Thursday, 9 August 2012

Mysterious Death at the Ship Hotel

Mrs. Jane George of the Ship Hotel died in a mysterious blaze in an upstairs room of the building. The Ship Hotel concerned was an earlier building rather than the present structure. The earlier building was a mid - nineteenth century construction erected by the Romily Estate, designed to emulating the look of older, more rusticated buildings in the area. Jane was the wife of John George, himself the son of the Ship Hotel publican, Mrs. Charlotte George. The report states that she was found completely incinerated, although the room and its contents were entirely unaffected by the heat. There had been no sign of a fire anywhere in the room, nor were there any signs that the fireplace had been recently used. In short, Jane seems to have burst into flames and was incinerated to death; the only source of the fire seems to have been from Mrs. Jane George herself. The actual temperature required to completely incinerate a human body is in excess of 3,000 degrees.

The only conclusion one can draw from this report is that Jane spontaneously combusted. Victims of this mysterious phenomenon tend to have a number of common-denominators. The victims are almost invariably female and the victims are mostly alone (as the unfortunate Jane was). It was a Victorian belief that alcohol is a triggering-factor, presumably arrived at on the basis that alcohol is itself potentially flammable and drinking large quantities could make one combustible.

(The Ship Hotel in 1887. In the photograph is Mrs. Jane George herself; she is the last standing figure   of the group stood by the right side sash window (second on the right in the whole picture). The seated figure is Mrs. Charlotte George and the male stood with the baby in his arms is John George. Also stood prominent is a local Bobby complete with Victorian uniform. The thatched building (built 1860 was demolished in 1891 to make way for the present building)

                                                 (The remains of Mary Reeser (1951)

One of the most well-known cases of Spontaneous Human Combustion is that of Mary Reeser (1951) who was found, with the exception of a foot and her skull, completely incinerated. Interestingly enough, in Dickens' Bleak House, a character called krook, a landlord, dies of SHC (Dickens believed in the phenomenon). Frenchman Jonas DuPont published a collection of cases in 1763, De Incendiis Corporis Humani Spontaneis, and it is thought that Dickens himself was aware of at least 30 cases of SHC.


  1. Well written - thoroughly enjoyed reading that. Have you heard about the "wick effect" as a possible cause?
    The "wick effect" hypothesis suggests that a small external flame source, such as a burning cigarette, chars the clothing of the victim at a location, splitting the skin and releasing subcutaneous fat, which is in turn absorbed into the burned clothing, acting as a wick. This combustion can continue for as long as the fuel is available. This hypothesis has been successfully tested with animal tissue (pig) and is consistent with evidence recovered from cases of human combustion.[9][10] The human body typically has enough stored energy in fat and other chemical stores to fully combust the body; even lean people have several pounds of fat in their tissues. This fat, once heated by the burning clothing, wicks into the clothing much as candle wax (which was originally made of animal fat) wicks into a lit candle wick to provide the fuel needed to keep the wick burning

  2. I have (although it takes no real account of the catalyst of the 'fire' and I seriously doubt a burning cigarette or 'Bunsen Burner' could ignite a human no matter how much fatty tissue there is, and if so would thus make this a fairly common cause of death). Still, apart from a bit of generic SHC theory thrown in it's more of a local history article rather than a serious discourse on SHC but I'm glad you enjoyed it!