The World's News   Saturday, August 1, 1903


It has fortunately befallen few women to pass through an experience so awful as that which Mrs. Sarah Hart, of Paisley, lived to narrate. For nearly eight hours, as already briefly told in "The World's News," this brave Irishwoman battled for her life in utter darkness, attacked unceasingly by swarming huge rats. So incredible, indeed, seemed her story that careful investigations were made, with the result that all the leading English papers accepted her tale as the truthful statement of a woman's extraordinary adventure.

It was on a Saturday night that Mrs. Hart, a widow of nearly 50 years of age, walked from the town of Barrhead, a few miles off, to Paisley, where she intended to stay. The night was dark and wet, and noticing several suspicious-looking men standing at a corner, she turned off, making for the crossing of the Espedair Burn, a stream which runs through the town, with stone embankments, but devoid of fencing. The burn was in flood stage, its turbid waters rushing swiftly along on a level with its banks. This proved Mrs. Hart's undoing. In the uncertain light, the water resembled a footpath in which she stepped on, and—"I was carried away like a straw. Almost before I knew what had happened I was underneath the bridge."

This "bridge" is really the arched stone facing of the culvert through which the Espedair Burn runs on its way to the River Carl. The bed of the stream all along the culvert, and for some distance in the open air, is made of brick, but this does not prevent huge rats from swarming in hundreds in its cavernous depths.

At this time the stream was within a foot of the roof at the entrance. As Mrs. Hart was whirled along helplessly by the fierce torrent she managed, with the strength of despair, to clutch at the arch and temporarily arrest her headlong progress. The bottom of the culvert immediately beyond this point falls abruptly, making a kind of small waterfall. In this wild tumble of waters, Mrs. Hart clung for a few minutes to the stonework, shouting loudly but unavailingly for help. Finally, a rush of water tore her away and hurried her relentlessly into the utter darkness of the noisome tunnel beyond.

The water was up to her chest and rushing along at a terrific pace so that she could not gain her footing. With infinite difficulty she kicked off her boots, to get a better grip on the bottom of the culvert. But she kept slipping. Sliding backward, the flood eddying around her, and forcing her relentlessly further and further away from the point at which she had entered the vault. At last the poor woman desisted and crouched against the brickwork to think what she should do next. All the time, to add to the poignancy of her distress, she could distinctly hear the big clock on the town-hall chiming the quarter-hours.


Presently a new horror was added to her already sufficiently terrible position. Disturbed in their burrows by the rising water, countless myriads of huge rats now began to swarm around the poor buffeted woman. They bit at her hands and clothes and clung tenaciously to her garments, their loathsome bodies, and beady eyes seem to be all around her.

"At first," said Mrs. Hart, "I thought the movement I could feel was only the water rising over my face and head. Then I found out it was rats! I do not think I shall ever be more afraid in my life! I commenced screaming with all my might, but no one heard me, and I had to keep moving and knocking off the great brutes which climbed over me."

And so the long hours of that awful night went slowly by. Just picture for yourself the position of this poor woman, maintaining her place against the wall only with the utmost difficulty, breast-high in a swirling torrent, in inky darkness, and continually attacked by swarms of loathsome rats, who bit viciously when she resisted their efforts to use her head and shoulders as a safe retreat from the waters which had flooded their usual homes. How Mrs. Hart escaped serious injury from these voracious creatures is all but inexplicable, and can only be attributed to the terror-stricken desperation of her efforts to keep them off, and the fact that the rats themselves were considerably handicapped by the force of the current. But that the ordeal must have been appalling beyond description is shown by the condition of the clothes she was wearing at the time, which were seen by the writer. The stout blue serge is a mass of small tears, while in parts the rats' teeth have bitten through both cloth and lining.

For seven and a half hours the unfortunate woman endured all the horrors of this subterranean vault, the slow passage of time being brought home to her tortured brain by the monotonous chiming of the town-hall clock. Mrs. Hart remembers hearing the clock strike the quarter to 4. By this time the water had increased considerably in volume and gradually washed her from position after position, until at last she lost her footing altogether, and was swept away once more. This time the turbid stream carried her right down to the River Cart. Fortunately for the poor woman, the river was also in flood stage, and up to the level of the culvert, so that the speed of the current moderated as she neared the mainstream, and she was able to clutch hold of a piece of drift-wood which stuck up out of the river.

Having grasped the stick, Mrs. Hart succeeded in laying hold of some tufts of grass, and no pulling herself on to the bank. Woman-like, in spite of the terrible experience she had just come through, she thought of her appearance. "If anyone had seen me then!" she said. "All my hair-pins gone, my hair hanging about me, and my clothes in rags; I must have been a fearsome sight. No wonder the policemen asked me where I had come from!"

A fearsome sight the poor woman certainly was. Though quite conscious, she had the appearance of a corpse, the skin of her hands, especially, being a deathly white. She lay for a couple of hours, probably on her newly-found haven ere assistance came in the shape of two stalwart constables to whom she shouted. 

Mrs. Hart was kept in the police office till Monday morning and carefully tended.  She seemed to recover almost immediately, but such a shock could not be merely a passing one. About a month after the occurrence Mrs. Hart collapsed and had to undergo treatment in hospital. Her dependence for many years upon her own earnings by manual labor from  day to day, and the habitual exposure in all sorts of weather to which she has been subjected, have no doubt made her remarkably strong in both mind and body, and these qualities must be looked to as accounting for her surviving an experience which to most people would have meant certain death, either by drowning, the effects of the long exposure, or sheer terror at the accumulated horrors Of that awful night in the terranean stream. — "Wide World Magazine."