Yes, ok, pompous clothes and court parties but also cholera, bubonic plague and a life expectancy a tad lower than today. But the obvious aside, it seems that in Victorian times the ways to die were as innumerable as they were unlikely. Igniting spontaneously, for example. Or perish poisoned by arsenic. Here are the craziest ways to die just a couple of centuries ago.
During the nineteenth century, many had the walls of their homes coated with a very special green pigment called Paris Green. Invented by the German-Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele, it appeared in 1775. Its vibrant bright green hue was due, alas, to arsenic. But we have to fly to 1862 for someone to link the mysterious deaths of several children to the wallpaper dye found in virtually any English home. In Limehouse, London, the epidemic was so widespread that many began to investigate, finding the wallpaper in the bedrooms in the culprit.
But the Paris Green was also used for numerous other artifacts such as clothes, ties, hats and sprayed on fruits and vegetables as an insecticide. Since its discovery, the vibrant Green of Paris was only made illegal almost a hundred and fifty years later, in 1903. To date, you can find arsenic-dyed clothes only in some exhibits with particularly thick glass cases.
A flammable fashion
Another trend in vogue in the Victorian era was the use of crinoline. The accessory much in vogue was nothing more than a scaffold with the structure of a cage, light, to be put under the skirt and highly flammable. Made of silk or muslin, they caught fire with extreme ease, resulting in deaths as atrocious as they were bizarre. What may be the poorest polyester today was crinoline in Victorian times.
The question of the flammable accessory was taken relatively seriously by the newspapers of the time. Despite the merciless deaths, it seems that a page dated 1858 read: "we would like to suggest to every woman wearing a crinoline to go around with a valet equipped with a bucket of water". Thanks.
It seems that in the Victorian era the flames dominated the realm of the Grim Reaper: it was spontaneous combustion. Scientists of the time found a correlation between alcoholism and spontaneous combustion founded. According to them, the body of an avid drinker would have been able to explode in lapilli and flames, leaving only the legs untouched.
A bit more advanced science has classified spontaneous combustion as a consequence of the so-called "wick effect". A body, having caught fire from an external source, would continue to burn by being fueled by its own fat.
For a certain period of time, opium was a medicine for children. What might seem to us a disturbing attempt to drug and anesthetize too restless children, in Victorian times was nothing but a remedy like any other, like a common painkiller.
Godfrey's Cordial is particularly popular, used mainly by working-class mothers to keep newborns good while they go to work. Unfortunately, however, accidental overdoses turned out to be quite frequent. It seems that in 1854 alone three quarters of the deaths due to opium overdose have affected children under the age of five.
Factories were popular for killing in several different ways. The Manchester cotton factories, for example, released fiber particles into the air that eventually accumulated in the lungs. Occupational safety was an unexplored matter and hands or hair often ended up in the machinery.
The children fared worse, who had the thankless task of getting under the running cars to retrieve various objects that had fallen by mistake. A moment of inattention and the omelette was done. Fortunately, at the dawn of the twentieth century, various regulations made factory work safer, less tiring and certainly less lethal.