A wry view of life for the world-weary

What A Way To Go – Part Twenty


Continuing our occasional series of unusual (and amusing) ways to meet one’s maker.

Consider the fate that befell one Henry Taylor in November 1872. He attended a funeral, being one of the designated pall-bearers, and once the church service had finished the funeral cortege made its stately way to the deceased’s final resting place in Kensal Green Cemetery. It had been raining that day and the ground was damp which meant that the hearse could not get as close to the graveside as was originally intended. So the pall bearers lifted the coffin, a four pound leaden one, out of the hearse and proceeded to carry it down a path which was only three feet six inches wide. The bearers were ordered to do a sharp turn so that the coffin would approach the freshly dug grave head first.

Alas, tragedy struck. Whilst performing the move Taylor’s foot struck a side stone and he stumbled. The other bearers, to protect themselves, let go of the coffin which struck the unfortunate Taylor with such force that it fractured his jaw and ribs.. The grieving widow, not unsurprisingly, went into hysterics and the 60 year old pall bearer was carted off to University College Hospital where he died of his injuries.

The coroner’s court, recording a verdict of accidental death, recommended that straps should be affixed to coffins which would make it easier to manoeuvre them and prevent a recurrence of the tragic events.

We are rather blase about operations and surgeons and forget that in the 19th century when knowledge of matters hygiene was more rudimentary and medicos were really feeling their way to understanding the human anatomy, medical procedures could be dangerous for patient and surgeon alike. Consider the fate of poor John Phillips Potter, an anatomist, who contracted pyaemia from a wound sustained whilst dissecting a pelvis. Despite the ministration of five doctors who drained three pints of pus from his sacral region and two pints from his chest, he expired. The official report on his death sagely concluded that it was folly to rush into a dissecting room without having your breakfast, a full stomach aiding the absorption of noxious substances. Advice we would all do well to heed, methinks!

Open fires and flowing garments were always a dangerous mix as a certain Mrs Tremaine found out to her cost on 18th April 1836. Visiting a bed-ridden neighbour the do-gooder got too close to an unguarded fire and her bustle caught alight. Instead of rolling on the floor as the invalid recommended, Mrs Tremaine opened the door to rush outdoors, the effect of which was to fuel the fire and she became a fireball. She failed to recover from her injuries and died three days later. A sad postscript to this unfortunate tale is that some enterprising thief picked the pockets of those who rushed into the street to help her. Some things never change!


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