It is 1:45 in the afternoon of Tuesday, the 19th of May 1904 and building work on Stornoway Town Hall has been brought to a halt. William J Macdonald, a 21 year-old House Carpenter originally from Avoch, a few miles North of Inverness, but currently living at 27 South Beach Street, has just died of a fracture of the skull.
His death was registered on Saturday, the 14th of June (the figure is a little unclear), the delay being occasioned because it was registered ‘on the information of the Procurator Fiscal’, the cause being derived ‘...per verdict of jury.’
I have not discovered any online references to this tragic event but no doubt some of the newspapers of the time will have reported upon it. Meanwhile we may catch a glimpse of William three years before his death when, at the time of the 1901 Census, he was an 18 year-old ‘Carpenter Apprentice’, the eldest of the remaining six children of William Macdonald, a 50 year-old Baker, and his wife Catherine who was aged 44.
The family resided at 3 George Street, Avoch, Ross-shire and were affluent enough to employ a Cook. A decade earlier they had been living at 20 & 21 Margaret Street and, as well as two fellow Bakers and an Apprentice Baker, the Macdonald household also included a General Servant (Domestic). The oldest child, 9 year-old Jessie Ann Macdonald, had been born in Avoch as would be the case with all of her siblings.
I stumbled upon this unusual death by chance when I saw the photograph of William Macdonald’s memorial here: http://gravestones.rosscromartyroots.co.uk/picture/number14047.asp . The phrase ‘accidentally killed at Stornoway Town Hall’ immediately grabbed my attention but what held it was the fact that this impressive memorial had been ‘Erected by his employer’.
Sadly, when William’s death was recorded in Stornoway, he was said to be 25 years old rather than his true age of just 21, for William James Macdonald had indeed been born in 1883.
His memorial also shows that a mere two years after his death the family suffered a second untimely death with the loss of Jessie Ann at the age of just 25...