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Harriet Shaw

Age: 25 to 30

Sex: female

Date: 30 Aug 1922

Place: Old Harbour, Hull

Harriet Shaw was found dead in the Old Harbour at Hull.

She was found almost nude in the mud and it was thought that she might have been thrown into the water alive from the keel Dora which had been in the harbour at the time.

Her parentage was not certain, and it was thought that her name was either Harriet Shaw or Harriet Hemmingway. She was first identified as Florence Johnson.

However, she was known as Harriet Shaw and was known to have been previously passing herself off as the daughter of the captain on the keel Amethyst and had been associating with him for the previous twelve months and acting as mate on the vessel for about two years.

It was suggested that Harriet Shaw had taken whatever name had suited her and that when she had met the keelman in Wakefield that she had taken his name. However, when she was taken out of the harbour, the keelman of the keel Dora identified her as Harriet Hemmingway.

The keelman of the keel Amethyst said that he had employed Harriet Shaw on his keel because she had told him that she was destitute, workless and had no relatives. He said that Harriet Shaw had told him that her father had been killed in an explosion at Low Moor and that her mother died shortly afterwards at Halifax.

He said that she was a strong muscular woman, but that he had discharged her at Easter because she was idle.

He said that she had posed as his daughter and taken his name.

It was said that Harriet Shaw had then cohabited with a lorry driver in Hull until about 21 August 1922 when she left him. The lorry driver said that when Harriet Shaw had left him that she had had no money.

It was heard that a companion of Harriet Shaw, who said that she knew her as Harriet Shaw had known her for about five months but had recently lost sight of her for a time but had met her again in Hull about a week earlier on about 22 August 1922  and had spent the whole day with her on the Tuesday and the Wednesday.

She said that they had both gone to the Victoria Dock Quay where they had spoken to a man in charge of the keel Dora and that on the Wednesday evening at about 9.30pm that Harriet Shaw had asked the man if she could go on board his keel to sleep, saying that she had nowhere else to go, and said that the keelman had said to her, 'You can do as you like'.

However, the woman said that she refused to accompany Harriet Shaw on to the keel and went home, noting that that was the last time that she saw her.

However, a man said that he had spoken to the woman when he met her sometime in the docks after Harriet Shaw was found partly clothed in the water and said that she told him that she had gone on board the keel Dora on the Wednesday night with Harriet Shaw and that familiarities took place between the keelman and Harriet Shaw, but that when Harriet Shaw refused the keelman's further suggestion that he dumped her into the water.

However, at the inquest, the woman denied having made any such statements.

It was heard that the case had caused a considerable amount of interest and after an adjournment of the coroners hearing on 28 August 1922, when the inquest resumed on 31 August 1922, the coroner ordered everyone except the medical witnesses out of the court, saying, 'There has been so much curious talk about this matter that I will have you all outside the court. You shan't hear what I am going to say'.

The keel Dora had at the time been lying in the Old Harbour, Hull, opposite the Victoria Dock entrance.

Some of Harriet Shaw's underclothing was later found in the keel Dora when it was lying in the King George Dock. The keelman's wife said that the articles were not hers and that she had not been on the vessel for some months. Other articles belonging to Harriet Shaw were also found in a locker on the keel.

When the keelman of the keel Dora was asked to account for some of Harriet Shaw's clothing being found in his bunk on the lighter, he said that the only explanation was that somebody had put it in his bed whilst he was away, noting that he slept elsewhere that night.

It was noted that the underclothing found had been wrapped up with his bedclothes and that only he had had a key to his cabin. He said that it was a surprise to him when the police found it.

When the coroner asked him, 'I thought you told the police that you slept on board’, the keelman of the keel Dora said, 'No sir, that was Tuesday night. On Wednesday night I slept at home and said that it was the Tuesday night that Harriet Shaw had asked to come on board. His wife corroborated his story of having slept at home with her on the Wednesday night.

The doctor that examined Harriet Shaw's body said that she was a rather exceptionally well-nourished young woman of between 25 and 30 years of age. He said that she was muscular but did not appear as though she had done any hard-manual work recently.

He said that there were no marks of violence on her body, and said that her cause of death was due to drowning.

When the coroner dealt with the circumstances of the case, he said that it appeared that Harriet Shaw had made an appointment with another person to visit the keel Dora on the Old Harbour side and that she had then gone on board with the keelman. He said that it was presumed that Harriet Shaw and the keelman had behaved as one would expect them to behave and that they had then apparently gone on deck in the early hours of the morning and that Harriet Shaw had got overboard. He said that whether she had fallen overboard or was thrown was a matter for the jury's consideration.

However, the Coroner noted that as Harriet Shaw had had only one garment on, and no under-garments, that he thought that it was hardly likely that if a man was intending to throw a woman overboard that he would have allowed her to put on one garment only.

The Coroner also said that he was bewildered with the case and said that the evidence was conflicting, but noted that he did not think that the woman that said that she had gone with Harriet Shaw to the keel Dora on the Wednesday night and who was said to have told the man that the keelman had thrown Harriet Shaw into the water was a reliable witness, noting that he thought that the keelman of the keel Dora was a truthful man, but observed that his story was almost an impossible one.

An open verdict was returned.


*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Hull Daily Mail - Wednesday 30 August 1922