Richmond Dispatch, 7/4/1861

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From the Richmond Dispatch, 7/4/1861, p. 2

Horrible Catastrophe. - Mr. Joseph Laidley, the well known chemist, came to an untimely, sudden and horrible death about 20 minutes to one o'clock yesterday, by the explosion of a quantity of detonating powder, which he and an assistant named Robert Clayton, of Manchester, were preparing for the use of the Confederate Army, in a building erected especially for their use on an eminence in rear of the State armory, and equi-distant between that and Thomas' Factory, where cartridges are now being fabricated for the Government. - At the hour above named an explosion was heard, resembling the discharge of a six-pounder. On repairing to the place a scene of rare horror met the gaze. - The wooden out-building ad the interior one in which the powder was manufactured, were found blown down, and many of the timbers wrenched, twisted and broken in a manner to show the almost inconceivable power of the powder. Mr. Laidley was found lying on his back, one of the most horrible objects of mutilated humanity which it is possible to conceive. Within a few yards of the body was found a portion of the poor man's brains, looking as if they had been torn by a superhuman agency from the skull and splashed upon the floor. The entire head, except the lower jaw, had bee blown off, and nothing remained to mark the features of a man, except a pair of whiskers ad a portion of the neck. - The right arm was torn off below the elbow, and from the bloody stump hung the fragments of nerves, veins and sinews which were left behind. The hand was afterwards found about two hundred yards from the place of explosion, in the yard of the State Armory, a portion of the face was likewise found (it is said,) three hundred yards distant, near the banks of the river. The search for the remainder proved unavailing.

As soon as the facts became known a large number of persons collected, among whom were several of the Masonic fraternity, of which he was a member. These gathered up the remains and conveyed them to a house in the rear of Thomas' factory, where a metallic coffin soon after arrived, and the body was prepared for burial.

His assistant, Mr. Clayton, was found in a reclining posture against a post, doubled up as if he had suffered a fearful contortion. He was perfectly insensible, and so remained up to a late hour last night, but it was not ascertained to what extent he was internally injured. Drs. Wellford and Conway were summoned to the scene immediately after the accident, but their efforts proved unavailing to afford relief.

Dr. Laidley was a native of Ireland, but for many years had been a resident of this city. He was about 30 years of age, and married his wife in the county of Nelson, where she now is. After the remains were prepared for burial, they were carried to Bosher's Hall, where a guard was kept over them all night by Lodge Francaise, F. M. The funeral will take place this evening at 4 o'clock from Rev. Mr. Baker's Church, (Grace.)

Among the rumors connected with this melancholy affair, was one to the effect that deceased had been seen going towards the laboratory smoking a cigar. Several persons declared that they saw him going thither smoking, a short time before the explosion was heard. It is said that he was not in the habit of smoking. It is certain, however, that a cigar was found in the pocket of his coat, which he had pulled off and hung on the wall of the interior room, where it remained until after the explosion. Mr. Laidley was late of the firm of Laidley & Robertson, druggists, Franklin and Fourth streets, and at the time of his death did business alone, on North Main street, square above the Second Baptist Church. He was an estimable man in all the relations of life, and a valuable citizen. His untimely death is much deplored.

It has only been a few weeks since that a pound of detonating powder blew down the private dwelling of Mr. Edward T. Finch, chemist, and caused his death, in this city. - Both gentlemen were working for the benefit of the Southern States. Peace to their ashes.

Our latest information is to the effect that the fulminating powder was not sufficiently wet. Its manufacture is not dangerous when proper care is taken. 

Page last updated on 01/15/2008