Death By Oranges

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The Margate firm of Cobb & Co. had their fingers in everything which made the town tick in the 18th and 19th centuries, with their brewing and banking interests being handsomely complemented by their other hugely profitable role as a maritime agency - and there was a lot of money to be made from shipwrecks and salvage. The story of the wreck follows.

The Kentish Gazette of the 18th of January, 1805, carried this advertisement : ‘For sale by Public auction at Mitchener’s York Hotel, on Monday, 21st of January, 1805, at eleven o’clock. Four hundred chests or more of oranges and lemons, three hogsheads of pickle citron, and about one hundred boxes, principally lemons, saved out of the wreck of the ‘TWO BROTHERS’, Hans Lilja, Master, from Lisbon ashore near Margate. May be seen on Saturday and Monday preceding the sale and for further particulars contact Messrs. Cobb & Co’.

Despite her Master’s name, ‘TWO BROTHERS’, was a British vessel, and in those days fruit was shipped in a green state in order that it would be ripe when it arrived at the intended destination. Off the North Foreland and almost at the end of her voyage, ‘TWO BROTHERS’ was caught in a fierce wintry squall and was driven hard onto the rocks at Fairness. Work started at once to salvage her valuable cargo, much in demand in the cities but seldom seen by ordinary folk. This salvage work caused two bizarre deaths amongst the Margate men hired to transport the cargo ashore before it spoilt. It must be remembered that the sea then had not been turned into an offensive bacterial-laden soup by sewage outfalls, and a dunking in salt water would have done

the fruit no harm at all.

The first death was reported in the Kentish Gazette on the 18th of January, just three days after the wreck. It was stated that Mr. Cowell, who had recently taken possession of Northdown Farm, was drowned whilst engaged in carting work from the wreck. It appears that Cowell, apparently a non-swimmer, was driving his cart towards the wreck in the ever deepening water on a rising tide when the horses became frightened at getting out of their depth at one point. The startled team struck out seawards, swimming powerfully in the direction of Holland, still towing the cart behind them. Cowell, obviously terrified at the prospect of being in deep water, panicked and jumped over the side hoping to regain the shore before it was too late, but it was no use and he drowned.

The irony is that the cart did not sink and Cowell would have been saved had he stuck with it, as a boat sent in pursuit of the swimming horses soon caught up with them, bringing both them and their tow safely back to shore. The second extremely strange event was reported in the Kentish Gazette on the 25th of January : ‘A singular instance (which has every appearance of being attended by fatal consequences) occurred to a very strong and robust carter of the name of Lindridge, at Northdown, one of the men employed on unlading oranges from the brig ‘TWO BROTHERS’, from Lisbon on shore at this place. Having eaten a large quantity of this fruit he became prodigiously swelled in the arms and body. So much so, that medical assistance was immediately sent for. When on being asked what he supposed occasioned his unusual appearance he replied, “Why, mayhap the orange’s quantity.” He said. “I think my daughter has eat at least thirty, and, as to own self, hwy, I suppose about a sack full”.’

Poor old Cowell’s death was a simple tragic accident caused by his horses being momentarily panicked by the undulations of the foreshore, but the case of Lindridge and his daughter was a different thing altogether. Even given the fact that an orange would have been an unusual sight and a great treat for the majority of the working classes here, for Miss Lindridge to scoff thirty and her father a whole sack beggars belief. What a way to go!


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