Lost at Sea


I have always been intrigued by this footstone. I couldn’t find a mention of this young man in the newspapers. I couldn’t find any official records that might tell me what happened to him.

I invented scenarios that might have taken a Sheffield boy as far as the salty sea.

A school trip? – I don’t think they did that sort of thing back then, except for the wealthy perhaps.

His family moving to find work abroad? It seems his father worked for many years for the Sheffield Water Works Company. No evidence of foreign travel.

A boy soldier?

As you’d expect in the golden days of the Empire there were military operations here and there across the globe in 1897. There were at least two sieges on the North-West frontier (a young Winston Churchill was part of one of these), and another colonial action in what is now Nigeria. There is no reason why Ernest couldn’t have chosen a military career. I suspect though that if this was the case some mention of his death in service might have found its way into the newspapers, or onto the gravestone.

But I no longer need to speculate. A new resource has appeared online recording those who died at sea 1781-1968. It turns out that Ernest Reynolds was a sailor.

A sailor from Sheffield? How many can there have been of those? How would you answer that question? Something to think about.

This is the information from the Record:

Deaths at sea, 1781-1968

Reynolds E (Male)
age: 18
rank: O.S. [Ordinary Seaman
birthplace: Sheffield
last place of abode: 196? Marylebone Rd N.W. / 7 Western ville terrace Winter St Sheffield
cause: vessel missing, supposed lost. Supposed drowned
date of death: 6.10.97
where: At Sea
vessel: Glenfinlas
registered: Liverpool
trade: Aust.

The date of death is notional – it is the date the ship left port and was last seen. The address in Westonville Terrace proves this is the right Ernest (the site of that street is now covered by the Geography department of Sheffield University)

Here is a picture of the Glenfinlas:


She was a four-masted, iron-hulled cargo ship, built in Sunderland and registered in Liverpool. She had set sail on 6 Oct 1897 from Newcastle (New South Wales) for Manila (Philippines) with a cargo of coal (3,060 or 3,700 tons according to two sources).

[Shetland Times, 9 Oct 1897]

By Christmas Eve she was considered overdue:


The ‘Overdue Market’ is described as a way that the insurers list missing vessels, though it seems a mercenary and cold-hearted way to refer to vessels with human as well as cargoes at risk. If I unerstand it correctly the figures in guineas  represent the cost of re-insuring the ships, a high price implying that there is little hope of the ship reaching harbour.

The Glenfinlas, listed in this report at 20 guineas, was listed at 80 guineas on February 17th. Just over a month later all hope was lost and the ship was ‘withdrawn’ from the market…

Morning Post 26 Mar 1898

The final official word was this brief report compiled in Australia and published in London in March 1899:

Why did Ernest go to sea? A sense of adventure, a need to get away from home?

Perhaps it was the eventual result of the strains put on the family by his father’s conviction for embezzlement in 1885. He had been collecting water rates from customers but reducing the amounts he recorded and keeping the difference. He served three months in prison, probably in Wakefield.

The family was together in 1891 but by 1901 Ernest’s parents were living apart. Only his mother (and a sister) are buried in the grave in Walkley Cemetery which records in a few words his own fate.

This entry was posted in History - People and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Lost at Sea

  1. It’s fascinating that you were able to delve into the mystery of the land-locked sailor. A very informative, entertaining read.

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