Derby Mercury 1801 to 1844
Derby canal

February 1832 records the execution of George Hearson, John Armstrong and George Beck, a boatman, for burning down a silk mill at Beeston during a riot.  The three men attempted to escape the gallows by the old trick of tying together strips of blanket to get over the prison wall, but the plan was rumbled.  An estimated 10,000 people witnessed their execution.

1832 also saw outbreaks of cholera both locally and nationally, which, as usual, hit the boating community badly.

Names from the Derby Mercury 1801 to 1844 (58kb)

From 1836 onwards, attempts were being made to prevent Sunday working in all trades.  There was some concern locally in Derby and its surrounds that if boatmen were given Sunday off, they would spend it in the pub and their subsequent behaviour might impact on respectable folk who lived at "stopping places".  Thus it was deemed essential to provide for the religious instruction of the boatmen, so that they would spend the Sabbath "wisely".

An article of 1839 gives details of organised thieving on the canals, so called "breaking bulk", when the boat crew would remove a small quantity of the cargo either for their own use or to sell on.  The article laments that "there are no constables on the canals.  There are a few bank riders".

Articles from Derby Mercury 1801 to 1844 (301kb)


Derby Mercury 1845 to 1864

To try to eliminate the organised thieving and "breaking bulk", the Trent and Mersey Canal employed a Canal Constable called Joseph Oldham, who was involved in a number of arrests and court cases.

An article from 1846 shows so called "Railway Mania" at its height, with details of a meeting to discuss the proposed Derby and Gainsborough Railway.  The view of one of the participants was, "It is admitted that railways are much more to the public advantage than canals, as affording cheaper and readier transit, and I am quite sure railway trains are much less nuisance than boatmen and boats in the neighbourhood of private residences".

Names from Derby Mercury 1845 to 1864 (60kb)

In December 1864, the details of the dreadful death of Thomas Wood on board a boat are given.  He was suffocated and burnt to death when a candle (it is supposed) fell on to his bed and set it on fire.  His body was still burning when found by his crewmate the following morning.

Researchers read and weep!  In October 1863, James Clifford was accused of removing a leaf from the Longford parish registers which detailed baptisms there from 1724 to 1729.  A baptism from that page proved that James Sutton, a boatman and landlord of the Navigation Inn, was entitled to a considerable inheritance.

Articles from Derby Mercury 1845 to 1864 (375kb)


Derby Mercury 1865 to 1880

A major case in this collection is the trial for perjury of William Lester for giving an albi to William Bosworth, who was accused of steaing straw.  Lester produced a permit which showed that their boat had gone through Beeston Lock on that date, but the permit proved to have been "amended".  After a long and complex process, the jury found him Not Guilty.

An article about the Canal Population from 1875 says :- "Of manners, they have none, and their customs are beastly.  They wash and cook with, and in many cases drink, the water of the canal".

Names from Derby Mercury 1865 to 1880 (59kb)

A number of court cases regarding the practice of collecting gravel from the bed of the Trent, legal or otherwise, are detailed here.   The Turner family seemed to make a habit of this!

In 1875, James Walker was found guilty of the manslaughter of William Thurnman.  Walker hit Thurnman over the head several times with the tiller of the boat when Thurnman tried to get on board to steal his food.

Articles from Derby Mercury 1865 to 1880 (362kb)


Derby Mercury 1881 to 1900

There was a particularly bad case of cruelty to animals from February 1884.  Samuel Trowell became frustrated with one of the donkeys drawing his boat because it was lazy and would not draw, so he kicked it to death and buried the body on the towing path.

Trowell was s serial offender and was again found guilty of cruelty to a horse in September 1886.  He was given the option of a £5 fine or two months in prison.  He chose prison.

Names from Derby Mercury 1881 to 1900 (55kb)

In January 1885, poor Sarah Smith, who had had all her top teeth taken out and must have been in pain, was accused by her employer of the theft of a small quantity of whisky, and told she would have to leave her position.  Her body was found in the canal a month later.

The advent of "pleasure boating" also had consequences, as shown in articles from 1897.  Youthful boatman William Seedhouse was the sole survivor of a testosterone fuelled boating trip, where his passengers chose to take risks against his advice.


Articles from Derby Mercury 1881 to 1900 (218kb)