In 1966 a pleasure boat trip from a Cornwall hotel left 31 dead and a small hotel with 29 of its 31 guests dead. Mostly overlooked at the time, the story was published, but wasn't on the front page of the news as England had won the World Cup in football the day before.
50 years on the story has been rediscovered and even more exciting news followed. Find out more about this marine tragedy that unfolded and the characters involved.
Falmouth Maritime Exhibition
From 30 April 2016 until 4 September 2016 National Maritime Museum, Falmouth, Cornwall, have a special exhibition: "The Mystery of the Darlwyne".
Day Trip in Cornwall
What could be nicer than a day trip in Cornwall - a boat trip from the sleepy village of Mylor to the picturesque Fowey? On one fateful day in 1966 a series of events came together to turn this pleasurable day out into a disaster.
A list of victims of a tragedy doesn't have much impact, but dig a little deeper and you get to visualise the characters involved. Victims brought together by good times and taken together to their watery graves.
A headline of "31 dead" holds more interest if you can see these people as their respective groups, share their life on their tragic day. See the people behind the headlines.
Greatwood Hotel, Mylor, Cornwall
The Greatwood Hotel, Mylor, Cornwall was a large luxury house that welcomed the upper middle classes to holiday with them on the banks of Restronguet Creek, Cornwall.
Situated on the waterside, the Greatwood Hotel had its own small, private, beach area and Greatwood Quay. Built in 1840 with commanding views across the water, the Hotel still exists, but has now been divided into seven large, luxury, apartments after it became almost derelict as business never recovered after 1966. At the time of the Darlwyne Tragedy, Robert W Rainbird was the owner (William Robert Rainbird).
A small hotel, guests will have been small groups, family groups and occasionally a couple. On this particular weekend there were just five groups of people staying at the hotel. The hotel used local staff and also on board were the cleaner's two children - who went for a treat.
On Sunday 31 July 1966, as all the guests left on their boat trip, the cleaner went to all of their rooms - tidying up and cleaning around the belongings of the guests - guests who would never return to those rooms. At the front of the hotel the guests' cars will still have been parked.
Indeed, all but two of the hotel guests were on board the boat that set off that morning. Just two guests stayed behind - a mother and her young daughter, who it's believed, wouldn't go as she was scared of the sea, so, aged 3, it was decided that the mother would stay at the hotel with her toddler while the rest of the family joined all the other hotel guests on a great day out.
Who Died on the Darlwyne?
There were 31 deaths on the Darlwyne:
- 8 children: 6 hotel guests and 2 children of the hotel cleaner, aged 8-14.
- 21 hotel guests, 7 from one party. One of the dead was heavily pregnant.
- 2 boat crew: the captain and the assistant.
The Official Book and Research
Everything I've written below has been from my own research, performed over just two weeks. However, there is one "official book" that has been researched fully.
The most comprehensive and "official book" on the tragedy was put together by Martin Banks and called "The Mysterious Loss of the Darlwyne: A Cornish Holiday Tragedy".
Dedicated to finding out the facts, Martin Banks tracked down living relatives of survivors and interviewed dozens of people for their recollections and true facts. He worked with local History Societies and local newspapers to produce a very comprehensive book.
Martin Banks put a lot of time and effort into his book - a work of passion and dedication - so if you want to absolutely know the full story, with tons of insider one-to-one interviews using solid research methods, then there's only one book to buy. Martin's book has been the subject of both ITV and BBC television programmes, and also the subject of an exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth, Cornwall.
The book explores in depth the disappearance of the pleasure boat, the wreckage of which was never found. It delves into the facts of the disappearance.
My research was more interested in the social history and the family history aspects. I wanted to know who the people were, how they were connected to each other and to think about the impact of this tragedy on the lives they touched.
You can buy Martin's book from: Amazon UK - free on Amazon Prime. There's a handy "look inside" link there too, so you can see what you're getting!
Read on to discover what I found out about these poor souls who were lost on what should've been a fabulous day out on the sea....
The Russell & Mills Party
Probably the largest group at the Greatwood Hotel that weekend was the Russell & Mills party - in total four families from the Merseyside area, a total of 11 people. Nine of this group were on the boat. Reports say that the original boat booking was made because two families wished to go out on a boat, so it's possible that this group were the originators of the idea.
The Russell family and the Mills family were holidaying together, with a couple of young family friends.
The Russell Family
Albert Russell and his wife Margaret May Russell (nee Humphries), known as Peggy Russell, both aged 50, were holidaying with their two adult children, John David Russell, aged 21, who was a Merchant Navy Officer and Patricia Ann Russell, aged 19. They had travelled down from their home in Ryder Crescent, Hillside, Southport, Lancashire. Albert and Peggy probably had an older son, Albert G Russell, who would've been aged 25, so most likely had his own family and couldn't, or didn't want, to holiday with his parents.
The Mills Family
Arthur Raymond Mills and his wife Beryl Mills were on holiday with their three children. Jonathan David Mills was 11, Janice Beverley Mills was 8, Lisa J Mills was 3. It was Mrs Beryl Mills and little Lisa Mills that were the only two guests who stayed behind that day.
Arthur Raymond Mills was a 42 year old Company Director of Johnson Freight Ltd and lived with his family at 9 Hartley Crescent, Birkdale, Southport.
Kenneth Arthur Robinson
Kenneth was a friend of the Mills family. Aged just 19, he lived at Green Lane, Mossley Hill, the son of Arthur Robinson (who wasn't there).
Miss Mary Rose Dearden
This lady, aged 19, was also from the Merseyside area, living at Cholmondeley Road, West Kirby, Cheshire. Based on age and location it's reasonable to assume that she was also part of the Russell & Mills party that weekend.
The Tassell Family
Peter Lyon Tassell and his wife Eileen Sybil de-Burgh Tassell were on holiday with their three children, Susan Gail Tassell, aged 14, Nicola Sara Tassell, aged 12 and Frances Harriett Tassell aged 8.
Peter Tassell had married Eileen Ledger in 1949 in Kensington and they'd moved home several times over the years, living on Greenbrook Avenue, Barnet, Hertfordshire in 1966. The family were at the end of a three week holiday and had originally planned to go home on the Thursday, but as bad weather had spoilt a lot of their long holiday they decided to stay on a few more days as the weather had been a little better.
Peter Tassell was a company Director. Susan Tassell and Nicola Tassell were both pupils at St Martha's Convent, Barnet, Hertfordshire.
The Cowan Party
James Cowan and his wife Dora Cowan were holidaying with their two daughters and son-in-law.
James Cowan was 52 and his wife Dora was 48. With them was their daughter Susan Cowan, aged 14. The family were living on Plawsworth Square, Pennywell, Sunderland.
With them were Mrs Margaret Wright, their daughter, aged 26 and her husband Malcolm Raymond Wright. This married couple lived at Chelmsford Road, South Woodford, Essex, so the holiday will have been quality time for the family to share together.
The Bent Party
The Bent party consisted of Laurence Arthur Bent and his wife Kathleen Bent, of 9 Wilton Grove, Wimbledon, London. They were holidaying with their son, George Laurence Bent and his girlfriend Loraine Sandra Thomas, both aged 20.
I believe George was an only child, to what might've been Arthur's second marriage. Arthur, Kathleen and George lived at 9 Wilton Grove, Wimbledon, London. Loraine lived at Kings Avenue, New Malden, Surrey.
Things were clearly going well for George and Loraine if she was holidaying with his parents - and, who knows, maybe they'd have eventually married. Loraine might've been an only child - only a detailed search of her family tree would ascertain this (or maybe Martin's book sheds more light on her).
The Brock Newlyweds
Married for less than a year, Roger Duncan Brock was on holiday with his 8-months pregnant wife, Jean Brock, aged 24. Jean Brock was nee Walker.
They lived at 12 Elm Grove, Brow Lane, Shelf, Halifax, where they had other family members living.
Just like in any murder mystery film or theatre production, there's always "the lovers". In this case, it was Mrs Patricia Roome, aged 48 and George Edmonds, aged 45. Both were widows and had recently become engaged to be married.
George's daughter, Janice Edmonds, was staying with neighbours while her father was away on his little holiday.
George lived at Niarn Avenue, Derby and Patrica Roome lived at Lord Street, Allenton, Derby.
The Cleaner's Children
Megan Hicks was a cleaner at the Greatwood Hotel. Widowed from her husband, Frederick Hicks, in 1960 she was left with two children to support and bring up. It was probably with great joy and excitement that her two children set out on the boat that day.
Amanda Jane Hicks was 17 and her brother Joel was 9.
Formerly from Falmouth, in 1966 they were living at Seven Stones, Trevellan Road, Mylor.
The Boat Crew of the Darlwyne
There were just two boat crew on the Darlwyne. The self-appointed Captain, Brian Michael Bown, and his friend Jeffery Claude John Stock, aged 34. This was a small boat and one to steer and one to assist the captain and passengers would be sufficient.
Brian Michael Bown
Brian Bown was aged 31 and working for a carpet shop in Middlesex, but he had wanted his own boat. He'd been in the Marine Rescue services during the War, but didn't have the funds to buy his own boat. He leapt upon an opportunity of earning money using the Darlwyne.
Brian moved to 15 Killigrew Street, Falmouth and spoke to the owner of the Darlwyne less than a week before, after which he had spent just 1-2 days familiarising himself with the craft before taking what was most likely his first ever big sea trip in it.
From my initial research it looks as if Brian was recently married and had a pregnant wife at home, but I've not researched that further.
Jeffery Claud John Stock
Jeffery Stock lived at of 34 Mount Pleasant, Hayle, Cornwall, either with or in the same road as, his parents. He was probably not married and had previously been in the Army. Jeffery was the youngest of four children and was the son of Stephen Rankin Stock and Olive May Stock (nee Cornick), who married in 3rd qtr 1925. However, the family had already lost their daughter five years before, leaving them with just the three boys (men!).
Jeffery's parents were both still alive when he died and two older brothers, both of whom have since died. Jeffery's body was never found.
The Trip and Tragedy
On the Saturday one of the hotel guests approached the Hotel owner and asked if it were possible to arrange a boat trip for the following day. The Hotel owner had, himself, been on a boat trip earlier in the month, so gave him a call. Brian Bown went to the Hotel to discuss the arrangements.
The boat should have only held 12 passengers
All the Hotel's guests went along on the pleasure trip. The boat was carrying 29 passengers and 2 boat crew - over double what it should. To have carried more the boat would've needed to be inspected and certified as safe.
Two of the Hotel guests, Mrs Mills and her 3 year old child, declined the trip - which might've been the catalyst for Megan Hicks' two children to be invited. Maybe a case of "Go on, there's room; I'm not going. You take our place" - everybody keen to do something nice for the children, a treat. Who wouldn't say "No"?
The small boat set off at 10am and headed for Fowey - by road this is a journey of 30 miles, by sea it's probably 20-25 miles. A 3-hour journey, on the open sea, by boat. It was towing a small dinghy (boat), owned by the hotel owner.
The boat arrived safely at Fowey, the passengers disembarked and they probably all had a great time in the small town.
By 4pm all the passengers were back on the boat and it was time to sail homewards. However, the weather had worsened and the captain was advised not to set out, especially for the open sea. However, the boat did set out.
There were a few sightings of a small boat in the sea making its way along the coastline that afternoon, not all of them positive sightings.
Then the storm hit. This small boat will have experienced massive waves, rain and driving wind. An inexperienced captain and his mate at the helm - and only two lifevests. The boat also had no radio. A captain inexperienced in these waters, unfamiliar with the coastline - and with no way of being able to summon help.
No help came.
No Help Came
There was no way to summon any help. Nobody spotted the boat in trouble, so the coastguards and rescue services weren't called.
There was nowhere to go. Brian Bown had only two options when he realised he was in trouble:
- Land the boat somewhere - but where, he didn't know the coast and couldn't see due to the weather
- Keep going, hoping it'd work out OK.
He had to keep going really - he couldn't turn back.
Back at the Hotel
Back at the Hotel the rooms will have been very quiet - with all the guests out on the boat and expected back early evening, dinner will have been cooked and the tables laid. The hotel owners and staff will have prepared the hotel ready for their guests to return, telling their tales and showing off the gifts they'd bought for themselves or others. Jollity was expected .... soon ...
As time rolled on, they'll have started to peer from the windows, guessing when their guests might return. "About 7ish" ... knowing it'd take 3 hours and that they'd be leaving about 4pm, "Between 7 and 8" others might've said. Again, checking from the windows, peering past the cars that the guests had parked outside. But the weather was bad by then. Everybody will have started to become worried.
Beryl Mills will have spent the day entertaining daughter Lisa and will, by now, be keen for her husband's return - to hear the tales from her husband and children of the adventures they'd had. What they'd eaten, what they'd seen, what they'd bought. Maybe a small gift for "mummy" would have been thrust her way, something the children will have chosen and be excited to give to her.
Megan, the hotel cleaner, was probably taking on extra duties - there would always be work to be done at a hotel and without having to mind her children that day she'll have been available to take on that extra work. But, by now, she was starting to worry. Although safely in the care of all the other guests and with her daughter Amanda being 17, she'll have feared the sea and the weather and the boat and started to wish she'd never allowed her children to go.
Search & Rescue
Back in 1966 things were a little more sedate. The first person to notice the boat wasn't back and where expected was the boat's owner when she could see the empty spot where she expected the boat to be - so she alerted her husband and he took a walk up to the coastguard.
Who phoned the coastguard and at what time was a matter for debate during the official enquiry - I won't go into it now. However, any search and rescue attempts weren't even started until late into the night.
What Happened Next?
The truth is, nobody knows. The boat was never found. No wreckage gave the rescue teams that were searching for the next few days any clues as to where it went down.
There were a few, small, clues on the bodies of the victims - where a few of them had wristwatches on, so an estimated time of after 9pm is the time the boat might've sunk and everybody perished. But nobody knows. They must have known they were in trouble. One of the passengers had a lifejacket on, indicating that there was time to think about their situation.
It's likely that everybody had already died before any search was started.
Various search parties went out in the coming days, including an expensive and extensive private air-sea search, paid for by a fellow Director of Arthur Mills' company who had come straight down to the Hotel himself once he'd been told that Arthur's boat was missing.
The boat was never found. Over the coming weeks only 12 bodies were ever washed up ashore. The rest simply disappeared.
On 1 August, the dinghy that had been attached to the boat was found floating 10 miles southwest of the Eddystone Lighthouse. The dinghy was towed into Fowey Harbour to help form the basis for the investigation into the disappearance.
Below is a video showing crowds at a quayside as a boat brings in a body that is placed in a coffin and driven away - and scenes of the cars parked outside the Greatwood Hotel, owners never to return to them.
Darlwyne Tragedy News Video
12 Bodies Recovered
Only 12 bodies were washed up in the coming days. It was 16 days before the final body was discovered. Then no more.
- 4 August: 4 bodies, 4 miles east of Dodman Point. One of these was Albert Russell.
- 5 August: 1 body, 6 miles west of Eddystone Lighthouse. This was probably Margaret May Russell.
- 8 August: 1 body, 8 miles SSW of Eddystone Lighthouse
- 8 August: 1 body 7-8 miles south of Eddystone.
- 10 August: 1 body, 6 miles south of Looe Island
- 10 August: 1 body, 2 miles southwest of Mew Stone.
- 11 August: 1 body, Whitesands Bay
- 13 August: 1 body, between Longstone Beach and Downderry Beach.
- 16 August: 1 body, 10 miles SE of Mew Stone.
The pathologist said that in all the cases the lungs were full of water and that the victims had all drowned in deep water without any sign of a struggle on the surface, although one of them was wearing a life jacket.
Poor Megan Hicks, who was pleased to see her children going off for a treat, only received one body to bury, that of her daughter Amanda. Amanda was buried at Mylor Church and Megan joined her in 2004. Poor Joel's body was never found.
50 Years On
On 31 July 2016 it was the 50th anniversary of the tragedy - and a special service was held in Mylor Church.
A wooden screen had been erected, with all the names of the victims listed. The Darlwyne Memorial Screen was rededicated by the Bishop of Truro. Many relatives of those who perished attended the service. Each one will have left behind parents, children, siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins. Those who could attend the memorial service and make the trip will have done so. In the intervening 50 years though, many other family members will have passed away.
Darlwyne Wreck Found!
Darlwyne Wreck Found
On the 50th anniversary it was reported that the wreck of the Darlwyne had been located.
A local diver, Mark Milburn, reported that he'd found the location of the wreck. Working with the BBC Inside Out South West programme a fresh look at the evidence was made. They then heard the story of a local fisherman that'd pulled up the boat's nameplate 30 years ago - as people had died on that boat he saw that as bad luck so had thrown it back into the water and never told anybody. By pure luck and coincidence, that fisherman heard a local radio interview about the fresh search - and he got in touch with the search team with his story.
Searches were then made close to the Dodman Point, Mevagissey, area - the area where the first four bodies had been found on 4 August. Although there's not much remaining now, just a few pieces of metal, whether that is the location of the wreck will be further investigated in the coming months and years.
Journey-wise, this is about half way home on the journey that fateful night.
Any possible closure for the families would be good - and there was a wreath-laying service held at the spot with relatives who were available and willing to pay their last respects at the spot where the boat possibly went down.
E&OE. All the above is the result of my unsubstantiated research. In researching this type of material there'd be a prohibitive cost in obtaining "proof". With 31 people involved, each with births, marriages, deaths and other details, the cost of certificates (at, say, £10 each time) as absolute proof would cost £3-5000. Therefore, some assumptions have been made by me, based on what's likely and what's probable.
Apologies to the families if any of the 'details' of relationships or intentions between people are incorrect, feel free to leave a comment below with any further information/correction.
I will always refer people to Martin's book, which has been fully and properly researched, with evidence provided by the families themselves. A bargain at less than the cost of one certificate if you're a family researcher.
You can buy Martin's book from: Amazon UK - free on Amazon Prime. There's a handy "look inside" link there too, so you can see what you're getting! It's also available from Amazon.com using the ISBN number 9780957474215, linked to below:
Julian Hanwell on February 05, 2019:
A most interesting account on the Darlwin disaster. It brought tears to my eyes as my brother and I were invited to go on that trip according to my Mother who at that time were running the pub in Mylor called the Lemon Arms. I was 9 years old back then and Joel Hicks was a school friend of mine. I knew his Sister too Amanda Hicks but only to speak too. The reason why my Brother and I did not go is because my Mother had arranged us to spend the day with our Granny at Agar Road near Redruth and it was too late to change things as people came down from Greatwood with the excited news of the trip. The local Mylor fishermen told my Mother (Peggy) afterwards the boat was not in good condition to go sea and was more suited as a River Boat.
I shall buy that book by Martin Banks and next time I visit Mylor Church (I was a choir boy there in 1966) look at that memorial plaque and perhaps leave flowers for Amanda and Joel as I have never forgotten the incident and cringe when I hear the word 'Darlwyn' and think of poor Joel and his Sister.
Dedicated Content Curator (author) from United Kingdom on October 03, 2016:
Thank you for your comment Cdt J Byer
Ah, so the parents possibly holidayed close to where their son was based, that'd make sense. And thank you for that information about John's sister, Patricia Ann Russell.
Maybe he got caught up in the "jollity of the moment" and didn't realise that the boat wasn't sea-worthy, or was told to "shh" so as to not seem pompous and spoil people's outing. There are a 1000 reasons why we don't notice things or speak out.
As I said above, I've only scratched the surface of the individuals, the people who died in the Darlwyne Tragedy - and the 'official book' author spent months working with local Family History groups and interviewing surviving family members, so might shed more information on it if you care to explore it further.
All the best to you.
Cdt. J.Byer on September 26, 2016:
I shared a cabin for a year with John Russel on the NZSCo training ship "Otaio", which due to the seasonal nature of the New Zealand meat trade often laid up for the summer in Falmouth. I suspect this was the reason he was there and his parents were visiting. He spoke often of his younger sister who was a champion ice skater. I dont recall him ever mentioning an older brother. I had been left the ship a year or so when we heard of the tragedy. Naturally questions have now been raised as to how someone as seasoned and expert in seamanship as he would have embarked on a voyage with a boat obviuosly overloaded, unseaworthy and with no radio communication. One can only assume youthfull seagoing bravado prevailed, and with tragic consequences. It has been gratifying to learn the full story after all these years, and I thank you for your reasearch into the matter.
Dianna Mendez on August 20, 2016:
Your writing of this account is well researched and written. What a pity they encountered such a tragedy.
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on August 08, 2016:
This is a very sad tragedy. To think, it was given no notice in the papers because England won the World Cup in football. Thankfully, they are being remembered now. Every life matters.