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BEECHEY: A shocking accident in 1899

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A very special thank you to Jannette Van Deelen for permission to share the tragic story about her great aunt Maud, which she posted on social media.

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A shocking accident occurred at the home of Eli Chadwick Jackson in 1899 that may have resulted in the death of Maud Knevel, a domestic servant.

Knevel had arisen as usual and made all preparations for breakfast in the kitchen. It is thought she was going to her room, as she took the lamp and nearly reached the stair door when she fainted and fell to the floor.

The oil ran out of the lamp and ignited, setting fire to the clothing of the unconscious young woman, causing her to scream.

F. Bain, Mrs. Jackson’s brother, who was the first to hear the cry, at once called Mr. and Mrs. Jackson and all started for the kitchen. They found Knevel standing near the sink, apparently trying to put out the fire. Bain at once snatched the burning clothing from her.

Eli dashed some water on the burning clothes. He then wrapped a quilt about her, smothering the flames completely, and carried the girl to her room, where Mrs. Jackson did all she could to alleviate the suffering until Dr. Reid came.

The week’s ironing was on a rack in the kitchen, and all was a mass of flames. Bain threw the whole mass into the yard and prevented what otherwise might have been a fire.

The doctor found the young lady very weak with her arms and back badly burned. As she had inhaled considerable smoke, and the flesh deeply burned, little hope was entertained for her recovery.

“A most responsible girl,” she was 21. Her family came from Vienna, with eight sisters whose parents were both dead. Mrs. A. Nelles (Nelson) of Cranberry Street (now Tillson Avenue) was a sister, and two more sisters were employed at the Arlington hotel. Mrs. Cudney of Port Burwell was also a sister.

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On Feb. 16, 1899 in the Tillsonburg Liberal, it was reported that Knevel, the young woman who was so badly burned two weeks ago at the home of E. C. Jackson, had died that morning at eight o’clock. “All that skilled physicians and loving friends could do to alleviate her sufferings was done, and death came as a sweet release from suffering.”

This beautiful young woman most likely had a beau or two in Tillsonburg. She was not a young lady, for a lady could never be a servant – that was employment for young women from labouring, working-class, or rural backgrounds.

The 1891 census showed no domestic servant for the Jacksons. Maud, at 13, was considered an adult and could have been hired at any time by the Jacksons.

By the April 1901 census Mattie Pirie, born Aug. 14, 1880 was now the Jacksons’ live-in domestic servant, who had been with them for the previous year, earning $250 (same wage as a teacher) a year. Maud could have made a similar wage in 1899. To compare, the census showed Eli’s banking wage for 12 months as $1,800.

Mr. and Mrs. Jackson were a prominent family in town. Eli Jackson was a banker, and his wife, Laura Bain’s mother, was a VanNorman, and Laura was a cousin to the Tillson family. They lived on the southeast corner of Bidwell and London Streets, formerly Ben VanNorman’s property. Ben’s original house was moved away, and a more beautiful and modern house built on the same site with a wide veranda on three sides. That house was sold to T.B. Bain, inherited by daughter Laura and hubby E.C. Jackson. Laura was a good friend and bridesmaid to Tillson daughters.

The Dr. Reid who attended Maud was John Reid, whose sister Dr. Minerva, would come to cover his practice while he studied more in Britain.

Maud was buried back at home in the Hemlock Houghton Baptist Cemetery.

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