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Boy perishes below ice despite heroic efforts to save him

Year 1864

Read by Dr. Kerstyn Comley – Supporter, Royal Humane Society

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On Wednesday 10th February 1864, the sheet of water which forms the lake fronting the Suburban Hotel in the Vale of Health, Hampstead, was covered with a coating of ice, and in the afternoon a number of boys ventured upon it. Between four and five o’clock as Mr. Donald Nicoll was proceeding along the road on the western side of the lake, he heard screams and cries for help, and saw three boys who had broken through the ice in the water, two with their heads only just above it, evidently out of their depth, and a third nearer the bank just rescued. Mr. Nicoll at once plunged in, followed by a man who was at work at the roads, and made for the deceased, who was furthest out, while the man secured the other boy, named Friend, the son of a surgeon, and a pupil at Mr. ‘Kae’s academy at Hampstead.

By this time the deceased was under the ice where the water was ten feet deep. By means of swimming with one hand and breaking the ice with the other, however, Mr. Nicoll at last reached him, and attempted to grasp his head, but the cap was left in his hand, and the body sank. He again saw the body rise to the surface, with his face towards him, and again broke the ice with his one arm, and endeavoured to reach him, but before he could do so he finally sank. At this moment another incident took place, which was nearly fatal to Mr. Nicoll, and to the man who had succeeded in saving the boy Friend.

The poor fellow could not swim, and although he had succeeded in getting the boy so close to the shore that he was rescued by others, the bank was so steep, and the bottom so slippery, that he slid out beyond his depth, and as Mr. Nicoll returned from his fruitless attempt to save deceased, he was seized upon convulsively by the then drowning man, and with the greatest difficulty succeeded in reaching the shore, with the man still clinging to him. The youth Friend, who was in a very exhausted state, was conveyed to the Suburban Hotel, where a hot bath being ready, he was placed in it, and revived. In the meantime the boat was brought round, the ice was broken, and the body of deceased got out in about twenty minutes, quite dead.

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