Guest post by Kay Redmond
William James Liversage, ‘the Gallant Pier Master’, was my grandmother Alice Moreton’s adoptive father. He was born on April 24th 1865 at 23 Sampson Street, Everton, Liverpool to Samuel Rutter Liversage, Book Keeper, & his wife Jane (nee Wilson).
Shortly after William was born the family moved to New Brighton, Wallasey and his six siblings were all born there & baptised at St. James’ Parish Church. In his earlier days William’s origins in Liverpool were referred to in less than flattering terms.
In 1891, as a young Boatman, he was tried & fined by the Local Board of Magistrates for shooting a gull on the shore – New Brighton always had a shore not a beach.
One magistrate remarked, “Thirty years ago we never used to hear a case. It is only since our Liverpool friends have come to reside on this side of the water”.
Not much change from today’s attitudes, perhaps!
By the time of his death in 1923 he was a much-esteemed resident – so much so that his obituary erroneously says that he was born in New Brighton on property adjoining the Ferry Hotel. A warning to obtain BMD confirmation – I have a copy of his birth certificate.
William was a volunteer member of New Brighton Life Boat crew as well as being appointed Pier Master, a post he held until his death in 1923. I have found several newspaper accounts of River Mersey rescues he made.
In his obituary he’s described as holding The Royal Humane Society Medal with Two Bars. The Royal Humane Society was founded in 1774 as “The Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned, for the purpose of rendering first aid in cases of near drowning.”
I came across the first of his rescues in The Wallasey News, Saturday May 16th 1914, with a report of his jumping into the river to rescue a woman at New Brighton Landing Stage. The article is headed,
EXCITING RIVER SCENE.
GALLANT RESCUE BY MR. LIVERSAGE.
Apparently the ferryboat ‘John Joyce’ was at the Landing Stage and “was packed with many people” who had gone aboard to see ‘The Aquitania’ which was moored at the Pier Head, Liverpool.
The report says,
“The vessel reached New Brighton stage without anything untoward, and it was whilst the passengers were disembarking that the alarming cry of “Man overboard” was raised. There was great commotion and life-buoys were seized to throw into the river.
Someone was seen struggling in the water, and being carried away by the tide, but the life-buoys failed to reach the drowning person. The Pier Master, Mr. W. J. Liversage was fortunately on the scene, and he at once seized a life-buoy and jumped into the river. After an exciting race he overtook the person, and held on until the ferry boat sent assistance.
The rescued lady turned out to be Amy Williams, 37, of 208, Seabank-road, New Brighton.
How she got into the water will form the subject of an inquiry, but it is said that she made a statement to the Pier Master. Mr. Liversage is to be complimented on his bravery.”
There was a further reference to the rescue in the next edition of the newspaper which includes William’s photo and is a tribute to him.
A BRAVE PIERMASTER
“The gallant rescue of a drowning woman on Friday last by Mr. W. J. Liversage, the New Brighton pier master, has evoked the admiration of many residents, and it is felt that a recognition of his bravery should take a tangible form. Subscriptions may be sent to Captain Mason, 18, Westmoreland-road, Liscard.”
I haven’t come across any information about the sum raised but perhaps I can look at the newspapers again when I’m able to have access to the library.
There is a significance to an inquiry into Amy Williams’ fall into the river. In 1915 William Liversage went on to rescue another drowning woman, Nellie White, on New Brighton Shore and she was charged with attempted suicide.
Possibly Amy was jostled and did indeed fall into the river but when William died, his 1923 obituary reports,
“A woman threw herself from the ferry-boat as it left New Brighton and he was on the boat at the time. Without delay he jumped in after her and had a hard struggle in keeping her afloat until picked up by a boat. On this occasion, we understand, he and his charge were carried to the “rip-rap” buoy at the mouth of the river, and he clung there supporting the woman until the rescue party came.”
It’s possible that this more detailed account is correct but the boat has changed direction!
In the original report it says Amy Williams entered the river as the vessel reached New Brighton stage and “the passengers were disembarking”. But nine years later we read that she had thrown herself into the Mersey as it “left New Brighton.”
The article also mentions ‘a hard struggle’ to keep the woman afloat. I’m sure it was. If you’re being swept out by the current, you first of all have to make it to the buoy.
It seems unlikely they were heading straight for it, so that would have involved quick thinking and some strength to divert course to actually reach it. It was a major Mersey marker buoy – a large red conical object bobbing in the outgoing tide. It’s not simple or without risk for a man in the water to latch onto it, especially while supporting a drowning person.
It sounds as though it would have been highly dramatic and very dangerous if the obituary addition is true. As with many of our family ‘legends’, it might have grown in the telling!
This makes me even more interested in looking at old newspaper reports, but as with William James Liversage’s birth place, you can’t believe everything you read in the papers!
One thing I hadn’t noticed when I photocopied these accounts some years ago was the significance of the ‘Aquitania’. The ship had been moored at the Pier Head because she was about to set sail on her Maiden Voyage just two weeks later. This was only two months before the First World War began on July 28th 1914.
I also discovered that she was in Liverpool to be painted after being built on the Clyde.
She was known as ‘The Ship Beautiful’ as she was considered one of the most elegant ocean liners of the time. She served in both world wars and was scrapped in 1950.
Remembering how so many of us on both sides of the river flocked to see The Three Queens on May 25th 2015 to celebrate Cunard’s 175th Anniversary, it is interesting to see that people were doing the same thing in 1914.
William James Liversage, b. 24.4.1865 – d. 3.12.1923
Samuel Rutter Liversage, b. c. 1841 – d. 16.11.1908
Jane Wilson, b.c. 1840 – d. October 1914
Rip Rap Buoy in River Mersey – London Gazette May 1, 1908
Wallasey News Saturday May 16th 1914 & week following – didn’t note date.