116 Life and Letters of Francis Galton
The visit to France did come off, but Tertius Galton and Emma started first, and on April 13 Francis was to have his second near chance of losing his life by drowning. The event is described in the following letter to his sister Bessy 1:
Thursday, April 14th, 1840.
17 NEw SPRING GARDENS.
MY DEAR BESSY,
Yesterday at 17 minutes and 45 seconds to 5 (I know the time because my watch was stopped), just when you were puzzling yourself over some cross-stitch -pattern and whilst Delly was trying to find out a type in the Old Testament for the fact that St Paul left his cloak behind at Ephesus-well, as you were both amusing yourselves at that said time-I, your humble servant, Lord Torment and Tease, clothes and boots on, was floundering under the wheels of a Steam Packet, the paddles of which were bumping upon my head with a 15-horse power, and some short time afterwards I found myself kicking about some 8 or 10 feet deep, rising to the top, which instead of reaching, I merely knocked my head against a huge piece of wood and sank down again, at the same time gulping in water like a fish and bubbling out air like a blacksmith's bellows, my life worth "a little less than nQthing at all," as the sailors say. Well, I am alive, which is a great deal more than I had expected, but desperately beaten about my head. I can't lie in bed, so I'll write you all about it.
I went in a Steam Boat to Putney to see the Oxford and Cambridge rowing match. As we were returning, very fast and with the tide, through Battersea Bridge, we ran foul of the middle pier. I, who was behind the paddle-box, saw how we were going just before we struck, and caught tight hold of one of the paddle-box steps, expecting a general smash and determined to have a swim for it. Well, the body of the packet cleared, but the paddle-box, behind which I was, came full crash against the sides of the arch. It split open just before me by the shock. I was thrown head foremost through the cleft, right amongst the paddle wheels, which were still going round, they not having touched the pier, owing I suppose to the recoil from the smash of the paddle box, though when they did, they were doubled up and rendered useless immediately. Well, this regularly stunned me. Thank heavens my neck was not broken in the wheel (Escape No. 1). I was quite insensible, and how I cleared the bridge I have not the slightest conception. I must have been beaten down by the paddle wheels beneath the bottom of the boat-and fortunately enough, otherwise from the shape of the packet which heeled over I must have been jammed between it and the pier [illustrative sketch of packet and pier in elevation], and of course squashed. That
1 The first event occurred in 1833, when Francis was 11 years old ; he had been taught to swim. He went to pay a visit to his sister Lucy at Smethwick. He was walking by the canal at the bottom of the garden, when he saw a bird's nest on the branch of a tree and fell into the water in trying to get it. His legs got entangled in the tree so that he was held with his head under water, and no one near to help him, At last with a vigorous effort he made himself loose and swam to shore. (Mrs Wheler's Reminiscences under 1833.)