The Observer, 26 October 1817
ANOTHER CHIMNEY-SWEEP-BOY SUFFOCATED
Thursday night, at eight o’clock, an Inquisition was held at the house of Mr. Alford, the sign of the Lord Somers Arms, corner of Greville-street and Union-street, Somers Town, before Thomas Stirling, Esq., one of the Coroners for the county of Middlesex on view of the body of Robert Dowland, a poor little orphan chimney-sweep, of St. Pancras, whose death was caused by suffocation in a chimney, as appeared from the following evidence:—
Mrs. Ann Bishop, sworn, said she is wife of Alex. Bishop, a baker, and lives at No. 10 Union-street, Somers Town; she frequently saw the deceased, he being in the habit of buying at her shop; he was a sweep. On the last Wednesday morning the deceased and two other sweeps accompanied by their master, came to her house for the purpose of sweeping the chimnies; the deceased’s master ordered him to go up and sweep a chimney which was over a new oven that had been lately built; the deceased went up accordingly; he went up to the top, as she head him beat his scraper against the chimney-pot, which is a usual thing with sweeps; he came down again without receiving much injury, except a slight burn or graze on his left arm; she supposed it proceeded from the bricks being hot, or that something in the chimney scratched him; he cried, and said that something burned his arm, and it pained him very much. He was then sent up the flue of the old oven, but witness was not present; he remained above an hour in the flue after he went up, though he was only a quarter of an hour in the new flue. Witness not seeing the deceased come down, she asked his master if he thought there was any danger; he answered no, there was no danger, he was only taking a nap; the fire had been out four hours before the deceased came to sweep it. When the deceased was in the chimney crying, his master knew the part of it he was in, as he pointed out the place to them. Another boy was then sent up after the deceased, whom he found in the slant of the chimney where there was a deal of soot. She was not present, but a journeyman was. The flue in the shop was then opened, and the deceased taken out, thickly covered with soot, so that they had much difficulty in taking it off with their hands; the deceased was then carried out into the air and a surgeon was sent for, who came and rubbed him with some sort of spirits, but what kind she did [not] know, but the deceased never spoke or moved after. When the deceased first came down the funnel of the new oven, his master told him he ought to have a good thrashing for stopping there so long. He was very much exhausted, and complained greatly; one of her men gave him some water to drink, and witness hearing his master speak so cross to him, she said he used him very hardly, on which the master replied he knew best how to deal with him; when the deceased was going up the flue of the old oven his master said he would make him go quicker if he was near him. One sweep attempted previously to go up, but could not – he said it was too small for him. The flue had not been swept for a considerable time; she dreaded danger to the boy, and told his master to defer sending him up to another day, as the batches were drawn so very late; his master asked her when the fire had been put out, she told him about four o’clock, he said the flue would not be too hot. When the boy was crying in the chimney, he said a nail stuck him; she tapped at the wall and told him to come down, and she would give him some beer; there were some potatoes baking in the oven at the time the deceased was up in the flue; she went for her husband to the Lord Somers Arms, and he came and agreed with her that the boy was dying from his cries of distress being so very low – he was only four feet from the mouth of the oven; the master said he would go for another boy, but there was no danger, as he was only stopped by a nail. Witness’s husband seized the poker and broke in the wall, and took the boy out. The master was present the whole time, and told Mr. Bishop that he was too hasty. In the morning the deceased’s master asked witness when the oven would be ready to sweep? She told him the baten would be drawn about six o’clock, but the fire was out at four; he master said it would not be too hot. They came to sweep it about eight o’clock; the oven would bake a joint of meat after the fire was out; she hard the boy cry a considerable time before he was taken out; the cry proceeded from one part; she was in the shop, she was much distressed at the boy’s cries, but thought no harm as the master did not go to assist him; another of the boys hallooed up the flue of the chimney in the next house, “Bobby, come down, and the lady will give you some beer,” Deceased made no answer; when her husband took the boy out of the chimney, he said he wished it was the master that was there; she was of the opinion his life might have been saved if there had been timely assistance.
Thomas Smith deposed, he lives at No 1, Bridgewater-street, St. Pancras. When the accident happened, he was sent for; he built the old flue, but not the new. The heat was so great, that when he put his hand on the deceased his flesh gave way, and the skin came off; he was literally baked alive! It was with the greatest difficulty he could get him out of the flue. He saw the master there; he did not seem uneasy; he might have taken him out himself. There was a great deal of inattention to be attributed to him, either through want of humanity, or through ignorance. He did not see the master attempt to release the body. –In answer to a question put by a Juryman, he said that the flue could not be cleansed by the application of gunpowder.
Jane Cater, of No. 2 Sidney-street, wife of John Cater, wine cooper, deposed that on Tuesday evening, about nine o’clock, she went for a loaf to the baker’s;l the deceased was then on the top of the chimney. Mrs. Bishop said, “Thank God!” when she heard him at the top. She thought the chimney was on fire; she inquired of Mrs. Bishop, who said No, he was sweeping the flue. Mrs. B. appeared as if she thought it was dangerous; the deceased came down, and she heard him cry in the flue; thought then there was much danger. Mrs. Bishop called down to the master, and told him she thought there was danger. He said, No, he was doing very well, and called up to the boy to know what was the matter; he said the soot was coming down upon him. The master desired him to go up the chimney a little way, and shake it from him; to come down quickly, not to mind sweeping, and not to be alarmed; the deceased kept crying. The witness received her change and left the shop, but returned some time after, and asked if the boy was out. Mrs. Bishop called downstairs to know if he was, & she was answered that he was coming over the oven.
Daniel Mead, servant to Mr. Bishop, deposed, that they took the fire out of the old oven about half past three o’clock. The sweeps came about a quarter before eight o’clock; the master sweep said the flues were not too hot, he had sent boys up hotter ones; the boy went up the new flue first; when he came down he was very hot; some water was given him; he seemed faint and perspired very much; he said the oven was very hot and that he burned or grazed his arm against one of the tiles; he seemed willing to go up the second flue; the master told him to make what haste he could. The master told him when he came to do the first flue, that he deserved a good beating for staying up so long. No person attempted to go up the old flue before the deceased did; heard him about nine o’clock say he was hung by a nail; he sobbed very much; the master said there was no danger. The witness went to bed, and left the deceased up the chimney. The master sent another boy up after him who reached the feet of the deceased. The master desired to him to pull him down; the boy replied that he would not come down, when the master said, “Then D— him, let him stop.” He was about twenty-five minutes up the chimney before the witness went to bed. In about a quarter of an hour Mrs. Bishop called him up; they were then taking down the flue in the shop, to get the boy out. It was very warm where the body lay. There was one bushel and a half of soot about the boy. He was not quite dead. Could discern his breath on the looking-glass, which was held before his mouth. The body was so hot, it smoked. In answer to a question from a Juryman, he said, that when the other boy touched the deceased’s toes, he was crying.
Richard Barry, a sweep, aged 13, servant to John Hall, the master sweep, deposed, that on Tuesday last, he went to Mr. Bishops’s with the deceased, who went up the new flue and came down again; the skin was off his elbow; he did not say how he done it; he said he would go up the second chimney with pleasure; he went up the chimney after the deceased; he touched his toes, but the deceased pulled them away, and said, he could not come down. Told his master what he said; did not hear his master say anything; he sent him for another boy. The master behaved very well to them. The deceased was an apprentice. Did not hear his master say, “Let him stop there and be d—d.” The flue was too narrow for the witness to go up. The master never behaved ill to the deceased.
In answer to a question by a Juryman he said, he had been up an oven flue several times, but there were always two boys, one to clear away the soot. Coming down a chimney, the soot goes down before him, which ought to be cleared away. The witness swept a chimney that day in St. Pancras Church, the flue of which was not so wide as that where the deceased lost his life.
Alexander Bishop, of No. 10 Union-street, Clarendon-square, Somers Town, baker, said, that on Tuesday last he had his ovens swept. The last fire was put out about 4 o’clock. He was not at home when the sweeps came; he was called from the Lord Somers Arms about ten o’clock; did not know there was a sweep in the house, as he told them int he morning he would not have the flues swept until Saturday, as they would be more cool; but Hall told his wife that he desired to come at eight o’clock. Hall, Mrs. Bishop, and the landlord of the public house were in the shop when he went in. They gold him a boy was in the flue;he asked the master how long; he said an hour; witness said, “My good God! why don’t you break down the flue and run down to the bakehouse?” Got a poker, Hall followed him, and said he was too hasty: witness put his head up the chimney, and could hear the boy breathing hard; took the poker up stairs, and began to break open the flue; in a moment he had room to put his hand in, and cleared away the soot from his head; held it up, but seemed not to have life in it. He went down stairs and broke the flue below, and got at his feet: when the master saw that, he said, “Let me get at him, and I will get him down, as he is only sulky, and is taking a nap.” Mr. Smith then came and made a greater aperture above, and he and witness lifted him out. There was something running from his mouth, which he wiped away; thought when he first got hold his forehead there was some life in him. The master did not express any sorrow until he was told what the consequences might be. He never attempted to assist in cutting down the flue. The witness believed he told Hall, if he did not get out of the way he would throw him into the oven. Whether Hall acted from ignorance or inhumanity, he did not know. The medical men said he died from suffocation.
The Coroner then asked the Jury if they wished for any further evidence? & they answered in the negative. –The Jury then went and viewed the body; it appeared very much swelled.
The Coroner, on their return, observed it was melancholy that a fellow-creature should be deprived of his life in the way the deceased was. There certainly was great inattention on the part of the master; and if the Jury thought it was wilful neglect, they would bring in their verdict against him for murder: but if they thought it was inattention, caused by ignorance, they might return it as manslaughter; and if they thought there was not inattention, they would return a verdict that the deceased died by suffocation. –The Jury, afgter a few minutes consideration, returned their verdict— “Died by suffocation, through the culpable neglect of Hall, the master.”
The Foreman of the Jury requested that the Coroner would certify to the parish officers that it was the opinion of the Jury that they ought to prosecute Hall the master. –The Coroner observed that their request should be attended to.
This inquest occupied from eight o’clock on Thursday evening to two o’clock Friday morning.