The sinking of the Longford in 1845

Just before 4.00pm on 25 November 1845, two hours into its journey, the Royal Canal Company’s passage-boat Longford struck the rocky side of the canal between Porterstown and Clonsilla bridges, beyond the deep sinking.

George Slack was in charge of the two horses towing the boat: he rode one horse and drove the other before him. He said that “when he felt the chuck in the rope he put his horses back”. He saw the boat turn upon her side: the bow was on the bank and the stern was in deep water.[1]

Robert Jessop, a private in the 8th Hussars based at Longford, was one of a small number of passengers who were on deck at the time. He said that

  • the boat, when she struck, fell upon one side, then upon the other; she rebounded, and went down as far as she could
  • the bow of the boat struck first; it pointed in an angle from the middle of the canal
  • he could not tell whether the boat struck upon a rock or the bank, but it must have been a hard substance.[2]

The captain, Christopher O’Connor, was below deck when the boat struck.

The shock was not very violent, but the passengers rushed to the door; I rushed to the companion way, and the boat was heeled so as that the water went over the gunwale, but not so far as the companion way at that time. The passengers were rushing through the fore-cabin, and I saved one woman through the window; the stern of the boat was filling with water then. We then endeavoured to save as many as possible. The deck was not under water, but the windows were filled with water. The boat struck on her side. I did not take notice if any got out through the windows of the first cabin.[3]

All of the windows were barred. O’Connor and Thomas Savage, governor of Roscommon Gaol, who was a passenger in the first cabin, broke an opening in the roof and hauled one woman out that way.[4]

It was still light at the time of the accident and, before dark, the crew, with the help of some passengers, had rescued all those they thought could be alive. But of the original complement of ten first-cabin and thirty-eight second-cabin passengers, including two children, fifteen were dead: seven men, six women and the two children.[5] All of the dead had been trapped in the second cabin.


The recovery of the bodies continued after dark and, with some doubt about how many had died, drags were used into the night.[6] Mr Pilkington, the Lucan sub-inspector of police, arrived with his men; some of the metropolitan police came too, and all of them assisted in the search and in the recovery of property.[7] The bodies were initially piled on the bank but the passage-boat was refloated and hauled to the bridge, and a lumber boat was brought alongside for the bodies:

[…] no conception of the reality could be formed unless the horrid sight was witnessed. Helpless infancy and matron old age were crowded in one promiscuous charnel heap […]. It was one of the most soul-harrowing scenes we have ever witnessed — the lifeless corpses, male and female, were all thrown indiscriminately together on the deck of a lumber barge at the bridge, and beside it lay the ill-fated passage boat in which the hapless victims had perished.[8]

The Longford

[…] presented a strange appearance, the forepart of her deck having been broken up by the inmates of the cabin underneath in effecting their escape.[9]

Many people came to have a look: the “inhabitants of the country for miles around flocked to the scene, and hundreds of the citizens of Dublin, with the Protestant and Catholic clergymen of the locality, together with many of the gentry and magistracy of the district, were present”.[10]


Mr Pilkington took charge of the property and the bodies[11] and an inquest was arranged “in a cabin hard by[12]“, held by the county coroner, Henry Davis Esq, with the assistance of J Hamilton Esq MP and Alexander Kirkpatrick Esq JP.[13] The inquest lasted for most of two days.


Here is the next page in the sequence: this one is background information about the passage boats and the crew of the Longford.

The third page, The Deodand, covers the inquest and the trial. The fourth and fifth discuss the management weaknesses of the Royal Canal Company and the sixth is about who was steering when the boat hit the bank.

[1] Evidence of George Slack at the trial, Statesman and Dublin Christian Record 12 December 1845

[2] Evidence of Robert Jessop at the trial, ibid

[3] Evidence of Christopher O’Connor, The Morning Post 29 November 1845

[4] Evidence of Christopher O’Connor, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[5] ibid

[6] Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent 27 November 1845, quoting the Freeman’s Journal

[7] Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[8] ibid

[9] Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent 27 November 1845

[10] Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[11] The Morning Post 29 November 1845

[12] Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent 27 November 1845

[13] ibid


From the BNA

2 responses to “The sinking of the Longford in 1845

  1. Pingback: Royal towpath Clonsilla | Irish waterways history

  2. Pingback: R&CHS Longford | Irish waterways history

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