DEATH AT THE CIRCUS
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.