When Harriet Churchill (20) and Edward Tolley (20) were married in St Paul’s Honiton on 29th April 1855 their future looked promising and full of hope.

Edward was a tailor from Chulmleigh and Harriet was the illegitimate daughter of Alphra Churchill who lived in the High Street with her mother Susannah. It was all planned, their tickets were booked and paid for with Mr Wilcocks the agent for emigration at the Barbican Plymouth and they were going to start new lives in Quebec, Canada. The couple travelled to Plymouth in time to board the 468 ton three masted sailing barque the ‘John’ which had been inspected by the Plymouth emigration office and was ready to set sail on Thursday 3rd May under the captaincy of Edward Rawle.

King Street residents were emigrating on the same ship - Nathaniel Pine (65) a brick and tile maker and his wife Mary (59) (nee Thomas), their son James (18) and daughters Elizabeth (38) and Sarah (26) plus Rosina Martha (47) a bookseller from King Street and the daughter of Benjamin and Jemima Viney.

At 4 o’clock the ‘John’ left Plymouth carrying 268 passengers from the West Country including 98 children, sixteen infants plus the crew of nineteen. The weather was fine, a NNW wind filled the sails, and it was a clear evening, the day after a full moon. Around 10pm the ship was travelling at around eight knots and struck one of the eastern rocks of the Manacles, two hundred yards off the coast at St Keverne, Cornwall and it foundered. One hundred and ninety four passengers drowned. All the crew survived. Edward Tolley was the only survivor from Honiton. He had carried his bride Harriet up into the rigging of the ship and held onto her there for many hours until a large wave from the incoming tide washed her away.

Angry survivors blamed the captain and said that the crew were intoxicated. The jury at the inquest considered the conduct of the whole of the crew was to blame and expressed their surprise that the ship was not supplied with a signal gun or blue lights and recommended that a light should be placed on the Manacles. They returned a verdict of manslaughter against Captain Rawle. A warrant was issued for his arrest, and he was held in the Cornwall county gaol until August when he was indicted at Bodmin Assises for manslaughter. Evidence in support of the charge was given at great length but when the judge summed up in favour of the accused, the jury found the captain " not guilty."

The surviving passengers had their passage money returned but none the relatives of the casualties were reimbursed. All the victims were buried in the churchyard at St Keverne.