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Since I wrote "Fate's Ingenuity", first of a series of books based on Cumbrian coroners' reports, people have been assuming that I have a fondness for nasty accidents. That's not quite the aim of the exercise, but Whitehaven's Local Studies Librarian drew my attention to this incident, which she discovered during her preparations for National Poetry Day. Having followed up her lead, I present the following items as an interesting example of the way newspapers work (or perhaps, don't quite work; compare the reports carefully!):

from The Whitehaven Herald and Cumberland Advertiser, Tuesday 25 Oct 1836:
An accident of a very dangerous nature occurred at Mr. Ord's amphitheatre, in this town, on Tuesday night last, during the performance of an equestrian feat, entitled, "The Courier of St. Petersburgh." In the course of the act, Mr. McCoutts, who personated a character in the representation, had occasion to discharge a pistol, which he attempted once or twice unsuccessfully; however, the piece had merely "hung fire," and ultimately exploded and burnt, severely mutilating Mr. McCoutts's hand, though, perhaps, not to the extent which might have been expected. He is, we believe, at present doing well. Happy, thrice happy, should we have been had this awkward affair terminated here; but our filial affection induces us to relate what further ensued. A near and dear relative of our's- our revered Grandmother- on the evening in question, the entertainment being for the benefit of Mr. Ord.- ("birds of a feather," you know)- had, unfortunately, attended the amphitheatre, and being seated in the most conspicuous part of the side gallery, one of the detached pieces from the exploded pistol of Mr. McCoutts, passed close by the old lady's head- so near, that considerable alarm was felt for her safety. She was unhurt! Merciful goodness! had she been killed!- what individual in the town, or whatever grade or profession, but would have rejoiced at- tut!- we mean to say, but would have deplored her irreparable loss. But she is yet alive, and well; and what individual in the town, of whatever grade or profession, but may know it- even ere this day's sun shall have set! The old lady, we understand, is more than usually garrulous on the subject, and relates the incident with something of exultation. Truly, she hath escaped many imminent perils- divers kickings and floggings, for instance; but to have been "nearly shot," as she expresses herself!- the very idea has something martial in it; it smacks of the heroic; and our Grandmother, in her doting, now that she has escaped unhurt, really considers herself quite an Amazon. We must repeat that the amusements on the above ebening were for the benefit of Mr. Ord; the house was a good one, and most substantially indicated the sense the Whitehaven people have of Mr. O.'s individual merits as an equestrian, as well as of the spirited manner in which he caters for the public entertainment. The corps, equestrian and dramatic, has lately been largely reinforced, and now forms a strong and really talented muster.
Advert for the performance, from the Herald, 18 Oct:
Is fixed for this Evening, TUESDAY, the 18th Oct.
On which occasion Mr. Ord will appear in Six entirely New Scenes in the Circle.


The Scenes in the Circle will commence with the Eastern Pantomimical Representation of the
CARNIVAL AT VENICE: or, a Masquerade on Horseback,

Will go through their astonishing Performances.
By Mr. Frost.
By the celebrated Storette.
The Entertainments of the Circle to conclude with, for the first time here,
The Emperor Nicholas's Despatches to the Sultan:
Or, Robber's Scene in Petersburgh.

Boxes, 3s; Pit, 2s; Gallery, 1s. Half Price at a Quarter before Nine o'Clock.
Doors to be opened at Half past Six, and the Performance to commence at Seven precisely.
The above is only a selection of the promised attractions. These old circus adverts are so wordy, you could almost use them as song lyrics...

from the Herald, 1 Nov:

...on Thursday, in Ribton lane, Mr. John McCouts, of the Amphitheatre, aged 26 years...

Addition to the end of this week's Amphitheatre advert:
On FRIDAY next, the 4th Instant,
A Select Performance, being for the BENEFIT of the WIDOW of the deceased

from the rival paper, The Cumberland Pacquet and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser [which failed to mention the accident in its report of Mr Ord's benefit performance the previous week, making me suspect that the item was written by somebody who had not been there], 1 Nov:
An inquest was held in this town on Thursday last, before P. Hodgson, coroner, on view of the body of Mr. John McCouts, who died on the morning of that day of locked jaw, brought on by a wound of the left ahnd occasioned by the explosion of a pistol on the evening of the 18th ult, during the performance at Mr. Ord's Amphitheatre. The pistol hung fire, and the unfortunate performer supposing it had missed fire, was in the act of drawing back the cock when it went off and he received the contents in his left hand. No danger was apprehended from the wounds, but on the contrary they appeared to be healing: on the 26th, however, symptoms changed, locked jaw took place, and death ensued in less than twenty-four hours.- Verdict- "Accidental Death." Deodand on the pistol, 1s.- Whilst on the subject, we would beg to direct the local rader's attention to Mr. Ord's advertisement in another column, from which he will learn that the performance at the Amphitheatre on Friday evening will be for the benefit of Mr. McCouts's widow; Mr. McC. we understand was a very exemplary character, and the appeal to the inhabitants by his widow, we feel assured will not be made in vain.

from the Pacquet, 8 Nov:
We are sorry to state that the attendance at the amphitheatre on Friday evening, for the benefit of the widow of the late Mr. McCouts, was very thin, the total receipts not coming within six pounds of the expenses of the house. In consequence of this failure Mr. Ord has kindly presented Mrs. McC. with 5£ and his example has been followed by the company coming forward and presenting her with as much as their circumstances would admit of.

from "Poems on Various Subjects" (1839), apparently the only published work by local poet John Hardie:

This much respected individual was an equestrian performer in the company of Mr. Thomas Ord. He died on the 27th of October, 1836, in consequence of a pistol shot received in the Amphitheatre, Whitehaven, whilst performing the part of the "Robber," in the Courier of St. Petersburgh.

To praise the hero's deeds in fields of glory,
Has been the theme of many a poet's story;
The brigand, though a coarser sounding name
For hero, oft has gain'd immortal fame.
I sing a mimic robber on the stage,
His victim chasing with a feigned rage,
With pistol pointed at the courier flying,
He shot himself and in his grave is lying.
Alas, McCouts! I mourn thy early doom,
At twenty-six laid in thy silent tomb;
Thy comrades wail thy absence in the ring,
And I in sorrow thy sad requiem sing.