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Ellen Pelly

February 24, 2013

a carte de visit photograph of Ellen Pelly (otherwise Pelley, 1853-1873), English ballet dancer,
who died as a result of her costume catching fire on
Saturday, 27 September 1873, at the Alhambra, Leicester Square,
during a performance of the ballet, The Enchanted Forest, principal dancer Giovannina Pitteri
(photo: Truckle & Brisco, New Bond Street, London, circa 1873)

‘FATAL OCCURENCE AT THE ALHAMBRA. – Late on Thursday night a poor girl named Ellen Pelly died at the Charing-cross hospital from injuries received by fire on the previous Saturday evening at the Alhambra theatre. It appears that during the performance of the grand ballet the deceased was about to ascent in the irons when the skirts of her dress ignited. With piercing shrieks she attempted to rush on the stage, which at the time was crowded with dancers, all wearing light dresses of the most inflammable material. Fortunately for them she was withheld by one of the gasmen, who rolled his coat round her and smothered the flames. The sufferer was conveyed in great agony to the above-named hospital, where she received prompt attention. But the shock to the system was so great that she gradually sank until death ended her sufferings.’
(Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, London, Sunday, 5 October 1873, p. 7d)

‘An inquest was held yesterday [6 October 1873] at the Charing-cross Hospital on the body of Ellen Pelly, aged twenty, who had died from the injuries she received through burning at the Alhambra [Leicester Square, London,] on the night of Saturday, the 27th ult. The deceased was a ballet dancer, and on the night in question, when she was preparing to go on the stage as usual in the transformation scene, her dress caught fire. William Rogers, the gasman at the Alhambra, said that the deceased was behind her time, and hence the accident. It was a rule that all the girls should be in their places before the gas was lighted. The stage manager also stated that the poor girl had no right to be near the light from which her dress became ignited. She went on the stage on the wrong side. There were two wet blankets that night available for extinguishing fire. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death, adding a recommendation to the management of the Alhambra Theatre to provide a greater number of blankets for use in case of accidents.’
(The Pall Mall Gazette, London, Tuesday, 7 October 1873, p. 4b)

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