Accidental Death by Bathing
The Death Stone

A block of stone which can be seen at low tide marks the tragic events of July 4th, 1855. Isabella and Anna Sophia Rees, daughters of John Hughes Rees of Cilymaemllwyd, drowned in a pool where the Dyfaty stream met the sea. Their maid, Jane Grier, drowned in an attempt to save them.

Pwll has a gentle and pretty coastline, a mirror image of the Gower peninsula to the south across the estuary. The shallow waters of the Burry Inlet stretch west to the wide expanse of Carmarthen Bay. These waters are beautiful, but they are treacherous. Unseen dangers lurk beneath the calm surface. They have killed in the past and could kill again.

On a summer’s day in July, 1855 three young women drowned at Pwll, two who were bathing and one who ran to save them.

On Wednesday, July 4th, 1855 the eldest Rees daughter, Isabella, with her younger sisters, Annie, and Emily accompanied by her nursemaid, Jane Grier, went down to the river to bathe. The “extreme heat which has prevailed during the last ten days or a fortnight” [1] no doubt made the idea of bathing attractive to the young people.

They left Cilymaenllwyd, their mansion home on the hill, at about four or five o’clock. They crossed the South Wales Railway line and made their way to a “usual” bathing place, a few yards south of the line and “eastward of a culvert through which the river runs” [2]. The pool was in the Dyfaty river near the Park colliery. This was a dangerous place, the pool having a bottom of quicksand and varying in depth at times from just 3 or 4 ft up to 10 ft in the centre. On this day it was at its deepest.

The girls undressed and got into the pool while Jane looked on. It appears that Emily went in first and was then joined by her sisters, but soon came out of the water. It was said at the inquest that “after being in the water some time” Isabella “slipped into the pool and sank” [3]. Annie tried to help her sister “but also disappeared” [4]. Although she was fully dressed, Jane dashed into the pool in a brave attempt to save them, but “three sank in the struggle.” [5]

Emily ran back across the railway, screaming for help. Some boys in a pool on the other side of the railway had been unable to see what was going on, but ran to the spot on hearing her. John Powell, standing at his cottage door about a hundred yards north of the railway line, heard the commotion and hurried to the place. He found the water calm, but with ”the rising of one bubble” [6] to the surface.

Their mother, Mrs. Rees, and “one or two other members of the family” hurried down from the mansion having been told of the accident.

At about 5:45 pm two large pitchforks with their prongs bent to form grapples, were plunged into the water. The body of Jane Grier was found first at about 6:15 pm and laid upon the side of the river. At about 7:00 pm the body of Isabella was found, and at 7:30 pm Annie’s body was brought to the surface. Medical assistance had been sent for, but arrived “too late to be of service, as they were past recovery” [7].

The three bodies were carried up to Cilymaenllwyd, where they were met by Mr. Rees who had been summoned as he left a meeting in the Vestry at Pembrey Church.

On Friday, July 6th an inquest was held at the nearby Talbot Inn (now a private house) presided over by Mr. W. Bonville, coroner. The verdict was “Accidental Death by Bathing”.

On Sunday, 8th July, brave Jane Grier, variously described as governess, nursemaid and servantmaid, was buried in the churchyard at Llangennech. She was twenty-six years old.

On Monday, July 9th, Isabella and Anna Sophia were laid to rest in the family vault at Pembrey Church “followed by nearly the whole of the parish” [8]. Within days of the event, the Bristol Mercury recorded that “A heap of stones in the river indicates the spot where this most melancholy and heart-rending accident occurred and will act as a warning against its being used for the future as a bathing place.”[10]

A hundred and fifty years later in notices erected on the Millennium coastal path Carmarthenshire County Council still warns visitors of the dark side of this seemingly benign coast.


Notes and Citations

1. Isabella Mary Rees Born September 22nd, 1836 Died July 4th, 1855
2. Anna Sophia Rees Born June 2nd 1842 Died July 4th, 1855
3. Mr. and Mrs. Rees had lost their seven year old daughter, Caroline to scarlatina in March of 1855.
4. Jane Grier was formerly employed at Llanelly House.
5. Llanelli Reference Library ILL842 Cilymaenllwyd House circa 1890

[1] Carmarthen Journal July 13th 1855
[2], [3], [4], [6], [10] Bristol Mercury July 14th 1855
[5], [7], [8] Pembrokeshire Herald July 13th 1855

Sources: Contemporary newspaper reports in:
Carmarthen Journal July 6th and 13th 1855
Pembrokeshire Herald July 13th 1855
Bristol Mercury July 14th 1855