by Peter Benson

Tuesday 10th July 1894 was a memorable day in Grays for a number of reasons to different people.

In the morning of that day the Training Ship Shaftesbury moored in the Thames, just off Grays was getting ready for a special visitor. The Shaftesbury, a former P & O ship the s.s. Nubia was an Industrial School Training Ship (an industrial school, or a truant school) owned by the London School Board, where unmanageable boys were sent. This was usually done by a magistrate in London, who would send them to a training ship, a police officer or an officer of the board would take the boy and hand him over to the ship’s Petty Officer. This was illustrated by the words on each page of the 1891 census for the ship “Under legal detention to the age of 16 years according to the Industrial Schools Act of 1866 and Safeguard Act”. The boys on the Shaftesbury, like other establishments of this type were taken off the streets as they were probably trying to make a living illegally by begging or stealing. On-board ship they were taught skills they could use legitimately, such as carpentry, tailoring, shoemaking and sail making as well as seamanship.

Around 10 o’clock a boy, John Jackson recently turned 15, was cleaning the windows of the boardroom of the Shaftesbury and fell nearly 12 feet to the gangway and later died. John came to the Shaftesbury on 9th, October 1891, after committing the offence of begging. The day before he died he was given the sad news of the death of his mother, Margaret, and was granted leave to attend her funeral on the following Thursday. Apparently he was not part of the group of boys detailed to clean those windows, which by the time John was cleaning them had already been cleaned. The Captain Superintendent of the Shaftesbury, William Striven RN was reported to have said at the inquest held two days later on the 12th July at the Ship’s Infirmary “he could only suppose the deceased took to cleaning the window in order that he might share in the preparations being made for the visit”.

Young Jackson’s fall was seen by one of the other boys on the ship, 14 year old Frederick Devine. Frederick told the inquest that John was standing on a small ledge polishing glass that had already been cleaned and was preventing himself from falling by clutching an upright iron bar. It was not unusual for boys to stand on the ledges and clean the windows, but they were normally secured by a rope. John must have slipped, as Frederick went on to tell the inquest he tried to grasped a neighbouring iron bar or stanchion, but failed and fell striking a stanchion and a water pipe. The inquest also heard that by using chains, John raised himself and walked along a platform for a distance of 15 feet, where he dropped to the platform at the foot of the gangway ladder. There, Mr Vine the Senior Officer of the Watch, Frederick Devine and others gathered to attend to him. John was heard to have said to them repeatedly "Let me lay down, I want to go to my poor mother."

John was taken ashore to the ships infirmary in Sherfield Road, Grays where he was seen by the local doctor, Dr Snell. In giving his evidence Dr Snell informed the inquest that Young Jackson had bad internal injuries on the right side, with five or six broken ribs and a punctured lung. John died from internal haemorrhage about 12:30p.m. two and a half hours after he fell. At the inquest the foreman, Sidney J. King, a baker and corn dealer in the High Street returned the jury’s verdict of “Accidental death”.

John Jackson’s parents came from Liverpool to London, firstly to Lambeth, where John and some of his siblings were born and then north of the river to the City Road area of East London, where John probably committed his offence then over to Kings Cross area at the time of John’s and his mother’s death. John’s father, another John, a sawyer and woodcarver came to identify the body on the following day, the day before he was to lay his wife of just over twenty two years to rest. On Friday 14th he would have probably attended another funeral, this time in Grays, that of his son who was buried with full honours.

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