Early Submariner Dies in Hospital


CVA 102-26 – Vancouver water works, Capilano water pipe repair. November 1890. Richard T. Llewellyn in diving suit on right. Bailey and Neelands photo.

What an odd assortment of people to see with a work party in Burrard Inlet’s First Narrows! I would expect to see most of the men here pictured, but not the four young women and three kids.

We are able to identify with some certainty only two people in this shot: the diver (“submariner”), Richard Thomas Llewellyn (in the diving suit on right) and his wife, Catherine Llewellyn standing just behind and to the right of the gent holding Llewellyn’s air hose (with RTL’s helmet in front of him). The child between RTL and Mrs. Llewellyn is most likely their firstborn, May, who would have been almost 2 years old. The Llewellyns would have at least four other kids before Richard’s death in 1900 from pneumonia: Selena (1890), John (1892), Mary (1894), and Richard Jr. (1895).

Llewellyn was an employee of the City of Vancouver Water Works. Following the portrait made for posterity by pioneer professional photographers, Bailey and Neelands, the men on this craft would set out with the task of repairing the water main between the north shore and the City of Vancouver. The S. S. Abyssinia, a steamer which plied Georgia Strait and Howe Sound, somehow “sat” upon the pipe, and thereby broke the principal source of Vancouver’s drinking water.¹ Until RTL and his team had made the repair, Vancouver had to make do with water from wells and that which was supplied from more distant sources by horse-drawn wagons.²

One of RTL’s later jobs was to “journey across the Fraser river on foot.” He was contracted to “recover the Telephone Co.’s valuable cable which was swept from its moorings by last year’s [1894] flood, and lost, opposite New Westminster.”³

I wasn’t hugely surprised that RTL died at the early age of 46. I was prepared for that; I did not anticipate that “submariners” in the late 19th century had particularly long careers or lives. So I was taken aback that his cause of death was pneumonia. To put it mildly, Mrs Llewellyn seemed more than surprised when Richard died in hospital. Indeed, she seemed to be in shock, even some months after his passing. Indeed, things got so dire for her and her family that they made headlines in the local newspaper:


 Authorities Have a Heart-Rending Experience

According to the Daily World, one of Mrs. Llewellyn’s children, a “three-year old” (although a child of that age in the Llewellyn home doesn’t fit with birth records for the Llewellyns summarized above) had contracted suspected “diptheria”. In order to rule out or confirm that preliminary diagnosis, however, the child needed to be admitted to the City Hospital (Note: Not VGH, which would be founded in 1906 in Fairview at its current location, but the prior City Hospital – pictured below – which was at the SE corner of Pender and Cambie on which corner there has been a parking garage for several years).

City public health authorities went to the Llewellyn residence, with an ambulance, to remove the child to the hospital. I’ll let the World pick up the tale:

They went into the house, but the child could not be found, and the almost frantic mother admitted that she had hidden it. . . . [Vancouver Medical Health Officer] Dr. McLean had by this time put on a white wrapper, as he expected to handle the child. The doctor’s tragic appearance made things all the more exciting for the idle crowd that soon congregated outside the door. The neighborhood [of Strathcona; the family lived on Prior Street, just a few doors east of Main Street] is a populous one, and almost as soon as the trouble had commenced, a crowd of 150 men, women, and children gathered on the sidewalk in front of the door.

For fully a quarter of an hour, poor Mrs. Llewellyn proved more than a match for the officers. Several times, the latter thought they would have to give up the search, so effectually had the child been secreted. . . . Mrs. Llewellyn was alternately crying hysterically and denouncing the officers. She had a fear of the hospital – inherently believed in all her life, and no doubt deepened from the fact that her late husband had recently died there. . . .

Mrs. Llewellyn seemed impervious to reason, and for some time the search for the missing child was fruitless. But when [Assistant Health Inspector] Mr. Robinson tried to move a certain table, his attempt made the woman frantic. A little attic that could be reached only by standing on the table, was found by Mr. Robinson and the baby was resting on some slats laid cross-wise on several beams. She was either too frightened or too sick to make any noise. The uproar was redoubled when the child was found, for several other people joined in the chorus of protests. The mother tried half-a-dozen times to snatch her little one away, and altogether the scene was what Inspector Marrion describes as about the worst he has ever witnessed. Finally the doctor carried the child out to the ambulance.

Two guards were placed on the house, one at the front and the other at the back door, until the premises can be fumigated today. But the woman, with a second child in her arms, rushed past the guard and was half way across the street when she was caught by Mr. Robinson. She wanted to go to the hospital with the sick child. She fought and screamed again and had to be carried back into the house, and then the doors were locked.

Today arrangements are in progress for the fumigation of the premises.

— Vancouver Daily World. 22 September 1900.

Plainly, this wasn’t a public relations triumph for Vancouver public health authorities.

I couldn’t find any further mention in the Daily World of Mrs. Llewellyn with the exception of a couple mentions (one prior to the “hidden child” ruckus, and one a few months after) of her pleas for the City of Vancouver to purchase her husband’s diving suit. There is no indication from the World as to whether the city chose to purchase it or not.

Catherine moved to the central Kootenays at some point afterwards (the last listing of her in BC directories was 1904). She died and was buried in Burton, BC in 1950.

Interestingly, there is evidence that Catherine’s eldest daughter, May (the one pictured in the water craft with her Mom and Dad above) ended up marrying a physician!


CVA Bu P369 – Man and nurses on lawn in front of the Vancouver City Hospital. 530 Cambie Street (at corner Pender), 1902.


¹Matthews, Early Vancouver. Vol. 3, p. 260.

²Matthews. Vol. 5, p. 145.

³Vancouver Daily World 25 June 1895.

This entry was posted in Bailey & Neelands, biography, hospitals/health care and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Early Submariner Dies in Hospital

  1. lhhouben says:

    Fascinating story but so very sad. I’m enjoying the stories you dig up. Thanks so much. I just found out that our son lives in the “Fairview” area. I knew he lived there of course, but I didn’t know that was the name of the area near VGH! I wish they would teach these things in school. My area is “Collingwood” and thanks to that link you had posted recently to the “Vancouver Chinook” newspaper online, I’m totally immersed in the history and old photos of the Collingwood. Life wasn’t easy, yet there are the same issues such as a ban on water sprinkling in 1912, and lack of voters at elections, which amazes me. Not much changes, but thankfully we have better health care at least!

    • mdm says:

      You’re most welcome! If you are interested in other Van City area names, there is a map here that may be useful: http://vancouver.ca/news-calendar/areas-of-the-city.aspx .
      Thanks again for commenting.

      • Cameron Heath says:

        Can I use the photo of Richard Thomas Llewellyn and his wife and child on his find a Grave memorial? Article stated his wife Catherine died 1950 Burton and indeed there is a Catherine Llewellyn buried online on Find a Grave who died 1950 buried in Burton but they have her linked to a James Llewellyn as ‘husband’. Can’t figure that out. The eldest child from photo Ida May Llewellyn married 23 Sept 1907 in Vancouver Homer Leroy Wiseman, an American born 31 March 1887 California but died 18 Aug 1940 Vancouver. They are buried together in Mountain View Cemetery. Very interesting article–thank you!

  2. mdm says:

    I don’t see why not. It isn’t my photo (nor is the permission mine to give). It is CVA’s (City of Vancouver Archives). But the image is shown as being in the “public domain”, so I’m sure it is fine if you want to use the image on the Find a Grave site.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s