Did 79 Die in a Bridge Collapse While Watching a Clown’s Stunt?

On May 2, 1845, 79 individuals died after the Yarmouth suspension bridge collapsed in Great Yarmouth, England, as they watched a circus stunt involving a clown in a bathtub being pulled by 4 geese.

On Sept. 23, 2022, a curious Reddit submit on the r/todayilearned (TIL) subreddit took off like a rocket and shortly made its solution to the web site’s entrance web page. Its title learn, “TIL that in 1845, 79 people died in a bridge collapse that happened because a large crowd had gathered to watch a clown in a bathtub be pulled up a river by four geese.” According to historic data, all of this was true.

The Liverpool Echo recounted the outdated story in 1959. The newspaper headline learn, “The Goose Ride to Tragedy,” and referred to as the incident “the maddest publicity stunt of 1845.” We additionally seemed to authentic reporting from Jackson’s Oxford Journal, which was printed inside days of the tragedy.

The setting for this story was on the River Bure in Great Yarmouth. The seaside city is on the east coast of England, about a three-hour drive from London.

It all occurred on a (*79*) night time. On the night of May 2, 1845, a crowd gathered to see an act often known as “Mr. Nelson,” who was a clown with William Cooke’s circus. The stunt, which was promoted on a massive flyer, consisted of the clown sitting in a bathtub in the river and being pulled by 4 geese. One flyer appeared to point that Cooke would painting the position of the clown. The thought sounded harmless sufficient.

The promotional flyer stated, “Forget it not! Come one! Come all! ‘A merrier man within the limits of becoming mirth, I never spent an hour’s talk withal.’ – Shakespeare.” (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Unfortunately, because the clown carried out the act with the geese, the Yarmouth suspension bridge collapsed below the immense weight of tons of of individuals. Some 400 spectators have been reported to have fallen into the water. Just because the Reddit submit stated, 79 individuals died, with 51 of them being kids below the age of 14.

We transcribed among the authentic reporting from Jackson’s Oxford Journal, which was printed eight days after the incident on May 10:

Awful Calamity at Yarmouth, Norfolk

In the afternoon of (*79*), Nelson, the clown at Cooke’s Circus, proceeded to carry out a feat which has excited some consideration, each in London and the provinces, because it was first launched by the late Mr. Usher, swimming in a washingtub drawn by 4 geese. He was to begin from the drawbridge on the jetty, and go to the suspension bridge, which was erected on the location of an historical ferry, close to the Bure, and opened on April 23, 1829.

Thousands of spectators have been collected to witness this spectacle; and the bridge, which has just lately been widened 4 ft past the chains, for the lodging of foot passengers continuing to and from the railway station (with which the bridge afforded the one technique of communication, besides by a ferry) was crowded.

As the clown approached, all of the individuals flocked to the south aspect of the bridge, and the impact was to flatten the crown of the bridge so perceptibly that it was observed from the shore. Before any warning could possibly be given – earlier than an alarm could possibly be made, a crack was heard; one after one other rails and chains gave means; the south aspect of the bridge fell down, hanging almost perpendicularly to the water, and all its occupants, males, girls, and kids, have been precipitated, these in the background being actually pitched over the heads of the foremost ones, into the Bure.

The impact of the shock on the spectators that lined either side of the river was electrical. A wild shriek hire the air, however the victims have been mute. An eyewitness affirms that they shrieked, spoke not – engulfed in the yawning waters they have been heard no extra. The wild cry of agony was succeeded by essentially the most energetic efforts to rescue the victims. Almost the primary saved have been between 20 and 30 younger ladies, who have been taken to Mr. Franklin’s, the Vauxhall Gardens, the place each consideration that humanity might counsel was proven them. The boatmen exerted themselves with vitality, and introduced many to land; and while there have been a good many in whom the breath of life was nonetheless vivid, the better quantity have been inanimate corpses.

The accident happened about 10 minutes or a quarter after six o’clock, and earlier than eight, 53 useless our bodies had been conveyed to the Norwich Arms public home; others have been taken to the Admiral Collingwood and to the Swan; and plenty of to their very own homes. The means of dragging was continued so long as a gleam of sunshine remained, and renewed early in the morning. Before seven o’clock on Saturday, 90 our bodies had been discovered and dropped at shore.

Several acts of gallantry have been carried out. Two males, named Smith and Creake, swam about and saved a number of individuals. The son of Mr. Sloman, the bookseller, was a kind of immersed in the water. A gallant fellow, whose identify couldn’t be ascertained, who was additionally a kind of who fell from the bridge, having extricated himself from the sinking throng, took younger Sloman below one arm, and one other baby below the opposite, and succeeded in reaching the shore – saving each. A poor lady, who, along with her baby, was thrown from the bridge, supported her toddler by holding its garments along with her tooth, and thus having her palms at liberty, she providentially received clear from the sinking our bodies, and reached the shore in security. Another poor creature was not so profitable. She was discovered with a baby, three years outdated in her arms, and firmly greedy one other. All have been useless! One man, in the act of falling, snatched on the bridge, and grappling it, hung quick. A girl received maintain of his ft, and he instructed her to carry on. She was rescued, and he in the end fell into the stream, however was saved.

The authentic reporting stated that the mass-casualty occasion induced Cooke, the person chargeable for the stunt with the clown, bathtub, and geese, to expertise “a very deep feeling of distress.” The story additionally described maybe upwards of 94 individuals have been initially believed to have died. That quantity was later diminished to an official depend of 79 deaths.

The newspaper article from 1845 additionally included these eyewitness accounts, which we’ve got transcribed to make them searchable on the web:

A youth, named J. B. Thorndike, deposed that he was on the suspension bridge when the accident happened. He stood in the carriage means, and in concerning the middle of the bridge. He heard a cracking noise, and noticed that one of many connecting hyperlinks had damaged, the ends of the severed hyperlink being about two inches aside. He didn’t apprehend any hazard from what he noticed. There was, nonetheless, a sudden rush to the Yarmouth shore; however a number of individuals laughed, after which ran again to their locations. To the very best of his perception 5 or ten minutes elapsed between that point and the time when the bridge fell, when he, with others, was immersed in the water.

By the Foreman. – “I had been on the bridge about five minutes before I heard the crack. It was crowded with people. There were a great many persons upon it, but they were not so thick as I have seen them. I should say they were about four deep. The bridge was not half full. Sufficient time elapsed between my first observing the link break and the bridge falling for everyone upon it to have gone off. I saw more persons on the bridge by a good many upon the occasion of the prisoners who were lately accused of what was called ‘the Yarmouth murder’ returning from Norwich after their acquittal.”

Some 114 years later, the Liverpool Echo printed a 1959 column that shed extra gentle on the total consequence of the investigation into the catastrophe. The reason for the tragedy, past the immense weight of the tons of of people that had gathered on the bridge to observe the clown and geese, was discovered to have been a “welding defect”:

Tales of miraculous escapes have been instructed on the inquest. One man fell throughout a piece of iron that had mercifully wedged itself into the financial institution, in order that his head was above water. Grabbing two ladies struggling close by, he held on to them till all three have been saved.

One mom seized her baby’s clothes in her mouth as she and her daughter have been catapulted into the river. Breaking floor, she laboriously paddled each to security. Wherries rescued others so close to exhaustion that that they had inadequate power to boost themselves out of the water.

The inquest’s ultimate verdict discovered a welding defect chargeable for the tragedy and condemned the inferior supplies and labour used to construct the bridge solely 16 years earlier as not being to the requirements specified in the unique contract.

Of Cooke, the circus proprietor, and Nelson, his clown, nothing additional is understood. But paradoxically, the handbill saying the “grand gala night” was prefaced with the phrases, “Is it to be a Benefit or Not? That is the Question.”

Great Yarmouth has little doubt of the reply.

Around 168 years after the lethal accident, BBC.com reported in 2013 that a memorial had been erected to recollect the lives that have been misplaced.

In sum, it’s true that, in 1845, 79 individuals tragically misplaced their lives after a bridge collapsed in Great Yarmouth throughout a gathering to observe a clown in a bathtub be pulled by geese.


“Awful Calamity at Yarmouth, Norfolk.” Jackson’s Oxford Journal by way of Newspapers.com, 10 May 1845, p. 4, https://www.newspapers.com/.

Barber, Martin. “Great Yarmouth Suspension Bridge Disaster Memorial Unveiled.” BBC News, 28 Sept. 2013, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-norfolk-24240357.

Barnegatsailor. “TIL That in 1845 79 People Died in a Bridge Collapse That Happened Because a Large Crowd Had Gathered to Watch a Clown in a Bathtub Be Pulled up a River by Four Geese.” r/todayilearned by way of Reddit.com, 23 Sept. 2022, www.reddit.com/r/todayilearned/.

“Definition of WHERRY.” Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wherry.

Liverpool Echo. https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/.

“The Goose Ride to Tragedy.” The Liverpool Echo and Evening Express by way of Newspapers.com, 23 Feb. 1959, https://www.newspapers.com/.


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