Blooming in health and strength I gazed
Where my Creator’s lightning blazed
Nor for a moment thought that He
Had such a shaft prepared for me
He gave command – the thunder peal’d
And my eternal doom was sealed
This is the epitaph of Hugh Dolman, buried at the Baptist chapel in Melbourne, Derbyshire. As you might gather from the inscription, Hugh was killed by lightning – unusual enough, you might think. But what makes this even more extraordinary is that Hugh wasn’t the only victim; his neighbour William Bailey was also killed. The incident, which ‘created a great sensation in the neighbourhood’, was recorded by local historian and writer, John Joseph Briggs in his diary on 19 June 1846:
about 6 O’clock this evening occurred a most aweful and distressing circumstance. At that time a heavy shower came on accompanied by thunder and lightening. Two persons in Melbourne named Willm Baily (hair dresser) and Hugh Dolman (Baker) were standing in the Potters Street talking together, Baily being in his own garden within a few yards of his own house, and Dolman in the street, just opposite to him. Just at that moment a loud peal of thunder was heard which in an instant [was] followed by a flash of vivid lightening, which stuck these poor men, and only a few minutes elapsed before they were both corpses.
Baily was taken across the road to his own house and expired immediately and the only mark visible upon him was a small place on one of his cheeks. Dolman lived a few minutes after being struck, his clothes seemed scorched or burnt with the fluid and [literally] kept dropping from him piecemeal as he was carried up the street. His hair, whiskers, & also his shoes were also burnt. The faces of both men went black and discoloured immediately. Just before Mr Bailey left the house his wife remarked ‘I would not go out something may happen to you’. He replied naturally enough as many a one has before him ‘Oh! One knows thunder and lightning … occurs a hundred times and nobody ever hurt by it’.
Hugh and William were buried side by side two days later. The fire gods hadn’t finished with Melbourne yet, though, because the day after that (22 June) Briggs writes about another curious episode:
Fearful thunder storm. A ball of fire descended at a distance of not more than 50 yards from the spot [where Hugh and William were killed] and entering a house set fire to a quantity of paper in a room where a sick person was lying and then passing though the chamber entered a lower room. In its passage a portion of a scythe attached to the wall was melted and then [it entered] the chimney [carrying] with it the iron apparatus employed to hang kettles &c upon.
This time there was a happier ending, with the house’s occupants escaping unharmed.