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THE EMPHASIS OF DEATH. 27

CHAPTER IV.

ACCIDENTS AND CONSERVATISM.

THE four accidents which have been referred to, including that of April 17, 1836, upon the Manchester & Liverpool road, belong to one class. Though they covered a period of forty-two years they were all due to the same cause, the sudden derailment of a portion of the train, and its subsequent destruction because of the insufficient control of those in charge of it over its momentum. In the three earlier cases the appliances in use were much the same, for between 1836 and 1874 hardly any improvement as respects brakes had either forced its own way, or been forced by the government, into general acceptance in Great Britain. The Wollaston disaster, on the other hand, revealed a weak point in an improved appliance; the old danger seemed, indeed, to take a sort of pleasure in baffling human ingenuity. The Shipton accident, however, while one of the most fatal which ever occurred was also one of the most

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fruitful in results. This, and the accident of April 17, 1836, upon the Manchester & Liverpool road were almost precisely similar, though no less than thirty-eight years intervened between them. In the case of the first, however, no one was killed and consequently it was wholly barren of results; for experience has shown that to bring about any considerable reform, railroad disasters have, as it were, to be emphasized by loss of life. This, however, implies nothing more than the assertion that those responsible for the management of railroads do not differ from other men,—that they are apt, after some hair-breadth escape, to bless their fortunate stars for the present good rather than to take anxious heed for future dangers.

At the time the Shipton accident occurred the success of the modern train-brake, which places the speed of each of the component parts of the train under the direct and instantaneous control of him who is in charge of the locomotive, had for years been conceded even by the least progressive of American railroad managers. The want of such a brake and the absence of proper means of communication between the parts of the train had directly and obviously caused the murderous destructiveness of the accident. Yet in the investigation which ensued it appeared that the authorities of the Great Western Railway, being eminently " practical men," still entertained as respected the train-brake " very grave doubts of the wisdom of adopting [it] at

BRITISH CONSERVATISM. 29

all;" while at the same time, as respected a means of communication between the parts of the train, it appeared that the associated general managers of the leading railways "did not think that any [such] means of communication was at all required, or likely to be useful or successful."

Though quite incomprehensible, there is at the same time something superb in such an exhibition of stolid conservatism. It is British. It is, however, open to but one description of argument, the ultima ratio of railroad logic. So long as luck averted the loss of life in railroad disasters, no occasion would ever have been seen for disturbing time-honored precautions or antiquated appliances. While, however, a disaster like that of December 24, 1874, might not convince, it did compel: in spite of professed "grave doubts," incredulity and conservatism vanished, silenced, at least, in presence of so frightful a row of corpses as on that morning made ghastly the banks of the Cherwell. The general, though painfully slow and reluctant, introduction of train-brakes upon the railways of Great Britain may be said to have dated from that event.

In the matter of communication between those in the train and those in charge of it, the Shipton corpses chanced not to be witnesses to the precise point. Accordingly their evidence was, so to speak, ruled out of the case, and neither the utility nor the success of any appliance for this purpose was held to be yet proven. What further proof would be deemed

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conclusive did not appear, but the history of the discussion before and since is not without value. There is, indeed, something almost ludicrously characteristic in the manner with which those interested in the railway management of Great Britain strain at their gnats while they swallow their camels. They have grappled with the great question of city travel with a superb financial and engineering sagacity' which has left all other communities hopelessly distanced; but, while carrying their passengers under and over the ebb and flow of the Thames and among the chimney pots of densest London to leave them on the very steps of the Royal Exchange, they have never been able to devise any satisfactory means for putting the traveller, in case of a disaster to the carriage in which he happens to be, in communication with the engine-driver of his train. An English substitute for the American bell-cord has for more than thirty years set the ingenuity of Great Britain at defiance.

As long ago as the year 1857, in consequence of two accidents to trains by fires, a circular on this subject was issued to the railway companies by the Board of Trade, in which it was stated that 11 from the beginning of the year 1854, down to the present time (December, 1857) there have been twenty-six cases in which either the accidents themselves or some of the ulterior consequences of the accidents would probably have been avoided had such a means 

THE BELL-CORD. 31

of communication existed," * As none of these accidents had resulted in any considerable number of funerals the railway managers wholly failed to see the propriety of this circular, or the necessity of taking any steps in consequence of it. As, however, accidents from this cause were still reported, and with increasing frequency, the authorities in July, 1864, again bestirred themselves and issued another circular in which it was stated that "several instances have occurred of carriages having taken fire, or having been thrown off the rails, the passengers in ,which had no means of making their perilous situation known to the servants of the company in charge of the train. Recent occurrences also of a criminal nature in passenger railway trains have excited among the public a very general feeling of alarm." The last reference was more particularly to the memorable Briggs murder, which had taken place only a few days before on July 9th, and was then absorbing the public attention to the almost entire exclusion of everything else.

* The bell-cord in America, notwithstanding the theoretical objections which have been urged to its adoption in other countries, has proved such a simple and perfect protection against dangers from inability to communicate between portions of trains that accidents from this cause do not enter into the consideration of American railroad managers. Yet they do, now and again, occur. For instance, on February 28, 1874, a passenger coach in a west-bound accommodation !rain of the Great Western railroad of Canada took fire from the falling of a lamp in the closet at its forward end. The bell-cord was for some reason not connected with the locomotive, and the train ran two miles before it could be stopped. The coach in question was entirely destroyed and eight passengers were either burned or suffocated, while no less than thirteen others sustained injuries in jumping from the train. 

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As no better illustration than this can be found of the extreme slowness with which the necessity for new railroad appliances is recognized in cases where profit is not involved, and of the value of wholesale slaughters, like those at Shipton and Angola, as a species of motive force in the direction of progress, a digression on the subject of English accidents due to 'the absence of bell-cords may be not without value. In the opinion of the railway managers the cases referred to by the Board of Trade officials failed to show the existence of any necessity for providing means of communication between portions of the train. A detailed statement of a few of the cases thus referred to will not only be found interesting in itself, but it will give some idea of the description of evidence which is considered insufficient. The circumstances of the Briggs murder, deeply interesting as they were, are too long for incidental statement; this, however, is not the case with some of the other occurrences. For instance, the Board of Trade circular was issued on July 30th on July 7th, a year earlier, the following took place on the London & North Western road.

Two gentlemen took their seats at Liverpool in one of the compartments of the express train to London. In it they found already seated an elderly lady and a large, powerfully built man, apparently Irish, respectably dressed, but with a lowering, suspicious visage. Though one of the two gentlemen noticed this peculiarity as he entered the carriage,

A STRUGGLE FOR LIFE. 33

he gave no thought to it, but, going on with their conversation, he and his friend took their seats, and in a few moments the train started. Scarcely was it out of the station when the stranger changed his seat, placing himself on the other side of the carriage, close to the window, and at the same time, in a menacing way, incoherently muttering something to himself. The other passengers looked at him, but felt no particular alarm, and for a time he remained quietly in his seat. He then suddenly sprang up, and, with a large clasp-knife in his hand, rushed at one of the gentlemen, a Mr. Warland by name, and struck him on the forehead, the knife sliding along the bone and inflicting a frightful flesh wound. As he was in the act of repeating the blow, Warland's companion thrust him back upon the seat. This seemed to infuriate him, and starting to his feet he again tried to attack the wounded man. A frightful struggle ensued. It was a struggle for life, in a narrow compartment feebly lighted, for it was late at night, on a train running at full speed and with no stopping place for eighty miles. The passenger who had not been hurt clutched the maniac by the throat with one hand and grasped his knife with the other, but only to feel the blade drawn through his fingers, cutting them to the bone. The unfortunate elderly woman, the remaining occupant of the compartment, after screaming violently in her terror for a few moments, fainted away and fell upon the floor. The struggle nevertheless went on among the three men, 

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until at last, though blinded with blood and weak from its loss, the wounded Mr. Warland got behind his assailant and threw him down, in which position the two succeeded in holding him, he striking and stabbing at both of them with his knife, shouting loudly all the time, and desperately endeavoring to rise and throw them off. They finally, however, got his knife away from him, and then kept him down until the train at last drew up at Camdentown station. When the ticket collector opened the compartment door at that place he found the four passengers on the floor, the woman senseless and two of the men holding the third, while the faces and clothing of all of them, together with seats, floor, windows and sides of the carriage were covered with blood or smeared with finger marks.

The assailant in this case, as it subsequently appeared upon his commitment for an assault, was a schoolmaster who had come over from Ireland to a competitive examination. He was insane, of course, but before the magistrate he made a statement which had in it something quite touching; he said that he saw the two gentlemen talking together, and, as he thought, making motions to wards him; he believed them to be thieves who intended to rob him, and so he thought that he could not do better than defend himself, 11 if only for his dear little ones at home."

This took place before the Board of Trade circular

ASSAULTS AND INDECENCIES. 35

was issued, but, as if to give emphasis to it, a few days only after its issue, in August, 1864, there was a not dissimilar occurrence in a third class carriage between London and Peterborough. The running distance was in this case eighty miles without a stop, and occupied generally an hour and fifty minutes, the rate being forty-three miles an hour. In the compartment in question were five passengers, one of whom, a tall powerful fellow, was dressed like a sailor. The train was hardly out of London when this man, after searching his pockets for a moment, cried out that he had been robbed of his purse containing 17 pounds, and began violently to shout and gesticulate. He then tried to clamber through the window, getting his body and one leg out, and when his fellow passengers, catching hold of his other leg, succeeded in hauling him back, he turned savagely upon them and a desperate struggle ensued. At last he was gotten down by main force and bound to a seat. Meanwhile, notwithstanding the speed at which they were running, the noise of the struggle was heard in the adjoining compartments, and almost frantic efforts were made to stop the train. Word was passed from carriage to carriage for a short distance, but it proved impossible to communicate with the guard, or to do anything but thoroughly alarm the passengers. These merely knew that something was the matter,—what, they could only imagine,—and so the run to Peterborough was completed amid shouts of "stop the train," interspersed with frantic 

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female shrieks. The man was suffering from delirium tremens.

About a year later, in December, 1865, a similar case occurred which, however, had in it strong elements of the ludicrous. A clergyman, laboring under great indignation and excitement, and without the slightest sense of the ridiculous, recounted his experience in a communication to the Times. He had found himself alone in a compartment of an express train in which were also a young lady and a man, both total strangers to him. Shortly after the train started the man began to give unmistakable indications of something wrong. He made no attempt at any violence on either of his fellow passengers, but he was noisy, and presently he proceeded to disrobe himself and otherwise to indulge in antics which were even more indecent than they were extraordinary. The poor clergyman,—a respected incumbent of the established church returning to the bosom of his family,—was in a most distressing situation. At first he attempted remonstrance. This, however, proved worse than unavailing, and there was nothing for it but to have recourse to his umbrella, behind the sheltering cover of which he protected the modesty of the young lady, while over its edges he himself from time to time effected observations through an apparently interminable journey of forty and more miles.

These and numerous other cases of fires, murders, assaults and indecencies had occurred and filled the

A BURGLAR'S PLUNGE. 37

columns of the newspapers, without producing the slightest effect on the managers of the railway companies. No attention was paid by them to the Board of Trade circulars. At last Parliament took the matter up and in 1868 an act was passed, making compulsory some "efficient means of communication between the passenger and the servants of the company in charge" of railroad trains. Yet when six years later in 1874 the Shipton accident occurred, and was thought to be in some degree attributable to the absence of the very means of communication thus made compulsory, it appeared, as has been seen, that the associated general managers did not yet consider any such means of communication either required or likely to be useful.

Meanwhile as if in ironical comment on such measured utterances, occurrences like the following, which took place as recently as the early part of 1878, from time to time still meet the eye in the columns of the English press:—

"A burglar was being taken in a third-class carriage from London to Sheffield. When about twelve miles from Sheffield he asked that the windows might be opened. This was no sooner done than he took a dive out through the aperture. One of the warders succeeded in catching him by a foot, and for two miles he hung head downward suspended by one foot and making terrific struggles to free himself. In vain he wriggled, for although his captors were unable to catch the other foot, both held him as in a vise. But he wore spring-sided boots, and the one on which his fate seemingly depended came off. The burglar fell heavily on the foot-board of

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the carriage and rolled off on the railway. Three miles further on the train stopped, and the warders went back to the scene of the escape. Here they found him in the snow bleeding from a wound on the bead. During the time he was struggling with the warders the warder who had one hand free and the passengers of the other compartments who were witnessing the scene from the windows of the train were indefatigable in their efforts to attract the attention of the guards by means of the communication cord, but with no result. For two miles the unfortunate man hung head downward, and for three miles further the train ran until it stopped at an ordinary resting place."

A single further example will more than sufficiently illustrate this instance of British railroad conservatism, and indicate the tremendous nature of the pressure which has been required to even partially force the American bell-cord into use in that country. One day, in the latter part of 1876, a Mr. A. J. Ellis of Liverpool had occasion to go to Chester. On his way there he had an experience with a lunatic which he subsequently recounted before a magistrate as follows:—

"On Friday last I took the 10:35 A.M., train from Lime Street in a third-class carriage, my destination being Chester. At Edge Hill Station the prisoner and another man, whom I afterward understood to be the prisoner's father, got into the same compartment, no one else being in the same compartment. The other person was much under the influence of drink when he entered, and was very noisy during the journey. The prisoner had the appearance of having been drinking, but was quiet. I sat with my back to the engine, on the getting-out side of the carriage; prisoner was sitting on the opposite side, with his right arm to the window, and the other person was

A RIDE WITH A MANIAC. 39

sitting on the same side as prisoner, about the middle of the seat. I was engaged reading, and did not exchange words with the prisoner.

After we had passed over Runcorn bridge and through the station, I perceived the prisoner make a start, and looking toward him saw a white-hafted knife in his hand, about five inches long, with the blade open. He held it in his right band in a menacing manner. Drawing his left hand along the edge of the blade, he said, "This will have to go into some—." At that moment he looked at me across the carriage; he was on his feet in an instant, and looking across to me, he said, "You—, this will have to go into you," and made a bound toward me. The other jumped up and tried to prevent him. The prisoner threw him away; he made a plunge at my throat. I caught his wrist just as he advanced, and struggled with him, still holding fast to his wrist with both hands. We fell over and under one another two or three times, and eventually he overpowered me. I had fallen on my side on the seat, but still retained my hold upon his wrist. While lying in that position he held the knife down to within an inch of my throat. I called to the other man to hold the prisoner's hand back which contained the knife, and by that means be saved my life. I was growing powerless, and as the other man restrained the prisoner from using the knife, I jerked myself from his grasp, and knocked the knife out of the prisoner's hand with my left hand.

"The prisoner eluded the grip of his father, and falling on his knees began to seek for his knife. Failing to find the knife, he was instantly on his feet, and made a spring upon me. If I recollect aright, he threw his arms around my neck, and in this manner we struggled together up and down the carriage for some minutes, during which time he got my left thumb (with a glove on at the time) in his mouth, and bit it. Still retaining my thumb in his mouth, the other man struck him under the chin, when he released it, and fell on his knees seeking the knife, which

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he did not find. He was immediately on his feet, and again made a spring upon me. We had then a very long and desperate struggle, when he overpowered me and pinned me in a corner of the compartment. At last he got my right thumb into his mouth, holding my hand to steady it with both his hands while he bit it. With a great effort he then bit my thumb off, clean to the bone. I had no glove on that hand. I called to the other man to help me, but he seemed stupefied. He called two or three times to the prisoner, 'Leave the poor man alone. The poor man has done thee no harm.' Though sitting within nine inches of my knees he rendered me no help.

"When the prisoner bit my thumb off, he held it in his mouth; he pushed his head through the glass, spat the thumb into his hand and flung it out through the window. I then stood up and put my left hand in my pocket, took out my purse and cried out: 'If it is money you want take all I have.' He made a grab at the purse and flung it through the window, on the same side as the thumb was thrown out. From this act I inferred that I was struggling with a maniac. I retreated to the other end of the compartment, holding the other man between me and the prisoner, but he passed the other man by jumping over the seat and again got hold of me. Then he forced his head through the other window, breaking the glass, and, loosing me for a moment, with his fists smashed the remaining glass in the window. Addressing me he said: 'You—, you will have to go over;' at the same time he flung both his arms around my waist. I put my leg behind his and threw him on his back. I called upon the other man to help me and he did so.

"We held him down for some time, but be overpowered us and flung us back some distance. He then laid hold of my travelling rug and threw it through the window. Laying his hand on the bottom of the window he cried out, 'Here goes,' and made a leap through the window. I and the other man instantly laid hold of his legs as he

THE MOTE AND THE BEAM 41

was falling over. I got my four fingers into his right shoe, and, his father assisting me, we held him through the window, hanging head downward for about half a mile. I then fainted, and as I was losing my hold on his heels I have some faint recollection that the prisoner's father lost his hold at the same time, and I can't say what happened afterward. As I was coming to myself the train was stopping, and I heard the other man say, 'Oh, my son, my son.' When the train stopped I walked from the carriage to the station, and Dr. Robinson, who was sent for, came in about an hour and amputated my thumb further back."

While thus referring, however, to this instance of British railroad conservatism, which with a stolid indifference seems to ignore the teachings of everyday life and to meet constantly recurring experience with a calm defiance, it will not do for the American railroad manager to pride himself too much on his own greater ingenuity and more amenable disposition. The Angola disaster has been referred to, as well as that at Shipton. If the absence of the bell-cord had indeed any part in the fatality of the latter, the presence in cars crowded with passengers of iron pots full of living fire lent horrors before almost unheard of to the former. The methods of accomplishing needed results which are usual to any people are never easily changed, whether in Europe or in America; but certainly the disasters which have first and last ensued from the failure to devise any safe means of heating passenger coaches in this country are out of all proportion to those which can be attributed in England to the absence of means of

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communication between the passengers on trains and those in charge of them. There is an American conservatism as well as an English; and when it comes to a question of running risks it would be strange indeed if the greater margin of security were found west of the Atlantic. The security afforded by the bell-cord assuredly has not as yet in this country off-set the danger incident to red-hot stoves.


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