Officers in charge of the police at Southampton Docks

Henry Fellows

Henry Fellows joined the service of the Southampton Dock Police as a constable around 1853. He was a hard-working and diligent officer; if he wasn’t arresting someone for the theft of ship’s stores then it was for smuggling. There are many press reports recording his dedication to duty. By 1857 he had been promoted to sergeant and was as active as ever. One Sunday afternoon he came upon James Fitts an Irish American sailor from the American frigate Jacinto. Fitts was exceedingly drunk and riotous and it took the assistance of a second police officer and a customs officer to secure him. They used a pair of trucks (probably a small barrow) and fastened the fellow down with ropes. Sergeant Fellows relieved him of a large dirk-knife, seven or eight inches long with a locking blade. Fitts said he had it because he had quarrelled with another man the night before. He was duly locked up to appear at court the following day.

By 1872 Henry Fellows was an Inspector in charge of the force. A respected pillar of the community, he was a member of the New Forest lodge of masons. Living in St Mary’s Road with his wife and six sons, he led a comfortable life.

On Sunday 14th October 1877, Henry and his wife were in London and caught the 5.20pm train from Waterloo to Basingstoke. As the train pulled into Basingstoke station, Henry made a fatal mistake; he opened the door and stood on the step ready to alight. Either he lost his footing or misjudged the speed of the train and he fell from the step; his legs were caught underneath and he was dragged along for twelve yards. He was extricated with help from a screw jack to lift the weight of the carriage. His injuries were severe and he was put on a special train to Southampton and taken immediately to the infirmary. Although quite sensible, he was in great pain especially when a dislocated hip was reset. But he had sustained a great shock to his system and probably had internal injuries; he died four hours after being admitted.

The Coroner, Edward Coxwell held an inquest the next day; the jury returned a verdict of accidental death – they could do no other. There was a genuine sadness about the town over the loss of such a fi ne officer and the funeral was a very impressive affair.

Henry Rowthorn


The death of Henry Fellows left a big hole; it took someone of the stature of Henry Rowthorn to fill it and a fine job he did. Henry Rowthorn was a sergeant in the Southampton Borough Police when he was offered the job of taking charge of the Docks Police after Fellow’s’ death. And it came with some advancement, of course – he was promoted to inspector.

Rowthorn too had been a thorough and diligent policeman. He had joined Southampton Borough Police in 1867 and was promoted to sergeant in July 1873. Five years later, when he resigned from the Southampton force, the Watch Committee granted the return of his superannuation deductions and presented him with an additional gift of £5 as a token of their gratitude ‘for his special and efficient service… while serving with the Police Service in the Borough of Southampton’. He was clearly an exceptional officer.

In November 1892 Inspector Rowthorn and the rest of the Southampton Dock officers were sworn in as constables of the London & South Western Railway Company Police, the railway company having recently purchased the docks. Shortly afterwards, Rowthorn was promoted to superintendent.

The Stella Disaster

ShipThe railway company had no particular wish to purchase the docks but the dock company itself was in financial trouble and it did suit them as they operated several cross-channel steamers out of Southampton. One of the company’s vessels was the steamship Stella servicing the Channel Islands.

On Thursday the 30th. March 1899, the boat train left Waterloo with 110 passengers, and they were joined by another 37 along the way. The Stella left Eastern Docks at 11.25 am for Guernsey with fair weather as she made her way down Southampton water, and out into the English Channel. There were banks of fog nearly all the way across and the Stella occasionally reduced speed. Nearing her destination, fifteen miles from St. Peter Port at just before 4pm, the 1,058 ton Stella struck the submerged Casquets reef at 18 knots in thick fog. She sank within ten minutes; at least 77 passengers and crew were drowned. In such circumstances there are always heroes and villains. The master, Captain Reeks, was blamed for the wreck- why had he been travelling so fast in thick fog? There were persistent reports that the Stella was racing the GWR steamer out of Weymouth, with both vessels due to arrive at St Peter Port at 5.30pm. Captain Reeks went down with his ship with arms raised aloft.

As the ship’s owners, the L&SWSR company were not without blame. The Stella had 43 crew and 147 passengers on board (she was authorised to carry up to 712 passengers) yet the vessel had a lifeboat carrying capacity for only 148 people. Despite the speed with which the ship foundered, four lifeboats were launched successfully. One had 38 Supt Henry Rowthorn Photo: F.G.O. Stuart c.1899 Final moments of the Stella Photo: London Illustrated News 24 survivors on board and had a cutter in tow with another 29 survivors. They were sighted at 7am the following morning by the LSWR steamship Vera. The other cutter, with 24 on board, had a dinghy in tow with a further 13 survivors on board. They were picked up by the Great Western Railway steamship Lynx. Other survivors were plucked from the water by a French tug.

The search for survivors and the recovery of the dead went on for days. Superintendent Rowthorn, and, it may be assumed, some of his men, attended the site of the wreck and took part in the recovery of bodies. Not long afterwards, Superintendent Rowthorn began to feel unwell and ascribed his illness to the recovery and disposal of the bodies from the Stella. He seemed to be improving but then typhoid fever set in and he died on the 8th of September. His funeral was also an impressive affair.

Like his predecessor, Henry Rowthorn was a widely respected public figure. A staunch Conservative, he was a church warden, a member of the Oddfellows Lodge and Worshipful Master of the Harmony Lodge of Freemasons. Henry Fellows and Henry Rowthorn were successive officers-in-charge of the police at Southampton Docks and both met sad and unexpected deaths. Apart from their common forename, they were both 54 years old when they died.


by Viv Head with contributions from Colin Chivers (South Western Circle), Ed Thompson & David Caplehorn.

This article originally appeared in the BTPHG Year Book 2013.


Update January 2014:
See some additional Photographs of Henry Rowthorn.

Update July 2017:
Thanks to Ian Oliver we now have photographs of the two gentlemen’s gravestones:

(Click each image to enlarge)