Dangerous Engines of Destruction

Dangerous Engines of Destruction

The Golden Jubilee of King George III would be celebrated with a bang by the local Volunteers at Galhampton, near Castle Cary, on 25 October 1809. The Volunteers, commanded by Colonel Woodforde, had placed a battery of cannon near Galhampton House in order to fire salutes to the monarch on entering the fiftieth year of his reign. The Volunteers were not to be denied the Jubilee rejoicings, and were attending a public dinner in Castle Cary, together with the other festivities in the town. Captain John Burge had been given responsibility for the care of the battery, and had left Thomas Millard, a member of his Company, together with another Volunteer, in charge of the guns.

No officer or NCO was left to supervise the two Volunteers, and it would seem that they became bored and idle fingers can make mischief. Thomas Millard decided to light the touch-hole of one of the cannon as a jolly jape. However, the gun did not fire, and so Millard took a ram rod and standing in front of the muzzle, thrust it down the barrel whilst the touch-hole was still smouldering. The result was a foregone conclusion because the cannon immediately discharged and the unfortunate but foolish Thomas Millard, busily pushing the ram rod down the barrel was blown to pieces. The remains of poor Volunteer Millard, some of which had been propelled for some distance, were collected up, and what was left of the twenty four years old deceased were buried in the Parish Churchyard on 29 October 1809.

“Never, never, let your gun be pointed at anyone” begins the exhortation drummed into the heads of generations of recruits to Her Majesty’s Armed Forces by gunnery instructors when firearms are first handed out and they are taught how to use them. As exhortations go this was, and continues to be, an extremely sensible one and perhaps if it had been given to some young boys nearly two hundred years ago, an awful tragedy could have been avoided.

The Western Flying Post reported on the 25 August 1817, that an inquest had been held at Sutton Montis into the death of 9 years old Eliza Grove who on the 16th of that month had been killed by her 11 year old uncle. The Flying Post reported that it appeared the boy had been keeping birds off the corn and had been entrusted with a gun but without flint or powder. After leaving the field, between eight and nine o’clock in the evening, he had met another boy, who also had a gun, and the two guns were placed side by side whilst the boys were learning to read. On parting in the dusk, the boy picked up his friend’s gun by mistake and not knowing it was loaded with lead shot. The newspaper went on to record that the boy, on entering the house where he and the deceased lived, levelled gun at the girl saying “ Eliza, I’ll shoot thee,” and immediately the contents were lodged in the neck of the unfortunate girl. Verdict: Chance medley of circumstances. The Western Flying Post commented: ‘We cannot refrain from adding, that it is much to be lamented that such engines of destruction should be put into the hands of such boys’.

Even in the hands of experienced people, guns can be extremely dangerous to the handler as happened in Chard just before Christmas in 1887 when 41 year old William Churchill accidentally shot himself.

The inquest into William Churchill’s death was held in the Ship Inn when Ann his wife recalled that he had got up at about 5.20 on the morning of Wednesday 21 December and had gone down stairs carrying his gun. A few minutes later there was the sound of a shot followed by a cry from William “The gun has gone off and knocked me! Oh Nance I think its a bad job!” Rushing down stairs Ann Churchill saw, to her horror, William lying on the floor with blood pumping from a gaping wound in his thigh. As she tried to comfort her stricken husband, he moaned “I’m dead”, and at this, the terrified woman ran to summon her next door neighbour, Charles Cornelius. Although they tried their best, there was nothing Ann or Charles Cornelius could do to stem the flow of blood from William’s main artery and he died before medical assistance could be brought. No one could establish how William Churchill came to shoot himself but it was accepted as being accidental, and the inquest jury returned a verdict to this effect.

It goes without saying guns are very dangerous ‘engines of destruction.’

Jack Sweet
March 2018