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The memorial plaque to William Donald.


The circumstances under which William Donald (1857 - 1876) met his untimely death were marked by the fact that they were just so ordinary.

Although he was, at the time, living in Bayswater, he had, in fact, been born in Mile End and, on the day of the tragedy had returned to the area in which he had spent the first ten years of his life, in order to have Sunday lunch with his cousin, Thomas Tull.

After lunch, Thomas said that he wanted to take his dog for a walk, and William suggested that they head over to his uncle, Samuel Clay's farm on Wick Lane, Old Ford.

On arrival, the three men and the dog set for a stroll along the bank of the River Lea, which meandered behind Clayton's farm and, it being a warm day, William and Thomas decided to go for a cooling swim in the river.

It was a decision that would cost them their lives.

According to the memorial plaque in Postman's Park, " William Donald, Of Bayswater, Aged 19, Railway Clerk, Was Drowned In The Lea Trying To Save A Lad From A Dangerous Entanglement Of Weed, July 16 1876."

The full story of what happened on that fateful day was told in an article that appeared in The Evening Standard on the 19th of July 1876:-


"Yesterday Mr Donaldson, the deputy-coroner for the Eastern Division of Middlesex, held inquests at the White Horse Tavern, High-street, Bow, on the bodies of William Percy Donald, aged 19, and Percival Thomas Tull, also aged 19, who were drowned in the River Lea under the following sad circumstances.

Both the deceased persons were clerks and cousins.

Donald residing at 1, Askew-crescent, Uxbridge-road, and his relative Tull at 10, Frederick-place, Bow.

On Sunday last they called upon Mr. Clay, a farmer of Woodland-cottages, Wick-lane, Old Ford, and it was proposed to take a dog to swim in the River Lea, which runs at the back of Mr. Clay's residence.

They all three proceeded to the bank of the river, and it was then agreed that they should bathe.

Donald first plunged in the water, followed by Tull; but, the spot being crowded with weeds, and the dog, which was in the water at the same time, causing the bathers inconvenience, Donald got out, and held the dog on the bank whilst Tull freed himself from the weeds.

Suddenly Tull cried out for help, and disappeared, and Donald plunged in to render assistance; but the attempt at rescue proved fruitless, and both were drowned.

Mr Clay, who was standing on the bank, and who had not joined his companions in the unfortunate sport that resulted in their death, made an attempt to save them, but found it to be of no avail.

The jury returned in each case a verdict of "Accidental death.""