The Family of William Warner and Sarah Leitch

A Cockroach Alive in a Lady’s Ear

To kick off what I hope will be a series of many family stories that I’ll share with you on this website, I’d like to start with a story about something that happened to my great great grandmother. Her maiden name was Margaret Ann Quinn (1837-1915) and she was married to James Warner (1837-1909), who was the son of William Warner and Sarah Leitch.

It’s part of a chapter in the Warner family history that I’ve been working on for the past nine years, but I thought it was good enough to share with you now rather than waiting until the book gets published.

The story appeared on page six of the Toronto Globe on August 2, 1880. The title of the article is “A Cockroach Alive in a Lady’s Ear.”

It could be summarized pretty well in just fourteen words: “A bug flew in her ear. It really hurt. The doctor got it out.”

You might wonder why anyone at the Globe would think that such trivia was worth publishing.

I did.

When I first saw it, I thought it was cool that I had found a story, in print, about a very personal and detailed moment in the life my ancestor. But I also thought, “how did such foolishness end up in Canada’s leading newspaper?”

The answer, of course, is that her husband worked there.

I can just imagine James showing up at work the morning after the incident and saying to his work buddies, “You won’t believe what happened to Margaret last night! It was incredible!”

Their response, once they’d heard the story, would have been some nineteenth-century working-class version of “That’s hilarious! Let’s put it in the paper.”

And they did.

So here is Margaret’s inglorious moment in the spotlight, as it appeared in the Globe that summer.

A Cockroach Alive in a Lady’s Ear – As Mrs. James Warner, of University-street, was lying on a lounge last evening about ten o’clock, in the dark, the lamp having just been taken from the room by one of her children, a cockroach flew through a window which was open at the time and struck the lady in the ear. She naturally threw her hand up to brush the insect away, but instead of doing so, by the action forced it into the orifice. She then attempted to extricate it with her fingers, but only succeeded in forcing it further in. About half an hour after the occurrence Mr. Warner, who was out at the time, arrived, the lady in the meantime suffering great agony from the movements of the creature. He took her at once to Dr. King’s surgery, on Yonge-street when, after about an hour’s exertion, the doctor succeeded in getting it out, having first killed the insect by pouring oil in the ear. The cockroach was fully five-eighths of an inch in length, and the great pain sustained by the lady may be easily imagined.

Toronto Globe, August 2, 1880, p 6

It was Dr. John Sumpter King (1843-1921) who found James and Margaret knocking on his door just before midnight that warm August night, and it was he who had the ingenuity to kill the cockroach by pouring oil in Margaret’s ear. His office was at 450 Yonge Street, at the corner of Yonge and College Streets. Although his role in Margaret and James’s life story is a small one, he seems like an interesting enough character to merit a paragraph or two of his own.

Dr. John Sumpter King, MD

Dr. King was thirty-seven when all this happened, and was already on his third career. Born in Georgetown, Ontario, he had earned a first-class teacher’s certificate while still in his teens. In 1869, at twenty-six, he left teaching to become a journalist, joining the editorial staff of the Globe three years later. He studied medicine part-time while working at the Globe, and then quit to study full-time, becoming a member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario in 1876 and earning his degree from Victoria University Medical School in Cobourg in 1879.

He left private practice the year after the cockroach-in-the-ear incident, when he was appointed Surgeon to the Andrew Mercer Ontario Reformatory for Females (a provincial prison for women) and to the Ontario Industrial Refuge for Girls (the prison’s affiliated reform school for girls under sixteen).

Illustration from Toronto Old and New, 1891, p. 108


This is the actual article as it appeared in the Globe:


1 Comment

  1. Louise Ahrens

    Keep the stories coming!! Love this one, although very unfortunate for my Great-Grandmother.

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