Victorian Accidents of 1843: Five Unfortunate Ones

Around the same year that Madame Tussaud established her “Chamber of Horrors,” it was common to be a victim of any number of Victorian accidents. For instance, in 1843, besides carriage accidents, drownings, and frequent fires, people experienced other types of accidents that ranged from property damage to death. Among the unfortunate accidents that occurred in 1843 are the following: First, a story about a snake; second, a thunder and lightning storm; third, the unfortunate collapse of an embankment; fourth, a railway accident; and, fifth, the sad tale of two inquisitive children and a distillery.

Victorian accidents

Carriage accident in the Victorian Era. Public domain.

Some Victorian accidents were caused by carelessness, as was the case in the first story that occurred in July of 1843. Apparently, a sawyer who lived in Bretforton, near Evesham, took a poisonous snake in his right hand, and as he was thoughtlessly shifting it to his left hand, the snake attacked, biting him on the back of his right hand. The bitten man declared he felt instant pain and thought immediately about reaching Evesham to get medical attention but was unable to do so because of “the instant effects of the poison.”[1] Fortunately, others who were present were able to convey the bitten man to Evesham, where he found help and where he recovered.

In 1843, although thunderstorms were common, one storm, accompanied by lightning, caused enough damage, it was publicized in local newspapers. It all began in Raphoe, Ireland in May when according to the Statesman and Dublin Christian Record:

“About two o’clock p.m., on Monday, a continued noise of thunder from the north-east gave notice of an approaching storm, and, until half-past two, the rain descended in torrents. About three o’clock the inhabitants were horrified by a fearful peal, accompanied by most vivid lightning.”[2]

Although several people were reputedly thrown to the ground during the storm, luckily the damage was contained to buildings. Among the most damaged buildings was the local Cathedral: The steeple suffered severe damage, a huge crack was discovered in the Cathedral’s massive six-foot thick wall, and all the windows on the north-east side of the building were broken out.

Example of Thunderstorm with Lightning and Victorian Accidents, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Example of thunderstorm with lightning, Courtesy of Wikipedia.

There several well-known Victorian accidents related to the railroad, one happened in 1842 and was the Versailles railway accident and another was the Armagh rail disaster on 12 June 1889. However, there was also a railway accident in 1843 that involved the building of the railway. The Newcastle and North Shields Railway Company was creating a new road through a hill located near the Ferry-boat landing to the railway terminus. As workmen were busily going about their duties, part of the embankment collapsed apparently due to frost. Several workers were trapped and “embedded in the fallen mass.”[3] Some of the workers were severely injured, but three workers could not be extricated fast enough, and by the time searchers found them, they were dead.

Another troubling accident of 1843 that also involved the railroad was related to the North Midland Railway. The train consisted of three carriages, and on board the train was the conductor, a man named Jenkins, and a traveler named Harvey. The train left Leeds at 5:30pm and had almost reached Barnsley station when it was hit by a luggage train. The passenger carriages were smashed to pieces, and Harvey, who was the only passenger, was decapitated. An inquest was held, and it was deduced Jenkins had been negligent, although the jury also found the directors of Midway Railway had an insufficient number of workers at Barnsley station, which may have prevented the accident. In the end, Jenkins received a verdict of manslaughter and was committed to York-castle for trial.

Victorian accidents

Derby Station, North Midland Railway. Courtesy of the British Museum.

Another unfortunate accident in 1843 also proved fatal. In this case it involved two young children — a 12-year-old girl and her 18-month old brother. The children, said to belong to Campbell Adair, were unsupervised and strayed into the Hillsborough Distillery and while there went to investigate a large vat that contained a boiling wash. Unfortunately, the 12-year-old somehow lost her balance and when she fell, she pulled her brother with her, so that both children ended up in the boiling wash. Although they were immediately removed by a worker, both children died. The Northern Whig reported on the children’s gruesome deaths and also noted:

“This should be an awful warning to parents residing in the neighbourhood of large manufactories, not to allow their children to stray about such places.”[4]


  • [1] “Accidents and Offences,” in Leicestershire Mercury, 1 July 1843, p. 2.
  • [2] “Dreadful Thunder Storm at Raphoe,” in Statesman and Dublin Christian Record, 12 May 1843, p. 3.
  • [3] “Accidents,” in Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 16 January 1843, p. 3.
  • [4] “Accidents, Offences, &c.” in Northern Whig, 13 May 1843, p. 4.

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    […] Five Unfortunate Accidents of 1843 by Geri Walton […]

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