Moorgate Cemetery

A Young Hero: William Drinkall

The bravery displayed by young William Drinkall, who lost his life after rescuing a six year old child from a watery grave, in a heroic River Don rescue, has been the subject of almost universal admiration.

The child, who was the son of a neighbour, had accidentally fallen into the River Don. A suggestion has been made to raise a memorial over the young man’s grave as a tribute to his heroism.

William Drinkall

Drinkall was 17 years old and employed by Mr Thomas Charles coach builder, Sheffield Road. He lived at Burrell’s Row Westgate. An inquest on the deceased’s body was held at the Cutler’s Arms, Westgate before Mr D Wightman Coroner. Evidence of Identification was given by the father, John Drinkall, miller’s wagoner of the same address.

Evidence of Witness

Mr John Mason, miner gave evidence that between 12 am and 1am on Thursday afternoon he was at home getting his dinner, when he heard an alarm. He ran to the River Don, which flowed past the bottom of the row, and saw Drinkall and the child struggling in the water.

Mason got the child out, but Drinkall was 3 or 4 yards from the bank and before Mason could get to him, he went under and did not come up again. Mr Mason was able to swim but he did not think Drinkall could do so. Mason helped to get the body out. He was of the opinion that the young man had gone into the water to save the child. Drinkall had not stripped but had merely pulled off his coat. After the child was got out, Drinkall’s father asked Mason to go back again to try and find his son and he did so.

The water at the point where the drowning took place was from 15 to 16 feet deep.

A juror who had also witnessed the incident expressed the opinion “a great deal of credit should also be given to Mr Mason for his effort”.

He had read that medals had been given for getting people out of the water and thought something should be done for Mr Mason. The coroner remarked that if he had the medals to give away he would hand one to Mr Mason before he left the room, but unfortunately he had not. Mason told the coroner that efforts had been made to resuscitate Drinkall but he had been in the water for 20 minutes. A verdict of accidental death was given.

The jury however added their verdict that a great deal of credit was due to Mr Mason for having saved the child and made such a great effort to save Drinkall.

One of the jurors considered that the state of the fence at the bottom of Burrell’s Row should have attention. He characterised the place as a big death trap owing to the inducement there was for children to walk into the river. Another juror said he had seen several little children standing on the wall of the river. There was a rail but children could get through. He thought the owners of the property or the Borough Surveyor should be seeing into the matter.

The Coroner reminded them that they had a Town Council and if their particular councillor was any good at all in the council it was his duty to see that this wall was altered and put into a reasonable state of safety. If he did not do this they could remember him the next time there was a council election.


Henry Blanchard of the White Hart Hotel wrote:

How often one has to admire through pluck in the many exploits of saving life in our own neighbourhood. Everyone will agree that the most regretful and painful part in such attempts is that the saver of life does it at the expenses of his own. Such an example is that of William Drinkall who last Thursday 25 June 1896 saved a six year old child from drowning in the River Don thereby losing his own life. Had this Rotherham youth lived he would have merited and probably received the Royal Humane Society’s medal. How he is beyond any earthly reward. Many however in Rotherham and district may like to show their admiration of sterling bravery by subscribing to a fund started at the White Hart Hotel for the purpose of erecting a memorial over the lad’s grave“.

Drinkall who was a member of the select class at the Talbot Lane Sundry School was interred at Rotherham Cemetery on Sunday in the presence of close upon 1,000 persons.

The following week a letter from Mary Ann Schofield, the mother of the child saved from drowning, wrote to the Advertiser as follows:

“At the coroner’s inquest held last Saturday on the body of William Drinkall, the jury and coroner gave most of the credit to the man James Jason who also seemed to take credit himself for saving the life of my child. Now Mr Editor, this is most misleading. My child would not be alive today only for the bravery of young Drinkall. When I got down to the river, I saw most distinctly Drinkall with my boy in his arm, bringing him to the river bank and all Mason or anybody else would have to do would not be much as Drinkall had brought him out of the deepest water. Though Mason may have taken the child from his arms, I must emphatically declare that I own my child’s life to the noble and self sacrificing act of William Drinkall, who as long I live shall remember with kind feelings”.

William Drinkall Grave

The Grave of
William Drinkall