Death of Samuel HODGSON, in the Great Fire 1842

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Illustrated London News 1842
Liverpool Albion, Sept 25th 1842

Great Fire

Yesterday morning witnessed the most awfully destructive fire, whether as regards life or property, that has ever taken place in this locality, more destructive indeed than the memorable fire of 1802, which destroyed the Goree warehouses. It is ascertained by the broker's returns that 37,474 bales of cotton have been consumed by the conflagration, amounting in value to 337,266, if this be added to the cost of warehouses and sheds destroyed, together with the valuable colonial and foreign produce, the actual destruction of property by this fearful visitation will be found to exceed 500,000. 40 years have elapsed since the Goree fire occurred, and what is remarkable is that, that event occurred in September. The distressing calamity now recorded has been far more tragic in its results, the loss of life from the peculiar circumstances attending it, can never be satisfactorily ascertained, but we should not be surprised if, including the unfortunate persons in the Northern Hospital, and those buried beneath the ruins, all traces of whom will be swept away before the removal of the burning materials, should exceed 30. Under the ruins is believed 18 to 20 men, and from the dangerous state of many in the hospital it is believed half will not survive. In the hospital there are 25, 9 were policemen, 16 labourers, 17 dreadfully mutilated, three who died there yesterday.

Those who died :-

James BELL of Oil St labourer,, dead when admitted

John MARTIN, Chisendale St, labourer, died about two hours after being admitted, of a compound fracture of the leg and severe burns all over his body.

Luke SMITH, Westmoreland St, labourer, died about two hours after being admitted, of a fractured spine and extensive burns

Robert BLACK, labourer of Newhall St, suffered a compound fracture of the cranium, at first his recovery was despaired of, but he is recovering

Superintendent RIDING, fractured heel bone

13 were slightly wounded after being dressed were sent home, 4 or 5 of this number were blinded from the effect of the smoke and flames, their blindness was considered temporary.

The fire originated in Crompton St, formerly Wood St, at the north end of the town near the docks. The three main streets affected, are Crompton St, Formby St and Neptune St, all nearly opposite the Borough gaol, run east and west between Great Howard St [in which the prison stands] and Waterloo Rd, close to the docks. The three streets and their boundaries east and west occupy an area of 6 to 7 acres. The small buildings at the top of Crompton St on the south, amongst which the fire originated, were entirely burnt down. A valuable cotton shed and some other sheds, and other buildings lower down [for the ground slopes towards the river] were saved. The boat builder's yards, sail-lofts, etc, facing Waterloo Rd were also saved over the whole frontage to that street, as well as a fire-proof warehouse and others near and at the bottom of Formby St.

The same may be said of many of the premises extending up Neptune St from the bottom, including Messers GRAYSON and BANNISTER'S and M'DOWELL'S smithy. A shed at the top of the same street, as well as the wall and premises facing the gaol and extending to Mrs BARK'S house, south corner of Crompton St, were also unscathed, though damaged, so that the fire may be said to have been confined chiefly to the centre of the area, sweeping it from north to south. Several of the dwelling houses included in the destruction in the north, but the great proportion of the havoc was in the centre, in Formby St, in and near which were the larger warehouses, the burning content of which [chiefly cotton] form yet immense piles or hills in a red-hot state of combustion.

The origin of the fire is still involved in mystery, there are flying rumours in circulation, one account represents the calamity to having been caused by sparks of fire from the chimney of a dwelling house in Steward St, falling into the oil yard of Mr PENISTON, Crompton St, another account attributes it to the boiling of oil, during the night on his premises. Certain it is, that Mr PENISTON will be a severe loser by the catastrophe, as not a penny of his property was insured or has been saved. The wind at the time the fire broke out was blowing smartly from the north-west. The engines were speedily on the spot, but owing to the combustible nature of the materials in the shed where it originated, the work of destruction made rapid progress, nor could all the power of the engines, 14 in number arrest it. The flames were carried from Crompton St to Formby St, warehouse after warehouse ignited, fell sacrifice to the irresistible element, and at length made their way into Neptune St, serious apprehensions were entertained for the safety of the shipping in the Waterloo Dock.

Detailed account of the frightful and unparalleled calamity

It appears that a watchman named Bernard COYLE, employed to guard the premises of Mr PENISTON, bone-grinder and dry-Salter, during the night, found that a fire had broken out in the engine-house at 3am, the fire having been kept in all night to keep up the steam. He immediately gave the alarm to police-officer No 24, who exerted himself to the utmost, but before the engines could be brought up an immense quantity of warehouses, and three yards were on fire in Crompton St. The combustible nature of the premises, together with the strong breeze from the north-west, was such that Mrs ISAAC'S oil and colour store soon took fire, as well as many small, crowded workshops of millwrights, smiths etc in the immediate locality. The fire next got to POOLE'S bonded cotton sheds in Great Howard St, and finally swept to Formby St, were the whole of the warehouses were successfully ignited and burnt to the ground, with a vast destruction of property and the loss of several lives. The fire-police officer, Samuel HODGSON of No 1 engine was killed and crushed in the ruins of one of the walls, which fell upon him while he was holding the pipe. Two of the engines were also smashed and it is feared a considerable number of firemen and others were killed. Several men were carried to the hospital badly burnt or hurt, some mortally. From 8am to 9.30 am the fire in Formby St and in the adjoining cotton sheds [POOLE'S] in Great Howard St, raged with an intensity that heated the atmosphere to a great distance round. Great exertions were made to save the houses in Formby St, but the dwelling houses on the north side, caught fire chiefly by the intensity of the fire just below the burning warehouses, the ruins and burning materials of which were piled to the height of 80 to 90 feet, throwing up immense volumes of flames and smoke. From time to time the high walls of the warehouses fell with a thundering crash, and shortly after 9am one man was killed outright by the falling materials. The wall of a large warehouse in Formby St, which had been on fire for some time and had reached, with the cotton within, a white heat, at length fell on some sheds on the south of Neptune St, and in consequence in a short time the whole range of sheds at the top of that street used for bonding cotton and as cooperages were ignited. A great quantity of staves, poles, hoops etc were carried before and after the ignition to neighbouring vacant ground.

The flames during the fire were throughout most intense, and at intervals terrific rising on some occasions to a height of about 150 feet, or higher, the heat and the sparks were such that the eyes of those near were so much affected that they were obliged frequently to turn away and procure water to wash them before they could see distinctly. The whole of the police Mr WHITTY, head-constable, Mr MAXWELL inspector of the insurance companies, and Mr HEWITT of the fire-police were so covered with dust, mud, water, flour and other materials, their faces so begrimed, that they could scarcely be recognised by their most intimate acquaintances. At 10am the sheds and cooperage in Neptune St, some new buildings and full of goods, were in a state of rapid combustion, and little of the property could be saved from them. There was a report that 30 individuals connected with the engines had perished, but this we hope, will be found to be exaggerated. At present no correct account of loss of life can be obtained, in the end the probability is that some of the bodies, if found at all, will be so burned that they may not be recognised. One of the fire-police John ROGERS, No 215, was close to poor HODGSON of Engine No 1 when he was struck down by the ruins and killed on the spot. The hose was cut off as if by a hatchet, the piece near the pipe which HODGSON held was scorched to the hardness of bone.

Amongst the warehouses and sheds burned down were POOLE'S two sheds in Great Howard St, five warehouses in Formby St, belonging to Mr MAW, two to Mr J. H. RAYNER and, Mr H. HORSLEY, and Messers WATERHOUSE and Son, in one was said to be a quantity of saltpetre. Amidst the destruction of Neptune St, besides the cotton sheds were the cooperage and timber-yards of Messers CHAPMAN, DEAN and LYTHGOE. The vacant ground between the prison and canal bridge and on the east side of the street was covered with salvage from the yards and sheds.

In Great Howard St dwelling houses at the top were damaged, and the front room of a lodging house, the brick fields opposite POOLE'S cotton sheds on the other side of the street were strewn with bags and heaps of loose cotton, bags of flour and furniture etc. The lodging house was in flames about 12.15, and then the interior of POOLE'S sheds was a mass of burning cotton, the outer wall was in so precarious a state from the floor, that the police were active in keeping parties off, lest some further fatal accident might take place. The scene passing down Crompton St about 2pm was painfully interesting, the yards, smithies and other workshops where the fire originated, still enclosed by a wall on the north presented a large area of burning materials and ruins. The remains of the bone-grinding steam-engine, with its small chimney, the chimney of another small engine to the east of it, heaps of paint that had been in barrels burnt out, leaving only a few of the iron loops, formed the foreground of the picture from this point. More behind were two "burning mountains" of cotton, one on the site of DENNISTON'S [called RAYNER'S] large warehouse and the other in TAYLOR'S. On the west side about 60 to 70 feet in height, burning and flaming all over, and resembling a perfect volcano. The mill were the fire originated was Mr PENISTON'S, the adjoining paint works which were ignited belonged to Mr ISAAC. From the door of a shed a little further down, and the whole of which had interiorly fallen a most imposing view of the general conflagration was obtained. Even here, though to windward, the heat was very great. Considerable anxiety was felt, seeing that the destructive element was proceeding up Neptune St, lest the Borough Gaol, crowded with prisoners, should suffer. As soon as danger was apprehended a number of men were placed on the roof, and all the wooden parts of the building were covered with wet blankets, soaked with water. The lead on the front of the building was at one time in a state of fusion, but from the prompt manner in which the ignition was treated, all fears for the safety of the prison disappeared. The whiffs and gusts of hot air that passed along the neighbouring streets were at times stifling, being as hot as the breath of a furnace, and surcharged withal with motes, dust, and sparks, exceedingly injurious to the eyes. Some high proportions of the ruins rose in majestic isolation behind, and had a truly romantic appearance. SUDLOW'S free cotton shed, in the same line a little below was saved, as were the boat-builders etc, facing Waterloo Rd on the left.

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Illustrated London News 1842
Neptune St was the southern boundary of the fire, the sheds at the top on the north side, with the exception of the corner one just opposite the Borough Gaol were all burnt out by noon. Some staves, hoops etc were saved from the cooperages and yards above, but a great deal of cotton in other sheds was consumed, many of the bags retaining their shape though red hot and reduced to tinder. The back and north wall of a warehouse lower down had fallen from the effects of the fire, so that it could be seen through to "the burning mountains" of cotton on the north. Out of this warehouse a great quantity of rice in bags, was lowered in bags and taken away in carts, a great part of this property will doubtless be saved.

A fire-proof warehouse near the bottom of Formby St stood the effect of the flame, men were employed in hoisting buckets of water into it to cool the walls, which, however, were by no means as hot as might be expected. Thee wall of the adjoining warehouse burned down, against the gable end of the fire-proof building, formed a protection from ignition by the immense pile of red hot cotton blazing against it. Much damage is done to the premises of Messers GRAYSON and BANNISTER'S. One shed between two other sheds did not take fire, and is, we learn, filled with guano manure. In Formby St there were also warehouses known as GRAYS, in which there were 24,000 bales of cotton.

The fatalities are numerous, one HODGSON, officer 347, who bore a most excellent character in the force, whose beat was in Charles St, opposite the coach stands. About 6.30 am he, along with officers TUCK and BATES, were holding their branches opposite a warehouse near the top of Formby St, TUCK said to the men, "That wall is going to fall" They stood for a moment, when HODGSON walked up the street, a large bale of burning cotton fell into the street, HODGSON stopped to dash it out as it was blinding all round, he had just completed the task when the wall fell with a tremendous crash, burning HODGSON in the ruins. TUCK at that instant seized hold of BATES and pulled him away, by the greatest miracle both escaped unhurt, the branch being knocked out of TUCK'S hand by part of the wall as it fell. Lower down the street the wall of GRAY'S yard gave way, just as 3 or 4 labourers were removing some timber, and they were buried in the ruins. Inspector RIDING was also at this spot, and by the falling of the wall had his leg broken, he was taken up by the men and conveyed to the Northern Hospital, as were several other men who were severely injured. Another officer named FISH is missing, and it is feared has met the same fate as HODGSON, but no attempt at present can be made to extricate the bodies to ascertain the number.

A gentleman who left Southport before four, states he could see the reflection of the flames before he started. From the Cheshire shores of the Mersey the appearance was terrific, seen through the rigging of the shipping in Prince's and Waterloo Docks, it appeared upon a first view that these docks were on fire, and on looking closer, the inhabitants of Seacombe, Egremont and New Brighton, many of them our leading merchants, imagined from the extent of the ground covered, that the destruction extended over a great portion of the north part of the town, the extensive warehouses of which contain a mass of property whose value is incalculable.

The scene in the neighbourhood of the fire and particularly in that of the hospital where many of the sufferers were carried, was distressing in the extreme. The police and firemen on duty were distracted by the applications of parties anxious for intelligence of fathers, brothers and sons, missing, and supposed buried in the burning ruins. No satisfactory answers can as yet be given, many persons missing are no doubt actively engaged at the fire. Many no doubt will never again be heard of, unless the calcined bones which will be found on clearing away the ruins may be imagined to belong to them. At the Northern Hospital crowds gathered at the gate, anxiously inquiring after friends known to have been admitted, the scene as a whole may be imagined, but cannot possibly be described.

Water was obtain in great abundance from the Waterloo Dock, but in consequence of the height of the walls, and no aperture being made in them, it required a great force to raise it. No person who attended the fire could for a moment doubt the efficiency and excellence of our fire brigade and police establishment. The supply of water in Great Howard St was scanty, a sewer was however opened in the street, through which runs the overflow of the canal, from this and the fire-police water carts, as well as from those leading from the Waterloo Dock to Waterloo Rd, a plentiful supply was at length obtained. There were 14 engines employed.

Liverpool Journal, Oct, 6th 1842

The great fire

Some 200 men are employed in clearing Formby St, piling the bricks, excavating, and saving the fragments of scorched cotton and some wrecks of the property. A great quantity of cotton is constantly loading from the ruins, but in a damaged condition. Some casks of turpentine are got out but the greater part is lost. A large proportion of the bar and rod iron belonging to the British Iron Company has been got at and although damaged, will be far short of a total loss. Through the mass of ruins that remains a road is now cleared down Formby St, at the lower part of it the two engines were overwhelmed, the wrecks of both now recovered, and satisfactory proof that no loss of life occurred in that quarter.

In the excavation from the upper part of the street, one of the first objects which presented itself was the body of HODGSON, the policeman. He was found on his knees with his arms extended, his branch under him. It is consolation to believe that his death was instantaneous, for besides fracturing his limbs, his head was literally crushed to pieces. His body was far advanced in decomposition. The greatest loss of life took place in the warehouse-sheds fronting Neptune St, in the further of two warehouses, a sudden explosion involved three labourers, there shrieks of help truly horrifying. Inspector WHITTY speedily extricated them and they were sent to the Infirmary, where two died almost immediately the third survives, dreadfully injured. In a warehouse-shed further up the street another fatal accident took place, the end of the building gave way, the beams fell on those below. One man literally had his head cut off, another had his thighs broken, and both bodies fell into the flames. The brick floor of the shed is now cleared and all that was found of their remains were a few calcined bones, and some metal articles about their person. The total loss of life falls short of rumour, it certainly does not exceed 8, and may possibly, for any decidedly certain evidence be only 6.

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