Studying the stories behind the heroic deaths that are recorded on the Watts Memorial in Postman's Park, it is evident that several of those whose names are memorialized here were, what might be termed, "habitual heroes" who had saved several lives prior to the acts that brought about their deaths.
One such "habitual hero" was Richard Farris (1833 - 1878).
His memorial plaque reads, "Richard Farris, Labourer, Was Drowned In Attempting To Save A Poor Girl Who Had Thrown Herself Into The Canal At Globe Bridge, Peckham. May 20 1878."
On Saturday 18th May 1878, the following account of the heroic act that cost him his life appeared in The South London Press:-
"Yesterday (Friday) at the Marlborough Arms, South-street, Camberwell, Mr Cater held an enquiry into the death of two persons, one a young woman and the other an elderly man, who were both discovered to have been drowned in the Surrey Canal on Monday evening, under somewhat extraordinary circumstances.
The young woman, Eliza Sarah Arlott, was hardly 21 years of age, and followed the business of a laundress. She is the daughter of a mason's labourer residing at 10, York Terrace, Basing-road, Peckham.
The man, Richard Farrris, is a labourer, single, aged 46, living at 43, Stanton-street, Commercial-road, Peckham.
It will be seen by the following evidence that Farris, in a vain attempt to save the life of the girl, who beyond question intended to commit suicide, lost his own, under circumstances of a very lamentable character.
It was mentioned at the inquest, by one of the jury, that Farris had saved the lives of some half-dozen persons from drowning in the Surrey Canal.
Police-constable Williamson, 2002, of the P Division, having given formal evidence as to the finding of the bodies, Thomas Charles Hodgson, of 29, Staton-street, was sworn and deposed that on Monday night, whilst on his way home, he saw the girl on the canal bridge.
Witness took no notice, but went into the Surrey View public-house. The girl was leaning with her elbows on the parapet of the bridge, with her face buried in her hands.
Witness remained in the public-house for about five minutes, when he heard an alarm raised that there was a woman in the water.
Witness had seen Farris before he met the girl. He said to Farris, "Hallo Punch" (a sobriquet he went under); and pointing to the girl on the bridge, Farris said, "If that woman goes in, I'll go after her."
Directly witness heard the alarm of somebody being in the water he ran for the drag hook, which is placed at the back of the Surrey View.
When witness went to the side of the canal, he saw two persons, a man and a woman, in the middle of the stream. He heard the man call out, "Help!"
Both the man and the woman sank before the witness could render any assistance, as the pole was not sufficiently long to reach the struggling pair.
The police constable, recalled, stated that a doctor saw the bodies before they were removed, and pronounced both persons dead."
The article continued with the inquest testimony of Thomas Hogg, the landlord of the pub, who had been with Richard Farris shortly before his death:
Thomas George Hogg, proprietor of the Surrey View Public-house, deposed that he knew Farris (the deceased) well.
He saw him on Monday night outside the Surrey View.
Farris called witness outside the door, and said, "Come and look at this woman. I believe she intends to make away with herself.
Witness saw a woman walking up the canal bank towards the basin.
Witness followed the woman for a short distance with Farris, when he (witness) returned to put on a coat.
he had put on his coat and was about to go back, when he heard a scream, as if proceeding from a woman.
Witness then went out, saw two persons struggling in the water, and Farris was not to be seen on the bank. This was about 200 yards from the canal bridge.
While Farris and witness were walking up the towing-path behind the woman, Farris said to her, "You don't mean to go in tonight, as the water is very cold." The woman retorted by saying, "Mind your own business."
Farris then said to witness that if the woman went into the water, he should go in after her. Witness believed that Farris lost his life in the endeavour to save the woman."
The next witness was the mother of the girl whom Richard Farris had drowned endeavouring to save:-
"Sarah Arlott, a married woman, deposed that her husband was a mason's labourer.
Witness saw the deceased woman, who was her daughter, on Tuesday at the mortuary. Her daughter would be 21 in July.
The girl, who lived at home, was last seen by witness about half-past 9 o'clock on Monday night. She came home then and went up stairs.
After about ten minutes, witness heard her crying, and went upstairs to her.
She asked what the matter was. The girl replied, "I can't tell you," and added that some one had been telling Jesse, her sweetheart, something about her that she could not repeat. Witness asked diseased to come down stairs and have her supper, consisting of fish. Deceased replied, "I don't want any of your fish. I's going to feed the fish."
Witness thought nothing more of what of what had been said, as witness had always been a merry girl.
Shortly afterwards, when witness was in the yard, deceased left the house, and witness had since heard that before she left, deceased cried, "Goodbye all."
Witness stated that insanity existed in her husband's family, her husband having attempted to commit suicide, and his brother having done so.
Witness added that deceased seemed to be unhappy all day on Sunday and related an extraordinary statement which had been made by the girl.
She came home one day and told her mother of the fact that a young woman had committed suicide at the Globe Bridge. "It is the deepest part," added deceased, "and I don't know but that it will be my end some day."
This being the evidence, the jury at once returned a verdict that the woman had committed suicide whilst temporarily insane and that the deceased Farris had been accidently drowned when humanely endeavouring to save the life of the female."
A week later, on 25th May, 1878, The South London Press published the following account of the funeral of Richard Farris:-
"On Monday, the remains of Richard Farris, the labouring man who lost his life on the previous Monday in the attempt to rescue the girl Eliza Sarah Arlott from drowning in the Surrey Canal, were interred at the Forest Hill Cemetery.
Farris, whose bravery has cost him his life, was greatly appreciated by his fellow workmen, about 100 of whom, engaged on buildings near the cemetery, attended the funeral to pay a last tribute of respect to their late companion.
Four of them acted as pallbearers, and the scene as the coffin was lowered into the ground was a very touching one.
The funeral was attended by several sisters and brothers of the man, who was unmarried.
Mr. G. Morley, 115, High-street, Peckham, attended to represent the South-East London Swimming Club, and it may be mentioned that a movement has been set on foot by that institution to erect a tablet over the grave of the poor fellow with a suitable inscription.
It is stated that Farris had, before making the attempt which proved fatal to him, succeeded in rescuing no less than seven persons from drowning in the canal.
A committee has been formed for the purpose of erecting a tablet..."