Funeral of a stabbed seaman drew crowds

Crowds gathered to observe what to them was an unusual funeral at Harton Cemetery.
Crowds gathered to observe what to them was an unusual funeral at Harton Cemetery.

THIS is a photograph which has always intrigued me.

It’s from the collection of South Shields photographer James Cleet.

But why would Jimmy have taken a picture of a funeral, I’ve always wondered, albeit that those present would seem to have been members of the town’s Muslim community?

Well, that in itself turns out to have been unusual, and enough in itself to have drawn the crowds that you can see here, seemingly.

But could there have been a second story behind this image, as I have recently come across something which may explain it?

It also illuminates the lonely challenges faced by foreign seamen who came to ports like Shields.

In 1903, a report appeared in the Shields Gazette which vividly describes exactly this scene – a funeral at Harton Cemetery, with crowds of folk gathered round to ogle – if that’s not too harsh a word – the rites being carried out.

But there was a tragedy here too – the killing of a young seaman.

He was Deena Mahomed who had been a store keeper aboard the steamer Beira, owned by a company called Bucknell Bros.

He had been stabbed to death in a row with a fellow crew member, Adbullah Mahomed, a fireman.

In all, three men had been involved in the ruckus, outside a pub, the Ship Inn, at West Holborn.

Adbullah Mahomed had been armed with a knife, with which he stabbed his shipmate in the neck, his defence being that he was drunk.

All three were referred to as Lascars – the vocabulary of the time.

In fact they were Indian, and this was made much of by the defence when Deena Mahomed subsequently stood trial at Durham Assizes on a charge of murder.

The defendant had not been represented at earlier hearings, leading to criticism of shipping companies that made use of foreign seamen who often could speak no English, and were abandoned if they got into trouble.

To the credit of Bucknell Bros, however, they did defray all the costs of Deena Mahomed’s funeral.

Adbullah Mahomed was eventually found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.