John Avery Heritage
Member Southampton Heritage Federation
 Sharing local history with the community
In 1967 the Queen Mary set off on her final voyage to Longbeach, California. This watercolour by Eric Crompton records the farewell.A stone carving on the RSH Hospital Chapel.An afternoon stroll on Plymouth Breakwater
John Avery is a Fellow of the Huguenot Society of Britain and Ireland, a member of Southampton
Heritage Federation, City of Southampton Society [Honorary Life Member], Friends of Southampton Old Cemetery [Honorary Life Member],  Friends of  Town Quay Park, National Federation of Cemetery Friends, The Southampton Fryatt Plaque, Devon Family History Society, West Country Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust , Landmark Trust, National Trust
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   Home      The Murder on S.S. Melita

S.S. Melita

In October 1925, the S.S. Melita [Canadian Pacific] made a routine call to Antwerp to collect would be emigrants and other passengers heading to Canada.

Built by Barclay, Curle Ltd at Glasgow, the ship came into service in January 1918. Later in 1932 she was converted to become a cruise ship then sold to an Italian owner and was eventually scrapped in 1950.

On the night of 20th October all was being prepared as she was to board her 2000 passengers the next morning. Captain Arthur Honeywell Clews, a Birkenhead man who had served with Canadian Pacific for many years, took to his cabin to sleep for a few hours. It was to be his last sleep as First Officer Towers entered the cabin and holding a revolver close to the victim’s head fired so that the bullet entered the scull by the eye socket.

One of the engineer officers David Gilmour and Purser McLennan hearing the shot rushed to investigate and were joined by the 2nd engineer John Holiday. They saw Towers transfixed by the scene in Clews’ cabin and turned to face them and aimed at the two engineers. The gun jammed and the three cautiously approached Towers. Thomas Towers, a moody individual, was 56 years of age and held a grudge of his lack of promotion with the company. A struggle took place, Towers seemingly to have increasing bouts of anger and strength was not giving in too easily. Both the engineers were injured in the affray and were later taken to the hospital in Antwerp.

 He made one final attempt to clear the gun and aimed it at his own temple but was eventually over powered. Towers was locked in his cabin, and, in the meantime,  Dr James Benny, the ship’s doctor, attended the body of the captain but he considered that death had been instantaneous.

We imagine that in depth discussions took place between the company agent, the local police and possibly embassy staff. It seems that because it was a British registered ship and the deceased and injured officers and the perpetrator were British that a decision was taken that the Southampton police would investigate the crime when the ship arrived in port on the next stage of the voyage to Montreal.

Chief Inspector Luccy and his team including an official photographer boarded the tender Vulcan with a local undertaker. Clews was placed in a temporary coffin and as the handcuffed accused was led toward the tender, Thomas Towers stopped briefly to give a respectful look towards the coffin.

Thomas Augustus Towers was tried for the murder of Captain Clews and the attempted murder of two other officers at Winchester Assizes. He was committed to Broadmoor as criminally insane, the sentence being termed “at the King’s pleasure”.

snowfall Southampton Old Cemetery courtesy FoSOCSeamen's strike at Southampton 1966Royal Blues at Bournemouth c 1949 photo by Derek Amey local historians Jim Brown and John Avery deep in thought. Image Ann MacGillivray Veronica Tippetts addressing Court Leet Oct 2nd 2012. Image Will TempleJohn Melody Southampton Town Crier at Court Leet 2012. Image Will Temple