27th January 1861


On Wednesday morning, between nine and ten o’clock, a very shocking and fatal accident occurred in Little Stanhope street, Mayfair.

Thomas Barnes, the unfortunate man killed, carman in the service of Messrs Lee and Co, coal merchants of Islington, was driving his coal waggon through Carrington mews, which is arched over, the entrance being some feet higher than the other end, owing to a rise in the road.

The deceased was on a high seat in front of his waggon, when, on arriving at the other end, he found the arch so low that he was obliged to double himself up to avoid, if possible, the beam; but, notwithstanding, he was knocked backwards, and the waggon going on, the unfortunate man was crushed in the most horrible manner between the arch and the waggon. He was conveyed to St George’s hospital, but expired on his way there.

The deceased has left a widow and five orphans, who were entirely dependent upon him for support.


An accident of the most horrible character occurred on Saturday week, under the following circumstances:— The Southampton, Isle of Weight and Portsmouth Steam Boat Company’s steamer Emerald left Cowes Pier at 3.30pm, having on board, among other passengers, Capt Barton of the Zouave, RYS. Capt Barton entered into conversation with a gentleman about seamanship, standing at the time amidships, near the engines, the skylight covering to which was about half open.

Turning round somewhat hastily, he staggered and fell back, falling partially on the engine and through the open portion of the skylight raised for ventilation. The crank working over caught Captain Barton and dragged him through the framing on to the cylinder cover. This was the work of an instant, and the machinery revolving once literally tore the unfortunate man’s body to pieces. The engineer with great promptitude stopped the engines dead, throwing them out of gear, on seeing the skylight darkened and hearing the one wild shriek which the unfortunate man gave.

The remains were eventually gathered together, and sewn up in a blanket, and afterwards landed at Ryde, where Captain Barton resided.

Deceased was between forty and fifty years of age, and leaves a wife and seven children to lament his untimely death.


A painful state of excitement was produced on Thursday afternoon at Clifton, in consequence of a rumour that a middle-aged man, of respectable appearance, had committed suicide by throwing himself off the Lyon’s Head Cliff, at a little below the Clifton Hotwell Baths.

At mid-day on Thursday, as two boys were walking along by the side of the river, they saw in the shrubbery something which attracted their attention, and which, on their examining it more closely, proved to be the mutilated body of a man. The boys were naturally much alarmed and lost no time in giving notice to the police, who found that the unfortunate man’s head had been beaten to pieces against the different points of the rocks. His clothes were so much soiled and torn that it was difficult to decide with certainty even the probably position in life which the deceased had occupied, and the only thing that in any way points to his identity was the name “Pomphrey,” which was found written on the lining of his hat.

The Lion’s Head Cliff rises to the height of some 300 feet above the level of the sea, and it has been the scene of more than one similarly fearful occurrence. It is not very long ago since a young lady, the daughter of a clergyman, who was on a visit to a family of respectability at Clifton, met with a fearful death at the same spot.

20th January 1861


While Maccomo, who is a very intelligent and courageous African, was going through his performance with the Bengal tigers, at Mander’s Menagerie, Liverpool, on Friday week, a tigress caught his hand in her mouth.

Planting his knee in the small of the tigress’s back, and pressing her against the bars of the cage, then seizing her lower jaw with the right hand, he held her powerless to do more than retain the hand in her mouth.

So cool was Maccomo in this trying position that lookers-on thought it part of his performance, but when Maccomo called to one of the keepers, “She has my hand fast in her mouth; get a bar of hot iron,” the truth of his dangerous position flashed through the minds of those present, and created the greatest excitement, one lady fainting away, others running from the painful sight.

Four or five minutes elapsed before the iron was ready, during which time Maccomo stood as a piece of statuary, not a quiver of lip to show the pain he was enduring. When ready, the hot iron was applied quickly and surely by one of the keepers to one of the large teeth in the upper jaw, and, as though she had been electrified, her mouth sprang open.

Maccomo, quick as lightning, drew his hand away, caught hold of a thick stick, struck the animal a tremendous blow on the skull, brought her down and forced her to finish her performance before he left the cage.

When Maccomo came out of the cage, his bleeding hand testified to the frightful struggle which had been going on between man and beast.

Surely it is high time that these dangerous exhibitions should be put an end to. They serve no object whatever and only tend to pander to a morbid species of excitement which is better avoided.


The town of Henley-on-Thames has for several days been in a state of excitement from reports which had been freely circulated that a young woman who had lived in the service of a gentleman had died from starvation.
Inquiries were set afloat, and the following particulars have been gathered:—Mr Robert Durno Mitchell, who is a retired naval surgeon, occupies a house in the suburban part of Henley, called New Town. The site is pleasant, but as a tolerably high wall surrounds the house, only the upper part of the building can be seen by persons walking along the road.

In the month of August last, a young woman named Clarke, about twenty-four years of age, was hired as a domestic servant to Mr Mitchell, and she entered upon her situation in the same month. Mr Mitchell has a wife and children and the habits of the family appear to have been those of seclusion. The gate in front of the house was kept locked, and the servant could seldom be seen.

The young woman Clarke was taken very ill at the beginning of the present year, and she was subsequently removed to the Henley Union Workhouse. Her appearance satisfied the officers of that establishment that she was in a state of starvation; and this opinion was confirmed by the avidity with which she ate the food given to her. She was very dirty and exhibited altogether signs of having been fearfully neglected, both with regard to food and other comforts of a domestic servant.

Every attention was paid to the poor creature, but she became delirious and, though she was subsequently more rational, her system was too far exhausted to be recovered and she died on the 9th inst.
The deceased, though 24 years of age and about five feet in height, only weighed 50lb after death—such was the extreme emaciation of her body.

It was reported in the town that not only was the deceased kept short of food, but that the bed for her to lie upon was little more than straw, and it is feared that there is some truth in this statement, four of her toes having been found frostbitten, and in a state of gangrene.

The inhabitants of the town were very indignant at the conduct of the deceased’s master, and nothing but the strictest inquiry would seem to calm them. An inquest was accordingly opened, and after taking voluminous depositions, the jury returned a verdict of Manslaughter against Mr Mitchell.


On Saturday night at a brilliant ball given by Madame de Errazu, the crinoline dress of a young Spanish lady, the daughter of a professor who was formerly tutor to Queen Christiana’s children, while walking round an illuminated fountain in the conservatory, caught fire, and in a moment the flames were over her head. The people despairing of extinguishing the fire by any other means, contrived to throw her bodily into the water, from which she was taken out very much injured, but it is hoped that her life will be saved.

13th January 1861


As two gentlemen were skating on the Wharfs, near Otley, on Saturday week, they discovered six dead rats partially embedded in the ice. The heads of the animals were all pointed in one direction, and seemed to have been stopped in their course by the intense frost. They appeared at the time of their stoppage to have been crossing from the Farnley to the Otley side of the river, and one of them, like a brave general, had taken the lead in the fatal enterprise, and the second was a little in advance of the rest.


A sad accident occurred on Tuesday afternoon at the village of Shirehampton, near Bristol, at the house of Henry Heaven, a mason, who has also a grocer’s shop, conducted by his wife.

During the absence of their parents, Henry William Heaven, a boy 11 years of age, a little girl and Daniel James Heaven, a child three years old, were playing together. A loaded gun, from which the percussion-cap had been removed from the nipple, was in the room, which the elder boy took up, and, perceiving there was no cap on it, he searched his father’s desk and found some which had been left there. Having possessed himself of one, he placed it on the nipple of the gun, which he levelled at his little brother and fired. The muzzle being close to the poor child, the entire charge entered his head and death was instantaneous.

The elder brother, in his grief and terror, shrieked for assistance, and tried to drag the bleeding corpse out of the room. The cries of the children and the report of the gun alarmed the neighbours, who, on entering the house, discovered the sad scene.


On Tuesday an inquest was held at the residence of General Power, 26 Hyde Park square, on his daughter, Miss Maria Eliza Power, who lost her life by fire, adding another victim to crinoline.

Captain George John Power, who appeared with his right arm in a sling from injuries received in his endeavour to save his sister, said that on Thursday evening week, they had just dined, and, while sitting in the dining room, about half-past nine o’clock, in company with his father and a friend, he heard a violent ringing and screams proceeding from an upstairs room.

He rushed up into the front drawing-room, and saw his sister in flames behind the curtain. He seized her in his arms and endeavoured to extinguish the fire. No one was at hand, but at length the gentleman who had been dining with them came to his assistance.

His sister subsequently told him that she had observed one of the candles in the inner drawing-room was slanting in the candlestick, and went in to put it upright. In so doing, as her back was towards the stove, her dress caught on fire.

She knelt down on the carpet and tried to extinguish the flame, but her efforts were useless. She then rang the bell and ran into the front drawing-room, and enveloped herself in the curtains.

When he entered the curtains were blazing from top to bottom. The dress which his sister wore was of net material over a black silk petticoat. The deputy coroner said he was surprised that the lower part of the body was not burnt. Captain Power said the crinoline kept the fire off. The deputy coroner remarked that in this case crinoline was the bane and the antidote as it had been the means of producing the injuries to the upper body but had protected the lower part.

The flames must have been very severe, because the curtains, which were of silk damask, lined with worsted, were nearly consumed.

Dr Alfred Keyner testified that he attended the deceased on the evening of Thursday week and found the unfortunate lady most extensively injured. She had been removed from the room in which the accident had occurred. Her head, face, shoulders, back, arms and hands were most dreadfully burnt, and she was insensible. He powdered her with flour, applied cotton wool and administered medicines. She died at half-past five on the following afternoon, having survived the frightful injuries she had received about 20 hours.

The jury returned a verdict of “Death from the mortal injuries to the body by burning, the result of accident.”

6th January 1861


The pantomime at the Great Yarmouth Theatre had a melancholy finale on Friday night week. After the harlequinade was over, the clown, named Algae, went to the dressing-room, but before he had changed his clothes he was seized with sickness, and lay down and died almost immediately.

A medical gentleman was summoned from the boxes, but death had supervened before any aid could be rendered. It seemed that the poor fellow was suffering from disease of the lungs for some time past, and that he was absolutely dying during the whole of the evening he was endeavouring to set his audience in a roar with his jokes and drolleries.

Deceased was only 35 years of age. Four years ago another actor, named Russell, dropped dead on this stage while performing in the “Hunchback.”


A respectable-looking man named William Smithyman, a native of England, and for several years a resident of Wisconsin, arrived in Missouri on Tuesday. Mr Smithyman was driven from Missouri last week, after suffering severe injuries for crimes alleged against him, but of which he declares his entire innocence.

He worked for several persons, dressing millstones, and met with no opposition from any person whatever, until a week ago yesterday, when he started from Looxahomie, De Soto county, for Senatobia station, on the Tennessee–Mississippi railroad, seven miles distant, employing a negro to carry himself and trunk in a waggon to the railroad.

Arriving at Senatobia after dark, he proceeded to look up some freight for the negro’s owner, and in doing so, went into the freight depot. While there three or four persons approached him and asked him where he was going and what he was doing. They charged him with being an Abolitionist and a suspicious person and seized and threw him into a freight car, which they locked, and then went up into the village to tell the story.

The negro was also arrested and, as afterwards appeared, was threatened with instant death if he didn’t confess that the man in the freight car had endeavoured to persuard him to run off. The negro, thinking, probably, to save himself form torture, said that such was the case, but notwithstanding the confession, he was severely flogged.

About ten o’clock, a crowd of 30 or 40 returned to the railroad station, took Smithyman out and marched him into the woods. There they stripped him naked, notwithstanding the weather was intensely cold, and gave him a large number of stripes, the victim thinks 200, with a think leather belt, sometimes flat and sometimes the edge. A man who appeared to be a doctor then advised them to desist, saying they would finish the job the next day.

They then put him back in the freight car with nothing but his clothes and an old rug to protect him in the night. In the morning, an armed force, styling themselves “minute men” took him into custody afresh, went into the woods again, made him strip, tied his hands around a tree, and then shaved his head as close as they could. The crowd urged him to tell all about his doings in the interior, said that they knew he was guilty of exciting slaves to insurrection, had tampered with them, and all that.

Three or four said that if he would confess his life should be spared, but that if he did not he would be strung up. By this time Smithyman was half dead from exhaustion and fright, and believing that it was his only chance of safety from hanging, he boldly avowed that he had tampered with slaves.

With a shout the eager listeners seized him and some were for hanging him right off. An attempt was made to get a rope around his neck, but others were so anxious for another operation that the would-be executioners failed. Smithyman was stripped and liquid tar, almost hot enough to scald, was poured over his head and, half blinded as he was, the victim was not allowed to put his hands to his eyes to keep the tar from blinding him altogether. They then stuck him all over with loose cotton. After this was through they told him that he must start for Memphis immediately—40 miles off—and not stop till he reached that city.

They gave him five minutes to put on his clothes and while he was trying to pull off some of the cotton several of the mob stood by kicking his limbs with their thick boots black and blue. They then allowed him to start.

Smithyman walked all the way to Memphis and took the boat to Missouri, where he gave the above statement, for what it is worth.


I came across Bell’s Life in London by accident the other day, while searching newspaperarchive.com trying to find the earliest occurrence of the phrase “wonder dog” as a favour to a friend. The oldest occurrence that I could find was in an article in an 1850 edition of Bell’s Life, which read:

“Last Thursday, the sports gave general satisfaction to a numerous muster of gentlemen. The little wonder dog Tiny, 6-and-a-half pounds in weight, destroyed 20 large rats, his time being 3 min 50 sec.”

I’d always assumed that ratting had always been an illegal, or at least illicit, pastime, yet this paper had a dedicated ratting column, with reports on the various upcoming fixtures, complete with the estimated number of rats (in the hundreds) that were due to be dispatched.

I browsed through the rest of the paper and realised that it was packed full of remarkable stories of Victorian life, mainly of a sensational and lurid nature, told in a language that is rich with the texture of the time. The headlines alone were wonderful: “The Cruelty To A Pauper Girl”, “Vicissitudes Of A Gambler’s Life”, “Alleged Indignities To A Charge d’Affaires”, “The Mysterious Baby”.

I could happily read old newspapers all day and I very much wanted to read more of Bell’s Life, but I have so much other work to be getting on with that I could justify doing so only if I disguised it to myself as some sort of work that might entertain other people. And so I created this blog, on which, each week during 2011, I’ll post stories from the edition of the paper that was published exactly 150 years previously. (And from other papers from that week, if any stories particularly catch my eye.)

In some ways, it will be no different from those “This Day In History” columns in modern newspapers, but the stories should be more interesting, and concerned with much smaller-scale events. They’ll certainly feature an awful lot more heart-breaking tragedy and old-fashioned cruelty to children and animals.

God save the Queen!