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Accidents and other catastrophes: As reported in the newspapers of the time

General accidents


The epitaph of one, obscure Wedgwood: Barbara and Hensleigh Wedgwood, The Wedgwood Circle 1730 – 1897


Industrial accidents claimed many lives. The Belfast News Letter of Friday 14th to Tuesday 18th 1786 reported an early example, and, in an era without the equivalent of our Health and Safety Executive, was not afraid to offer some sage advice regarding good practice in the workplace:


On Friday morning last, the mill-stone of the corn mill of Ardmillan broke in the course of work, and one of the splinters unfortunately struck John Barry, of Ringneel, with such force, that he died on the spot. He was singing clerk of the Presbyterian congregation of Killinchy, and Sergeant of the 1st United Killinchy Company. His corpse was interred with the usual military honours. He lived beloved and died lamented. – The above-mentioned shows the necessity of having the running stone of every mill well secured with an iron band of the strongest kind.


John Barry’s inscription reads:


Here lieth the body of John Barry, late of Ringneal, who departed this life April ye 14th 1786 aged 36 years Also his son John Barry of Belfast who died 27th Sept 1826 aged 41 years And 3 of his children who died young Also his daughter Anna who died 13th Dec 1851 aged 31 years.


Belfast shipyards, the fulcrum of that city’s rapid industrial progress, took a heavy toll in lives over the years. The Belfast News Letter of Thursday July 1st 1909 reported that:


A sad accident resulting in the death of a man named Robert Lundie, who resides at Carrickfergus, occurred in Messrs Workman, Clark & Co’s Ltd, North Yard yesterday. It appears that Lundie, who was employed as a shipwright, was engaged at his work, when he fell a considerable distance, and alighted on his head. He was picked up in an unconscious condition, and removed with all possible haste to the Royal Victoria Hospital, but on arrival at the institution life was found to be extinct. The matter has been reported to the City Coroner (Dr James Graham), who will hold an inquest, possibly today.


The dangers facing the working man were not confined to the mill or factory. Even the recreational environment offered pitfalls to trap the unwary. In Trory Cemetery, Co Fermanagh, an inscription can be found relating to a young man who died aged 17 while playing football:


Erected by W C Davies of Enniskillen, In Loving Memory of His Sons William Charles Died 25th Feb 1908 Aged 4 years Albert Elliott Died 14th Jan 1911 Aged 1 year Geoffrey Austin, Killed at football l9th July 1929 Aged 17 years ‘Of Such is the Kingdom of God’ MARK X 14.


The story of his death is told in The Belfast Telegraph of Saturday July 20 1929:


A very regrettable football fatality occurred in Enniskillen, on Friday evening, about 9.45, the victim being Geoffrey Davies, aged 17, of Gaol Square, Enniskillen, death occurring in a few minutes of his having collided with an opposing player.


Deceased was playing for the Caxtonians against the Builders in the local Trades Football Competition, when he, a goalkeeper, in trying to save the imposition of a corner kick, ran from the posts and came violently into contact with Jack Armstrong, one of the Builders’ forwards.


It was at once seen his injuries were of a serious nature and medical aid was summoned, three doctors responding within a short space of time. The youth, however, was beyond all human aid, death occurring within ten or fifteen minutes of the accident.


When the collision occurred there was only a few minutes play to go, and the score was then one goal each.


Deceased, who was an apprentice in the office of the “Fermanagh Times”, was a youth of outstanding ability, of fine athletic build, and was exceedingly popular with all who knew him.


However, all classes were susceptible to the fickle finger of fate, as the demise of a scion of one of Ulster’s most noteworthy families demonstrates. The vault of the noted Huguenot family, the Delacherois, commemorates lives of service and achievement:


This vault was enlarged by Daniel Delacherois, Esqr JP, of the Manor House, Donaghadee, AD 1868 Within rest the remains of Mary CROMMELIN, born -------died ----- unm aged 80 Daniel Delacherois Esq, JP, born 23 June 1735, died 15 March 1790 Marcy Delacherois, his wife, born ------- 17--, born -------, died 9 Nov 1844 aged --- Daniel Delacherois, MA TCD, DL, JP, born 10th July 1825, died 8th April 1905 Daniel Delacherois, Esq, JP, DL, born 1 Dec 1783, died 1 Oct 1850, unmd Mary Delacherois, his sister, born 11 April 1790, died 10 March 1854, unmd Ellen, daughter of Geo LESLIE, Esq & wife of Daniel Delacherois, Esq, AM, DL, JP, born 7th Oct 1827, she died 4th Dec 1891 Edmund Bourjonval Delacherois, Esq MD, TCD, of Brighton, second son of Daniel Delacherois, Esq, MA, TCD, DL, JP, born 20th January 1861, married 7th January 1893 and died sp 1st June 1901 at Sandford near Bristol, from a carriage accident, aged 40 [The blank spaces were never filled in] In memory of the members of the family of Daniel Delacherois, Esq, DL, JP, who lie buried in the Manor House Vault under the west aisle of this church Daniel Louis De La Cherois, Col 3 Bat RI Rifles, formerly Lieut 4 QO Hussars, eldest son of D De La Cherois DL, born 7 June 1855, died 26 Nov 1909 Elizabeth Mary Angelica De La Cherois, eldest daughter of D De La Cherois, DL, born 3 Feb 1857, died 29 March 1910 Helen Vaughan HAMILTON, wife of Edwin, MA, daughter of Daniel De La Cherois, DL, born 2 Dec 1859, died Nov 6 1911 Catherine Charlotte De Lacherois, daughter of J McCance BLIZARD and dearly loved wife of Geo L De Lacherois, born 4 Aug 1888, died 17 May 1922 Charles Hutcheson De Lacherois, 4th son of Daniel De Lacherois DL, born 18th Dec 1867, died 28th Sept 1933, George Leslie De Lacherois, DL, JP, 3rd son of Daniel De Lacherois, DL, born 31st Oct 1865, died 12th May 1948 In memory of the members of the family of Daniel Delacherois, Esq, DL, JP, who lie buried in the Manor House vault under the west aisle of this church Edmund Normal LESLIE dearly loved husband of Mary De Lacherois, born 7th August 1859, died 16th July 1930 Mary Louise, third daughter of Daniel De Lacherois born 13th Feb 1863, devoted wife of E N Leslie, died 16th June 1949.


Edmund Bourjanval Delacherois’ death is reported as follows in the Belfast News Letter of Monday, June 3, 1901:


Much regret is felt in Donaghadee and neighbourhood at the sad intelligence of the lamented death of young Dr Delacherois, second son of Mr Daniel Delacherois, D.L., County Down, who died on the 1st inst., from injuries received from being thrown from a trap while driving with his brother, whom he was visiting, at Sandford, Somerset, England. He had a promising career ahead of him in the medical profession, into which he carried all the gentleness and sympathy that distinguished him in private life.






The following case offers a very good example of how a simple inscription can uncover a myriad of interweaving stories. In St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry there is a memorial tablet that commemorates the life of the Reverend William Hamilton. He was a noted local naturalist, whose work A guide to the Causeway was highly regarded. However, it was his involvement in the political turmoil of the time, and the grisly nature of his death, that led to his posthumous fame. The inscribed tablet reads:


The tomb of John Hamilton of this City of merchants, who died on the 9th August, 1780, aged 55 years. Likewise of his son, the Rev William Hamilton, D.D. Late Rector of Clondavadoch, in the County of Donegal, formerly fellow of Trinity College, Dublin. The cause of religion has to lament the loss of one of its ablest advocates; virtue one of its best supporters, and learning one of its brightest ornaments. He was assassinated at the house of Dr Waller, at Sharon, on the 2nd March, 1797, where he fell victim to the brutal fury of an armed banditti in the 40th year of his age. His acquirements as a scholar, equally solid and refined, are duly appreciated in the world of letters; whilst the sacred remembrance of his virtues is enshrined in the hearts of all who knew him.


Hamilton was targeted for death while on duty in his capacity as Local Magistrate in County Donegal. Ulster in 1797, like much of Ireland, was in ferment. Insurrection was being planned. Supported by a troop of Manx Invincibles, he detained a number of republican leaders in January 1797. In revenge 800 United Irishmen laid siege to Rev Hamilton’s Glebe House in an attempt to force the release of their detained comrades. The attempt failed when reinforcements arrived from Letterkenny. A number of weeks later, Hamilton was assassinated in a brutal and shocking manner. He was succeeded as Rector by Rev Henry Maturin, whose cousin, the Rev Charles Robert Maturin was a novelist. Maturin would later incorporate the details of Hamilton’s murder into his famous Gothic horror novel, Melmoth the Wanderer.


Excerpt from Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) by Charles Robert Maturin (1780-1824) Oxford University Press 1968 Vol 3, Chapter XII, pp. 255-56.


Relating to the murder of Rev William Hamilton in 1797


Amid yells like those of a thousand tigers, the victim was seized and dragged forth, grasping in both hands fragments of the robes of those he had clung to in vain, and holding them up in the impotence of despair.


The cry was hushed for a moment, as they felt him in their talons, and gazed on him with thirsty eyes. Then it was renewed, and the work of the blood began. They dashed him to the earth – tore him up again – flung him into the air – tossed him from hand to hand, as a bull gores a howling mastiff with horns right and left


Bloody, defaced, blackened with earth, and battered with stones, he struggled and roared among them, till a loud cry announced the hope of a termination to a scene alike horrible to humanity, and disgraceful to civilization. The military, strongly reinforced, came galloping on, and all the ecclesiastics, with torn habits, and broken crucifixes, following fast in the rear, - all eager in the cause of human nature – all on fire to prevent this base and barbarous disgrace to the name of Christianity and of human nature.


‘Alas! This interference only hastened the horrible catastrophe. There was but a shorter space for the multitude to work their furious will. I saw, I felt, but I cannot describe, the last moments of this horrible scene. Dragged from the mud and stones, they dashed a mangled lump of flesh right against the door of the house where I was. With his tongue hanging from his lacerated mouth, like that of a baited bull; with, one eye torn from the socket, and dangling on his bloody cheek; with a fracture in every limb, and a wound for every pore, he still howled for life – life – life – mercy!’ till a stone, aimed by some pitying hand, struck him down. He fell, trodden in one moment into sanguine and discoloured mud by a thousand feet. The cavalry came on, charging with fury. The crowd, saturated with cruelty and blood, gave way in grim silence. But they had not left a joint of his little finger – a hair of his head – a slip of his skin. Had Spain mortgaged all her reliques from Madrid to Montserrat, from the Pyrenees to Gibraltar, she could not have recovered the paring of a nail to canonize. The officer who headed the troop dashed his horse’s hoofs into a bloody formless mass, and demanded, ‘Where was the victim?’ He was answered, ‘Beneath your horse’s feet,’ and they departed.’


Author’s Note –This circumstance occurred in Ireland in 1797, after the murder of the unfortunate Dr Hamilton. The officer was answered, on inquiring what was that heap of mud at his horse’s feet, - ‘the man you came for.’


The novel, brimful of bizarre, satanic events became a huge success, and is still in print today, critically acclaimed as one of the greatest of the Gothic novels. It detailed the unavailing efforts of one Sebastian Melmoth to renege on a pact he had made with the Devil. It contained references to the legend of the Wandering Jew, and was clearly influenced by the deep suspicion members of the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland had for their disenfranchised and discontented Catholic neighbours. As a Church of Ireland Minister, Maturin had a deep antipathy towards Rome, and his narrative details all manner of indignities suffered in continental convents or cloisters, at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition, or, those feared shock troops of the Counter Reformation, the Jesuits.


The novel galvanised a generation of readers, and so affected the great French novelist, Honore de Balzac, that he was inspired to write a sequel, Melmoth Reconciled. Oscar Wilde, released from prison and embarking for Paris, used the name of Sebastian Melmoth as a pseudonym to evade the prurient interest of the press. He clearly identified his own travails with those of Maturin’s anti-hero. Wilde died in Paris and now lies buried under an elaborate Jacob Epstein carving in Pere Lachaise Cemetery.


It is sobering to think that readers, who take such vicarious pleasure in the gruesome details of the fictitious murder described above, are in fact reading an account of a real murder. Truth can indeed be stranger than fiction.

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