A SHEFFIELD MAN WHO WAS WORKED TO DEATH
The Times dated 28th August 1880 contained this report on the death of WILLIAM OAKDEN who according to the paper had died from "over-exertion"
The report in the The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated 28th August 1880 gave greater detail of the death
DEATH FROM OVER-EXERTION IN SHEFFIELD
Mr Wightman held an inquest on Thursday at The Rutland Hotel, Rutland Road on the body of William Oakden, 42 years of age, a striker, who was employed at Messrs. S Butcher and Sons, Rutland Works, Rutland Road - Isabella Oakden widow of the deceased said her husband had suffered from occasional fainting fits and giddiness which were brought on by him "making to much blood to his head" About three months ago he was attended by Mr. Molohan the surgeon of his club, but he had not since been seen by a medical man. On that day week before going to work he said to her " Well if it was not for losing my work, I would not to go to the place as I feel so ill this morning" He then went to work and only returned home at five o clock for half an hour to get his tea. At eight o' clock at night she took him his supper, and as she was leaving, she turned around twice to look at him, "because she had had a very funny dream the previous night" The deceased remained at work all Thursday night, and had only half an hour to get his breakfast on the following (Friday) morning. He then again returned to work and at 12 o'clock she took him his dinner. He then seemed very much exhausted and said that he would return home at 5 o' clock in the evening. The next she heard of him was that he died at the works
Edward Collier, a labourer at the Ruland works said that he was with the deceased in the smithy shop at 25 minutes to 1 o'clock on Friday afternoon. Witness left the shop to go on an errand, and when he returned with a man called Levey a short time afterwards he found the deceased laying prostrate on the floor with the dinner untouched a little distance from him. Levey thought the deceased was asleep but witness soon as he saw him exclaimed "Why, Tom he is dead" Both deceased and witness had been at work all the previous day and all the night, and were working all that day. The reason they were working so hard was to get an important order out. Thomas Levey, blacksmith at the Rutland Works said the deceased was his striker. He corroborated the previous evidence and said that he thought the deceased had died from an overflow of blood to the head.
A verdict was returned - that the deceased "Died suddenly on 20th inst. caused by having worked a day, a night and half another day continuously without having a rest at the Rutland Works of Messrs. S Butcher and Sons"
The Rutland Hotel, Rutland Road - venue of William's inquest
The verdict is curious to say the least - "Died suddenly on 20th inst. caused by having worked a day, a night and half another day continuously without having a rest at the Rutland Works of Messrs. S Butcher and Sons" The inference is clear - whilst "the deceased had died from an overflow of blood to the head" the actual cause was working excessively long hours without any adequate breaks. This was compounded by the physically demanding nature of his job - he was a blacksmith's striker, and would have been expected to keep place with the blacksmith in the smithy. William was literally worked to death.
But in the same edition of The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated 28th August 1880 there is this response
I cannot believe this for one moment - William was certainly under the impression that failure to turn up to work never mind the excessive hours demanded would have resulted in himself and any other worker losing his job. It is simple as that.
But the most interesting point appears a week later in a national publication called Reynolds News. Dated 5th September 1880 carries this report
The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent report omitted the Coroner's thoughts - William was "exhausted by more work than human nature could be possibly be expected to stand" but the crux of the matter was whether or not William did this of his own free will or was he compelled to work these hours by his employers. From the reports it is evident that "fear of losing his job" was the reason why William did these hours. The manager's tone on Thursday "I shall want you to work all night" seems to indicate that the order took precedence over the men's health. If that was the case I think we can conclude that Messrs. S Butcher and Sons killed William Oakden but were secure in the knowledge that "there were plenty who would replace him"
Of course the other question one is left with is why The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent omitted the Coroner's final comments from its report. When they said "we are asked to say" the people doing the asking were Messrs. S Butcher and Sons whose "assurances" to the paper seem to have rather a hollow ring to them.
As for WILLIAM he is buried in a communal grave in Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield.
OAKDEN, Wm Hy (Striker, age 42).
Died at Bower Spring; Buried on August 24, 1880 in Consecrated ground;
Grave Number 20, Section G1 of Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield.
Parent or Next of Kin if Available: . Remarks: 565.
Reynolds News. dated 5th September 1880
The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated 28th August 1880
The Times dated 28th August 1880
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