On this day … 22 January 1831

The Preston Chronicle carried the following report on the death of a young boy in an industrial ‘accident’ at a cotton factory:

Inquest.—Yesterday an inquest was held at the Town-hall, before Nicholas Grimshaw, Esq., mayor and coroner for the borough, on view of the body of James Dakin, a boy about ten years of age, who was employed in the factory of Messrs Parish and Co, near Marsh-lane.

The boy was a piecer and near to the place where he worked was a revolving shaft which was not boxed off or protected, and by some means it caught the trowsers of the deceased, and tore off his arm and otherwise injured him. The deceased was carried home and surgical aid procured, but a few hours terminated his sufferings.

His worship, the mayor, went to view the machinery, and spoke in strong terms of reprobation upon the conduct of the owners of the machinery, in not providing better guards against accidents of this kind.

Verdict, ‘accidental death’

At the time, child labour was defended by such worthies as the journalist, Edward Baines, who was born in Walton-le-Dale, and who wrote in his The History of the Cotton Manufacture (1835):

It is not true to represent the work of piecers and scavengers as continually straining. None of the work in which children and young persons are engaged in mills require constant attention. It is scarcely possible for any employment to be lighter. The position of the body is not injurious: the children walk about, and have the opportunity of frequently sitting if they are so disposed.

One thought on “On this day … 22 January 1831

  1. A salutary tale that should be cited to those who constantly mock the overreach of health & safety. Sad too, that we, as humans, still require legislation to curb such exploitation.

    As to the verdict, it is odd that the mayor was also the coroner: for in his role as man of the people he condemned the incident; while as medical examiner he ruled the death accidental. Maybe he had no other legal sanction? But this dual capacity could only compound the already conflicted role of elected representatives who are also officially aligned with any chamber of commerce, and possibly socially connected to the mill-owning class.

    However, perhaps the approximate age of the child is suggestive. Yes, the parents might simply not have been not consulted for the newspaper report, but it is possible that there were none to consult, as often child labour was recruited from the workhouse. In that case, any anonymity or orphan-status of the child would tend to influence a passive verdict.


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