London Beer Flood, 1814

What occurred to cause a tidal-wave of beer to slosh down the slums of London? Read on to find out the devastation caused.

If we’ve all got to meet the reaper some day or other, some folks might say that drowning in beer isn’t the worst way to go.

It was 1814 and the Meux Brewery was one of the largest in London, UK, and its owner, Henry Meux Jr, had built a huge wooden vessel at the Horse Shoe Brewery 6.7m (22 feet) tall in order to store porter, a dark beer that was London’s most popular drink.

This giant vat was held together by no less than eighty tonnes of iron hoops, but on the afternoon of 17 October it was noticed that one of these hoops had slipped. This happened occasionally and when the storehouse clerk reported it, he was told “that no harm whatever would ensue” and that it would be fixed later.

Yet the vat was almost full and, an hour after the hoop slipped down, the vessel burst asunder without warning.

Some of the massive beer vats of London’s breweries (history.com)

The force of the liquid’s release damaged a neighbouring vat and several hogsheads of porter were also destroyed, and their contents all added to a terrific flood. Between 3600 and 9000 imperial barrels (600,000l to 1,500,000l or 150,000 to 390,000 US Gallons) were released.

The resultant tsunami of beer 4.6m (15 feet) high destroyed the rear wall of the brewery and swept into a street in St Giles Rookery.

Slum-dwellers were crushed or smashed by a violent mass of liquid and masonry. Others were drowned as the wave destroyed two houses and badly damaged others.

In the second destroyed house, a wake was being held by an Irish family for a two-year-old boy; Anne Saville, the boy’s mother, and four other mourners were tragically killed.

Furthermore, the land around the brewery, being low-lying and flat and with insufficient drainage, the beer flowed into many inhabited cellars.

A total of eight adults and children sadly perished.

Several hundred spectators came to view the scene, and stories later arose of hundreds of people collecting the beer and getting so drunk that one person died from alcohol poisoning.

Boston’s Great Molasses Flood, 1919

Boston was hit by one of the weirdest disasters ever heard of, when the city docksides were deluged by a wave of sticky molasses. Read about the suffering it inflicted and how the city’s streets reeked for years after.

Molasses (Black Treacle) is a thick, heavy substance refined from sugar cane. In Boston, 1919, the Purity Distilling Company used it to ferment ethanol, the stuff used to manufacture alcohol and even munitions at the time.

Shipments were stored in a giant tank on the harbourside which stood 15 m (50 ft) tall by 27 m (90 ft) in diameter and contained as much as 8,700,000L (2,300,000 US gal). At midday in mid-January, possibly due to thermal heating, the stored liquid expanded and the huge container burst open and collapsed.

Witnesses reported that they felt the ground shake and heard a roar, a long rumble similar to the passing of an elevated train; others reported a tremendous crashing, a deep growling, “a thunderclap-like bang!”, and a machine gun-like sound as the rivets shot out of the tank.

The liquid is much heavier than water and so was extremely destructive as a wave smashed and sploshed across the harbour, 8 m (25 ft) high at its peak and moving at 35 mph (56 km/h). Several blocks around were flooded.

The Boston Post reported: “Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage… Here and there struggled a form — whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was… Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings — men and women — suffered likewise.

The thick, heavy wave of molasses devastated Boston’s harbourside (bostonglobe.com)

21 people and several horses died, and over a hundred more people were injured. The clean-up took weeks. The event passed into folklore and for years afterwards the streets still reeked sickly sweet on hot Summers’ days.

The Dancing Plague, 1518

It baffles people now as it did then, when hundreds of people around 16th Century Strasbourg danced and danced till they could dance no more. Read about its potential cause and the remedies phycisians came up with

One Summer’s day in 1518 down a narrow street in Strasbourg, France an odd thing occurred; people turned to notice a woman dancing.

Why? No one had a clue but she continued ever more feverishly and without a break for four to six days.

More alarmingly within a week, 34 others joined in and within a month there were around 400 dancers, predominantly female.

This ‘Dancing Plague’, as it became known, took such a hold on them they couldn’t stop, not to eat or rest and many died from exhaustion, stroke or heart attacks. For a period, the plague was killing 15 people a day.

The crowd could not stop dancing until utter exhaustion forced them to collapse. (thepsychologist.bps.org.uk)

So what caused this bizarre behaviour? The most plausible explanation is that it was a psychogenic disorder — a physical illness that’s believed to arise from emotional or mental stressors. People were going through particularly tough times, even by Medieval standards, with the region riddled with starvation and disease and this accounted for them being exceptionally stressed.

Local physicians were sought out and advised that the afflicted shouldn’t stop until the dancing wore off. To this end the city authorities took over two guildhalls and a grain market, even building a stage for musicians to open, essentially, the world’s first-ever disco.

Yet, it was a disaster as the illness underwent a dramatic growth; performing dances in more public spaces allowed this psychic ‘contagion’ to spread.

One historian states that a marathon runner couldn’t have lasted the intense workout that these men and women did hundreds of years ago.

Trucker Wins Lottery Twice, 1999

Bill Morgan’s fortunes went from catastrophic to fantastic when the lucky trucker recovered from being on life support to winning a car and massive windfall on two scratch-cards, even winning the 2nd ‘scratchie’ live on air. Watch and read about it here.

Luck can be like buses, you wait for ages then several come at once, and so it happened to Aussie trucker Bill Morgan.

The tale doesn’t start well however, he had a nasty crash and once at hospital reacted badly to the drugs he was given, suffering a massive heart attack which stopped his heart for 14 minutes. He was put into a coma. His doctors declared him clinically dead and his family were preparing to say their goodbyes before turning off his life support.

12 days in, however, he miraculously awoke from his coma and was absolutely fine. It was a miracle! Bill’s newfound appreciation for life made him quit his trucking career and he proposed to his long time girlfriend within a year.

What’s more Bob wanted to see how far his streak of luck could go. He went out to buy a scratch card (a ‘scratchie’ as they’re known ‘down under’) and won himself a $17,000 car.

Normally winning a car wouldn’t be a newsworthy event, but in the wider context of what Bob had gone through, a local Melbourne news channel thought it would be good to do a story on him and asked him to go back to re-enact the win on camera.

So Bob duly did, he bought another scratchie and, on camera, began scratching clear another card… and only won himself another $250,000 on air!

So Bob duly did, he bought another scratchie and, on camera, began scratching clear another card… and only won himself another $250,000 on air!

Watch the magical moment Bill wins his 2nd scratch card on air!

Man Cuts off Own Arm to Save Life, 2003

Adventurer Aron Ralston found himself in a heck of a pickle when a boulder landed and trapped his arm while out hiking. With no help coming, he knew he’d have to do the unthinkable if he wanted to live; cut off his own arm.

It was May 1st, 2003 and a man named Aron Ralston found himself well and truly between a rock and a hard place.

He was alone at the bottom of Bluejohn Canyon starving, dehydrated, beginning to hallucinate, and was in the grip of death’s maw.

All this was because his right hand was pinned to the canyon wall by a 360 kg (800 lb) chockstone and it refused to budge or break no matter what Aron tried.

After five days of this predicament he’d come to accept that, in order to ever see his family again, he and his hand were going to have to part ways.

The problem was how to break through the bones to do so. How the hell had he got into this predicament anyway?

27-year-old Aron Ralston had once worked as a mechanical engineer for a few years but found himself burned out working in a large corporation. In 2002 he quit and moved to Aspen, Colorado in order to pursue a life of climbing mountains.

He’d actually had a brush with death before, surviving a major avalanche on Resolution Peak, Colorado.

Now, five days earlier, canyoning down the dark nether-regions of the Bluejohn slot canyon a suspended boulder was dislodged as he clambered over it and smashed his left hand before crushing his right against the canyon wall.

Aron was alone, hadn’t informed anyone of his plans, and had no way to call for help.

Audio from Aron Ralston’s video footage

He spent five days slowly sipping his small amount of remaining water and eating his small amount of food while repeatedly trying to extricate his arm, but his efforts were futile.

By the fourth day he came to terms with the fact that he had to cut through the arm bones, but his dull 5.1 cm (2 inch) pen-knife was not up to the task.

Eventually, delirious, he had the epiphany to break his radius and ulna bones using torque against his trapped arm. He did so and used his pen-knife to cut through the rest.

Aron hiked out of the canyon, came across a Dutch family who gave him food and water before calling in a rescue chopper and he was rescued just four hours after amputating his arm. Aron Ralston went on to write a book of his harrowing experience, became a motivational speaker, got married and had 2 children. A movie of his incredible tale was made called ‘127 Hours’.

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Erfurt Latrine Disaster, 1184

Oddball tales: A catastrophic disaster to befall the Holy Roman Empire barely heard of; when dozens of the Empire’s noblemen drowned… in a latrine.

A complex, multi-ethnic patchwork of kingdoms made up the Holy Roman Empire that was the most powerful Christian kingdom to arise from the ashes of the Dark Ages.

Politically it was a kaleidoscope of shifting alliances and rivalries as its greatest nobles incessantly manoeuvred for power.

In the year 1184 AD a feud between two of the empire’s most powerful leaders of the land was now reaching boiling point. On one side was Louis the Pious, Landgrave of Thuringia. On the other side was the Archbishop Conrad of Mainz.

This political schism was in danger of wrenching apart the mighty empire from within and could be ignored no longer.

On the way towards Poland on a military campaign King Heinrich VI of Germany halted in the Thuringian capital of Erfurt to call a meeting of nobles and end the dispute before it spiralled out of control.

So it was that a hundred or so of the empire’s most important Counts, Dukes and clergymen congregated in the meeting hall of the Church of St Peter in the summer of 1184.

St Peter’s Basilica in Erfurt (aworkstation.com)

Yet there was a hidden danger unbeknown to all and it would shortly spell the doom of many present.

The noblemen took their seats whilst the King sat apart from the highborn rabble in an alcove. The floor was wooden and creaked loudly as men moved over it. They took their seats and some looked down nervously, feeling how under-strain it was.

That floor was all that separated these dozens of men from a cellar below. The cellar however was a massive latrine filled with tonnes and tonnes of liquid smelly brown stuff, and must have been metres deep.

Indeed, one would imagine the stench was overwhelming the moment they entered the room; it is anyone’s guess why they chose to meet there in the first place.

An ear-splitting crack sounded out a split second warning before they plunged into the dark pit below.

Alarmed calls and shrieks thundered off the stone walls as men struggled and foundered in the thick liquid, fighting a losing battle to keep their heads above the surface.

The survivors could only stare down breathlessly as they watched roughly 60 of their kin perish in the most humiliating manner a lord could possibly die.

The Erfurt Latrine Disaster sent a shock-wave through the empire as the staggering death toll included the Counts of Abinberc, Thuringia, Hesse, Kirchberg and Wartburg.

King Heinrich was said to have survived only because his alcove had a stone floor.

4 Disastrous Pranks

From wounded pride to suicide; find out how these four pranks went wrong in the worst ways possible.

Life needn’t always be so serious. It shouldn’t always be about the humdrum, work-consume-die existence. A good prank that doesn’t hurt or upset anyone can provide belly-aching laughter, fun and reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Numerous examples are out there and two spring to mind; there was the 1957 BBC April Fools ‘Panorama’ report which convinced many viewers that spaghetti was harvested from trees in Italy, and BBC ‘Radio One’ prank that involved ringing up two Chinese takeaway restaurants, connecting each other, each believing the other was the customer.

Yet, sometimes these shenanigans can go wrong. When they do it can lead to embarrassment, or worse – tragedy.

Here, are four of the most disastrous pranks to go awry.

War of The Worlds Panic

The somewhat OTT tabloid reaction to H. G. Wells’ radio drama (telegraph.co.uk)

Ah, the olden days; when people were so innocent, so naive. It was 1938 America and there was no internet, TV was in its infancy, and radio ruled supreme as the main broadcast media.

As a Halloween special ‘The Mercury Theatre on the Air‘ was airing a modern adaptation of H. G. Wells’s novel ‘The War of the Worlds‘, directed and narrated by famed filmmaker Orson Welles. What happened wasn’t so much a prank as a mass misunderstanding, but it was pretty amusing looking back at it.

The hour long show started with the announcement that it would be an adaptation of The War of the Worlds. There was a prelude then the next twenty minutes were presented as a typical evening of radio programming, being interrupted by a series of news bulletins which got steadily more dramatic from one to the next.

The first report is of odd explosions being seen on Mars; then of an unusual object observed falling on a farm in New Jersey.

It got worse as aliens with heat rays emerge, attacking people; New York is then attacked with the reporter’s line going dead and the fake report climaxes by detailing a devastating alien invasion taking place around the world and the futile efforts of the U.S. military to stop it.

Yet not everyone realised it was a work of fiction; some people tuned in only after the introduction and were completely duped and panicked.

Angry calls started pouring into the station and the show’s supervisor, turning as ‘pale as death’, was ordered to interrupt the show to make clear that it was just fiction.

The following hours were a nightmare.” the producer recalled, “bedlam reigned in the studio as the building was suddenly full of people and dark-blue uniforms.”

There were initial reports of suicides, stampedes and traffic chaos and the cast and production team spent the rest of the day thinking their show had panicked thousands and was responsible for the deaths of dozens.

Newspapers published at least 12,500 articles about the broadcast and its impact within three weeks, with most those that had been frightened not sure whether the ‘invaders’ were aliens or German Nazis. Yet the amount of panic is shown to be pretty exaggerated with relatively few listeners to the show.

Times Reporter Triggers Bargain Fever

(mirror.co.uk)

Check the calendar when reading weird news reports, folks. On April Fools 1972 The Times newspaper ran an article on UK travel agent Thomas Cook celebrating the 100th anniversary of its founder’s first round-the-world tour. Back in 1872 the tour had cost just 210 guineas each, about £500 ($650) nowadays and prices have, unsurprisingly, gone up since.

To celebrate the special day Times reporter John Carter published a small article to announce that Thomas Cook was offering around the world tours at 1872 prices to the first 1000 lucky applicants, and that applications should be addressed to a ‘Miss Avril Foley.’

The public response to this bargain-basement offer was swift and enthusiastic. Huge lines of people formed outside the Thomas Cook offices, and the travel agent was swamped with calls.

Belatedly the Times identified the offer as an April Fool’s joke and apologized for the inconvenience it had caused. The people who had waited in line for hours were, to put it mildly, not amused and Carter was fired (though later reinstated).

Radio Station Prank-call Ends in Nurse’s Suicide

Nurse Jacintha Saldanha, (left) Prince William (above right) and Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge (bottom right) (medium.com)

Did you ever try a prank call, as a teenager, perhaps?

Perhaps putting on a silly accent, to get a laugh? Just a harmless bit of fun, right?

Well, this prank ended very badly. On the 2nd of December, 2012 Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge was in hospital with acute morning sickness whilst pregnant with Prince George.

Two days into her stay, the hosts of the ‘Hot 30 Countdown’ radio programme, Mel Greig and Mike Christian, called the hospital for what they thought would be nothing more than a hilarious wind-up.

Using ‘ridiculous comedy accents’ they impersonated Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles and asked to be put through to ‘Kate’. The nurse who obliged was called Jacintha Saldanha. The two DJs were put through to Catherine’s nurse who, also duped, talked to them for a couple of minutes.

The stunt was broadcast the next day after the station’s lawyers cleared it to be aired and the hospital condemned it as ‘journalistic trickery’. Little did the radio station and it’s two DJ pranksters know what turmoil it had stirred up.

The sad fact is that Nurse Saldanha was an emotionally volatile lady who had a history of severe depression; it’s reported that Saldanha had attempted suicide on two previous occasions and was taking anti-depressant medication.

It seems that the nurse, 46 at the time, felt personally responsible for the media furore around the hospital and the embarrassment it had caused. She was also unhappy with how her managers had handled the breach of security, although neither Saldanha nor the other nurse were disciplined by the hospital, and St. James’s Palace indicated that they did not blame the nurses for their part in the incident.

On the 7th of December Saldanha hung herself, leaving behind a husband and two children.

Poor Water Gag Scares Residents

(change.org)

Radio hosts in Kansas City pulled off a pretty good April Fools prank in 2002; they created panic among listeners by reporting that local tap water contained high levels of dihydrogen monoxide. They said the naturally occurring substance could lead to frequent urination and wrinkling of the skin.

It’s not as bad as it sounds though; dihydrogen monoxide is the chemical name for water.

It’s surprising how knee-jerky some people can be; the police received more than 100 calls from worried residents and a city official likened the hoax to a terrorist act. In their defence the internet to check such things wasn’t in widespread use back then, still…

6 Disastrous Stunts

From moans and groans to broken bones; find out how these six stunts went wrong in the worst ways possible.

Life needn’t always be so serious. It shouldn’t always be about the humdrum, work-consume-die existence. We live, too, to be entertained.

Stunts do this by impressing us with people’s breath-taking skill and bravery, and are often spectacular.

They might involve escape artists like Houdini’s escape from a tank of water whilst suspended upside down in a straitjacket or Charlee Fotheringham who performed the first ever double backflip in a wheelchair.

Sometimes these shenanigans can go wrong, however. When they do it can lead to embarrassment, or worse – tragedy.

Here are 6 of the most disastrous stunts.

Fhat Sam’s Epic Roof Jump Fail

First up, some people have all the best ideas. A pseudo-genius going by the name ‘Fhat Sam’ decided to jump off a 5m (15ft) high roof onto a giant inflatable ball below in a parody of Felix Baumgartner’s jump from the edge of space.

We can only guess he doesn’t really fear pain like the rest of us because even if the stunt went as planned, the rebound off the ball would surely fling him up again and hit the ground with a heavy tumble anyhow. Unfortunately it went down even worse for this crash test dummy role model.

He dons a mock space suit and, as a young woman steadies the ball below, he gives the inspiring line “Sometimes you have to go really high to see how small you really are.”

Then he jumps. It’s taking the run-up that ruins it for him; he over jumps the ball, just brushing it with his cheeks before hitting the ground with an almighty phwack, bum first. His lower spine takes the full brunt and he lies in agony whilst the camera guy helpfully gets a closer camera shot of his friend’s distress.

Our intrepid stuntman comes back down to Earth in the worst way possible (youtube.com)

The girl asks if he is alright — I’ll be honest, he wasn’t. Just imagining it makes you cringe. He broke two vertebra in his back and spent a week in hospital. Lesson learned, hopefully.

Evel Knievel Canyon Jump

Knievel is lowered into his so called ‘Skycycle’ (magicvalley.com)

In the 1970s there was a man named Evel Knievel who became a US icon for his incredible motorcycle stunts. These typically involved launching himself off a ramp, flying over something crazy like ten lorries, then crashing upon landing, breaking numerous bones.

The man actually holds the record for most bone fractures — 433 by 1975!

Anyway, the problem with being a stuntman is in order to keep spectators coming back for more, you have to keep upping your game with ever more death-defying antics.

By 1974 he decided to attempt to jump the 487m (1600ft) wide and 152m (500ft) deep Snake River Canyon in a ‘Skycycle’ named so, despite being a steam-powered rocket.

The day came, the massive crowds gathered and cameras began to roll. Evel, donned in his iconic star-spangled jumpsuit, was ceremoniously lowered into his Skycycle.

His fans waited with bated breath as he was strapped in. It was one thing to jump a load of lorries but a whole canyon? This was something else.

The countdown reached zero then, whoosh, the rocket shot up the steep ramp it was mounted on. But something went immediately wrong; the safety parachute deployed as it lifted off the ramp, slowing its flight badly. Even though the craft soared all the way across the canyon to the north rim, winds caused it to drift back into the canyon.

By the time it hit the bottom of the canyon, it landed only a few feet from the water on the same side of the canyon it had been launched from. If he had landed in the water, Knievel said that he would have drowned, due to a harness malfunction which kept him strapped in the vehicle. As it was, he survived the failed jump with only minor physical injuries this time.

Chili Eating Burns Hole in Throat

One chilli eating occasion left a person with permanent damage (mirror.co.uk)

While most of us enjoy a curry with a good kick to it the thought of eating a seriously hot chilli pepper would fill us with dread.

Eating a Jalapeno pepper is bad enough for most; the pain is pretty intense and fills the mouth and back of the throat and it makes you sweat and tear up. On the Scoville scale, the measurement for how hot a pepper is, a Jalapeno scores 5000.

Sounds pretty high? Then compare that with a Ghost Pepper which scores a whopping 850,000!

Of course, there are these hardy souls in the world who chow down on super hot peppers just for fun, presumably with wax-lined oesophagus’s to bear the heat and actually enjoy eating the things. Well, one guy tried to join this pantheon of gods but couldn’t quite cut the mustard.

In 2016 an unnamed American tried to step up to the mark and it went disastrously.

The man reportedly ate a burger smothered in Ghost Pepper puree and the heat was so intense he writhed in pain and vomited so badly that he tore a 2.5cm (1 inch) hole in his oesophagus. After spending 23 days in hospital he was discharged with a gastric tube.

Bloody End to Tiger Performance

Roy Horn moments before getting mauled by a 230kg (500lbs) Siberian Tiger (usatoday.com)

Performing with animals, though more frowned upon nowadays, has always drawn in the crowds, perhaps because it displays our mastery over the rest of the animal kingdom.

To tame a mighty lion with a chair or stick one’s head in the gaping, tooth lined crocodile’s maw is to defy a beast’s instinctive savagery.

Siegfried and Roy, a duo who performed magic tricks and worked with white lions and tigers, were one of the top headline acts on the Las Vegas Strip.

One performance with a white Tiger named Mantecore, however, would almost end their double act for good in 2003.

During a show at the Mirage Casino Mantecore attacked Roy. Roy held a microphone to Mantecore’s mouth and told him to say “Hello” to the audience when something triggered Mantecore to attack.

Why is anyone’s guess; perhaps they caught him on an off day and failed to see the signs or maybe it’s because, you know, Mantecore was a 230kg (500lb) apex predator.

Anyway, Mantecore sunk his teeth into Roy’s sleeve as Roy swatted the Tiger and barked “release!”. Mantecore then knocked Roy down with his leg and pinned him to the floor. As standby trainers rushed in from offstage to fight off the big cat, Mantecore bit into Roy’s neck and carried him offstage.

Trainers were finally able to get the tiger to release Roy after spraying him with CO2 canisters but not before the attack severed Roy’s spine, inflicted critical blood loss, and caused severe crush injuries to other parts of his body, permanently affecting his ability to move, walk, and speak. Roy also suffered a stroke.

He would learn to walk and talk again but the duo retired in 2010.

Radio Station Game Leaves Three with Frostbite

Dry ice (bonappetit.com)

Endurance challenges can be fun. Think of holding on to a car with the last person standing winning that car, what’s the worst that could happen, getting a full bladder or a little bit of foot ache from standing for too long? It’s just a question of will power.

That is probably what Birmingham’s BRMB radio station thought in August 2001. Yet, they challenged contestants to sit on blocks of dry ice to win tickets and backstage passes for a music festival in the city.

The payoff for four contestants who endured sitting on the ice was severe frostbite.

That’s right, it didn’t occur to any of the challenge organisers that sitting with bare skin on blocks of carbon dioxide frozen to temperatures of -78C (-108F) might be a tad too cold.

Two women and a man spent about 10 weeks in hospital recovering from extensive skin grafts. They suffered the loss of skin, fat and muscle and were left with permanent scarring.

Helen Terry, 25 recalled: “It was just horrendous. You just don’t think anything like that is going to happen. I was told it was the worst burns that the nurses at the unit had ever seen. The surgeon said that if the burns had been on my hands or feet, they would have been amputated — that’s how serious it was.

The radio station was fined £15,000 for the gaff.

Train Crash for Publicity

Train Crash at Crush, Texas in the name of publicity (pinterest.com)

We know that back in olden times people were kind of dumber back then, in the sense that life held less value and so health and safety could be pretty casual and if things didn’t quite go to plan and someone got killed in the process then, well, shit happens.

It’s 1896 USA and you are a marketing guru who has been charged with promoting train ticket sales to Texas, what do you do?

Stage a train crash in a mocked up town, of course! The idea was to sell tickets so that people could visit the town and make a jamboree of it, with amusements and sideshows to the main event. 50,000 people attended.

But, don’t worry folks they weren’t dismissive of health and safety as was the style of the time, they took it seriously big time.

Spectators to the crash rail track had to stay a whole 180m (200yards) back and reporters half that — I bet they couldn’t even make out the names on the drivers’ name badges they were so safely far away.

The plan was that two steam locomotives would be driven at each other on a specially built train track with time given for the crews to jump off before collision. Impacting at 45mph (72kph), the locomotive boilers unexpectedly exploded. Three people were killed and dozens were injured. 

Sounds like a scene which could’ve made it into the movie ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’.

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 (historycollection.com)

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 (World4.eu)

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 (en.wikipedia.org)

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 (en.wikipedia.org)

Survivors

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.

Aftermath

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. 

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10 Little-Known British Natural Disasters

Read about the worst that Mother Nature has thrown at Britain

When Mother Nature gets angry the effects can be both spectacular and catastrophic. You’ll rarely hear stories of homes getting obliterated by violent winds, buildings rocking on their foundations or tornadoes tearing across the land emanate from Great Britain, however.

The UK has, it seems, a very droll climate, yet you’d be surprised by the extreme weather events and natural disasters that have actually occurred on this supposedly green and pleasant land.

Cyclone

Between a tree and a hard place; two of Britain’s iconic telephone boxes sandwiched by one of the 15 million trees uprooted that night (alamy.com)

The Great Storm of 1987 was an event immortalized in the annals of British pop culture by preeminent BBC weatherman Michael Fish denying on live TV that a storm was on its way, only to eat his words hours later.

On the night of 15th/16th of October, the great storm ploughed into the English south coast and gave the country a thorough battering before coming out the other side again at The Wash.

With the highest gusts measuring 135mph (217km/h), 15 million trees were felled, blocking roads and crushing cars.

Roofs and windows were smashed and several hundred thousand people were left without power, not fully restored until more than two weeks later. At sea, one ferry capsized.

18 people perished and the damage totalled over two billion pounds.

Heatwave

1st August 1911: Men sleeping on the sands at Westcliff, Essex during the 1911 heatwave (notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com)

For a country known for its rain and mild climate, the UK has endured some pretty brutal heatwaves over the decades.

The worst of them was the heatwave of 1911. For over two months, temperature records were smashed, with a high of 36.7 °C (98.1 °F).

It got so hot rural workers in Lancashire had to adopt a ‘siesta’ workday where they would quit the mid-afternoon swelter to return to their labours in the evening. Whilst on the London Docks thousands of workers went on strike in desperation to escape toiling in the merciless heat.

2500-4000 souls, including over 600 babies, succumbed to the punishing heat before it abated.

Tsunami

“So violent and swift were the outragiouse waves…” (volcanocafe.com)

You might find it hard to believe, but some evidence suggests a tsunami devastated the coastline of the Bristol Channel in 1607AD.

It drowned thousands of people, swept away houses and villages and destroyed whole flocks of cattle.

A contemporary account of the event described the disaster: “… so violent and swift were the outragiouse waves, that pursued one an other, with such vehemencie, and the Waters multiplying so much in so short a time, that… most part of those cuntreys (and especially the places which lay lowe) were all over flowen, and many hundreds of people both men women, and children were then quite devoured, by these outragious waters, such was the furie of the waves, of the Seas, the one of them dryving the other forwardes with such force and swiftnes.

Tornado

Tornado or terrorism? Carnage aftermath of 2005 Birmingham Tornado (BBC.com)

The UK actually gets about 35 twisters each year, though admittedly, quite weak ones.

In Birmingham 2005, however, a tornado tore through the city, briefly reaching F3 status on the Fujita scale.

It picked up cars and flung them around, ripped the tower off a primary school and uprooted 1100 trees, among other damage caused. 19 people were injured and 40 million pounds of damage was caused.

In 1981 the UK was hit by an outbreak of over 100 tornadoes in the space of five hours on November the 23rd. Although the strongest reached just F2 status, hundreds of properties were damaged. It was the largest recorded tornado outbreak in European history.

Drought

One of Britain’s many parched reservoirs (todayifoundout.com)

Although Britain is notorious for its frequent showers, it has suffered a number of droughts in recent history.

The UK was absolutely parched and desperate for a thirst-quenching downpour by the end of the summer of 1976. This was the most severe drought in living memory.

The warmest Summer in 350 years was preceded by an exceptionally dry 12 months including the previous winter which received only 61% of the rainfall expected.

In the Summer of ’76 some parts of South West England hadn’t seen a drop of rain for 45 days and by August the situation had deteriorated to the extent Parliament passed the Drought Act.

This resulted in thousands of homes in Yorkshire and East Anglia having their water supply replaced by communal standpipes in the streets, and many house-holders in Wales and the west of England were left without tap water for much of the day.

Meanwhile, crops were badly hit; £500 million pounds worth of crops were wasted resulting in a 12% jump in food prices.

The Haweswater Reservoir dried up so much it held just 10% capacity.

September rains finally broke what had become the driest 16 month period in more than a quarter of a millennium.

Snow Storm

Men work to dig out one of the many snowed in trains during the ‘Big Freeze, 1963 (dovegreyreader.typepad.com)

The UK once made a sterling attempt to imitate the frigid Siberian Tundra in what became dubbed the ‘Big Freeze’ of 1963. It was the coldest winter in 200 years with an average temperature of −2.1 °C (28.2 °F) in the month of January.

In Scotland the thermometer bottomed out at an arctic −19.4 °C (−2.9 °F).

A blizzard hit Britain just before the turn of the year and snowdrifts formed up to 6 metres (20 ft) in places. My father remembers it as the winter when he awoke one morning to find the snow was up to his bedroom window!

On the 20th of January 283 workers had to be rescued by RAF helicopters from Fylingdales, where they had been snowbound for several days.

In February people had to endure a whopping 36-hour-long blizzard. The transport network was severely disrupted and farmers could only keep their flocks from starving by dropping food to them from helicopters.

Meanwhile, lakes and waterways froze over and could be skated on. The Thames even saw its first car rally on the ice.

Even the sea off the Kent coastline froze to a mile out. The Chatham Dockyard was only kept open with the use of an icebreaker.

Most of the country was covered in snow for January and February and it was only until March that this once temperate land began to thaw out.

At least 50 people died in this artic spell.

Wildfire

The Scottish Highlands on fire (wildfiretoday.com)

From ice to fire, we’ve been awed by the footage of raging forest fires that break out every year across vast swathes of the USA and Australia, torching everything in their path to a crisp, but the UK also regularly gets wildfires.

One of the worst of these was a wildfire which ignited in Scotland, of all places, in 2019.

Dry conditions and high winds caused the flames to spread aggressively and at its height, 80 firefighters were tackling the blaze.

In just the first day, the fire incinerated more than 40 square kilometres (10,000 acres) and created a plume of smoke that could be seen from space.

Later, firefighters thought they had tackled most of the blaze and left the scene. However, it reignited and scorched another 50 square kilometres (12,400 acres).

Avalanche

The aftermath and rescue efforts of the Lewes Avalanche (historic-uk.com)

The winter of 1836 was an exceptionally severe one and blizzards had swept across the island, even to the very south of it over the South Downs around Lewes town.

One of the hills above and around the town, Cliffe Hill, though not very big, did have a very steep slope and at its base was a row of cottages.

The blizzard conditions had caused a huge amount of snow to accumulate into a cornice hanging over the row of houses, and even back then they could see the danger and the cottage residents were advised to evacuate, but they chose not to.

When the accumulation of snow finally gave way, 15 people were judged to have been in the houses below.

One eyewitness described what happened: “The mass appeared to strike the houses first at the base, heaving them upwards, and then breaking over them like a gigantic wave. There was nothing but a mound of pure white.”

A rescue operation by townspeople succeeded in pulling seven survivors from the wreckage before hypothermia or suffocation could claim them, but eight other individuals were found dead.

The Lewes Avalanche remains Britain’s deadliest ever.

Landslide

Racked by grief, a mother says goodbye at a funeral of one of the 116 children who perished that day (businessinsider.com)

The story of a horrific landslide that hit Aberfan in Wales on 21st October 1966.

The village is nestled on the slopes of the Brecon Beacon mountain range where mining was an integral part of the economy.

Over the years a spoil tip (accumulated waste material removed during mining) had been negligently built up on the slopes above the village.

A period of heavy rain in the days leading up led to a build-up of water within the tip which caused it to suddenly slide downhill.

Those who heard the mass of mine mud surging down towards them said the sound reminded them of a low-flying jet or thunder.

The tragedy was that it wasn’t just houses in the path of this slurry of death; Pantglas Junior School also lay in its path and was full of students when the wall of sludge overwhelmed them and snuffed out most of their short lives.

Feverish rescue efforts managed to save dozens of buried adults and children yet, sadly, 144 people died that day, including five teachers and 109 pupils from the school.

Earthquake

An elderly woman is helped from her home through rubble after a 4.3 earthquake in Folkestone in 2007 (thesun.co.uk)

Although the UK is clearly not earthquake-prone, it may interest you to know that 200–300 tremors and mild quakes are detected every year by the British Geological Survey.

On June, 7th, 1931 a severe earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter Scale hit 60 miles (97 km) off the Yorkshire coast in the North Sea which toppled chimneys and caused cliffs to crumble. A woman also died from a heart attack triggered by the shocking event.

Flood

Due to flooding around Foulness in Kent, a herd of cattle takes sanctuary around an old abandoned farm (channel4.com)

This is one natural disaster we British are very familiar with, particularly around my corner of the island in the Cotswold Hills. It makes me recall driving to work in 2007 over the top of the hills with the bizarre sensation of being surrounded by lakes of floodwater on either side of the road.

The worst flood, indeed natural disaster, to befall the UK in modern times undoubtedly has to be the North Sea Flood of 1953.

On New Year’s Eve a combination of roaring winds and a high spring tide forced seawater to rise and overwhelm the inadequate sea defences along the south-east coast of England (not to mention of Belgium and the Netherlands).

The sea level swelled so quickly, thousands were caught off guard as water surged into their homes and businesses. 250 square kilometres (65,000 acres) of land were submerged.

People were forced to wait for rescue as the water continued to rise, with an account of at least one family forced to spend the night exposed to the elements on the roof of their house as the waters sloshed around them. Houses and livestock were washed out to sea as water levels rose by 4m (16ft).

The death toll is estimated at 307 plus another 224 at sea, and 30,000 had to be evacuated. There was also a whopping £50 million pounds worth of damage.

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