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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.

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Sunday, 2 September 2012

Death by drowning

Thursday, September 2nd., Ouistreham.

Ouistreham is on the coast of Calvados, at the head of the deep water canal from Caen.

Ouistreham lock

Canal de Caen √† la Mer (English: Canal from Caen to the sea) also called the "Caen Canal") is a short canal in the department (pr√©fecture) of Calvados,France, connecting the Port of Caen, in the city of Caen, downstream to the town of Ouistreham and the English Channel. Running from north north-east to south south-west, the canal runs parallel to the Orne River which feeds it, it is 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) long, and comprises twolocks. Digging began in 1837, and when it was opened on August 23, 1857 it was only 4 metres (13 ft) deep. It was deepened in 1920. The canal began with the dock at St. Peter's Basin (Bassin Saint-Pierre), in the downtown area of Caen. One of the two locks at the port of Ouistreham, at the mouth of the canal, can accommodate ships of more than 200-metre (660 ft) length.

Received a letter from my mother today (dated August 30th.) informing me of the death by drowning of my sister Tertia's fiance, Willie Boulton.They are holidaying at Barmouth and it seems he was swept out to sea by a strong current. The body has not yet been recovered.

I threw the letter over to Kennerley to read, and walked away to the lock.
In a few minutes it occurred to me that of course I was going by the Newhaven steamer that night. Nothing else was possible.

As the time approached for the appearance of the steamer, little groups of people collected round the darkness of the lock, in which small craft had already encamped. At some distance on the other side of the channel, were a few electric lights where some earthworks had begun to be thrown up. Save for these and one or two other scattered lamps, all was mysterious gloom. At last the hoot of the steamer came eerily down the canal, and as the vessel rounded the last corner, its electric headlight, like a great eye dropping a tear in the still water, illuminated the vista of the canal, and though it was yet a mile away, threw a deep black shadow behind our figures.
Then suddenly I felt that this passage of a channel steamer through the Ouistreham lock was going to be an impressive transaction.
I was filled with the presence of an inexorable power. With tremendous majesty the great ship crept gradually forward to the accompaniment of hoarse calls and hoots, and so at last into the lock. It was an hour before the water of the lock had subsided and her bulwarks were level with the sides of the lock. She moved out silently, save for the pilot's call, and with the same dignity as she appeared, disappeared with us into the blackness of the sea.
Such scenes as this are the poetic apotheosis of machinery. The spectacle accorded with and soothed my feelings.

The ferry service was operated by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway.

"Normandy" (1882-1902) a steamer of the LBSC

Strange to say that my friend Kennerley subsequently became engaged to Tertia, who came to keep house for me in London, and they later married.


  1. could you please also note the year when he wrote this? Many thanks.

    1. September 2nd., 1897 having received a letter from his mother, informimg him of the tragedy, dated August 30th.