The Escutcheon

Volume 8

Number 3 – Easter Term, 2003

Oh Death! Where is Thy Sting – Strange Deaths and their Sources

Tim Cockerill

Genealogy comes in many shapes and forms, not least in records of unusual deaths. Recent examples in the obituary columns of The Daily Telegraph mention the death of Mr Peel Yates "suddenly whilst out beagling"; Robert Everett "not long after walking his dog, Morse" and (one of my favourites) "whilst chairing the re-dedication service of the Selsy Life Boat".

History has many curious tales to tell, from the death of kings (King George I died in the W.C.) to the passing of lesser mortals, like poor Smith Eyre of Dedham in Essex who accidentally swallowed a pin with fatal consequences (see her M.I. in the church).

School and college registers, of which I have over 150 in my library, are a fertile source for gathering odd modes of death, for example Durham School Register notes that J. Railton Hetherington, a farmer and land agent, was killed by a cow, whilst another Old Boy, J.N. Muschamp (1854-1868), suffered a painful death by colliding with the school lawnmower.

Venn and Venn's Alumni Cantabrigiensis records the death of Edward Chamberlayne in 1782 soon after his appointment as one of the Joint Secretaries to the Treasury who, "by reason of his excessive diffidence occasioned by his recent appointment", threw himself out of the window.

The Church of England has had its fair share of eccentrics, one such being the Rev. George Brewerof Danby, Yorkshire, whose main interest lay in greyhound coursing. Whilst pursuing this somewhat unclerical occupation in the 1780s he was leaping his dog over a fence, "when he fell into the opposite ditch" never to recover.

Bishops have fared little better but surely one of the most unfortunate was Richard Kidder, Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1691 to 1703, "who was killed by a fall of a chimney at the Palace, Wells, during the night of the Great Storm of 26th November, 1703".

The peerage directories (Burke's and Debrett's) record various unfortunate and fatal accidents. The first Earl Harcourt drowned in 1777 attempting to extricate his dog from a well at Nuneham in Oxfordshire, whilst the 3rd Duke of Chandos (1731–1789) "died of injuries after his wife inadvertently moved a chair as he was about to sit on it, an action for which she never forgave herself and as a result of which she became disoredered in her wits".

Other more recent examples culled from newspaper obituary columns include "whilst playing tennis as the age of 80", "whilst playing golf on the day of his wife's funeral" (one hopes he found time to attend it) and "after a happy morning's foresting" (Sir Edmund Bacon, Bart., in 1982).

Encouraged by no lesser figure than Lucinda Lambton, I still search avidly for further uncommon ways of dying to add to my collection and I very much hope readers will consider making contributions.

Tim Cockerill adds a note that he has just started to compile a new index deveoted to odd and unusual names. So far he has some striking examples including the 10th Lord Kinloss, otherwise known as Richard Plantagenet Campbell Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville (just imagine the quarterings on his shield). He also has details of two brothers, both sadly killed in World War I, who appear in the Register of St Edward's School, Oxford. There are Leo Quintin T.T. de O'P.T. Tollemache and Leone Sextus T.D.O.F.F.T. de O.P.T. Tollemache. Regretably, he has not yet been able to establish all the names represented by the initials as they appear in an earlier register which he has been unable to access.

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