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Man left for dead rescued thanks to the determination of another

Year 1807, Rev. R. H. Brandling

Read by Neil Connolly – Life Governor, Royal Humane Society

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November 4, 1807

By the Hand of God, John Armstrong was protected. THIRTY-SIX HOURS

Nov. 4, about 9 in the morning, JOHN ARMSTRONG, who was sinking a well at Castle Eden, and had got to the depth of about 45 feet, was suddenly overwhelmed by the falling in of a great part of the side of the shaft. The man believed that its passage downward was obstructed by a stone projecting from the side of the shaft; he was induced to take out some of the bricks, that he might remove the pressure: he had no sooner done this, than a great portion of the superstructure was forced in and buried him under its ruins.

Everyone present became of course alarmed; and, not knowing themselves what method to pursue, they sent for some miners who were working about four miles distant. Upon their arrival, they commenced their work with the greatest alacrity, and continued so to do for the greater part of the day, and until the sides of the well again falling, rendered their situation extremely hazardous.

UNTIL THIS SECOND ACCIDENT, they had been so near the poor man as to talk with him; but no longer hearing his voice, they concluded that he was killed by the additional weight that had fallen: this conviction, more perhaps than the sense of their own danger, induced them to relinquish their efforts, and they returned home.

The account reached me in the evening, and I immediately hastened to the spot, where I was assured by everyone that there could be no doubt of the man’s death. Well knowing, however, from what apparently certain destruction men have providentially been delivered, I would not admit of their conclusion; but desired them to give me their help, as I should direct; and this they did most willingly. Upon examining the shaft, I perceived they had not used any precautions to guard the workmen from experiencing a fate similar to what had attended JOHN ARMSTRONG. I gave orders, therefore, to collect a quantity of deals and wood for forming cribs, that the shaft might be properly secured before I allowed any attempt to remove the rubbish.

I went again for the miners, to make preparation. By break of day everything was ready; and, after the men had exerted themselves until three o’clock in the after- noon, the hope of extricating the man was happily confirmed, by the sound of his voice. It was not, however, till nine on the Thursday evening (THIRTY-SIX HOURS) that he was extricated from the well. When we began to remove the bricks, sand, and gravel, under which he was buried, it was not less than seven yards in thickness. And yet, by the hand of god was JOHN ARMSTRONG protected and restored.

“Nil de vità desperandum.”

There is one circumstance which I wish to mention, as a farther argument against giving way to despair. When I required the aid of the miners, they readily complied, although they declared the certainty of his life being gone. Upon my asking why they were so positive, they told me that, when they were within hearing of the man, they had asked him in what position he was, and that he answered, he was lying upon his face. I soon, however, convinced them that there were many causes which might operate in making him mistake his situation; and the event proved it, as we found him nearly erect, but so closely hemmed in on every side, that he had not been able to move any part of his body.


I have to acknowledge the safe arrival of the Publications which you have been pleased to send me, together with three guineas, which I will distribute as you have directed; viz. one to JOHN ARMSTRONG and two to the miners assisting.

YOUR LETTER, communicating the Resolutions of the R. H. S. demands from me the most grateful expressions. I entreat, Sir, you will assure the Board of Directors, that I receive with pride and gratitude the distinctions they have conferred upon me; and that I feel a due sense of the honour of belonging to a Society, whose establishment and benevolent labours reflect a glory upon the Country that gave it birth.

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