An Extraordinary Case of Lightning

A note to Pseudodoxia Epidemica, Book II, Chapter VI
from S. Wilkin's edition

This passage is strikingly illustrated by a very extraordinary case of lightning, related in the London and Edinburgh Philosophical Magazine, for September 1832. Mr. and Mrs. Boddington, while seated in the barouche seat of their carriage, were struck senseless by a flash of lightning, which at the same time killed their horse, threw the post-boy to a considerable distance, and then entered the earth, making four large holes. The passage of the electric fluid is thus described:— "It struck Mrs. B's cotton umbrella, which was literally shivered to pieces, both the springs in the handle forced out, the wires that extended the whalebone broken, and the cotton covering rent into a thousand shreds. From the wires of the umbrella the fluid passed to the wire that was attached to the edge of her bonnet, the cotton-thread that was twisted round that wire, marking the place of entrance over the left eye, by its being burnt off from that spot all round the right side, crossing the head and down into the neck above the left shoulder: the hair that came in contact with it was singed: it here made a hole through the handkerchief that was round her throat, and zig-zagged along the skin of her neck to the steel busk of her stays, leaving a painful, but not deep, wound, and also affecting the hearing of the left ear. It entered the external surface of the busk:1— this is clearly proved by the brown paper case in which it was enclosed, being perforated on the outside, and the busk itself fused for about a quarter of an inch on the upper surface, presenting a blistered appearance. Its passage down the busk could not be traced in any way; there was no mark whatever on the steel, nor was the paper that covered it discoloured or altered in the slightest degree: its exit at the bottom, however, was as clearly indicated as its entrance at the top: the steel was fused in the same manner, and the paper was perforated in the same way, but on the opposite side.

"There were marks of burning on the gown and petticoat above the steel; and the inside of the stays, and the garments under the stays, were pierced by the passage of the fluid to her thighs, where it made wounds on both; but that on the left so deep, and so near the femoral artery, that the astonishment is, that she escaped with life;— even as it was, the hæmorrhage was very great. Every article on which she sat was perforated to the cushion of the seat, the cloth of which was torn in a much more extensive way than the clothes; and the leather that covered the iron forced off in the same spot, clearly marking its egress at this place. In the case of Mr. B. the umbrella also was the conductor; it was made of silk, and was but little damaged; a small portion of the upper part only being torn where it joins the stick, and none of the springs or wires being displaced. The main force of the shock, however, seems to have passed down the handle to the left arm, though a portion of it made a hole through the brim of his hat, and burnt off all the hair that was below it, together with the eye-brows and eye-lashes. The electric stream shattered the left hand, fused the gold shirt buttons, and tore the clothes in a most extraordinary manner, forcing parts of them, together with the buttons, to a considerable distance, and a deep wound was inflicted under its position on the wrist. The arm was laid bare to the elbow, which is presumed to have been at the moment very near his left waistcoat-pocket, in which there was a knife; this also was forced from its situation, and forced on the ground; a severe wound was made on his body, and every article of dress torn away as if it had been done by gunpowder. From the knife it passed to the iron of the seat, wounding his back, and setting fire to his clothes in its passage. Another portion descended to the right arm, which had hold of the lower part of the stick of the umbrella; was attracted by the sleeve-button, where it made a wound, but slight, compared to that on the left, passed down the arm (which it merely discoloured, and broke the skin of in two small places) to a gold pencil case in the right waistcoat pocket. The great coat he had on was torn to pieces, and the coat immediately above the waistcoat pocket much rent; but the waistcoat itself was merely perforated; on th external part, where the discharge entered by a hole about the size of a pea, and on the inside by a similar hole in the other extremity of the pencil case, where it passed out, setting fire to his trowsers and drawers, and inflicting a deep wound round his back, the whole of which was literally flayed."


1. "Busk": OED: A strip of wood, whalebone, steel, or other rigid material passed down the front of a corset, and used to stiffen and support it. Formerly and still dial. applied also to the whole corset.

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