Thomas Cappleman 1866 – 1890


“Filey Tom” drowned from the coble Ellen in South Bay, Scarborough 127 years ago. Marie Belfitt wrote about the tragedy in 1988– Jack BELL, the coble’s owner, also lost his life – and I am going to share her account here in full with the kind permission of The Scarborough News. In seeking contact details at the newspaper to request permission I learned that Marie died aged 82 in March so I would like this post to be a remembrance of her too.

From The Scarborough Leader 11 August 1988

Fatal trip to collect gravel

It happened in Scarborough

By Marie Belfitt

IN THE days of sail and oar Scarborough’s coble fishermen had a risky occupation. Yet fishing with long lines and potting for crabs and lobsters were not as hazardous as their secondary occupation-that of fetching gravel from Carnelian Bay.

The enterprise was not a lucrative one but it was a means of making a living in times of hardship when loeal fishing was in the doldrums.

Most of the gravel was used for making and repairing Scarborough’s roads and it was also in demand for large construction works in the town-the building of Valley Bridge (1864-65) and the Aquarium 1875-77), for instance.

The gravel was thrown from the cobles onto the slipway at the junction of the West Pier and Sandside, then shovelled onto carts and taken to the Corporation’s weighbridge by Corporation workmen.

During the second half of the 19th century the price of gravel averaged 2/6d (12½p) a ton. A coble generally carried about three tons of gravel, so two men and a coble could earn 7/6d (37½p) a trip.

A coble loaded with gravel might have less than a foot of freeboard between gunwales and water, so a reasonably calm sea was necessary for the trips. Any waves that washed into the coble would soak the gravel and cause the coble to ride even lower in the sea.

In fact many Scarborough cobles were sunk when ferrying gravel from Carnelian (now known as Cornelian) Bay. Sometimes their occupants were drowned, as was the case when the Ellen sank, in 1890.

The inquest was held at the Town Hall, Castle Road, on Friday evening, 25 July, when Dr Scarth stated that the men’s death had been caused by drowning.

Race Adamson identified the bodies and told the jury that the Ellen was a sound coble which had not been overloaded. In his opinion it had been swamped with water because it had sailed into “the north-west stupe.”

It was a short inquest and the jury, faced with such practical  evidence,  could not do otherwise than return a verdict of “Accidentally Drowned”. Jack Bell’s funeral, attended by most of Scarborough’s fishing community, took place at Dean Road Cemetery the next day (26 July)

Early start

At about 4.30am on Thursday 24 July 1890 two Scarborough cobles set off to fetch gravel from Carnelian Bay. One coble, the Ellen, was occupied by its owner John (Jack) Bell, aged 27, of 1 Binnington’s Yard, Longwestgate, and his mate Thomas (Filey Tom) Cappleman, aged 24, of 6 Overton Terrace.

The other coble (name unknown) was occupied by owner Race Adamson of 2 Overton Terrace, and his mate, Robert Cammish of 1 Oxley’s Yard,

They rowed their cobles into Carnelian Bay just north of  Knipe Point, where there was a safe channel through the treacherous rocks and anchored several yards from the beach.

Cappleman and Cammish waded ashore and raked together a large heap of gravel near the water’s edge. Then Bell and Adamson rowed the cobles inland and the four men grafted hard to shovel them full of gravel.

Despite a lively breeze the sea was fairly calm, and the two cobles had an uneventful journey home. Then, about 300 yards from the East Pier, the Ellen encountered an extremely choppy sea.

Waves splashed into the coble at an alarming rate and it began to founder. Tom Cappleman yelled “We’re going down!” and within minutes the coble and its crew had disappeared from sight. Weighed down by their heavy seaboots, which might have been trapped in the gravel, the men did not surface.

Race Adamson’s coble was about 50 yards from the Ellen-too far away for him and Bob Cammish to give any assistance-and then their boat also began to ship water and was lucky to enter the Harbour safely.

By mid-day several local fishermen armed with grappling irons were out in cobles dragging the area where the Ellen had disappeared. Led by George Sellers of 28 Quay Street, they worked all afternoon, finding Tom Capple-man’s body about 5.30 pm some 400 yards from the East Pier. An hour later Jack Bell’s body was found in the same area.

Tom’s pedigree on Filey Genealogy & Connections is quite extensive. His forebears to second great grandparents are mostly gathered in and one line goes back to his seventh great grandfather John CAMMISH (born 1581).

The FamilySearch Tree isn’t as complete in the three generations before Tom but takes the POCKLEY/POCKLAY line back to Matthew (LQRN-CTR), born about 1663 in Flamborough. It doesn’t have Tom’s wife Betsy Ann ADAMSON (1865-1910) whereas FG&C notes her second marriage to Fred CAMPION in 1897.

Tom and Betsy married on 16 September 1888 and their daughter Hilda Mary’s birth was registered in the December Quarter of the following year. At the 1891 Census Hilda was with her mother and great grandmother Mary ANDERSON in Potter Lane, Scarborough; ten years later with Betsy, stepfather Fred CAMPION and her 2 year old cousin Richard ADAMSON in King Street, Scarborough. In 1911 she was 21 years old, single, a milliner working on her own account and head of a three person household in Longwestgate. She was looking after her widowed grandfather Race ADAMSON, who had been with her father when he died, and unmarried granduncle Thomas ANDERSON, both still working as fishermen aged 69 and 67 respectively.



‘Anchor in Jesus’

In Loving Memory of TOM CAPPLEMAN (of Filey) the beloved husband

of BETSY ANN CAPPLEMAN who was drowned in the South Bay, Scarborough,

July 24th 1890 in his 24th year

‘Be ye also ready for in such an hour as

ye think not the son of man cometh’

Also BETSY ANN the beloved wife of FRED CAMPION

who died Nov 19th 1910 aged 45 years

‘Peace perfect peace’


Inscription Sources: G752 St Oswald’s, Filey (Crimlisk Survey 1977) and No.894 page 130 (East Yorkshire Family History Society, Filey St Oswald’s Monumental Inscriptions Part One).