No. 10 Suffolk Street, Dublin, 1859.
Home of Dr Vance and his lady, Mrs Vance, who lived above the surgery. Dr Vance practised, among other things, electro-galvanism, used as a treatment for rheumatism and nervous complaints.
Mrs Vance, aged 39 years, was but a short time returned from a tour in the South of Ireland, where she had gone for the benefit of her health, she being delicate. The tour was of little benefit; on her return she complained of being indisposed, and appeared rather depressed in spirits. She slept in the two-pair back room of the house; the house was a four-storey, the back room window fifty feet above the ground.
At 9 a.m. on the 14th September, approximately one hour after the doctor had gone downstairs to his surgery, the maid working in the downstairs kitchen saw his wife float by the window, quite quickly, and hit the ground with an enormous THUD. She was rendered insensible, suffering severe spinal injuries, briefly rallied and came to, only to expire after great suffering.
At the inquest, Dr White, City Coroner, expressed the view that, although there was no evidence to prove it, Mrs Vance must have overbalanced and fallen out through trying to open the window; the jury found a verdict accordingly.
Later that year, the Round Church, on Suffolk Street, was destroyed by a fire, and Dr Vance noted among the individuals who laboured assiduously to save it. Soon thereafter, he was called to attend at another melancholy event when a young man, William Ellis Foy, killed himself at Rigby’s Shooting Gallery nearby. Mr Foy was a classical tutor and had for some time been in low spirits, being out of employment and – despite his father being alive – having the weight on him of the support of his mother and brother. Dr Vance himself died in 1875; six years before his death he was involved in a minor scandal when evidence was given of his involvement in a scheme to bribe local election voters.
An interesting combination of events and, like so many items in old Irish newspaper reports, would make marvellous material for a novel. It’s tempting to speculate about what happened, whether Mrs Vance’s death was an accident or a suicide; whether the doctor, faced with her nervous complaint, ever saw fit, or threatened, to practice his electro-galvanism on his wife. One could even go further, and wonder whether or not she, mother of a son of the right age to be tutored in classics, might have known Mr Foy, the unfortunate classical tutor, and, if so, whether a man shown capable of bribing voters might also have been capable of something darker.
Of course, as regards the real Mrs Vance, Dr Vance and Mr Foy, we shall never actually know; conclusions reached on incomplete information are pure speculation rather than fact, and often closer to the projections of the person speculating rather than the reality of what actually happened. And particularly so when the conclusion reached is one which we wish to find, because it justifies something which we want, for other reasons, to do or not to do, or saves us from having to scrutinise ourselves.
And it’s very difficult, even in the days of readily hacked emails and voicemails, to ascertain what happened twelve months ago, never mind a century and half. But sometimes information has a way of turning up. And it’s always interesting to go on looking…