Weaste Cemetery

Biographies of people buried between 1880 & 89

William Derbyshire (1846 - 1885)

 William Derbyshire was a General Labourer and worked at Salford Council Gasworks, on Liverpool Street, Salford. He was overcome by gas at the bottom of a dry well, when working on a gas pipe, on 18th December 1885, aged 39.

He was born in 1846 in Salford. The 1881 census shows that 34-year-old William and his family lived at 4 Winchester Place, Salford. His wife was named Ellen, aged 34, born in Chorlton-upon-Medlock, Manchester, whose occupation was Hooker of Calico. Their children were George Henry (born 1868) aged 13, Ellen (born 1874) aged 7, Alice (born 1877) aged 4 and Annie (born 1879) aged 2.

The details of the tragedy were revealed at the Coroner's Inquest, where Mr J Graves, Town Clerk of Salford Council and Mr Samuel Hunter, Engineer and Manager of Salford Council Gasworks were in attendance. It began when there was a blockage in the inlet pipe to the gas storage facility. William Maitland was asked to descend a dry well (probably a man-hole), where the pipe was located and drill a 2¼ inch diameter hole in the pipe. The access was by a fixed ladder. There were two men, Speight and King, at the top of the dry well to listen out if there was a problem. Maitland and William Derbyshire descended to the bottom of the dry well. When the pipe was breached there was an escape of gas and Maitland was "overpowered." King shouted down the well and got no answer, so he descended the well and saw Maitland leaning against the wall gasping for breath, but he could not see William Derbyshire. As the escaped gas smelled very strong, he ascended and call for assistance. A man named Thomas Malloy went down with a length of rope, tied it to Maitland who was pulled out of the well, unconscious, and Malloy climbed out of the well. 

Another man named John Siddall went down with the rope, fastened it to the unconscious William Derbyshire, who was hauled upward. However, some 20 feet from the bottom of the well, the rope snapped and William fell to the bottom of the well. There is no further report of how William's body was recovered.

Dr P J Lenihan of 253 Regent Road, Salford said that William Derbyshire's body was brought out of the well shortly after he arrived at the scene. The well was some 40 feet deep. He identified that William was dead. At the post mortem examination, Dr Lenihan saw a contused wound on the back of his head and an extensive fracture of the skull, about 6 inches long. On opening the chest there was a very strong smell of coal gas, and was of the opinion that the cause of death was by gas inhalation, not the fractured skull.

Members of the Jury expressed the opinion that if proper lifting apparatus had have been in readiness for such an eventuality and the men had been attached before they descended, William Derbyshire's life would probably have been saved. A verdict of Accidental death was returned, with a recommendation that in future, when workmen descend a well, a windlass with a rope attached to the men before descending should be used. The Town Clerk said he would lay the recommendations before the Gas Ctee.