James Herbert Roxburgh, Deaf Hero, 1923 – connecting the dots…
By H Dominic W Stiles, on 20 September 2019
James Herbert Roxburgh was born in December 1898, probably in Dublin. According to his marriage certificate, his father, also James, was a ‘painter [or perhaps printer] traveller’. He may be the James Roxburgh who attended the Claremont Institution and was there in the 1911 census, with an unknown girl called Roxburgh who was aged 10 and possibly a sister. The 1901 Irish census has James, a Scottish printer manager, and Salvation Army member, with a son William Roxburgh aged seven who was deaf. William sadly died in 1907, aged 13. Another son, Bertie, who was two, is I believe, James Herbert. His deafness may not yet have been apparent. They probably abbreviated Herbert to Bertie as the father was also called James. That could explain why I am unable to find his birth record. The girl on the Claremont census was almost certainly Bertie’s younger sister, Dorothy Emma Roxburgh, who was aged six months in the 1901 census. Dorothy was recorded as living with her mother, and her brother Ronald, in the 1939 register, at 4 Charnwood Grove, West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire, England, and she died in Bath in 1984.*
James Herbert emerges from obscurity into a fleeting moment of fame, not far from the spot where the River Fleet enters the Thames.
In 1923 he was working on the photographic staff of Boots, Stamford Street, London. On August the 25th, he was returning from work at about 12.30 pm, when he saw a crowd of people staring down at the river by Blackfriars Bridge. When he reached there he saw a boy struggling in the water. Pausing only to remove his hat and coat, he dived in, and got his left arm under the boy’s armpits, raising him up. He swam back to the steps, where he proceeded to resuscitate the unconscious boy.
The rescue was entirely unassisted, and the tide was running up very strongly at the time.
Although another man failed to reach the lad before he had been brought ashore, he assisted in the effort to revive him, which was successful, and the seven-year-old boy (son of an ex-soldier) was taken home by his parents. The rescue was witnessed from the Bridge by five of the rescuer’s fellow-workers, whose evidence and full particulars have been forwarded to the Royal Humane Society. (British Deaf Times)
There are steps on each side of the south end of Blackfriars Bridge – it could have been from either of those that he made his rescue. It is nice for us that in Selwyn Oxley’s photo collection, there is a reproduction of the Royal Humane Society’s award.
You may be interested to note that James Roxburgh is the third Deaf swimming hero I have written about on the blog, and there are others.
James was recorded as working as a ‘photographic copyist’ in the 1939 national register.
In 1931 James married Estelle K Maclean. Estelle was the daughter of a Scottish born Concertina Tuner (a very specific job!), James Maclean. In 1911 he had been married to his wife Jane for twenty-four years, so I suppose he moved to London in the 1880s, and they had four children. Estelle and her brother Gordon James Maclean (1889-1964), a cabinet maker, were both ‘deaf from birth’ according to the 1911 census, at which time the family lived at 23 Ashburnham Grove, Greenwich. In 1919 Gordon married Annie Florence Harvey (1897-1957) who was also Deaf from aged two, and who lived with her family at The Cottage, Hythe Road, Willesden Junction.
James and Estelle retired to Torbay, where he died in 1986, and she died in 1988.
If you can add anything more about the lives of these four related Deaf people, please do below.
Deaf man’s brave act: a Thames rescue. British Deaf Times, 1923, 20 (239/240), 105.
Marriage 1931 – Reference Number: p78/pau1/007
1939 Register; Reference: RG 101/405I
1901 Census – Class: RG13; Piece: 533; Folio: 156; Page: 50
1911 Census – Class: RG14; Piece: 2680
1911 Census – Class: RG14; Piece: 224
*Thanks to Norma McGilp for spotting James and Estelle’s death records, and for digging out additional family links.