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The Destitute Musician – A Forgotten Cardiff Hero | John F. Wake

East Canal Wharf, Cardiff, outside the York Pub back in 1895 at 7.30pm one Monday. Fred and three fellow ‘pub-to-pub’ musicians exited the York, they heard a loud splash and, upon looking to their left, saw a woman in the water of the Glamorganshire Canal, almost under the GWR rail bridge.

Hero Fred, (accordion player) who had probably had a few ‘blues’ of ale by that time, jumped into the canal to save her. A ‘life and death’ struggle commenced. With her Victorian clothing, the fight for life was difficult. Within minutes Fred loosened his grip and went under, as did the woman.
Their dead bodies were eventually dragged onto the roadway outside the York Hotel and put on horse and cart and taken to the mortuary in Janet Street police station in Splott. As a side note, this mortuary was soon to be usurped by the new, short-lived Bute St. Tiger Bay morgue.

The scene of the two tragic deaths. Photo provided with kind permission of Cardiff Libraries.

The police knew why and how Fred had died, but not the woman. PC Puddy found on her three pieces of paper written as letters.

The first letter was to her sister in Bargoed, ‘I hope you will forgive me for the act that I am about…’ you can imagine the rest.

The second letter, addressed to her husband, ‘I hope you will be happy with her, and I hope you will treat her better than you did me…’

A third letter commenced, ‘Dear Jim…’ and blamed him for the act she was about to do.

Constable Puddy, the officer dealing, recognised the woman in the morgue as Ellen Morell. She was living with a James Johns, but after a violent disturbance she lodged in a charitable hostel at Garth Court. Ellen’s husband was a sailor and had not been seen for some time. Ellen could not pay the bills and was destitute. A suspicion surfaced at the inquest that Fred knew Ellen well. Did she wait for him to come out? The only persons who could verify that were in the Janet St morgue.

Fred was also destitute, but had a tiny room at Eisteddfod Street, Temperancetown, after being evicted from Spring Gardens Place, Roath and Scott Street, the street alongside the river Taff in Temperancetown.  Initially no one knew his name, until several summons were retrieved from his pocket – Fred Williams.

The cause of Ellen Morel’s death was given as suicide brought on by ‘insanity’, Fred’s was ‘accident’. There were at least 5 other suicides and attempts at this location towards the very end of the 19th century. The canal outside the York had been shallow. A few days before the tragedy it had been dredged to its original depth!

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The Destitute Musician – A Forgotten Cardiff Hero | John F. Wake

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