Newport Docks Disaster

Constable Daniel McCarthy

Constable Daniel McCarthy

On 2nd July 1909, a major disaster occurred during the construction of a new sea lock at Newport Docks which resulted in the death of 39 men. Recent correspondence from Alan Sharkey of St John Ambulance has highlighted the parts played by two Dock Constables who were recognised for their efforts. Alan has been kind enough to supply photographs of the Lifesaving Medal of the Order of St John awarded to Daniel McCarthy.

Here is an edited extract from Alan’s recent correspondence:  “I possess the medal awarded to Docks Police Constable Daniel McCarthy in 1910 for his part in the Newport Docks Disaster of 2 July 1909.  I attach an extract from the South Wales Argus detailing the award of the medal.  I also attach a photograph of Constable McCarthy from the same paper.  The medal awarded to Constable McCarthy is very battered.  The image attached shows the medal alongside a modern one.  Constable McCarthy’s would have had a plain black ribbon with a claw mount – you can see the rivet that secured the mount.  Another image shows his name in the edge inscription.  The medal was with Sharon Powell and her husband in Newport for 35 years until I spotted it a few weeks ago on Ebay and was prompted to research it.  Sharon does not know how they acquired it.  Daniel lived next door to the man postumously blamed for the disaster and I have a feeling he may have thrown the medal into the trench where 39 of his friends and colleagues had died, only for it to be excavated decades later in the condition it is in now – or something like that!

Daniel McCarthy was employed as a Docks Police Constable by Alexandra (Newport & South Wales) Docks & Railway Company Ltd throughout at least 1901 to 1911.  He was Irish born in about 1864 to 1868.  He and his wife Clara had 4 daughters and a son between 1893 and 1906.  Clara died in 1906 aged 33 leaving Daniel a widower.  Daniel was also a member of the Docks Division of the St John Ambulance Brigade (not a condition for the medal – just 3 of the 8 people who were bestowed the medal were members of the Docks SJAB).

Another Docks Constable recognised for his part in the disaster was Reubin Minns.  I have so far not tracked down Daniel’s part in the disaster but given the recognition it may have been more dramatic than that of Reubin Minns whose deeds are portrayed in the article.  Reubin was not recognised at the time but was later awarded a ‘Certificate of Meritorious Service’ for his actions.”

The Lifesaving Medal of the Order of St John is awarded to a person who has endangered their own life with conspicuous bravery by saving, or attempting to save, someone else. The report of the awarding of the medals and mention of both Officers can be found here: South Wales Argus (March 19 1910)


Daniel McCarthy’s Lifesaving Medal of the Order of St John, shown with a modern equivalent

Daniel McCarthy’s Lifesaving Medal of the Order of St John, shown with a modern equivalent


BTPHG records show that Daniel McCarthy continued in service until at least August 1930, when he was a Sergeant, and that he died on 11th October 1953. His medal is acknowledged on the St John Ambulance awards page of this website.

Reubin Minns served with the Royal Army Medical Corps of the London Regiment and the 1st Battalion, King’s Royal Rifles during the First World War. He rejoined the police at Newport  Docks in 1918 and finally retired as an Inspector at Cardiff Docks in 1951.

More details on the Newport Docks Disaster can be found at the Newport Past website, including an excellent video.

And at Viv Head’s history of railway and dock policing in South Wales.

Daniel McCarthy’s name in the edge inscription.

Daniel McCarthy’s name in the edge inscription.









Alan J Sharkey MBE CStJ TD, Lt Col, Chairman ACFA/CCFA Special Centre – St John Ambulance.

Monty Dart of Newport Past.

Viv Head (Chairman BTPHG) BTP Policing in South Wales

South Wales Argus