Michael Verling – man overboard

Michael Verling – man overboard

It’s not often that your ancestor’s death graces the pages of a daily newspaper, but this is how the then Cork Examiner reported the death of my great great grandfather Michael Verling in October 1886. There was a terrible storm across Ireland and Britain which resulted in a number of fatalities at sea, including two crew members from the same shipping company which were combined into one story for the Examiner.

For clarity, the relevant part for us here says: “The SS Upupa, belonging to the same [shipping] company, was the scene of the second fatality, which happened while the vessel was at sea, on her way from London to Plymouth, for Cork. During the story of the previous night some hands were at work on the forepart of the vessel, and amongst them was a man named Verling, formerly captain of the Erin, one of the boats of the Citizens’ River Steamers Company. A wave breaking over the steamer carried the unfortunate man overboard, and he was swept out of the sight of his companions in an instant. Under the existing circumstance it was impossible to rescue the man from his doom. He leaves a wife and several children to mourn his loss.”

This is the Upupa on the right, immortalised in rescuing the crew of a ship called the Clan MacDuff, though I have no idea if Michael was on board at that stage. I imagine the stormy conditions here were not a million miles away from the night Michael died

It’s interesting that it says “wife and several children” because that glosses over the fact that he had children with two women, and that he had married the mother of his daughter Mary (Minnie) after his first wife Martha died. There’s nothing in my family lore that says children from his first marriage lived with his second family – in fact one of his daughters, Catherine, appears to have been listed as an orphan in Haulbowline school (an island in Cork Harbour) while Michael was still alive. Michael was from Cobh, then Queenstown, so it’s possible she lived with some of his relatives because Cobh and Haulbowline are easily reachable by boat. Coincidentally, I grew up not far from Haulbowline.

Catherine Verling-Tracy with an unknown child (photo via my American cousin Mary)

This is her in later years, by the way, after she had moved to Missouri to live near some of her siblings and her mother’s kin. She appears to have been a bit of a badass and nursed a fierce rage for Michael and how he had treated her mother. He certainly had a severe drink problem though whether he had tamed it in later life I cannot say, only that Minnie is said to have spoken highly of him.

Whoever wrote the Examiner report had obviously spoken to people who had been on board the Upupa (my uncle heard his mother mention this name once while they were travelling on a bus and it stuck with him all his life; the ship itself later sank) because the details included about his death are not in the official log of sea deaths. This is it:

It says: “Knocked overboard. The strap on which the hatch blocked was hooked on broke & struck Verling, pitching him overboard”.

That’s it, the total official log of my great great grandfather’s death. The Examiner report is more poetic, if grim.

It says something about Michael’s reputation that it was important for the Examiner reporter to refer to his captaincy of the Erin, a steam ferry that travelled up and down the harbour and in particular stopped at Michael’s hometown of Queenstown. This was… a problematic captaincy. He was a very popular captain but ended up prosecuted for a collision, the details of which I’ve transcribed into a small book for family and which I will explore a bit in a later post.

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