The Victoria Hall Disaster
16th June, 1883, Victoria Hall, Sunderland.
Mr. Fay arrived to almost 2000 of the town’s children with tricks, puppetry and illusions. One such trick involved large amounts of smoke, and many children were sick as a result.
At the end of the show, as Mr Fay began throwing sweets to the children, and those in the gallery, realising they were missing out, ran towards the stairs.
As they reached the bottom they were faced with a very narrow doorway which opened towards them.
The pressure from behind made it impossible to open. Those at the top of the staircase were unaware of this and kept pushing forward. By the time someone arrived to help bodies lay 20 deep.
183 children – 114 boys and 69 girls – aged between seven and ten (one as young as three died). A further 100 were seriously injured.
On hearing about the disaster, Queen Victoria wrote a letter of condolence part of which read, ‘Suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the Kingdom of God.’
A recently restored memorial – a of a grieving mother holding her dead child has placed in Mowbray Park, Sunderland.
Local poet P D Han put together the following complex sestina to remember this tragic account.
Touring the schools, his audience, children.
The Victoria Hall, “treats be given”.
All would receive a small present inside.
Disaster struck and brought forth tragedy.
A locked door the reason for what happened
Children entranced, on stage magic happened.
Smiles and laughter, such a marvellous show.
A wonderful day spoiled by tragedy.
“This way for presents”, voiced to the children.
Those upstairs did panic, worried inside.
Small treats thrown below, upstairs non given.
Anxious at what presents they’d be given,
And so to the staircase when it happened.
Excited, their hearts beat faster inside.
Joyous presents at the end of the show.
Down the staircase running went the children.
Screams were heard, delight turned to tragedy.
And what resulted from this tragedy?
Children they died, no presents were given.
Air squeezed from lungs, a flood of crushed children.
Trip, fall, and then suffocation happened.
Mr. Fay’s magic, a disastrous show.
Tears came from many, such heartache inside.
A constable nearby helped inside.
Aiding the victim’s of this tragedy.
Who could believe, a sad end to this show.
Sunderland mourned, with sympathy given.
History would not forget what happened.
Death took one hundred eighty three children.
The Queen she wrote “suffer little children”,
“Come unto me”, poor children crushed inside,
“To God’s kingdom”, this should not have happened.
A bolted door did cause this tragedy.
No finger of blame was ever given.
For the awful end to Mr. Fay’s show.
Those poor children dead from this tragedy,
Hearts wept inside, thus a statue given.
To remember what happened at this show.
© Copyright P. D. Han