Death by Fire – William Victor Breeze

Photo of the grave courtesy of Ancestry website.

THE Penrith District Coroner Arthur Judges J.P. held an inquest at Penrith Court House concerning the death of William Victor Breeze. William was born at Jamisontown on 14th February 1878 and was 45 years of age. He was the son of John Mathew Breeze and Catherine Harvey (deceased) of Penrith. He died as the result of a burning accident. Sergeant Osborne said that at 5 pm he went to a paddock, belonging to Mrs Lack’s residence at the rear of Thornton Hall and saw lying on the ground, covered up with blankets, a man who he recognised as William Victor Breeze. His body was frightfully burnt about his head, body and legs and he was in great pain. He asked him how he managed to get his clothes alight, and he replied that owing to his disability he was trying to light a cigarette when a spark dropped onto his clothes and he was unable to put the fire out and he ran about and was unable to get through the fence. Mr T Barrett and others came to his aid, Mr J W Elliott procured a stretcher and he was then taken to Penrith District Hospital where he died a few hours later. The Sergeant said that he examined the ground in the vicinity of where he saw William lying and within a radius of ten yards he saw a portion of William’s clothing still burning. He said for about three months he had known William to be a sober and highly respected man but very infirmed. He said that when he arrived on the scene, Mrs Lack was present attending to William and doing her utmost to relieve his suffering and she remained there until William’s removal to the hospital. The next witness was Mary Lack who said she was at home at 5 pm and that there was a paddock that is scrubby land about 200 yards distant at the rear of the premises and she noticed smoke as if coming from a fire, and going to investigate she found William Breeze in a partly sitting position leaning against the barbed wire fence and every bit of clothing was burnt off him except his collar and a small portion of his singlet. She said that she removed the burning clothing from him and hurried back to her house to ring the police and doctor and returned to William with a pillow and a sheet to put over him and she remained there until William was moved to the hospital and said that there was nobody in the vicinity when she first saw him burning. William’s wife Stella May Breeze said that she was a railway gate keeper at King Street in Penrith and at one time been in charge of the railway gates and post office at Mullengudgery on the main western line between Nevertire and Nyngan where they had the tragic misfortune of having their home burnt down and a son dying in hospital as a result of injuries received in the fire. William’s comrades on the line from Bourke to Sydney magnanimously came to his assistance by collecting £200 to enable him to restart his home. William was very active in the community before his health failed him and was a prominent member of the Manchester Unity I.O.O.F, later initiated into the order on the 9th February 1897 at the age of 18 years. He was elected Secretary of the Loyal Alexander Lodge Penrith on the 2nd February 1903 and retained that position until 18th July 1906.  He was highly esteemed in the Lodge, the railway service and the community generally. He was employed for many years on the railway as a foreman fitter and for some time living in Dubbo where he came down with a paralytic stroke and became a cripple and was altogether helpless except that he could walk about slowly. On the afternoon of the 8th he went for his customary walk to Mr Bett’s resident at the rear of Belmore Park which he did two or three times a week.  She said that he left at about 2 pm and was in his usual condition and she did not see him again until she saw him in the hospital about 1 pm when he told her he had left Mr Bett’s place to return home at 4 pm and on his way he tried to light a cigarette when his clothes caught fire and he tried to take his coat off but failed. William was insured with A.M.P for £100, but he had no property. Dr Higgins said that he was summoned to attend to William in the paddock at the rear of Mrs Lack’s residence, and a hasty superficial examination revealed a general scorching of William’s trunk and extremities, and he was also suffering acutely from shock and in great agony and he suggested his removal to the District Hospital and prescribed remedies to relieve the pain that William suffered and saying that his condition was absolutely hopeless. A verdict of accidental death was returned. His funeral was well attended by members of the Loyal Alexander Lodge Penrith.  He is buried at Penrith General Cemetery in Kingswood. Photo of the grave courtesy of Ancestry website.

Sources: Nepean Times- Saturday 24 June 1923, page 4, Saturday 30 June 1923, NSW Australian Registers of Coroner’s Inquest 1821-1937, NSW Births, Deaths & Marriages.