In the latter half of the 19th century, paraffin lamps were a popular means by which people lit their houses after dark. However, this means of illumination was by no means safe.
Indeed, the newspapers were frequently reporting on terrible accidents when people were set alight and houses being set on fire by either the paraffin running from their lamps and igniting, or else the lamps themselves exploding.
On Monday, May the 31st, 1886, 42-year-old Edward Walker and his wife were preparing to go to bed and, as was the customary thing to do, he leant over to to extinguish the paraffin lamp.
What happened next must have been truly horrific, both for him and for his wife who was looking on.
The South London Chronicle, on Saturday, on 5th June 1886, published the following report on the inquest into his death:-
ANOTHER PARAFFIN LAMP FATLITY
On Thursday afternoon, at Guy’s Hospital, Mr. S. F. Langham also held an inquest on the body of Edward Walker, aged 42, an engineer’s fitter, late of 12, Coldman Row, Southampton Street, Camberwell, who lost his life through the explosion of a paraffin lamp.
The evidence of the widow shewed that, on Monday last, between 11 and 12 p.m., the deceased went to turn out the paraffin lamp, which stood on the mantelpiece in the kitchen, just prior to going to bed, when it exploded and set his head ablaze, the fire extending to his chest and body before it could be extinguished.
HE DIED IN HOSPITAL
He was removed to the hospital in a cab, and on Tuesday morning it was thought that he was getting better, but the same night, about 7 p.m., he expired from the injuries and shock.
The house surgeon’s evidence showed the deceased was very much burnt, and was in a state of collapse when admitted, from which he never rallied.
AT A LOSS
In reply to a juryman, Mrs. Walker said that the oil was bought at an oil shop, and not in the street.
The deceased did not blow down the lamp, and she was at a loss to know how it came to explode.
The Jury returned a verdict of accidental death.
THE JACK THE RIPPER CONNECTION?
Now, at first glance, you might not associate this case with the Jack the Ripper murders that would happen just over two years later.
But, there is a connection.
Edward Walker was the eldest son of Edward and Caroline Walker, and he had two siblings, Mary Ann, who was born on the 26th of August, 1845, and Frederick, born in 1849.
Mary would marry a printer by the name of William Nicholls, and, having had five children with him, she would walk out on the family and lead a transient existence alternating between residing at workhouses, mostly at Lambeth Workhouse, and also living for periods of time with men whom she had taken up with.
She attended her brother’s funeral in June 1886, and was later described by her father as being “respectably dressed.”
SHE MOVED TO THE EAST END
By August, 1888, she had found her way to the East End of London, where she was living at the common lodging houses that were so prevalent in the district at the time.
The fee for a bed in these establishments was fourpence, and, on the evening of the 30th of August, 1888, she didn’t have the money to pay for her bed.
Consequently, the keeper of the lodging house escorted her from the premises.
HER JOLLY BONNET
As she left, she turned to him and exclaimed “I’ll soon get my doss money, see what a jolly bonnet I have now.”
A few hours later, at around 3.40 a.m. Charles Cross would find her mutilated body in a gateway in Buck’s Row, Whitechapel.
She would be the first victim of the serial killer that we now know as “Jack the Ripper.”