Frederick John Shiplee was born on 15th November 1895 in the Essex town of Harwich. The oldest of eight children, his parents were Frederick and Matilda. Frederick Sr worked as a carter for the local railway, while his son found employment as a butcher’s errand boy when he left school.
In November 1913, having just turned 18, Frederick Jr enlisted in the Royal Navy as an Officer’s Steward, and spent three years training and serving on board HMS Ganges, the shore establishment at Shotley, near Ipswich.
From Suffolk, Frederick moved to Kent, and was based at the HMS Pembroke in Chatham. From here, he was involved in trips on HMS Spey, an old river gunboat that had been converted for use as a diving tender. It was during one of these trips that tragedy struck.
STORY OF A COLLISION IN THE THAMES
Mr CB Sewell resumed the inquest at Chatham, on Monday, on the 13 naval men who lost their lives after a collision between the London County Council steam hopper Belvedere and an old naval vessel in the Thames on March 7th …
The collision occurred shortly before four o’clock in the afternoon, the weather being bitterly cold and boisterous, and the sea extremely rough. The men, who had taken to a raft, were drifting about till 9pm before the raft was driven ashore. On the raft, when discovered, were a pile of dead men, who had been rendered unconscious by the cold and subsequently drowned through the raft being partly submerged. Lieutenant Humphreys, Royal Naval Reserve, and the other officers were all drowned. In all, 30 of the 37 members of the ship’s company lost their lived, and several bodies have not been recovered. Thirteen of the ship’s crew managed to get ashore at Sheerness in the cutter and three reached the shore at the Isle of Grain in the gig, while one was saved by the hopper.
Arthur George Chick, able seaman, said he was at the wheel of the naval vessel, which was steaming up river at six knots an hour to secure shelter from the weather. Lieutenant Humphreys and a warrant officer were on the bridge, and there were two look-out men. All were now missing. He saw the hopper coming down the river when she was two miles away. When the vessels were nearing each other, the hopper suddenly altered her course to starboard. The witness then altered his course to port by his officer’s orders, but the hopper crashed into his ship, stroking it a glancing blow in line with the forepart of the bridge on the starboard side. The ship sank in three minutes.
Alfred Rawlings, leading signalman, stated that the hopper changed her course when almost abreast of the naval vessel. The hopper’s alteration of course was, he considered, the cause of the collision.
Henry Davies, second officer, and Joseph Beard Hasdell, master of the hopper, gave evidence that they considered the collision was caused through the naval vessel’s error of judgment in starboarding, instead of going to port. The hopper, they stated, ported its helm in accordance with the ‘rule of the road’.South Eastern Gazette: Tuesday 27th March 1917
While not mentioned in the newspaper report for security reasons, the ‘old naval vessel’ was, in fact HMS Spey. Annoyingly, I can trace no further report of the inquest, other than the conclusion that the deaths were due to drowning following a collision at sea.
Officer’s Steward Shiplee was one of the twenty men who died that day. He was just 21 years of age.
Frederick John Shiplee’s body was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham, not far from the Naval Dockyard in Chatham, where he had been based.