1877, September: Aberdeen Woman’s Fiery Death

Francis Ogston reported the following odd fire death during a lecture series given in 1877-1878. It would seem from the context of how Ogston presents the case that he was not personally involved, but he also didn't mention where he learned of the event.

        In September 1877, Ogston states, a 60-year-old woman in Aberdeen, Scotland, was in normal health and in bed when her husband left at 5:00AM that morning... but at 8:00AM a neighbor noticed smoke coming from the room the woman was left in. The woman was lying close to the fireplace, dead, with her night-dress on fire; the fireplace only contained a few dying embers. A lodger in an adjoining room was still asleep; they had not been awakened by any cry or noise, though this is not necessarily proof there was none. It was supposed that the woman must have gotten up around 6:00AM to light the fire and start breakfast for the lodger.

        The scene was afterwards inspected by either Ogston or a colleague of his, as he gives a detailed accounting: the whole right side of the woman was burned. The right arm was charred down to the bones, "strongly flexed," and the elbow joint was laid open. The first layer of muscle was burned away on her right thigh, exposing the deep muscle, which was "roasted." The right side of her face and head were charred, as was the right side of her torso. Further examination showed that internal organs on the right side were damaged by heat as well. On the woman's left side, it was noted that she had first and second degree burns on her left arm and hand, but nothing more is mentioned.

        Ogston felt this incident was not necessarily proof of 'spontaneous human combustion' -- the proposed possibility of a human body self igniting from inside and burning -- but did think it might be proof of 'preternatural combustibility' -- the proposed possibility of a human being just plain being easier to burn than other humans, for unknown reasons.

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