Whilst carrying out research on this story it became evident that there were indeed many such fatalities of a similar nature that befell many an inhabitant of Carmarthen. Whether a servant or master, the type of clothing worn in the 1800’s was certainly not fire proof and standing too close to an open fire was hazardous to say the least. Hot embers and coals falling off the fire onto the carpets and flooring together with clothing catching fire was all too commonplace, to the extent that adverts were placed in the local papers warning people of the dangers of open fires. Sadly as you will see in the following story, Mary Anne Walters aged 16 was one of many that succumbed to the flames and she lies buried somewhere in St Davids Cemetery, her last resting place unknown.
FATAL ACCIDENT BY FIRE. ( THE WELSHMAN 18TH APRIL 1851 )
A melancholy accident occurred on Sunday morning last, which resulted in the death of Mary Walters, aged about 16, (daughter of a hatter in Water Street, named John Walters) that was in service with Mr. David Rees, retired Tallow Chandler, residing in Picton Place, Picton Terrace, in this town. It appears that at half past eleven o’clock, deceased was preparing dinner for the household, and in the course of her avocations had occasion to remove a kettle of water from the fire. In doing so her apron, which was of cotton fabric, accidentally caught fire, and she became speedily enveloped in flames. Mr. David Rees, who is very infirm and decrepid, was sitting by the kitchen fire at the time of the occurrence, but was unable to render her any assistance whatever, otherwise than to tell her to go into the pantry, and make use of some water which was placed there. The poor girl, however, ran about the house shaking her apron, which naturally had the effect, of increasing the flames. She then ran out to the yard, and returned to the pantry, but again went upstairs, being still on fire, and her screams during the whole of this period being of the most agonising description, while she was calling out, “HELP, HELP, WHAT SHALL I DO, I SHALL BE BURNT TO DEATH.” Eventually, however, Edward Sexton, mess-waiter to the officers of the 77th regiment, heard the girl’s cries for aid, and went with all expedition to Mr. Rees’s house. He found the street and garden doors wide open, and the unfortunate girl standing in the garden with her clothes, all but a pair of stockings, literally burnt off her body, and holding a piece of drugget about her in the best manner she was able. She was screaming violently, and said that the Misses Evans, next door neighbours, had seen her, but would not come to her assistance. The stair carpet was burning when Sexton went in. He immediately fetched Mr. Hughes, surgeon, who applied proper remedies, and the poor creature was removed to the Infirmary on a bier or stretcher, which was carried by four “navvies” who chanced to be passing. It was almost self-evident, however, that she could not recover, and notwithstanding every attention was paid to her, about 12 o’clock on Monday she expired. An inquest was held on Monday evening, at the Infirmary, before John Hughes, Esq., Coroner, when a verdict of “Accidental death” was returned.
To the Editor of the Welshman. (25th April 1851 page 3)
In the report of the Inquest held on the girl who was burnt at Mr. Rees’s, in Picton Place, inserted in your last week’s paper, it was stated that the sufferer called upon her neighbour Miss Evans, to come to her aid, but that she called in vain. I beg to give that statement the most unqualified and unhesitating contradiction. Miss Evans was the person who first heard the girl’s screams: she was the first who entered the house, tore off the burning clothes from her person, and summoned the people at the Mess House to come to her aid; having wrapped the poor girl in a shawl and a drugget she had taken with her for the purpose. Had Miss Evans been summoned on the inquest, she would have stated all this, and would have stated also the reply made to her when she enquired at Mr. Rees’s door to know what had occurred, and where she could find the girl. The distress of mind felt by Miss Evans on reading the report has been very great, and it has compelled me to trouble you with this letter. As a neighbour, I am enabled to bear a strong testimony to the general kindness and humanity of Miss Evans, and that, in this instance especially, the promptitude and decision she displayed in rendering assistance was beyond all praise.
I am, Sir, yours truly,
AN INHABITANT OF PICTON TERRACE.
April 24th 1851 – Editorial comment of the anonymous letter. “The statement above alluded to was not an emanation from the editorial pen, but merely a portion of the evidence given by Edward Sexton, the mess waiter, at the inquest; as he most positively stated to the Coroner, that the unfortunate sufferer had told him that Miss Evans had heard her, and had refused to come to her aid. We have now no doubt that he must have been mistaken.—ED. W”
** Note the Christian Name of Miss Walters is impossible to read which is why it does not appear in the Digitised Register of Burials research tool on all the research websites.