1809 (pre): Mrs. Peacocke’s Fiery Death
Sometime previous to 1809 (when it was reported in the Methodist Magazine), Mr. O'Neil, the keeper of the Five Pounds Alms-House in Limerick, Ireland, was called to the apartment of a man at two in the morning because the burning body of a woman named Mrs. Peacocke had just fallen through his ceiling and into his room. Rushing upstairs, O'Neil found a body-sized hole in the center of the floor of Mrs. Peacocke's room, the edges still burning; with assistance, the flames were quenched.
There was no apparent source of flame in Mrs. Peacocke's room that could explain her condition... there was no candle or candlestick near the hole, and no fire in the grate past smoldering ashes. Other than Mrs. Peacocke and the floor she had been on, nothing in the room had burned; this included a small basket made of twigs and a small trunk of dry wood that lay near the hole.
After these startling details, it was noted that Mrs. Peacocke, about sixty years of age at the time of her death, "indulged immoderatly in intoxicating liquors," and had apparently been recently notorious for "diabolical imprecations and lies." It's stated that her death was chalked up to "the visitation of God's judgement in the punishment of a daring and presevering sinner."
Theories & Missing Sources
Joe Nickell, in his book Secrets of the Supernatural, states his belief that Mrs. Peacocke accidently set her cloths on fire while raking the coals in her grate, and then her body fats and the wooden floor fueled the continuing flames... in short, he feels she is an example of the "wick effect," a situation in which a person's clothes facilitate the burning of the body by sopping up body fats to feed the fire.
I've tracked this account back to 1832 in other sources, but have been unable to find a copy of its reported first printing. This would be in an 1809 copy of The Methodist Magazine, but no details on the issue number or month of publication... anyone see a copy? I'll keep digging, but do let me know if you find it first!