There was an old woman named Vance, Who went on her way to Penzance…


On Monday week an old woman, named Vance, of Penzance, applied to the Mayor at the Guildhall, Exeter, for assistance. Mr. Superintendent Steel stated that she was eighty years old, and had lived for some time with her daughter, who had a large family in London, but as her daughter could not maintain her, the old lady resolved to revisit the home of her youth—Penzance, and set off on this long journey, on foot, in the second week of October. After fourteen days’ walk she arrived at Exeter, and now made her application to the Mayor for a trifle to help her on the road to Plymouth. She is short and stout, and bears her head bravely. In answer to the Mayor she said hat she was eighty on the 18th of last month. The Mayor exclaimed “Well done! you bear it nobly.” In reply to further questions she said that she had been a widow fifteen years. The Mayor directed that a half-crown should be given to this Cornish prodigy, and the old lady curtsied, saying that she had received “great friendship” in Exeter.

The Penny Illustrated Paper, Saturday 9 November 1861


Leave a comment

Filed under Worthy of an huzzah

The imminent risk of losing an eye



Sir,—During six years I have been a witness in the metropolis of a sight unparalleled for ruffianism, theft, and riotous conduct in any other civilised city.

Invariably, on the 5th of November, not less than 15,000 persons assemble on Tower-hill strictly for the purpose of robbery, brutal ruffianism, and to “let off fireworks.”

During my travels, several years, in many principal cities in the four corners of the globe, I never met with such a consolidated mass of villany; from all appearances every third person is a regular cadger or thief. The police confirm my opinion in this respect, and a walk through the mob will doubly qualify it.

From 6 o’clock in the evening till 11 at night Tower-hill and Trinity-square are perfectly impassable, business is all at stand; I am obliged to close my door, darken my windows, and desert the front part of my house entirely, and my premises are not approachable for five hours, yet I never escape without some serious injury.

Last night my child was saved, almost by a miracle, from having his brains dashed in by a large oyster shell being hurled with great violence by some miscreant in the crowd. My wife received the blow, which stunned her severely, as she sat, for a moment only, at my first floor window. I rushed out and found one solitary metropolitan policeman, 166H. He told me there were 30 policemen on the hill, “and about.” I struggled through the mob, at the imminent risk of losing an eye, and after 20 minutes found one more, No. 204. This man very reluctantly told me, after my urgent solicitations, that he would, “if he saw the sergeant of his force,” send him to my house. However, no policeman whatever, except the city force, came to my assistance, and two feet from my door they “cannot act.”

I was, consequently, handed over to the metropolitan force, who, in turn, referred me to the city force. The latter were most civil and obliging, and rendered every assistance possible; but, in the presence of not more than a couple of metropolitan policemen, a vagabond mob of 3,000 pelted, during two hours, the house of my neighbour, and smashed nearly the whole of his windows, while another neighbour on my left had his house set on fire, and two persons narrowly escaped with their lives; and I protest on oath that no attempt was made by the police to stop the scoundrels.

Will you give us a helping hand?—at least through you, there is a rescue from ruffianism and gross police mismanagement.

Nov 6.                                                                                                                         J.H.

The Times, Monday 7 November 1853

Leave a comment

Filed under Violent Episodes

The small matter of being possessed of blood-imbibing vampires


The San Franscisco Alta says that while the steamship Nevada was about 80 miles off one of the minor isles of Micronesia, on its way up to Australia to San Francisco, at about six o’clock in the morning, a strange animal of a dark figure was observed to light on the highest peak of the forward mast. Attracted by its peculiar appearance, the officer of the deck, Mr. Burns, the second mate, offered one of the sailors a small bonus to secure it. The man clambered up the mast with a heavy cloth in his hand, and, after a slight struggle, in which he was severely bitten on the hand, it was secured.

Bringing it to the deck, on examination the beast proved to be a fine specimen of a species of the vampire tribe. This animal closely resembles the terrodactyl of the antediluvian ages. In appearance it is like a huge bat, on hasty examination. It is in the head of the animal, however, that the main distinction is found. That of the present one is a perfect counterpart of the black-and-tan terrier dog. Its teeth are over half an inch in length, and are called in constant requisition to discountenance all attempts at familiarity. When flying, the wings of this ill-omened beast stretch, from tip to tip, at least five times the diameter of its body. It is of a deep jet black colour, the body being covered with heavy fur. It is very savage, being constantly on the alert to attack any person approaching it.

Whether this animal is a full and perfect vampire, lulling man to sleep with the waving fan-motions of its wings while sucking in the victim’s very heartblood is yet a question, for as yet it has not been examined by any scientific man. Its appearance is, however, enough to suggest the truth of such a horrible surmise. Be it as it may, the little Micronesian island had always borne a weird and frightful reputation among the native inhabitants of the adjoining ones. Strange stories of cannibalism, tales of savage idolatrous practices, poison valleys, &c., are constantly connected in their minds with its name, and the small matter of being possessed of blood-imbibing vampires, in addition to all the other horrors, few of them would think extraordinary or the least doubtful.

The Huddersfield Daily Chronicle, Thursday 10 April 1873

1 Comment

Filed under Birds and Beasts, Supernatural or Superstitious

Some of the story was imaginary



A strange story was told the Coroner and jury on Monday at an enquiry into the death of Ann Georgina Hanks, aged 18, of 11, Frederick street, Greenwich. The court was crowded, considerable interest being manifested in the proceedings on account of the rumour that the deceased girl had been frightened by ghostly signs.—An extraordinary story was told to the jury by Mary Ann Robinson Maxstead, aged 14, sister to the young man with whom the deceased was “keeping company.” She said that on Wednesday evening last she went with deceased to her bed-room. The deceased got an apron out of her box in the back bed room, and with her left hand felt round the corners of the box. When she got to the last corner, something like white thick smoke came up about six inches, startling witness.

When the smoke left her hand the deceased fell on the floor. When she moved her hand the smoke was with it, and when she fell the smoke dispersed in front of witness. There were light sparks in it. She called to her brother down stairs, but when he came the smoke had gone, where she did not see. She was frightened, and went down stairs with the light. There was no noise when witness saw the smoke, and no smell. She could not tell what it was.—Evidence was given to show that shortly after falling to the ground the deceased started screaming, which continued for half an hour.—The witness Maxstead’s brother said that next morning she told him of the fire in deceased’s left hand, and of the cloud in front of her. He put down the cloud as a sign of death, but could not account for the fire.—The Coroner remarked that there had been a story of a Greenwich ghost, which was said to have manifested itself at a house near where the deceased lived. The Coroner thought some of the girl Maxstead’s story was imaginary.—Ultimately the jury found a verdict of “Death from syncope following an epileptic fit.”

The North-Eastern Daily Gazette, Wednesday 18 September 1889

Leave a comment

Filed under Supernatural or Superstitious

Suddenly seized by a ferocious animal


The Exeter mail coach, on its way to London, was attacked last Sunday night at Winterslow Hat, seven miles on this side of Salisbury, in a most extraordinary manner. At the moment when the coachman pulled up to deliver his bags, one of the leaders was suddenly seized by a ferocious animal. This produced great confusion and alarm; two passengers who were inside the mail got out, ran into the house, and locked themselves up in a room above stairs; the horses kicked and plunged violently, and it was with difficulty the coachman could prevent the carriage from being overturned. It was soon perceived by the coachman and guard, by the light of the lamps, that the animal which had seized the horse was a huge lioness.

A large mastiff dog came up and attacked her fiercely, on which she quitted the horse and turned upon him. The dog fled, but was pursued and killed by the lioness, within about forty yards of the place. It appears the beast had escaped from a caravan that was standing on the road side, belonging to the proprietors of a Menagerie, on their way to Salisbury fair.

An alarm being given, the keepers pursued and hunted the lioness into an hovel under a granary, which served for keeping agricultural implements. About half past eight they had secured her so effectually, by baricading the place, as to prevent her escape. The horse, when first attacked, fought with great spirit, and if at liberty, would probably have beaten down his antagonist with his fore feet, but in plunging, he embarrassed himself in the harness. The lioness, it appears, had attacked him in front, and springing at his throat, had fastened the talons of her fore feet on each side of his neck, close to the head, while the talons of her hind feet were forced into his chest. In this situation she hung, while the blood was seen flying, as if a vain had been opened by a lancet. The ferocious animal missed the throat and the jugular vein, but the horse is so dreadfully torn, he is not expected to survive. He was a capital horse, the best of the set. The expression of agony in his tears and moans was most piteous and affecting. A fresh horse having been procured, the mail drove on, after having been detained three quarters of an hour by this extraordinary obstruction.

The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday 22 October 1816




Note: “baricading” and “vain” appear as in the original. I do not like to use the term “sic” on the grounds that it intrudes itself into the reader’s concentration for little purpose other than to impart a sense of the editor’s superiority.

Note 2: This is a somewhat unsatisfactory story, for one is left wondering upon the outcome for both horse and lioness. Being of a melancholy nature, I assume death for both, but am intrigued to know whether any attempt was made to restore the predator to the menagerie from which she made her escape.

Note 3: I realise I should make the effort to research the matters raised in note 2, but at present all I wish to research is the location of the nearest gin bottle.

Note 4: An attack by a big cat was scarcely enough to detain the mail by three-quarters of an hour! What excuse, then, does Mr Amazon give for the fact that I have, to date, waited SEVEN DAYS for my parcel of…  “improving literature”?

Leave a comment

Filed under Birds and Beasts

Deprived him of his most valuable life

‘Tis Trafalgar Day, therefore I display a more respectful countenance than is usually my wont, and inform you how the news of Lord Nelson’s victory – and tragic death – reached these shores.

Death of Lord Nelson


The following is the Admiralty Bulletin, sent in the morning to LLOYD’s:—

Admiralty office, Nov. 6, at One A.M.

“Lieut. Lapenotiere, of the Pickle schooner, arrived last night with dispatches from Vice-Admiral Collingwood, announcing a glorious victory gained by His Majesty’s fleet off Cadiz, under the command of Admiral Lord Nelson.

“On the 19th of October the enemy’s fleet, consisting of 33 ships of the line, four frigates, and two brigs, came out of Cadiz, and on the 21st, at noon, were brought to action by the British fleet, consisting of 27 sail of the line (seven having been previously detached under Rear-Admiral Louis), four frigates, and two smaller vessels.”

“The engagement lasted four hours, and terminated by nineteen of the enemy’s line striking their colours, and being taken possession of, exclusive of one which blew up in the action.

“Lord Nelson’s ship being closely engaged with the Santissima Trinidada, and others of the enemy’s ships, a musket shot fired from the top wounded his Lordship, and deprived him of his most valuable life.

“A gale of wind at S.W. coming on the next day, and on the 24th and 25th increasing in violence, many of the prizes drove adrift, and being close to a lee shore, it is supposed that several of them must have been wrecked, and the Vice-Admiral had made a signal for destroying all that could not be brought away. Two ships, from which the prisoners could not be removed, made their escape into Cadiz. The Santissima Trinidad was sunk, and two others of the line were destroyed before the Lieutenant left the fleet. Admiral Villeneuve, who commanded in chief, and many other officers of rank, are among the prisoners.

“Besides the loss of Lord NELSON, their country has to lament that of Captains DUFF and COOKE, and about 500 men killed.

“ The Belleisle was totally dismasted, and the Temeraire and Royal Sovereign also suffered very much; but no one of His Majesty’s ships was lost in this most glorious conflict.”

The Morning Post, 7 November 1805

1 Comment

Filed under To be serious

Ballooning can never be of practical utility



An exciting narrative of ballooning exploit is communicated by Mr. Pendarves Vivian, member for West Cornwall, to the Western Morning News. With two skilled aeronauts he ascended from South-west London, the start being delayed by unfavourable weather until 10 p.m. They found themselves in a strong current, which in ten minutes had placed them over North London, the lights below presenting a fairy scene of indescribable beauty. Though over 1,000 feet high street cries were distinctly audible. Ascending rapidly to 8,000 feet in an hour they found themselves passing at a tremendous rate over a flat country suitable for descending, and they resolved to come down. Gas was let out and grappling irons dropped, when there was a sharp check and violent jerks, and suddenly they commenced soaring upwards at a frightful pace. The rope of the grappling irons had broken. The danger of so helpless a position, especially at night, was instantly apparent, and shortly afterwards a renewed descent was made hoping to run the balloon against some branches of trees.

When this was done one got out, and the two relieved of his weight were carried upwards with extreme velocity to a height of three miles. Half stunned by the shock, and deaf from the rarification of the air, some time elapsed before renewed descent was attempted, when, to their horror, they heard the roaring of the sea immediately below them. Fortunately they found themselves approaching the shore from the sea, over which they had unconsciously been sailing, but had in descending come into a landward current.

Arrived near the ground they struck not twenty yards from from the sea shore, and after dragging several hundred yards, receiving severe concussions from hedges, they simultaneously let go, and the balloon soared aloft leaving them in darkness in an unknown country, subsequently discovered to be ten miles from Lowestoft, having reached there in three hours from London. No permanent injuries were received by the party, but Mr. Vivian’s experience convinced him that ballooning can never be of practical utility as a means of travelling, and that to render ascents approximately safe duplicate grappling irons, with spring buffers and other appliances must be carried.

The Leicester Chronicle and the Leicestershire Mercury, Saturday 31 December 1881

Leave a comment

Filed under Aeronautical Adventures, Narrow Escapes