Victorian strangeness: The man killed by an automaton

Automaton Image copyright Alamy

Author Jeremy Clay tells the grisly story of the Victorian man killed by a bell-chiming automaton.

There was no need for Sherlock. The killer didn't flee the scene. He stood his ground over the lifeless body of his victim, his hand still gripping the bloody weapon, his face betraying no emotion.

At the feet of the mechanised figure of a person - which was to have struck the hour with a hammer - lay Mr Maybrook. Poor, blameless, bludgeoned Mr Maybrook. At least the end, when it came, was swift. Swift, and absurd.

Mr Maybrook was a man of independent means, according to the report in the Illustrated Police News, who was travelling for his own pleasure in the German province of Silesia.

That winter's day in 1876 his wanderlust brought him to a historic church in the town of Glogau. The verger offered to show him round, but was called away during the tour, leaving the visitor alone in the clock tower.

Mr Maybrook wasn't too bothered. The clock was an ornate affair with carved automatons that chimed the passing hours. Left to his own devices, this was a chance to indulge his curiosity and examine the workings at close quarters. He was enthralled by the intricate mechanism. So enthralled, in fact, that he was oblivious to the ominous whirring sound that signalled the wooden figures were about to spring into action.

What followed was a scene that even an author of badly written whodunits would dismiss as implausible.

Suddenly, one of the figures struck the great bell. The startled Mr Maybrook jumped back in surprise. It was the last thing he would ever do.

"He came directly within the range of a huge hammer wielded by another automaton," said the paper, "which descended on the head of the unfortunate and ill-fated traveller."

The verger returned from his errand to find his guest in a pool of blood inside the clock. Well, when your time's up, your time's up.

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Illustrated Police News image provided by The British Library Board.

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