William Himms Killed By Lightning

On Wednesday the 8th of July 1891, The Oxfordshire Weekly News featured the story of a man who had suffered what was an unusual form of death:-


The thunderstorm which passed over the country on Wednesday night had a fatal effect at Long Crendon.

While sheltering from the heavy storm under a tree – without doubt a decidedly unfortunate and inadvisable proceeding – a man named William Himms living at Long Crendon, was struck by the lightning, and fell to the ground dead.


An aged man named Nathaniel Swannell, who was standing near, had a narrow escape, and he has not to yet recovered from the shock.


The inquest on the body of the deceased was held at the Churchill Arms Inn, Long Crendon, on Thursday afternoon, by Mr. George Fell, the district coroner.

Mr. P. Pearce was chosen as the foreman of the jury.


The first witness called was Nathaniel Swannell, who said he worked for Mr. Dodwell, and was working in company with Himms on Wednesday afternoon, about four o’clock, at about which time the thunderstorm came on.

There was a great deal of lightning,  and the rain poured down tremendously.

Himms went to shelter under a tree, and the witness went beneath another tree about three yards away.

Just then a big flash of lightning came, which the witness describes as a “calamity,” and nearly struck him down, but he saved himself by catching hold of his knees.

He then looked round to the spot where Himms was sheltering and saw that he was falling.

The witness could hardly move, as the shock hurt him terribly, but as soon as Himms fell he stepped towards him and lifted up his head to between his (the witness’s) knees, and then he could see that he was quite dead.

The witness noticed that some smoke issued from his chest.

There were other men some distance off, and he believed they saw Himms fall.

The Deceased was 43.


George Howlett was next called, and said that he was at work in Mr. Dodwell’s field when the storm came on.

He saw Himms under the tree, and he also saw him struck down by the lightning.

The deceased was quite dead when the witness came up to where he was lying.

It was an elm tree under which the deceased had been sheltering: the tree was struck in two places, and the bark ripped off.

The witness was 30 or 40 yards away at the time of the occurrence.

The flash of lightning seemed to strike between his feet, and then run up his body.

The witness said that they did not run to him immediately, because they were too upset and frightened, but when they saw that Himms was dead they ran to fetch a cart to convey him home.


Dr. Humphreys (Thame) said he was fetched to see the body on Wednesday afternoon.

The lightning had evidently struck the deceased in the right breast, and then seemed to run along the watch chain, burning his clothes.

The body was burnt in places, and he had undoubtedly died instantaneously from the sudden shock.

The watchchain smelt very strongly of sulphur, while the watch was stopped at four o’clock, the works inside being disorganised.

The smoke which Swannell saw was through the burning of the flannel which the deceased was wearing, the pattern of the watch chain being burnt in, as though it had been photographed.


The Coroner, in his remarks, said it was an awfully sudden death. He had been coroner and deputy coroner for 28 years, but this was only the third case of death by lightning that he had had seen during that time.

The present case showed that it was not advisable to get under a tree during a thunderstorm, and probably if the deceased had not been there he would not have been struck, for in this instance the tree appeared to have attracted the lightning, and to have been struck itself.

There could be no doubt as to the cause of death. The lightning, according to the evidence, seemed to have struck the earth first, and then returned.

The Jury returned a verdict that the deceased met his death through the effects of a shock by lightning.