I was given a small brown leather purse inscribed, "Presented to William (Wull) McCall for Heroic & Humane Services on the River Clyde, 1898"... such purses usually contained a sum of money in the form of Ten Gold Sovereigns, Elsie Fotheringham asked me if I could find out anything about it, the following entry from the Hamilton Advertiser, 27th August, 1898.
Burnbank Man Drowned in Clyde
On Sunday afternoon, Andrew Brown (20) miner, Windsor Street, Burnbank, was drowned whilst bathing in the Clyde, at the railway viaduct between Blantyre and Bothwell.
With a companion named Cullen, he had gone to the river and whilst swimming, Brown was seen to sink when about 15 yds from the Bothwell side of the river. Another swimmer named Archibald, who was swimming some 50 yds off, was shouted to and he proceeded at once to the spot, but the body never appeared again, and although a search was kept up until midnight, was not recovered.
The search was continued early on Monday morning and about 10 o'clock, the body was found not many yards from the place where it was last seen to disappear, by Robert Orr, miner, Auchinraith Rows, and William McCall, miner, Craighead Rows, who were using grappling irons from a small boat. This is the third year in succession that a drowning fatality has occurred at this part of the river.
William (Wull) McCall, Robert Orr along with John Gray, were members of a small group of men known locally as "Divers" because of their swimming and diving skills and local knowledge of the Clyde, who were called out every time such incidents, ( and there were many) occurred on the river, as it made its way through Blantyre. Their work was dangerous, voluntary and for the most part, unpaid but nevertheless was carried out over the years, willingly and selfishly, by the men whose skills could be likened to those of the well known Parsonage family, who still provide such services today, on the river at Glasgow.
John Gray for example, would go on to give his life in years to come, trying to save a young boy by the name of John Morran, who fell into the Clyde at Blantyre Works, a purse with some coins in it is a small but fitting tribute, to such men of our Community.
James Cornfield February 2000
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