Sarah Ann Henley’s Unplanned Parachute Jump, 1885

Unlike the hundreds before and after, one woman survived jumping into the chasm of Avon Gorge from the bridge that spans it. Find out what quirk of fashion saved Ms Henley from her attempt to end her life.

The city of Bristol, UK, is a charming place in England’s West Country. It’s famous for a number of things; Massive Attack, Concorde, Banksy, Aardman Animations and… the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

This iconic structure was designed by the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and completed in 1864. It spans the craggy Avon Gorge and thousands of ships have passed under its grand arch, sailing along the river Avon over the decades since.

Unfortunately, it also acquired a reputation as a place to end one’s life, with around 400 despairing souls who’ve scaled the railings before plummeting to their deaths 75 m (245 ft) below.

And so, Sarah Ann Henley’s story comes to light: On a Summer’s day in 1885 this distraught young woman made her way up through Clifton’s streets of fine townhouses to make her way along to the middle of the bridge, sobbing as she went. She stopped and peered down, contemplating her next move with a deep gulp.

Earlier she had got a letter from the man she loved and was engaged to marry, a porter for the Great Western Railway. In it, he announced his intention to break off their engagement and, in the depths of despair she made the rash decision to end it all. She climbed over the railings and onto the parapet and, before onlookers could rush to intervene, she flung herself off.

Fate had a twist for her however. As was the style of the time she was wearing a crinoline skirt — a stiff petticoat designed to hold out a woman’s skirt. Witnesses claimed that a billowing effect created by an updraft of air beneath her skirt acted as a parachute of sorts to slow her fall, misdirecting her away from the water and instead onto the river’s muddy banks. Two passers-by rushed to her assistance and found her in a state of severe shock, but alive nonetheless.

They escorted her to the refreshment rooms of the nearby railway station and from there she was taken to hospital to recover. Sarah Ann put the incident behind her and went on to marry Edward Lane in 1900 and lived to the age of 85.

Ms Henley, the bridge she leapt from and the crinoline skirt which acted as her parachute (

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Ancient Law Causes Queen to Drown, 1880

When a pregnant young queen started to drown, her attendants wouldn’t help. Find out why.

The protocol around royalty which governs how they interact with commoners is usually ancient, rigid and ensures royal family members’ inviolability.

On one occasion however it caused an entirely avoidable tragedy for the Chakri royal dynasty of Siam, modern-day Thailand.

Queen Sunanda Kumariratana was just 19 years old when she travelled to see the newly built and bountiful Bang Pa-In palace be opened by her husband and King — Rama V, but reaching the palace required crossing the Chao Phraya River.

She made her way down to the water’s edge.

Squawks and cries of life rang out sporadically in the thick heat that beat down in the surrounding jungle, and dangerous currents whooshed and sploshed water downstream after heavy rains.

A boat was waiting to ferry the vulnerable young queen, her two-year-old little princess and unborn child to the other side. The boat would be towed in turn by a larger one which would ferry the queen’s retinue.

What should’ve been a joyous day for the King and his family was struck by tragedy; as the boat was hauled across the strong current, it capsized.

The Queen and two-year-old infant daughter were dumped in the river and flailed their arms as they attempted to stop from sinking under. Her entourage, horrified and aghast, failed to act, however.

A no contact rule in the Kingdom of Siam forbade any commoner from touching royal family members under any circumstances and under pain of death. So, with no rope, the head guard felt he could do nothing except look on as the queen slowly drowned.

For this absurd episode, the King imprisoned the guard who did nothing to rescue the favourite of his three queen consorts, yet the poor servant was merely guilty of sticking to the laws of his king.

Queen Sunanda and the Bang Pa-In Palace (

The Aristocrat Who Painted the Town Red, 1837

The legend of a Marquis’ drunken antics resulted in an epic night in town… painting it red despite the townsfolk’s spluttering rage. Read about the chaos this posh wild child caused.

One day in spring 1837 at the Thorpe End tollgate in the fine old English market town of Melton Mowbray, with its half-timbered Tudor townhouses and bustling square, a tollgate keeper lay a wary eye on an approaching party of men.

The scene was at odds with itself. Their veneer of clean, tailored clothing, fine riding boots, well-groomed moustaches and strong jawlines made the tollkeeper conscious for a moment of his own grubby stubble. Yet, from their cultured tones, boozy banter spewed. Laughter and shouts echoed down the narrow carriageway and the band of staggering, swaggering men jostled after it.

The tollkeeper hailed hopefully to a young man he took to be the ringleader but the big droopy eyes which met his twinkled with mischief and he wore an ominous, leery grin. To the side were some ladders, brushes and pots of red paint to effect repairs. The leader turned his gaze to them and, before the tollkeeper could step in between, the party leapt and scooped up the paint and brushes.

They set upon the tollkeeper who, dismayed, shrieked calls to wrest them away, but to their whoops and cackles they doused the poor man in red paint. A sputtering, red-faced constable rushed over… and he was turned even more red-faced!

Like a crazed troop of monkeys the men now rampaged into the town, smashing, kicking and pulling down pieces of property. They sploshed doors, a carved swan and anyone who tried to halt them in red paint while indignant townsfolk looked on, mouths agape. They vandalised the Post Office and the Leicestershire Banking Company and tried to overturn a caravan in which a man was fast asleep.

The time the Marquess of Waterford and his cronies went crazy in Melton Mowbray gave rise to a common idiom (

Help was called in and, finally, to the clacking thrum of nail soled boots on street cobbles, constables clamoured into the street and set upon them. Clubs cracked and thumped and swang through the air and the scoundrels were finally subdued. Now for the biggest shock; as onlookers gawped, the party’s leader was identified to be a nobleman no less – Henry Beresford, 3rd Marquess of Waterford.

The noble was sent to sober up in the local gaol but that wasn’t even the end of it.

Marquess Henry’s cronies came to his rescue, beating up two guards and holding a sharp blade to a guard’s throat for the cell key.

So the Marquess escaped …but scot-free?

Aristocrats stand as exemplars of grace, class and decorum. The Marquisate of Waterford is no exception; rows and rows of windows festoon the grand, Georgian facade of Curraghmore House – the family estate – and their noble lineage goes back to the 17th Century. At some point, an impish streak seeped into the bloodline when Henry entered the world; the trouble in Melton Mowbray is not the only time he brought his peerage into disrepute.

Once Marquess Henry sobered up he hastened to shell out for the damages but the townsfolk wouldn’t be placated so easily. Eventually Henry and his party were fined a considerable £100 each and ordered to contribute an idiom to the English language.

Napoleon’s ‘Battle’ with Bunnies, 1807

Of all of Bonaparte’s illustrious battles perhaps the one he wanted to forget as quickly as possible was not his worst ever defeat, but his most embarrassing one, when Napoleon fled from a horde of rabbits.

History tells us that Napoleon Bonaparte’s worst ever defeat occurred at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, yet perhaps his most humiliating one was eight years earlier. It was the summer of 1807 and Napoleon Bonaparte was in high spirits as he sauntered across a meadow accompanied by beaters and gun-bearers.

He was at the zenith of his powers having subdued, and made peace with, France’s two arch enemies, Prussia and Russia by signing the Treaties of Tilsit. Now was the time to relax and bask in his glory and so a rabbit shoot and outdoor luncheon were arranged with France’s top brass invited. Around the meadow a ring of rabbit cages had been laid out and hundreds, perhaps up to 3000 rabbits, were released. The hunt was on.

But something strange happened; instead of bounding away, the horde of fluffy ears charged at Napoleon. He and his men laughed it up at first but the onslaught continued and they swarmed over the man and began to climb up his leg.

France’s all-conquering general was no match for an army of bunnies. (

Napoleon tried shooing them with his riding crop; his men grabbed sticks and tried chasing them away; This was quickly degenerating into a demeaning farce for a great emperor such as himself, and so Napoleon retreated to his coach. But the rabbit horde divided into two wings and poured around the flanks of the party to surround the imperial coach, some even leaping into the carriage.

The attack ceased only as the coach rolled away. The man who was dominating Europe was no match for an army of bunnies.

The Boyd Massacre – The Gruesome Tale of Cannibalistic Revenge

The tale of the Boyd Massacre; an act of bone-chilling cannibalism perhaps the worst to occur since the Aztec Empire

In the ‘Age of Discovery’, subjects of Europe’s empires saw the world beyond as one inhabited by varieties of savage. In the most exotic corner of the world lurid images of Pacific islanders as fierce cannibals remained in the European conscience well into the 20th Century.

For intrepid European sailors, a voyage across the vast Pacific only sporadically revealed specks of land on the horizon, but these would expand into verdant, comely refuges for sore-eyed sailors once the ship drew near.

Savages might also appear; Stocky and erect, the whites of their eyes clear to see. Then, the ship would launch its tender ashore to trade for supplies and a taste of terra firma after many days at sea.

But there was always the risk of a bloody outcome – if the mariners outstayed their welcome or committed some offence, they might be forced into a frantic retreat back to their ship under a hail of stones and spears.

European explorers fighting off a hostile party of Polynesians (

If those mariners were not fleet of foot or fast enough with the trigger they could be killed and even butchered and turned to ‘long pig’ – the euphemistic term for human meat. On islands such as Fiji it was the supreme act of dominance to consume a defeated foe and these islanders’ notoriety mushroomed with the tales of their cannibalism.

These Pacific islanders were explorers themselves, and crossed the sea in their large canoes to settle the world’s last remaining major uninhabited landmass in the 13th/14th Century. That landmass came to be called New Zealand, and those people came to be the Maori people – some of the Pacific’s most violent and cannibalistic of all.

In the first ever meeting between the Maoris and Europeans, four of Dutch explorer Abel Tasman’s crew were murdered, and the locals had to be driven off with canister shot before the Whites could escape. 

And as a harbinger of what would come later, in 1772 a French Explorer named Marc-Joseph du Fresne led a two ship expedition to explore New Zealand and establish relations with the Maori. After a cordial first few months, the locals turned hostile and butchered Du Fresne and 25 of his crew. Accounts of Du Fresne’s death would circulate widely to give New Zealand a bad reputation as a dangerous land. It was to this backdrop that a ship set out on a voyage destined to end in an even more gruesome feast of human flesh in December, 1809.

The Boyd

The Boyd was a 400 tonne brigantine with a Captain John Thompson at the helm. She was transporting passengers, including ex-convicts, plus women and children from the fledgling colony of Australia to New Zealand, and the plan was to return with some kauri spars – wooden poles much prized for use for ship’s rigging. There were 70 souls on board. 

One of those was a native of New Zealand; a young man named ‘George’ by his ship mates, but whose real name was Te Ara, or Tarrah, a name given to him by his father who was a prominent chieftain in Whangaroa Bay where the ship was sailing to. It was only because of the ship’s convenient destination that the chieftain’s progeny agreed to work his passage home, although he did have experience as a crewmember on other vessels.

So, the ship set forth from Sydney Cove in October 1809. Sometime early into the weeks-long voyage the wheels of tragedy were set in motion.

Because of the dearth of survivors we can’t be sure what happened, but Tarrah, it seems, ran afoul of the unyielding code of discipline Captain Thompson wielded. It was discipline typical of European ships abundantly crewed by rough, rowdy, hard-hearted brutes. Corporal punishment was meted out at the slightest offence lest such men dared be so insolent as to repeat the antics of Christian Fletcher and his accomplices in the Bounty Mutiny 20 years before.

It’s said Tarrah either refused to do a task required of him because he was ill or because of his status as a chief’s son. Another account states that the ship’s cook accidentally threw some pewter spoons overboard and accused Tarra of stealing them to avoid being flogged for it himself. Yet another report of the event suggests it was for a slight theft. 

The punishment was flogging. Tarrah was tied down and the Captain ordered him to be lashed 25 times with a cat o’nine tails; a whip multiplied nine-fold with lengths of coarse, thin rope, knotted at the ends. It could shred the skin of a man’s back and even the flesh underneath. One lurid newspaper account from 1910 describes Tarrah receiving his lashes as onlookers leered and jeered at him, piling humiliation upon his agony which would account for his later actions.

Tarrah certainly didn’t take the punishment with the indifference sea dogs of the age were accustomed to receiving such agony. Tarrah received his flogging towards the start of the voyage and the rest of Boyd’s crew had forgotten about it by the time they reached Whangaroa. Although he’d since continued with his duties in sullen silence, this proud young Maori nobleman had forgotten nothing. The flogging had been the severest of violations and demanded violent utu retribution.

In blissful ignorance, Captain Thompson sailed the Boyd into the tree-rimmed Whangaroa Bay in December.

Tarrah’s father had been waiting avidly for his son’s return and, once the brig had dropped anchor, his warriors sped across the water in their narrow, swift canoes and swarmed up the sides of the brig to greet Tarrah with their customary rubbing of noses.

The Captain thought it prudent to allow Tarrah to go ashore together with a handful of crew members to secure the fine bounty of wood they’d sailed so far for. Tarrah hence returned in the Maori canoes for his long awaited return home. 

Maori warrior with Taiaha weapon, New Zealand (

It should’ve been a joyful reunion, but after greeting his father, Tarrah took him to one side to vent about what the Captain had unforgivably done to him and displayed his unhealed wounds. 

The chieftain’s nostrils flared. He wanted to assault the Captain immediately for this outrage. Yet, his son had a plan for a most bloodthirsty revenge. They and their warriors were now thirsting for blood in the worst way imaginable. 

The Maori restrained themselves for three days no less… perhaps to work up an appetite. 

On the third day the chieftain invited the Captain to send a party of men ashore to a spot where there was a great stock of Kauri trees to be felled. Captain Thompson sent five men and once they were safely out of sight of the ship the Maori’s heinous massacre began. These five crewmen were clubbed to death and their bodies were carried away to be prepared for eating.

Their clothes were also taken to be used to disguise maori canoists for the next stage. 

At nightfall, the Boyd’s crew at last spotted their crewmates returning from ashore in a canoe belonging to ‘George’s’ village. And it was the familiar voice of the sulky Maori that called out to them in the darkness.

The officer of the watch oversaw the canoe approach and his five shipmates climb back aboard but stiffened with a barely perceptible sense of something wrong. Then, as the men clambered aboard their eyes met; the wide-eyed glare of a murderous savage and stunned seaman. As the significance of the moment registered, the hapless man fell under successive blows from a Taiaha club.

The assault on the Boyd was swift and stealthy, and only witnessed for posterity because a handful of crew managed to clamber up into the rigging before they could be spotted. More Maori now swarmed onto the Boyd who’d been waiting out of sight to be called. Now that the night watch had been murdered, the vengeful islanders proceeded to call the dozens of people below to come up on deck, where they were butchered then dismembered for a great feast that was being prepared.

A feast of human flesh being prepared on nearby Vanatu (

The terror those hidden above must have felt, looking down breathlessly at the candle lit deck as the Captain, men, women and children were slaughtered by the pitiless brutes can only be imagined.

By dawn the islanders had departed and only now could the survivors who had spent the night up the masts sigh in relief when another canoe approached to provide their rescue. 

The approaching canoe carried a chieftain who was well inclined towards Europeans. His name was Te Pahi. He had visited Sydney four years before and had now come to trade with the Boyd. 

Te Pahi was happy to take aboard the survivors on his canoe. As they set off for shore, however, the Europeans gasped at the sight of two Whangaroa canoes in hot pursuit. Te Pahi managed to get the survivors ashore for them to dash off, yet he could do nothing to stop their pursuers and witnessed the Whangaroan canoeists beach and catch and kill all but one of their prey. 

66 of the 70 souls aboard the Boyd were butchered and turned to ‘longpig’ in a feast where perhaps hundreds of Tarrah’s tribe gorged themselves on human flesh. It may have lasted for days as the detritus of cannibalism – human bones, skulls, and half eaten limbs littered their village clearings. 

Later the Whangaroans towed the Boyd to be beached and ransacked, especially for its prized stocks of muskets and gunpowder. As they were in the process of this, a flint ignited the gunpowder causing a spectacular explosion. 15 Maori including Tarrah’s Chieftain father were blown sky-high and the Boyd burned to the waterline.

The Boyd explodes (


Of the survivors, Ann Morley with her baby and apprentice Thomas Davis were spared because they showed Tarrah compassion and friendship after he received his sadistic punishment days before, according to some accounts. And a two-year-old Elizabeth “Betsey” Broughton was taken by a local chief who put a feather in her hair and kept her for three weeks before she was rescued. The Boyd’s 2nd mate tried to stay off the menu by making himself useful. He endeavoured to make fish hooks but proved incompetent at this, so he too was butchered.

30 miles (50km) away news reached Alexander Berry of the awful massacre. Berry was not only Captain of the City of Edinburgh but a hard frontier mariner to boot. He set off immediately to rescue the rumoured survivors. Once in the vicinity, Berry captured two local chieftains to trade for the survivors. The survivors were returned to him but Berry then demanded the Boyd’s papers before he would finally release the chieftains.

But the saga did not end there. It ended most unfortunately for the one well-disposed Maori who’d actually tried to save the survivors.

The Whaler’s Revenge

Three months on, after the European community had time to process and get a clearer picture of the enormity of the atrocity that had occured, Te Pahi’s name kept cropping up as the man who’d led the attack on the Boyd. This appears to be simple mistaken identity as his name was very similar to Te Puhi, one of the plotters of the massacre.

The crews of five whaling ships being confident of their combined numbers set off with the obstinate aim of investigating the coastline and rescue any possible survivors. But no doubt they sought to spill blood of their own and provide the Whanaroans the kind of musketry none coveted.

They landed at Te Pahi’s ‘Pa’. There, they ran amok, cutting down at least 60 of its defenders before returning to their boats with the village now a smouldering tangle of death and disarray. They also badly wounded the innocent Te Pahi. A small boat of the Boyd’s and some booty were discovered as if to vindicate the misdirected raid, however.

Having his village destroyed, his people killed and himself wounded for an attack he hadn’t even approved of caused Te Pahi to feel no little ill will towards his Whangaroan neighbours. The enraged Chieftain led his remaining warriors on a raid of his own on their village where the old warrior died from a spear thrust.


In the passing decades relations between encroaching Europeans and the Maori tribes would, of course, turn pacific, but for the immediate future the Boyd Massacre sent shockwaves across the British Empire and all interested European parties, severely denting the perception of Maoris as being ‘noble savages’. Instead New Zealand became the islands where its murderous cannibals must be given a wide berth. 

A planned visit of missionaries was delayed until 1814 and shipping to New Zealand fell away to almost nothing for the next three years as a result of this grisly chapter in New Zealand history. 


Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Phineas Gage, the Man Who Survived the Impossible When an Iron Bar Skewered His Brain

To survive was one-in-a-million, but to almost completely recover is incomprehensible. The side-effects, however, made him shunned by decent society

A moral man, Phineas Gage

Tamping powder down holes for his wage

Blew his special-made probe

Through his left frontal lobe

Now he drinks, swears, and flies in a rage.

(Anonymous limerick)

On September 13, 1848, an unbelievable medical marvel occurred.

A foreman named Phineas Gage was toiling at the head of a work-gang who were blast­ing rock to pre­par­e the road­bed to lay railroad track on the under-construction Rut­land & Bur­ling­ton Rail­road in Ver­mont, USA,

A fit, strong man, sound of mind, temperament and morality, Gage was 25 at the time and his employers described him as “the most efficient and capable foreman in their employ”.

Setting a blast entailed boring a hole deep into an out­crop of rock; adding blast­ing pow­der and a fuse; then using the tamping iron to pack (‘tamp’) sand, clay, or other material into the hole above the powder in order to contain the blast’s energy and direct it into surrounding rock.

A freak instance of fate then shattered Gage’s life forever.

He stood over his tamping iron as he worked when one of his men drew his attention.

Gage’s head was turned over his right shoulder and his mouth was open mid-speech when his life changed forever.

At that precise moment, his tamping iron sparked against the rock and ignited the explosive powder.

The iron bar, 1.25in (3.2 cm) thick, 3ft, 7in (1.1 m) long, and weighing 13.25lbs (6.0 kg)‍ shot out the hole like a cannonball and straight up into Gage’s cranium.

A diagram showing how the tapering iron skewered Gage’s cranium (

In a flash, the pointed, smooth, cylindrical bar skewered the foreman’s brain, entering the left side of Gage’s face in an upward direction, just forward of the angle of the lower jaw.

Continuing upward outside the upper jaw it possibly fractured the cheekbone, before passing behind the left eye, through the left side of the brain, then completely out the top of the skull through the frontal bone.​​

The tamping iron landed like a javelin point-first some 80 feet (25 m) away “smeared with blood and brain”.

Gage was thrown onto his back and convulsed violently for a few minutes. Instead of perishing, however, this incredibly robust fellow started to speak.

Within minutes and, with only little assistance, Gage walked over and sat upright on an oxcart for a ride back to town.

Within half an hour of the accident physician Edward Williams arrived to find Gage sitting outside his hotel and was greeted with perhaps the greatest understatement in medical history:

“When I drove up he said, “Doctor, here is business enough for you.” I first noticed the wound upon the head before I alighted from my carriage, the pulsations of the brain being very distinct… Mr. Gage, during the time I was examining this wound, was relating the manner in which he was injured to the bystanders.”

“I did not believe Mr. Gage’s statement at that time, but thought he was deceived. Mr. Gage persisted in saying that the bar went through his head. Mr. G. got up and vomited; the effort of vomiting pressed out about half a teacupful of the brain [through the exit hole at the top of the skull], which fell upon the floor.”

Another doctor by the name Harlow arrived later and related his shock at Gage’s injury:

“You will excuse me for remarking here, that the picture presented was, to one unaccustomed to military surgery, truly terrific; but the patient bore his sufferings with the most heroic firmness. He recognized me at once, and said he hoped he was not much hurt. He seemed to be perfectly conscious, but was getting exhausted from the hemorrhage. His person, and the bed on which he was laid, were literally one gore of blood.”

Convalescence and Recovery

Both physicians cleaned up the wound, bandaged it loosely for it to drain and applied a nightcap.

They also applied bandages to his arms which had been deeply burned by the blast, as had Gage’s face, and on that first evening on the long road of convalescence, Harlow noted: “Mind clear. Constant agitation of his legs, being alternately retracted and extended … Says he ‘does not care to see his friends, as he shall be at work in a few days.’”

Despite his own optimism, Gage’s convalescence was long, difficult, and uneven. Though recognizing his mother and uncle — summoned from Lebanon, New Hampshire, 30 miles (50 km) away‍ — ‌ on the morning after the accident, on the second day, he “lost control of his mind, and became decidedly delirious”

His condition ebbed and flowed over the coming days, and the fellow’s friends and family braced themselves for his inevitable passing with a coffin at the ready.

Yet, the moment never came.

One of the factors which saved Gage’s life was Dr Harlow’s experience with cerebral abscess, and the good doctor was compelled to drain eight ounces [250 ml] of excessively fetid, ill-conditioned pus and blood from the wound.

By the 24th day Gage “succeeded in raising himself up, and took one step to his chair”.

Despite all the odds, he was on the road to recovery.

“Disfigured, yet still handsome” (

After 10 weeks, Gage could return to his mother’s home, and by February the following year had recovered so extraordinarily, he could do light work around the farm.

In less than a year of an iron bar shooting through the man’s skull, he could do a good half-day’s work and his physical damage appeared restricted to mild memory loss and loss of use of his left eye.

“No Longer Gage”

Another factor to explain Gage’s survival was the fact the tamping bar skewered his Frontal Lobe and not more critical lobes of the brain. In simple terms, damage to the Frontal Lobe affects memory and planning, and psychological functions linked to morality and substance abuse, amongst others.

Out of all the parts of the brain to suffer a spiked bar fly through it, the Frontal Lobe is the best cerebral section to endure that injury.

Gage may have been the first case to prove that the brain determined personality based on his startling change of character as a result of his horrific accident.

Dr Harlow noted changes in Gage’s behaviour within three years of his accident, particularly in the first few months.

Although the man’s intelligence, and memory even, appeared fine his temperament and morality, in contrast, were completely scrambled.

Before the accident, Gage was known as hardworking, responsible, focused and popular with his men. Yet afterwards, Harlow noted: “He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not pre­vi­ous­ly his custom)”

And Harlow went on to describe how he could be extremely obstinate one moment then capricious and vacillating at others.

He stated: “A child in his intel­lec­tu­al capacity and man­i­fes­ta­tions, he has the animal passions of a strong man.

For a while, folks even came to avoid his company as he was described as “gross, coarse and vulgar to such a degree his [company] was intolerable to decent people.”

1851 report based on information from Harlow (

More salacious rumours that he became a wife-beating, psychopathic, degenerate layabout were gross exaggerations or outright lies, however. For starters, he wasn’t married.

Later Life

In November 1849, as the rumours and scepticism of his injury spread Gage was invited to Boston to present himself to the Boston Society for Medical Improvement, after Harvard University’s Professor of Surgery examined Gage’s cranium to establish that the unbelievable accident had actually happened.

Since he’d lost his old job, Gage toured around for three years exhibiting himself; appearing for example as one of ‘Two Wonders of the World’ at a Vermont exhibition alongside ‘General Washburn, the living dwarf skeleton’. But made a poor living from these exhibitions.

He managed to scrape enough money together to travel down to Chile in August ’52 to work as a long-distance stagecoach driver on the ValparaísoSantiago route.

He took with him the tamping bar he reacquired as his constant companion.

During this time of employment Gage managed to recover the responsibility and decency he’s once been known for, and demonstrated full mental faculties for which the job of stagecoach demanded, including forward planning, care for the horses and courtesy with the passengers, etc.

Yet, by 1859 the hardships of the job caused his health to decline again and he returned to recuperate in San Francisco with his mother and sister.

Despite recovering enough to begin working again, by February 1860, Gage began to suffer severe epileptic seizures and succumbed to them four months later.

He was 36 at the time.

Phineas Gage’s impossible survival of his accident is down to the fact the bar transitioned through less critical cerebral tissue; his fitness; and prompt, skilled medical attention.

But his almost complete physical, mental and psychological recovery make this a tale to be remembered.

In 1866 Harlow, who was by then a prominent physician, busi­ness­man, and civic leader in Massachusetts ​​somehow learned that Gage had died and, at Harlow’s request, the Gage’s family had his skull exhumed and delivered it to Harlow themselves.


Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: