The Ferry Accident

How Granduncle's Stubbornness Got His Little Sister Killed
Adrian, Mary, Violet and Rose (USA)

The picture we hold was our favourite as kids because it held a chilly family mystery. It is a picture of our grandmother, her brother and her little sister Sophia. It was taken when they still lived in the Netherlands. Our grandmother emigrated to the United States to marry our grandfather but her siblings stayed. Sophia, however, never got any older then her early twenties. Rumours went in the family that this had something to do with her brother. We never were able to find out, however, what had happened exactly. We hired Dutch Ancestry Coach to search for us and the story they found was a big surprise...

They found Sophia's death certificate and surprisingly it stated the cause of death which is highly unusual for Dutch death records. It said she drowned in a ferry accident on the Zwarte Water river. This, along with the date of death, was enough to find the newspaper article that made a full account of what had happened. On a stormy winter evening Sophia, her brother and five other people –among which the mayor and his wife of a nearby town– arrived at the ferry crossing eager to get across the river and go home.

The ferry man strongly advised against it stating the storm was getting heavy, making the crossing too dangerous. The mayor and Sophie's brother, however, ignored the man's sensible advice and demanded a crossing. Reluctantly the ferry man agreed and let the party board on the already very unstable tow-ferry.

Halfway the crossing it all went horribly wrong. Heavy winds pulled the ferry over, making the towing cables snap and leaving the ferry adrift. The passengers were tossed into the raging waters of the river. The mayor and Sophie's brother managed to climb back onto the half sunken ferry as did the ferry man. The women, however, quickly were swallowed up by the river along with two other men and the ferry man's mate. The survivors rode out the storm that went on all night. Only at dawn, with the waters calmer, could they be rescued. It took a search party several days to find the bodies of those who drowned.

The whole tragic story could have been avoided had the mayor and Sophie's brother not been so stubborn to ignore the ferry man's advice.

* Names and some details have been altered to protect our clients' privacy