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John Gregory Clarke, 1837-1858



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John Gregory Clarke was born around 1837 in London, England, the last of five children, to John Clarke who later worked for Lord Rosslyn as a factor at Dysart House, and Elizabeth Clarke née Barton, who became inkeeper at the Forth Hotel. His preceding five paternal ancestors were first born children, all named John Clarke. His gt4 grandfather was Gregory Clarke (1642-1725) of Bungay.


John Gregory Clarke was employed as an apprentice at the shipyard at Granton, on the bank of the Firth of Forth opposite to his home in Burntisland; about five miles distant.


John Gregory Clarke died on 24th July 1858 when his boat capsized in the Firth of Forth. He is buried in Dysart Barony Churchyard.

Fife Herald 29 Jul 1858

BURNTISLAND. – MELANCHOLY OCCURRENCE THREE YOUNG MEN DROWNED. - During the night of Saturday last, an occurrence of a most distressing nature took place on the Firth of Forth – the result, there is every reason to believe, being the untimely death of three young men of excellent character. The story is rendered peculiarly sad, not only by the mystery in which its chiefest incidents are shrouded, but also by the circumstance that each of the youths was an only son. William Gawan, a young man of 18, was a teacher in Maclaren's Academy, Stockbridge, Edinburgh; John Orral, the 2nd of the party, was an engineer at Leith, residing at Burntisland, and about the same age as Gawan; and John Clark, aged 21, was an apprentice in the shipbuilding yard at Granton. He also resided with his mother at the Forth Hotel, Burntisland. They were all acquainted with each other – Clark and Orral were particular friends - and Gawan, who knew Orral well, was staying with him at Burntisland. It seems that early on Saturday afternoon, resolving to have a trip on the Firth, they left Burntisland in a small four-oared boat belonging to Clark. It was nearly high tide when they started, but the day promised to be fair – the sea was running smoothly, and a slight breeze from the north prevailed. The party reached Granton in little more than an hour, when they took the boat to moorings at the pier and walked into town. At half-past nine at night all three returned to the pier and prepared to leave for Burntisland. The tide was then at the ebb, the night rapidly darkening and rain pouring heavily down. Whilst untackling the boat, they were accosted by the mate of one of the steamers plying across the Firth, who knew Clark and Orral, and he invited them to go across with the vessel, as it was starting immediately. This they declined to do Clark saying that they had a boat of their own, and would go across in it. A very stiff gusty wind was blowing at this time from the north-east, and the rain descended in torrents. The mate seeing how the weather was turning out, again spoke to the young men, warning them not to venture out in the small boat, but to come on board the steamer. This second request was disregarded, and hoisting the sail, they left the pier before the steamer, and were almost directly out of sight. Nothing more was seen of any of the unfortunate lads, and the only clue to their fate which was left was the boat, which at seven o'clock on Sunday morning was discovered by a sloop, lying on her beam-ends on the shore of Cramond Island. Orrell's cap was the only article found in the boat, and the oars were picked up by some person near the island on Monday. The boat was towed up to Queensferry. On Monday a strict search was made along the shore and on every island to discover the bodies of the young men. There are various surmises as to the cause of the accident some thinking that the boat, while under canvas, must have been overturned by a sudden gust of wind; and others believing that it was run aground in the darkness on Cramond Island. The first of these conjectures is considered most probable, as the wind was very high throughout the night. It is not known whether any of the young men except Clark understood the management of a boat, or whether any of them were swimmers.

Fife Herald 12 Aug 1858

THE LATE FATAL OCCURRENCE ON THE FIRTH OF FORTH – On Sunday morning, the body of John Clark one of the three young men who were drowned by the upsetting of the boat on the Firth of forth on the night of the 24th ultimo, was discovered by several persons near Queensferry. It was with considerable difficulty that the body was recognized, owing to decomposition. The bodies of the other two unfortunate youths have not yet been found. The men who brought the body ashore were paid the £5 reward offered, and the body was brought down to Burntisland. Both Clark and Orrell were perfectly able to manage the boat, and both were in the habit of going considerable distances to sea alone. All three were able swimmers. From the circumstance of the sail being trailed up to the mast when found, it is thought that, finding the wind getting too strong, they had adopted this precaution to prevent being capsized, and had taken to the oars to row back to Granton. Two of the shrouds of the mast were also cut, showing an intention to lighten the boat by letting mast and sail go overboard. This indicates that they were alive to their danger, and took every precaution in their power for their safety. In our last notice it was said that the mates of the steamboat, fearing danger, twice urged the party to come on board, and that Clark refused. It is believed that, knowing both Clark and Orrell could manage a boat, it was not on account of the wind but to escape getting wet, that the mate asked them on board the steamer. The body of another of the young men, John Orrell, was found on Tuesday the 10th instant, floating betwixt Granton and Queensferry. Just as the steam-tug arrived at the pier of Burntisland, the funeral of John Clark was about to take place. The body of the young man Gawan is not yet found, but every effort is being made for its recovery.


The death of John Gregory marked the end of the Fife Clarkes. However, twenty years later one of his nephews, John Wishart, met a not dissimilar fate.

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Last modified: 2016 July 5th.