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From the Brisbane Courier

Monday 24 June 1895

"The report of the Royal Humane Society Society for 1894 contains, as usual, the suggestions for almost illimitable romance of danger and heroic rescue. Five hundred and twenty-seven cases were considered during the year and the lives of 580 people were saved by the energy, promptness and bravery of the rescuers.

The Stanhope Gold Medal is the grandest prize which the Royal Humane Society has to give away. The prize comes out of a fund raised by the friends and admirers of the late Captain Chandos Scudamore Stanhope of the Royal Navy, who died in 1871, to commemorate his services to the profession, and it was thought that there could be no more characteristic mode of keeping his memory green than by the gift of an annual gold medal for the case of the greatest gallantry in the saving of life during that year, the medal to be awarded by the Royal Humane Society. It is given to the very bravest of the brave - the select of the select.


"The first Stanhope Medal was awarded in 1873 to Captain Matthew Webb, who had attempted to rescue a sailor who had fallen from the rigging of a ship into the Atlantic Ocean. Webb swam for more than half-an-hour but found only the young man's cap.


Two years later, Webb would become the first person to swim the English Channel."

The Royal Humane Society

Stanhope medal

The Stanhope Gold Medal

Courtesy of the Royal Humane Society


The report tells us all about the winner of the Gold Medal for the year 1894. His name is Mr William Mugford and he is Foreman of the Works under the local authorities at Torquay. 

There was a violent rain and thunderstorm there 20 October 1894. The flood rushed from all points with terrific force into the town sewer*, the water of which rose about 3 feet in as many minutes. A party of 8 or 9 men were dispatched to carry out some repairs to the interior of the main sewer.

 They had been at work about a couple of hours, when the man who was set to watch out, signalled to them that the water was rising, and William Mugford, the foreman, ordered the men up.  Three men, Callicott, Beasley and Potter started off in the direction of the manhole but Mugford remained behind to make fast the staging upon which they were working.

The water rushed down in a perfect torrent, and before the foremost man had reached the manhole, it had overflowed the dam, and was whirling about down the sewer in a resistless flood. Beasley managed to clutch a barrow which had been made fast to the dam, and by means of a life-line was pulled up on the staging. John Callicott was overcome and carried away, nor was anything seen of him until his dead body was found lodged against the staging upon which the men had been working. Milton, one of the workmen, again and again was carried off his feet by the rushing water, and would undoubtedly have drowned but for the coolness and presence of mind of William Mugford who is a powerful man, and held on to him, half carrying him out of danger. Potter, who was further up the drain, also owes his life to the Foreman. The two men, under the direction and supported by Mugford, finally hauled themselves up to the foot-irons and chains, and remained seven hours there before they were finally rescued.


It is stated that had it not been for Mugford's brave devotion to his fellow workmen, all would have been drowned, as the outlet discharges directly into the sea on a rocky and dangerous coast."

* Torquay's so-called "Great Sewer" was completed in 1876 and, in addition to waste water from the new buildings in the higher part of the town, culverted the waters of the Flete Brook underground for the final part of its journey to the sea. Heavy rain turned the underground stream into a raging torrent which forced the manhole covers up and caused large amounts of water to back up into the streets. 


Flooding in Union Street in 1938

Flooding in Union Street, Torquay in August 1938.

Many customers in adjoining shops had to  be  rescued by boat

Courtesy The Herald and Express


*As the Foreman of the Works, William Mugford lived in "official" accommodation in Market Street, Torquay, in a building belonging to the Local Board of Health who were responsible for Torquay's sewer. He had been born in Blackawton in 1843 and at the time of this incident was 51. He was married to Mary Jane Pope who came from Brixham and three of their six children were still living at home in 1894. He died in Torquay at the age of 84 in 1927.


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