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The Hero of the Humber or the History of the Late Mr. John Ellerthorpe

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The fine old town of Hull has many institutions of which it is deservedly proud. There is the Charter house, a monument of practical piety of the days of old. There is the Literary and Philosophical Institute, with its large and valuable library, and its fine museum, each of which is most handsomely housed. There is the new Town Hall, the work of one of the town's most gifted sons. There is the tall column erected in honour of Wilberforce, in the days when the representatives of the law were expected to obey the laws, and when the cultivation of a philanthropic feeling towards the negro had not gone out of fashion. There is the Trinity House, with its magnificent endowments, which have for more than five centuries blessed the mariners of the port, and which is now represented by alms-houses, so numerous, so large, so externally beautiful, and so trimly kept as to be both morally and architecturally among the noblest ornaments of the town. There is the Port of Hull Society, with its chapel, its reading-rooms, its orphanage, its seaman's mission, all most generously supported. There is that leaven of ancient pride which also may be classed among the institutions of the place, and which operates in giving to a population by no means wealthy a habit of respectability, and a look for the most part well-to-do. But among none of these will be found the institution to which we are about to refer. The institution that we are to-day concerned to honour is compact, is self-supporting, is eminently philanthropic, has done more good with very limited means than any other, and is so much an object of legitimate pride, that we have pleasure in making this unique institution more generally known. A life-saving institution that has in the course of a few brief years rescued about fifty people from drowning, and that has done so without expectation of reward, deserves to be named, and the name of this institution is simply that of a comparatively poor man—John Ellerthorpe, dock gatekeeper, at the entrance of the Humber Dock.'

Such was the strain in which the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, in a Leader (March 17th, 1868), spoke of the character and doings of him whom a grateful and admiring town entitled 'The Hero of the Humber.'


He was born at Rawcliffe, a small village near Snaith, Yorkshire, in the year 1806. His ancestors, as far as we can trace them, were all connected with the sea-faring life. His father, John Ellerthorpe, owned a 'Keel' which sailed between Rawcliffe and the large towns in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and John often accompanied him during his voyages. His mother was a woman of great practical sagacity and unquestionable honesty and piety, and from her young John extended many of the high and noble qualities which distinguished his career. Much of his childhood, however, was passed at the 'Anchor' public house, Rawcliffe, kept by his paternal grandmother, where he early became an adept swearer and a lover of the pot, and for upwards of forty years—to use his own language—he was 'a drunken blackard.'

When John was ten years of age his father removed to Hessle. About this time John heard that flaming evangelist, the Rev. William Clowes, preach near the 'old pump' at Hessle, and he retired from the service with good resolutions in his breast, and sought a place of prayer. Soon after he heard the famous John Oxtoby preach, and he says, 'I was truly converted under his sermon, and for sometime I enjoyed a clear sense of forgiveness.' His mother's heart rejoiced at the change; but from his father, who was an habitual drunkard, he met with much opposition and persecution, and being but a boy, and possessing a very impressionable nature, John soon joined his former corrupt associates and cast off, for upwards of thirty years, even the form of prayer.


Ellerthorpe was born with a passion for salt water. He was reared on the banks of a well navigated river, the Humber, and, in his boyhood, he liked not only to be on the water, but in it. He also accompanied his father on his voyages, and when left at home he spent most of his time in the company of seamen, and these awakened within him the tastes and ambition of a sailor....