Thurrock historical people

Corporal Henry Mitchell, military diver who drowned at Tilbury

One of the earliest recorded diving accidents of the Royal Engineers occurred when Corporal Henry Mitchell was drowned on May 21st 1838 during an operation to destroy the wreck of the ship 'William' off Tilbury Fort. The 'William' had been run down by a 'Steamer' immediately opposite the Fort, and was causing an obstruction in the river. Colonel Pasley of the Royal Engineers arrived with a party of Sappers and Miners and began work with a diving bell and a newly-designed diving helmet and dress. However, while using the diving dress, Corporal Mitchell became entangled in the rigging of the wreck during a high tide and pulled on his life rope. Unfortunately, rescue proved impossible as the diving bell could not be sunk without danger until later in the day, and when Mitchell was eventually discovered he was pronounced dead after a failed attempt at resuscitation. The burial was undertaken at West Tilbury Church, where a descriptive headstone recorded the accident and gave an appreciation of his life, personally commissioned and paid for by Colonel Pasley. The inscription reads as follows:

In memory of
Corporal Henry Mitchell
of the 8th Company of the Corps
of Royal Sappers and Miners
of excellent character
good abilities
and remarkable courage
who, when employed with
a detachment of that company
in preparing to blow to pieces
the wreck
of the collier brig William
sunk in the
mid-channel of the Thames
in this neighbourhood
was unfortunately drowned
on the first day of that operation
in the XXXIInd year of his age
erected by Colonel Pasley, R.E.
his commanding officer
as a memorial of regard and
his regret for
the loss of this brave soldier

Today it is not possible to see the gravestone as it is within the private garden of the owner of the redundant church.


  • Panorama, Journal of Thurrock Local History Society, no. 31, 1990;
  • The Infernal Diver by John Bevan, published by Submex 1996. ISBN 0 9508242 1 6.