Disaster at the Music Hall, Fishamble Street, Dublin, 6 February 1782.

On Wednesday 6 February 1782 a meeting was organised by the Guild of St Luke the Evangelist, the corporation of cutlers, painters, paper-stainers and stationers, to nominate a candidate to represent the city of Dublin in parliament. The seat became vacant on the death of Dr William Clement, Vice-Provost of Trinity College Dublin, on 15 January.[2] The meeting, held in the grove room of the Music Hall in Fishamble Street at 1.30 pm, was well attended. The assembled company, amounting to between three and four hundred people, depending on the report, came to support their choice of three candidates: Travers Hartley Esq., Alderman Nathaniel Warren and Councillor Joseph Pemberton.[3] The guild was well represented and many others also came to hear the addresses.

The guild held their meetings in the Music Hall from at least 1765. Stationers’ Hall on Cork Hill, where they assembled from 1732, had been purchased by the Wide Streets Commission in 1761 and demolished.[4] Other venues were used by the guild for election meetings, for example in March 1764 the meeting to elect the parliamentary representative, to replace William Carr, was held in The White Hart in Charles Street.[5]

John Rocque, An exact survey of the city and suburbs of Dublin (London, 1756), the Music Hall is in the elbow of Fishamble Street, marked MH. Image of the Music Hall in Lady of the House (Christmas 1915).

The Music Hall was a multi-functional space, built under the supervision of Richard Castells, architect of Leinster House, and opened in October 1741.[6] Here George Frederick Handel had performed his oratorios in the early 1740s, most famously Messiah in April 1742. The grove rooms were situated to the left of the music hall stage. They did not form part of the music hall, theatre, and supper-room complex, but an ‘appartment fitted up in an old house adjoining, on account of the late Masquerades’.[7] The upper grove room was used as a wardrobe or dressing-room when the building became a theatre. The main grove room was large, and was used for balls and masquerades. A ball had been held there the night before when signs of trouble were already apparent. Many of the company and some of the musicians left the ball early due to the ‘frequent cracking and giving way of the flooring’.[8] Even after these warning signs it appears that no inspection was made prior to the meeting held the following afternoon.

The speeches began, with Travers Hartley opening the meeting. His speech, followed by that of Alderman Warren, were greeted with applause and the stamping of feet, which shook the room. Ten minutes into Councillor Pemberton’s speech the main beam, which was rotten, gave way, crashing the assembled crowd more than 20 feet into the ‘proper hall’ of the guild. The ensuing scene of blood, broken limbs and fractured skulls, and the sound of cries and groans, was terrible; the report, based on an eye-witness account in the Hibernian Magazine, makes for chilling reading. The Hibernian Chronicle tells us that no language could give an idea of the horror of the scene, with more than fifty people having received fractures in their limbs and in the head.[9]

Nobody seems to have been killed outright, but at least eleven people died shortly afterwards of their injuries. Many were carried to their homes stretched on doors, or taken in sedan chairs. Dublin’s medical personnel must have been under severe strain that afternoon and evening with so many casualties. Faulkner’s Dublin Journal reports that the sight of the maimed being carried through the streets caused the greatest consternation in the city.[10] Finn’s Leinster Journal informs us that few escaped without severe injury and many were in a ‘situation that made death desirable’.[11] The Hibernian Magazine predicted that many of the injured ‘will exhibit melancholy monuments, to perpetuate the memory of this dreadful event, by the loss of their legs and arms’.[12]

The reports carried in the newspapers were primarily concerned with naming the injured: all well-known businessmen in the city, whose condition was of public interest. The Transactions of the Guild of St Luke, however, make no reference to the disaster, nor offer any condolences to the families of the casualties.[13] The disaster was widely reported by the Dublin newspapers and taken up very quickly by the provincial press. Finn’s Leinster Journal of 6-9 February and 9-13 February listed 58 prominent figures injured in the accident. The Belfast News Letter carried the story, as well as the Cork newspapers, the Hibernian Chronicle and the Cork Evening Post, all giving lists of the injured.

The candidates themselves put advertisements in the newspapers, sympathizing with their fellow citizens on their injuries, and assuring the public that they would soon be able to continue the election campaign. Alderman Warren expressed the wish that ‘had he been the only sufferer it would afford him very great consolation’.[14]

The collapse of the floor of the grove room led to the cancellation or postponement of forthcoming events. The ball for Mr Carrolan’s benefit, due to be held in the grove room on the evening of the disaster, was postponed until Friday 15 February. The ball would then take place in the great room, which Mr Carrolan assured his public: ‘is entirely separate from the other part of the house, and perfectly secure’.[15]

The popularity of the entertainments held at the Rotunda had begun to rival those of the Music Hall. This factor, in addition to the accident, led to the rapid decline in the use of the Music Hall for public assemblies. It was taken over by the Society of the King’s Inns and in 1793 it became a private theatre.[16] Following the accident at Fishamble Street the Guild of St Luke the Evangelist held their meetings in Capel Street. From July 1782 the guild began the preparation of their new hall, installing a chimney piece of Kilkenny marble and a Bath stove grate fixed with Scotch stone.[17] On 1 October 1782 the Transactions of the guild extended the thanks of the corporation to Joseph Pemberton ‘one of our worthy representatives on the Common Council’ for his ‘great care and attention in building our Hall’.[18] The guild continued to meet at their hall in Capel Street, the entrance to which was at no. 154, until 1841.[19]

What do these reports convey to the modern reader? At a most superficial level it is a news story, albeit over 200 years old. The shock of the event remains vivid and the reader gets taken up with the horror of the scene as the story unfolds and the death toll rises. We are given a detailed description of the layout of the Music Hall, one of Dublin’s most interesting buildings, where Handel’s Messiah had first been performed forty years earlier in 1742. By 1782 it was largely given over to balls and masquerades, providing a meeting hall for the Guild of St Luke the Evangelist, and had extended into the house next door to provide extra space for public gatherings. It is also clear that the fabric of the building had very much decayed.

We get a certain insight into the way in which elections meetings were held in the city of Dublin, and the necessity for candidates of winning the support of each of the guilds in turn. The press coverage of the event is interesting, with similar reports, often word for word, appearing in several newspapers, indicating the usual practice of the period of copying news from other newspapers. Thus the provincial newspapers carry reports which were very close to each other, and also to the Freeman’s Journal accounts. However, differences in the lists of injured were apparent, with some different names appearing, and different numbers of names listed from one report to another.

Most important of all, perhaps, is the list of 71 names of prominent Dublin businessmen with their addresses. As it was a meeting of the guild the majority of those who attended represented cutlers, painters, booksellers, printers and associated trades. Many of these individuals do not appear in Wilson’s Dublin Directories of 1780 to 1784, and many do not feature in the Transactions of the guild. We are, therefore, afforded a glimpse of a section of the Dublin business world about its ordinary business as citizens, when this ‘melancholy accident’ took place.

The appended list is compiled from reports in the Freeman’s Journal [FJ], Faulkner’s Dublin Journal [FDJ], Finn’s Leinster Journal [FLJ], Belfast News Letter [BNL], Hibernian Chronicle [HC], Cork Evening Post [CEP] and the monthly publication, the Hibernian Magazine [HM]. All reports carry the core list of about 53 names; the remainder of the injured are mentioned in one or more reports, while some are only named in death notices afterwards. The Common Council members, whose names appear on the list, were elected for three years from 24 December 1780,[20] except for William Sleater, who was elected on 10 January 1782 to succeed William Hallhead, who had died in office.[21] The members of the Council of the House for 1782 are extracted from the Transactions.

Additional information (such as exact street number, variations on surname spelling, guild office held, etc.) is taken from Watson’s Gentleman’s and Citizen’s Almanacks, Wilson’s Dublin Directories, and the Transactions of the Guild of St Luke. Dates of business activity are taken from M. Pollard, A dictionary of members of the Dublin book trade 1550-1800 (London, Bibliographical Society, 2000).

Images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

List of casualties.

Aiken [or Atken], Mr, Hoey’s Court. Both legs broken.

The Beadle of the Corporation. Arm broken.

Booker, George, painter, 56 North King Street. Arm broken.

Bracken, Mr, attorney, Abbey Street. Severely bruised.

Burnet, George, bookseller, 197 Abbey Street. Slightly hurt.

Byrn, Mr T., Crow Street. Dangerously bruised.

Byrne, Richard, cutler. Both legs broken. Died [FLJ 9-13 Feb.].

Byron, Christopher, card-maker, 13 Eustace Street. Council of the House 1782. Badly bruised [FLJ]. Collar bone broken [FJ].

Byron, Edward, son of Christopher, 13 Eustace Street. Skull fractured and leg broken.

Byron, Samuel, son of Christopher, land surveyor, 13 Eustace Street. Thigh broken.

Clare, Ben, Green Street. Broken thigh.

Clare [or Clear], John, painter, 14 Dorset Street. Skull dangerously fractured.

Deey, Mr Robert, attorney, Chancery Lane. Broken leg. Died [BNL 12-15 Feb.; HC 14 Feb.].

Dobson, Richard, tea merchant and grocer, 38 Capel Street. Leg broken. Died [FLJ 27 Feb.-2 Mar.].

Dugdale, Bennett, bookseller and printer, 150 Capel Street. Dangerously bruised.

Dunn, Mr, Crane Lane, Essex Street. Arm broken.

Fisher, John [or Edward (FDJ)], attorney. Terribly hurt.

Fletcher, Edward, merchant, 39 Strand Street. Severely bruised.

Gilbert, William, bookseller, 26 South Great George’s Street. One rib broken.

Graisberry, Daniel, printer, Back Lane. Very ill bruised.

Gunston, Mr T., coach maker. Dangerously bruised.

Hamilton, Mr, attorney.

Hamilton, his son.

Hamilton, Joseph, bookseller and bookbinder, Kennedy’s Lane. Clerk of the guild. Severely bruised.

Hartley, Travers, 89 Bride Street. One of the 3 candidates for election to parliament. Later elected as member for Dublin city. Severely bruised.

Haughton, John, cutler, 31 Charles Street. Warden of the cutlers. Arm broken.

Husband, John Abbott, printer, 28 Abbey Street. Arm broken.

Jackson, Mr, Townshend Street. Severely bruised.

Jackson, Luke, engraver and copper-plate printer, 19 Abbey Street. Arm broken.

Jenkin, Caleb, bookseller, 58 Dame Street. Much bruised.

Johnston, John, sadler, 9 Abbey Street. Skull fractured.

Johnstone, David, shoe maker, Cut-Purse Row. Thigh broken. Died [FJ 12-14 Feb.; FLJ 13-16 Feb.].

Jones, Robert, attorney, William Street [or Big Ship Street (FDJ)]. Broken leg.

Joyce, Mr, printer, Clarendon Street. Dangerously bruised.

Keene [Keen], Arthur, goldsmith, 67 Dame Street. Slightly hurt.

Keightley, Benjamin, bookbinder, Dame Street. Leg broken.

Kelly, Mr, Hosier, Corn Market.

Leathley, Samuel, printer, Ormond Market. Very much bruised.

M’Kenzie, William, bookseller, at Mrs Hallhead’s, 63 Dame Street. Dangerous bruise on the back.

M’Mahon, Alexander, wine merchant, 180 Abbey Street. Life in danger. Died [BNL 12-15 Feb.; HC 14 Feb.].

Marchbank, Robert, printer, bookseller and bookbinder, 22 Cole Alley, Castle Street. Much bruised.

Marsh, John, cutler, 3 Capel Street. Council of the House 1782. Severely bruised.

Mathew, Mr, Hosier, Corn Market.

May, Frederick, watchmaker, 138 Capel Street. Two ribs broken.

Mills, Michael, bookseller, printer and bookbinder, 135 Capel Street. Council of the House 1782. A good deal hurt.

Moncrieffe, Richard Esq., Sheriffs-peer and bookseller, 16 Capel Street. Bruised in body and limbs.

Moore, Andrew, merchant, 46 Dorset Street. Much bruised.

Moreton [Morton], William, gun-maker, 31 Skinner Row. Arm broken [FLJ]. Thigh broken [FJ; BNL].

Myler, Thomas, glass seller, 1 College Green. Member of the Common Council 1780-83. Several contusions in the head.

Napper, Robert, printer, George’s Lane. Dangerously bruised.

Neil [Neill], Joseph, linen draper, 134 Capel Street. Severely bruised.

Newenham, Sir Edward, Belcamp, Co. Dublin. MP for Co. Dublin. Collar bone broken.

Patterson, Thomas, tailor, 16 Fishamble Street. Broken leg.

Pemberton, Benjamin, bricklayer, 9 Park Place. Slightly hurt.

Pemberton, Mr (junior). Severely bruised.

Pemberton, Joseph, cutler, 145 Capel Street. Council of the House 1782. Member of the Common Council 1780-83. One of the three candidates for election to parliament, not successful. Very much bruised.

Pemberton, Joseph (senior), 67 Fleet Street. Died of his injuries [BNL 12-15 Feb.; HC 14 Feb.].

Redmond, Mr Charles, woollen draper, Dame Street. Thigh broken.

Ross, Alexander, peruke maker, 8 Exchange Street. Member of the Common Council 1780-83. Two ribs broken.

Ruxton, John, cutler, Back Lane. Council of the House 1782. Much bruised.

Scot, Mr, Joseph’s Lane. Died [HM].

Shaw, Mr Richard, sword cutler, 7 Essex Bridge. Member of the Common Council 1780-83. Leg broken. Died [FLJ 13-16 Feb.].

Sleater, William, bookseller and printer, 51 Castle Street. Council of the House 1782. Master of the guild (elected on 21 Dec. 1781, in place of William Hallhead, deceased). Member of the Common Council 1782-83. Slightly hurt.

Stockdale, John, printer, 63 Abbey Street. Very much bruised.

Taylor, Mr, Custom House. Much bruised.

Taylor, Peter, shoemaker, 65 High Street. Member of the Common Council 1780-83. Mortally wounded, since dead [FJ 7-9 Feb.].

Thomas, Edwin, printer, Capel Street. Died in June [FLJ 5-8 June].

Tinkler, Mr, paper-stainer, George’s Street. Badly bruised.

Wallace, John, bookseller and stationer, 2 Bridge Street. Back broken. Died [FLJ 16-19 Feb.].

Warren, Alderman Nathaniel, brewer, 6 Mill Street. One of the 3 candidates for election to parliament, not successful. One of the Chief Magistrates 1782. Lord Mayor of Dublin 1782-83. Severely bruised.

White, John Esq., Stephen’s Green, late High Sheriff of Co. Dublin. Bruised, his life in danger. On the way to recovery [FJ 9-12 Feb.].

Book Trade members.

Burnet, George (1759-99), bookbinder, bookseller and stationer, Abbey Street. Slightly hurt. d.1803.

Clare, Benjamin (1773-1787), book auctioneer, Green Street. Broken thigh. d. 1787.

Dugdale, Bennett (1781-1826), printer, 150 Capel Street. Dangerously bruised.

Gilbert, William (1760-1815), bookbinder and bookseller, 26 South Great George’s Street. One rib broken.

Graisberry, Daniel (1765-85), printer, Back Lane. Very ill bruised. d. Dec. 1785.

Hamilton, Joseph (1749 -97), bookseller and bookbinder, Kennedy’s Lane. Severely bruised.

Husband, John Abbot (1765-85), printer, 28 Abbey Street. Arm broken. d.1794.

Jackson, Luke (1775-83), engraver and copper-plate printer, 19 Abbey Street. Arm broken.

Jenkin, Caleb (1771-92), bookseller, 58 Dame Street. Much bruised. d. Mar. 1792.

Joyce, Mr, printer, Clarendon Street. Dangerously bruised.

Keightley, Benjamin (1770-94), bookbinder, Dame Street. Leg broken. d. 1796.

Leathley, Samuel (1772-89), printer, Ormond Market. Very much bruised. Printed the Freeman’s Journal 1776-82.

M’Kenzie, William (1783-1810), printer, bookseller and bookbinder, at Mrs Sarah Hallhead’s in Dame Street. Dangerous bruise on the back.

Marchbank, Robert (1769-1801), printer and bookseller, Cole Alley, Castle Street. Much bruised. d.1803.

Mills, Michael (1768-95), printer and bookseller, Capel Street. A good deal hurt. d.1808.

Moncrieffe, Richard Esq. (1762-90), bookseller, Capel Street. Bruised in body and limbs. d.1798.

Napper, Robert (1791-1832), printer. Dangerously bruised.

Sleater, William (1754-89), bookseller and printer, 51 Castle Street. Slightly hurt.

Stockdale, John (1772-1812), printer and bookseller, 63 Abbey Street. Very much bruised. d.1813.

Wallace, John (1771-1782), bookseller and bookbinder, Bridge Street. Back broken. Reported dead [16-19 Feb.], but John Wallace, bookbinder, seems to be active until 1816.

[1] This paper was first published in Dublin Historical Record, L, no. 2 (Autumn 1997), pp 130-6.

[2] Freeman’s Journal, 15-17 January 1782.

[3] The Hibernian Magazine (February 1782), p.109; Freeman’s Journal (7-9 February 1782) and Hibernian Chronicle (11 February 1782) estimated 300 people, while Finn’s Leinster Journal (6-9 February 1782) and Belfast News Letter (7-12 February 1782) put the figure at 400.

[4] Freeman’s Journal, 24-28 December 1765. Mary Clark and Raymond Refaussé eds., Directory of historic Dublin guilds (Dublin, Dublin Public Libraries, 1993).

[5] Freeman’s Journal, 24-27 March 1764.

[6] John T. Gilbert, A history of the city of Dublin, 3 volumes (Dublin, reprint The Sackville Library Gill & Macmillan, 1978), i, pp 71-90.

[7] Belfast News Letter, 7-12 February 1782.

[8] Hibernian Magazine, February 1782, p.110.

[9] Hibernian Chronicle, 11 February 1782.

[10] Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 5-7 February 1782.

[11] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 6-9 February 1782.

[12] Hibernian Magazine, February 1782, p.109.

[13] National Library of Ireland: Ms 12,125 ‘Transactions of the Guild of St Luke the Evangelist’ 1766-1785.

[14] Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 5-7 February 1782.

[15] Freeman’s Journal, 5-7 February 1782.

[16] Gilbert, History, i, pp 85-6.

[17] ‘Transactions of the Guild’, 2 July 1782, 8 July 1782, 24 August 1782, 7 September 1782.

[18] Ibid., 1 October 1782.

[19] Charles T. Keatinge, ‘The Guild of Cutlers, Painter-Stainers and Stationers, better known as the Guild of St Luke the Evangelist, Dublin’, Journal of the Royal Societyof Antiquaries of Ireland, XXX (1900), pp 136-47. Henry S. Guinness, ‘Dublin Trade Gilds’, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 6th ser., XII (1922), p.158. Pettigrew and Oulton’s The Dublin almanac 1841.

[20] Watson’s Gentleman’s and Citizen’s Almanack 1782, pp 120-2.

[21] ‘Transactions of the Guild’., f.283, 10 January 1782.



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