Hannah Riordan's headstone
Hannah Riordan's headstone Samantha Elley

TALES: Dangerous clothes and an open flame

BACK in the 19th century, women's dresses were a hazard in more ways than one.

Putting aside the fact they were long and restrictive and would have been quite hot in summer, they were also often highly flammable.

Made from materials such as cotton muslin or gauze, it wasn't a case of just stamping out a few flames, but more like a sudden spark causing a fireball and engulfing the unlucky wearer.

Add to that the fact open flames were very common in the kitchen and throughout the house - fires for cooking and heating, or candlelight and gas lamps - it was inevitable that death by being burnt alive wasn't uncommon.

This is what happened to Hannah Riordan in 1890.

Born Hannah Dixon to William and Elizabeth (nee Mallett) in the Richmond area, she met and married Daniel Riordan, originally from the Shoalhaven area, in 1886.

The Riordan family moved to the Northern Rivers in the 1860s, Daniel's parents travelling by the steamer Ballina to settle on a property at North Arm, Tucki.

Daniel established himself as both a farmer and a butcher in Coraki, while Hannah bore three daughters.

Five months after the birth of their last daughter Essie Bernice, Hannah had obviously been too close to an open flame and her dress quickly caught fire.

"...it was almost burnt off her body before assistance was rendered to extinguish the flames,” The Northern Star reported in November 1890.

While it looked like the young mum was making it through her severe burns, a month later she passed away from her injuries and is buried at Tucki cemetery with her husband, Daniel, who died 40 years later.


  • 'A history of women who burned to death in flammable dresses', Racked, www.racked.com, accessed April 4, 2018.
  • Births, Deaths, Marriages, bdm.nsw.gov.au, accessed April 4, 2018
  • 'Obituary', The Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser, Friday, March 4, 1932, Page 5.
  • 'Wyrallah', The Northern Star, Wednesday, November 19, 1890. Page 4.

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