Ellen Donovan's act of heroic self-sacrifice, although commendable and impressive, was, as it transpired, unnecessary.
Her plaque in Postman's Park provides a brief synopsis of the circumstances surrounding her death. It reads, "Ellen Donovan Of Lincoln Court, Great Wild Street. Rushed Into A Burning House To Save A Neighbours Children And Perished In The Flames. July 28 1873."
On Sunday 3rd August 1873, under the above headline, Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper carried the following report on her act of heroism plus a report on the inquest into her death, which had taken place on Thursday 31st July 1873:-
"On Thursday Dr. Hardwicke held an inquiry at the King's Head tavern, Broad-street, St. Giles, into the circumstances attending the death of Ellen Donovan, who was killed at a fire that took place in Lincoln-court, Drury-lane, on Monday last.
The evidence showed that the fire broke out in the afternoon in a room occupied by a woman named Cowan, who had locked her door and gone out.
It was discovered by another woman of the name of Hussey, who lived on the floor above, and she, with the assistance of her husband, succeeded in saving the lives of several children.
Subsequently deceased came up, and asked the bystanders "if the poor brats were out."
On being told, erroneously it appears, that they were not, she rushed into the burning building with the intention of bringing them out.
She reached the top floor, and finding no one there, prepared to descend, but the staircase was by this time alight.
The poor creature screamed for help, but the house soon became a mass of flames, and the roof immediately afterwards fell in.
Mr. Dickson, the sanitary inspector of the district, stated that the houses in the court were built almost entirely of wood, but were otherwise perfectly habitable.
There were 21 houses, containing 3436 inhabitants, each house having eight rooms.
The jury returned a verdict of accidental death."
The Leeds Times was one of many newspapers to applaud the courage demonstrated by Ellen Donovan, and it sung her praises in an article that it published on Saturday 9th August 1873:-
"On Monday a house in Lincoln Court was discovered to be in flames.
A woman named Cowan, occupying one of the rooms in this tenement, had gone out, leaving her door locked.
Something inside ignited, and the whole place was speedily in a blaze.
Another female lodger, named Hussey, dwelling on the floor above, succeeded, with the assistance of her husband, in saving the lives of a number of children with whom the place swarmed.
Subsequently another inhabitant, named Ellen Donovan, made her appearance, and asked if the "poor brats" within were saved.
Not rightly understanding the answer given her, which was to the effect that the little ones were safe, this humane and courageous woman rushed into the burning building with the intention of rescuing the babes she deemed to be in peril.
She reached the top floor, found no one, endeavoured to descend; but the stair case was in flames; shortly afterwards, the roof fell in; and when the fury of the conflagration had abated, the corpse of the valiant Ellen Donovan - and Irish basket-woman, but none the less a true martyr in the cause of humanity - was discovered in the ruins."