I found this story on the Ludicrous Scenes blog here. The original source was The Western Daily Press, Bristol, June 9, 1892.
"The Hampshire Telegraph, in its “Naval Section,' relates the following curious story from Bermuda:- 'A party of blue-jackets were returning from Hamilton by steamboat, having just been on general leave, when a quarrel took place. According to my information one of the parties to this quarrel struck the man with whom he was contending, the result being that the latter went overboard.
"'A marine, having observed what had taken place, immediately peeled to jump in; but as he was just dropping the last article of attire and preparing for his spring, an officer ordered him to dress, as there were ladies in a boat close by.
"'A life-buoy was thrown overboard, and the ladies in the boat manifested every description of sympathy with the unfortunate man, who was now some two or three hundred yards astern, but seemed altogether opposed to the idea of an ordinary man springing into the sea unless duly and sufficiently attired in the garments which fashion rather than common sense has decided to be proper.
"'A sudden sweep of the boat brought the position of the unfortunate swimmer into view, and his frantic efforts to keep afloat at last created in the minds of those who were watching some idea of his imminent danger. Now the officer thought it necessary to ask if anyone could swim, and hardly were the words uttered when over went five men to the rescue, including the marine.
"'The action taken, however, was too late, and the poor fellow sank and was drowned. From this moment it seemed to occur to this young officer that he had been guilty of, to put it mildly, an act of false delicacy interwoven with a spice of inhumanity. Boats were now sent out and everything done that should have been done very much earlier. A coroner’s jury has assembled, and a verdict of ‘Found drowned’ has been returned.'"
Well, I guess as long as the ladies "manifested every description of sympathy". I guess they can put that on the card they send to the drowned sailor's family. This actually reminds me a lot of the story of Sunandha Kumariratana, first queen consort of King Rama V of Siam (hey, looks like you're getting two entries for one today!)
At age 19, she and her 2-year-old daughter fell overboard when their royal boat capsized. There were plenty of onlookers who could have helped them, but since it was forbidden to touch members of the royal family, even if it was to save their lives, the Queen and her daughter were forced to drown.
On a side note, for those of you who have seen The King and I, this was the wife of Yul Brynner's eldest son. You know. This kid.
When Sunandha Kumariratana fell overboard, he was so devastated that erected a memorial to her in his palace. That said, he had 95 other consorts/concubines, including two of her sisters, so . . .