Seven Melancholy Accidents of the Georgian Era

seven "melancholy" accidents of the Georgian Era
Differential Windlass. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

During the Georgian era, there were many “melancholy” accidents reported in the papers. The first one accident occurred in 1799 on 6 February at Morley Park, near Heage. A servant working for a Mr. Wildsmith was drawing water from a well with a bucket. According to the newspaper, all was going well until suddenly “the windlass slipt out of his hand, and catching hold of the rope to prevent the bucket from being broken, he was precipitated into the well, sixteen yards in depth.”[1]

That wasn’t the only death that involved water in the Georgian Era. Another accident occurred on a Saturday morning in July of 1775. Two 24-year-old twin brothers named Sommerton went to bathe at a saltern that belonged to a Mr. Moxham at Lymington. The twins were said to be of good character and looked and behaved so much alike even their friends could barely tell them apart. However, one of the boys could not swim, and according to the newspaper,

“[I]t is thought that he [the boy who could not swim] got into a hole, and the other going to assist him, fell in, and they were both drowned.”[2]

The bodies of the Sommerton boys were found the following morning by a boy who worked at the saltern. He went to set the pans and noticed their clothing lying nearby. As it was early in the morning, he suspected something was wrong and thought perhaps an accident had occurred.

Miniature of the Prince of Wales in 1792 by Richard Cosway, Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A third accident happened in 1751. A confectioner to the Prince of Wales named Mr. Dubuy was at a tavern one Friday evening in September. He was with an eminent chemist who was also his friend and neighbor. Suddenly Dubuy began complaining about a violent pain in his side, “which he frequently labour’d under.”[3] The chemist immediately advised him to go to bed and prescribed a “Dose of Physick” be taken and told Dubuy that he would send it to him. Dubuy did as the chemist suggested and the following morning he was “seemingly quite recovered, and at his [friend’s] door.”[4] The chemist was glad to see he was doing so well and advised Dubuy to take a second dose, which the chemist’s servant went to prepare.

“[Unfortunately,] by some unhappy Means a Phial, containing a Liquid of a poisonous Nature, was sent instead; which on the Patient’s swallowing, he was immediately taken speechless, and in two Hours after [he] died in great Agony, to the inexpressible Grief of all who knew him.”[5]

Interestingly, an autopsy was later performed and no poison was discovered in Dubuy’s system. What was discovered was “much bruising,” which had “proceeded from a Fall, and was the Occasion of his Death.”[6]

Another “melancholy” accident involved a Reverend named Davy in 1797. Davy had formed a hunting party with the Vicar of Pitchley in Northamptonshire and two other acquaintances. The hunters went to Old and their hunting was proving successful, when, according to one newspaper:

“About one o’clock, … Davy having taken up a wounded bird, gave it into the hands of his companions, who, in order to kill it, struck the head of the bird several times against the breach of his gun, whilst holding it in a horizontal direction, when unfortunately the piece went off and the whole of the contents were lodged in the body of … Davy, who was standing within less than two yards of the muzzle.”[7]

Immediate assistance was rendered to Davy and he was taken to a house at Old. Unfortunately, he languished in agony until about eleven o’clock that evening and then expired, leaving behind a widow and six children.

Another horrible accident happened in 1797 early on a Saturday morning. Cook’s stagecoach was traveling from London to Salisbury and was about within a half mile of Overton, when at about half past three, the coachman spotted something in the road by the light of his lamps. Upon descending, he realized it was the body of a man, “the driver of Ruffel’s waggon, [who had fallen] under the wheels [of his own wagon], as one side of his head was crushed to pieces, and presented a most shocking spectacle.”[8] Later, when Cook’s stage reached Overton, the coachman found the driverless wagon sitting at the door of inn, and in the back of the wagon was a boy sleeping soundly who knew nothing of the accident or the driver’s death.

Dodd’s Execution at Tyburn. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The sixth “melancholy” accident occurred at the execution of two “Malefactors” named William Dodd (Anglican clergyman convicted of forgery) and Joseph Harris (highway robber). Their executions were slated to occur on 27 June 1777. Supposedly, their executions were so high profile no less than 500,000 spectators came to watch the condemned. The spectators were lined up between Newgate and Tyburn, with 40,000 waiting at Tyburn. Some in the crowd were surrounding the scaffolding to get a good look. Unfortunately, for some reason, a portion of the scaffolding fell and killed a woman on the spot. Another woman had her arm broken, “and a great Number of Persons were very much bruised.”[9]

The seventh and last accident is perhaps the melancholiest. It involved Ann or Anne Burnett who was the daughter of a wealthy farmer of Little Canfield, Essex. She was engaged and planned to be married at Dunmow church in October of 1776. A few days before the wedding, Burnett’s fiancée had gone shooting. He stopped to see his beloved on his way home, and “presenting his fowling piece to her breast, which by some accident went off, … [he] killed her on the spot.”[10]

References:

  • [1] —, in Derby Mercury, 14 February 1799, p. 4.
  • [2] “Monday’s Post,” in Hampshire Chronicle, 31 July 1775, p. 3.
  • [3] —, in Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 30 Sep 1751, p. 2.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] “Tuesday and Wednesday’s Posts,” in Norfolk Chronicle, 23 September 1797, p. 4.
  • [8] “London, September 28,” in Oxford Journal, 30 September 1797, p. 2.
  • [9] “Postscript,” in Northampton Mercury, 30 June 1777, p. 3.
  • [10] —, in Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal, 29 September 1797, p. 4.

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