Death, destruction and rabies wreak havoc in Hartlepool

How the press reported the death of a sailor in West Hartlepool in 1870.

How the press reported the death of a sailor in West Hartlepool in 1870.

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The year 1870 brought murder and mayhem to Hartlepool.

Tragedy struck early in January, when West Hartlepool youngster Robert Shepherd was drowned while out fishing with his brother and another man in a coble.

Church Bank (High Street) in around 1870 - the year a sailor died there.

Church Bank (High Street) in around 1870 - the year a sailor died there.

“In returning to port a squall struck the boat and she filled with water. The two men were found safe, but the poor boy was drowned,” it was reported.

The crew of the collier Lady Sale were luckier, after their ship sprung a severe leak just off the coast of Hartlepool while laden down with coal on February 16.

Captain Minns ordered his men to burn two barrels to raise the alarm and, with seconds to spare, a pair of fishing cobles dashed to rescue the crew.

“The fishermen’s help came in the nick of time. The sailors scarcely had time to board them before Sale sank,” local newspapers reported.

When the mania became more intensified, she bit at her father and mother, and also tore at her own hands and arms with her teeth.

as reported by local newspapers at the time.

March brought the drowning of Denton and Gray caulker Peter Gray, who died after accidentally falling into the Swainson dock while working on a new ship.

Meanwhile, in April, the “frightful mutilation” of sailor Gabriel Slenson made the news - after he was knocked down by a goods engine at Victoria Terrace.

May saw Swedish sailor Carl Petterson fall to his death from his ship’s mast, while schoolgirl Catherine Casey died after being bitten by a rabid dog in June.

“When the mania became more intensified, she bit at her father and mother, and also tore at her own hands and arms with her teeth,” it was reported.

How the Illustrated Police News reported the trapeze accident at Hartlepool in  July 1870.

How the Illustrated Police News reported the trapeze accident at Hartlepool in July 1870.

Other tragedies in 1870 included the death of railway fireman John Robinson, 17, who was killed when a waggon axle snapped, pitching him onto the line.

But the death that made national headlines involved sailor Charles Brown, who was killed following a drinking session at the Shakespeare Hotel on December 11.

Charles had enjoyed a “very peaceable” night but, when his Norwegian drinking buddy Theodor Thorstensen decided to go back to his ship, the pair came to blows.

“After Thorstensen announced he intended to rest, Charles replied he would stay out a little longer. On hearing this, Thorstensen felled the deceased with his fist,” reported the papers.

“Charles returned the blow, with similar effect. But Thorstensen sprang to his feet, drew his sheath knife and dealt him a fearful blow on the shoulder.

“Charles staggered a few yards, then fell drenched in blood. A principal artery had been severed, and death ensured almost immediately.”

Thorstensen, 28, was sentenced to three months’ hard labour after admitting manslaughter.

Trapeze artist’s fall in Hartlepool made national news in 1870

Visitors to a West Hartlepool music hall were left on the edge of their seats after a trapeze artist had a narrow escape during an intricate routine on June 28, 1870.

French gymnasts LaBlone and Levonie were performing on a double tight-rope and trapeze at “great elevation” within the Victoria Music Hall when a rope or stay suddenly gave way beneath them.

“Monsieur Leblonde was in the act of propelling a tub with his feet when his mate Levonie, beneath him on a horizontal bar, was thrown forward with a violent jerk through the snapping of the rope,” reported the Illustrated Police News.

“Levonie managed to retain his hold until he could see an opportunity to drop into the pit beneath. A bold course, which he preferred to take rather than jeopardise the safety of his fellow performer, whose barrel was unbalanced by the jerk.

“The daring drop was safely accomplished, and Levonie was caught unhurt by the audience beneath, amidst a scene of wild excitement. Lablonde, meanwhile, held on to the stay-ropes with a firm grasp, until assistance could be given him to descend.”

Just a year later, in May 1871, a second accident occurred at the same venue - when two acrobats fell into the orchestra pit during a routine.

The gymnasts, known as the Brothers Bonner, were performing 20ft up in the air when one lost his hold on the trapeze bars and toppled to the ground - bringing the other with him.

“In their fall they came into collision with John Wilson, stepson of Mr Wright, the proprietor of the hall,” reported a local paper.

“Beyond a severe shaking and a few bruises, Mr Wilson fortunately escaped injury. The brothers were rather more hurt - one cutting his arm, although happily not seriously.”