for watermen. Indeed, a system
of licensing was introduced in London in 1555, because they spoiled or stole goods,
drowned passengers or used boats in poor repair. In the early nineteenth century,
the Post Office constantly warned that watermen at Portsmouth were liable for a £5
fine and costs if they carried letters. James Clark and William Garnett were convicted
of smuggling 65 lbs of tobacco in 1848. Twenty-five years later, Charles Pounds and
two others were charged with smuggling 209 lbs of unmanufactured tobacco and 40lbs
of tobacco stalks. James Smith and Charles Moore were also charged with conveying
half a pint of rum to the Egmont at Spithead.
A gruesome aspect of their work was the frequent discovery of floating bodies in
the Solent which they towed to land – reminiscent of the Thames waterman, ‘Gaffer’,
in Our Mutual Friend. In 1876, watermen named Butcher and Smith found a decomposed
seaman’s body at Spithead and dragged it to Southsea beach.
Competition grows for watermen’s services
As video killed the radio star, so competition from the Floating Bridge (which operated
between Portsmouth Point and Gosport Hard from May, 1840) and steam launches (which
were introduced in the late 1860s) sounded the death knell for watermen – but they
didn’t succumb without a struggle which rumbled on for years. The ‘Bridge’ carried
livestock and carriages between Portsmouth and Gosport as well as people. The speedy
launches crammed aboard far more than the eight allowed on watermen’s wherries. A
round trip from Portsmouth to Gosport by the ‘Bridge’ took one and a half hours,
whereas a steam launch took just half an hour.
As competition for their services became fiercer, the watermen were challenged to
find ingenious ways of earning their fares. They charged double after 22.00 when
the steam launches stopped running. However, it became their practice to unlawfully
refuse fares, saying that they were ‘engaged’, before that time in order to earn
the extra fee when ten o’clock struck. In 1856, Thomas Dixon lost his license for
four months for refusing a fare at 21.30.
To put bread in their mouths, they put out in conditions which prevented the steam
launches from operating. There was a dense fog in the Solent in January 1888, so
that the steamers from Ryde to Gosport and Portsmouth were unable to work. Watermen,
however, continued to trade, asking for more than double their fares. One commercial
traveller hired two men at Ryde to take him to Portsmouth. After two or three hours
of ‘heavy rowing’ in the thick murk, they beached, not at Portsmouth , but at Hook,
near Warsash, ten miles from Portsmouth near the Hamble River.
Waterman also took advantage of conditions such as the flooding of Broad Street.
In March 1876, ‘it was an ill wind that blew nobody any good’ when a gale breached
Point flood defences yet again and they earned ‘not a few shillings and half crowns’
for ferrying passengers to the tramway stables at Broad Street.
The competition between the watermen and the launches to attract fares caused congestion
at popular landing points like Point Beach and The Hard. Here, ‘ribaldry, blasphemy
and obscenity’ were heard throughout the day and the footpath was blocked by ‘sailors,
watermen, prostitutes and loiterers’. Some watermen went to The Hard simply to cause
a row – ‘they were quick with their repartee and their fists.’ They lay in wait,
sometimes three to a customer and as many as sixty or seventy passengers were ferried
in a half hour. There was a great deal of chaff as to whose boat was the best.
Fights were of ‘no unfrequent occurrence’ and ladies had to leave the pavement to
‘avoid drunken men and filthy women’. In 1860, there was a large-scale melee at The
Hard involving soldiers, police and the watermen. There was a crowd of between two
and three hundred people including fifty watermen to whom the police called for help.
Some wives, including Elizabeth Montague, also pitched in.
Hostilites between the watermen and launchmen continued to fester. In 1870, there
was a token fight arranged at Stubbington Lane, Browndown , near Gosport between
representatives of both sides for a prize of £5. The brawl lasted more than two and
a half hours. On another occasion, when a launch sank at her moorings, it was at
first thought erroneously that she had been holed by watermen. Then, a waterman brought
proceedings against the steam launch company before the High court in 1883, contending
that their operation was illegal, but the case was thrown out.
Despite their ingenuity in finding ways of earning their fares later in the nineteenth
century, watermen were often described as ‘poor’ and then as ‘distressed’. In 1870,
it was alleged that in their ‘precarious occupation’, watermen were earning 5/- a
week. Frequent items in the newspaper described the charity which was dispensed to
‘distressed watermen’ as ‘undoubtedly the prosperous days of the watermen at this
port were long gone by’. They were forced to pawn their gear and were given food
However, there was some light relief for them as they starred in the eagerly anticipated
Southsea/Point Regattas which were held annually towards the end of September from
1821. Some events were for watermen alone to contest their skills against each other.