Charles Osborne, Captain of Newport Fire Brigade, passed away on 5 August 1905 aged 57.
Sadly little is known of Charles's younger life other than his birth in Newport during 1848. How he came to join the fire brigade isn't known but he worked as a tinsmith and later as a mechanical engineer.
The earliest brigade reference with his details is dated 4 September 1880 when he was 32 year old brigade superintendent (soon to be retitled captain) when he commanded Newport's firemen at a fire in Great Budbridge Farm near Merstone. In 1884 he was congratulated for his men's performance at a pre-IWFBF drill competition held at Steephill Castle on 14 April where they won four prizes.
At the brigades annual dinner at the Star Hotel on 18 March 1885, after receiving the verbal appreciation of Mayor Robey Frank Eldridge, Osborne replied; I thank the Mayor for his handsome introduction of the toast and I remark that it is the one desire of the brigade to do our duty. We feel that we occupy a very responsible position and I hope that we may always so perform our duties to the merit of the approval of the Corporation and the town.
On 28 May 1892 Captain Osborne commanded at the most vast and disturbing fire of his career in the High Street opposite the Guild Hall. The fire leapt from shop to shop in both directions and climbed upwards to engulf the abodes from which, by good fortune and pluck, all were saved. The fire was too great for the brigade and their manual engine to cope with and it was with some relief that two company's of the King's Royal Rifles attended from Parkhurst and assisted the firefighting with the military engines (the tale is told as a feature story in the Ready When Wanted appendix All The King's Men).
In the aftermath the brigade came in for some stinging criticism, not least of all for the firemen's alleged unfit state to perform their duties in comparison to the soldiers. The bad feeling among the firemen worsened in December when the Corporation announced on the 20th that a brigade pay review had been conducted resulting in the men receiving a call-out pay rise from £1 1s to £1 6s, whilst the captain's rate increased from £5 5s to £8 8s. Brigade engineer Jacob Peach with firemen Obed Jackman and John H. Stubbs sent a letter of protest to the Corporation on behalf of the all the firemen in which they stated; We as a body think the increase of pay to each fireman inadequate to the advance given to the superintendent. The letter asked for an improved fireman's rate of £1 11s and threatened that; if you don't see your way clear as a body to give the asked for increase we most respectfully place our resignation in your hands, the same to terminate on February 23rd 1893.
There is no evidence to suggest that Osborne had a part in either his own pay rise or the action by the firemen, something the councillors were keen to identify before pouring scorn on the firemen's course of action. In the intervening period the council went to great lengths to recruit members for the new Newport Voluntary Fire Brigade, intending to call the firemen's bluff and allow them to sack themselves in late February.
This left Osborne isolated from either party. On the date in question he attended the fire station that evening where an awkward atmosphere saw the resigned firemen arriving to hand in uniform and sundries to the newly recruited volunteers. At that very moment a fire was reported in Pyle Street and all responded. Osborne found himself in the increasingly difficult position of having two sets of opposing workers antagonising one another as both struggled to fight the fire. The alleged removal of the fire engine from the scene by the outgoing firemen before the fire was fully extinguished only added to the angst of the situation which Osborne grappled without friend to control.
Having overcome the terrible situation matters worsened for Osborne. In their wisdom the council followed the example successfully employed at Sandown Fire Brigade in letting the men vote for their captain. What they didn't consider was that Osborne, with his many years of experience, wouldn't be chosen. When an overwhelming majority voted in favour of the recently recruited and totally inexperienced volunteer Percy Shepard the council felt they had no choice but to honour democracy and advised Charles Osborne that his services were no longer required.
Charles lost his position as captain through no fault of his own but largely due to the incompetent administration of the brigade by the council. Among the chamber Alderman Way felt some guilt and suggested on 21 March that the captain be sent five guineas as a mark of respect. Discussion across the chamber raised the figure to eight guineas and it was agreed. In the meantime the deposed captain lodged a repeated outstanding pay claim on behalf of his erstwhile firemen relating to a fire of ten months ealier, the huge fire of May 1892. This was refused by the council and when Osborne was offered his eight guinea pay-off a few weeks later he told the council, with thinly veiled Victorian politeness, where they could stick it!
Charles married Marian Dore at St Thomas's in 1901 and they lived at 9 Crocker Street where he passed away suddenly on 5 August 1905.
Rest in peace Captain Osborne.