In this post, Kenneth G Williamson outlines the circumstances around the death of his Great Uncle in 1907. Whilst not strictly a worker accident – in the sense that his Great Uncle was only 9 at the time of his death, & not employed on the railways – it happened in the railway workplace, and within a railway family. Importantly, it also demonstrates to us the personal side of railway accidents, including the family impact, something easily overlooked or hard to discover.
We hope that this will encourage others to share the stories of workplace accidents and their wider implications – and of course, our thanks to Kenneth for sharing this case.
On Sunday 12 May 1907 my Great-Uncle, Walter (Wattie) Deas aged nine, was, together with his mother Mary Elizabeth Deas, visiting his grandfather, James Gordon, Station Master at Steele Road Station on the North British Railway’s Waverley Route. Walter resided with his parents in Wardlaw Place, Edinburgh.
That evening, Walter crossed the line to shut up the hens for the night. In returning he waited until a goods train going towards Hawick had passed and in attempting to cross the line was knocked down by a pilot engine going in the opposite direction. He was fatally injured.
Walter’s father, Andrew Deas, registered his death. At the Fatal Accident Inquiry the driver of the pilot engine stated that he never saw the boy till close upon him, his attention being for two or three moments attracted by something on the passing goods train. The driver did not whistle as the level crossing was closed to the public on Sundays.
The solicitor for the deceased’s family, Mr Barrie, contended that the engine driver or fireman should, according to regulations, have kept a continuous outlook on the line in front.
Mr Young, WS of Edinburgh, appeared on behalf of the North British Railway. The Sheriff having summed up said it lay with the jury to say whether there had been any negligence on the part of anyone, or any defect in the system of working.
The jury intimated that they found the death of Walter Deas had resulted through the boy being knocked down by a pilot engine driven by Andrew Wylie but did not attribute any negligence or defect.
Walter Deas, his mother (who died 6/2/46), grandmother, Agnes Clow (who died 6/5/1901) and his grandfather (who died 9/8/34) are all buried in Castleton Churchyard just outside Newcastleton.
What became of Walter’s father, Andrew Deas? For a long time family rumour had it he went to Canada and left his family behind. This has turned out to be the case – he left his family behind in Scotland on 1 May 1909, changing his name (adding ‘Mitchell’ to his surname) and marrying again in Canada and starting another family, before fighting in the First World War, including returning (briefly) to UK shores.
My Grandmother, Mary Geddes nee Deas, always maintained that her father had turned up at their house in Wardlaw Street, Edinburgh. His military records do show that his ship docked at Liverpool at the end of 1917 and that he had trained in Britain before going to the front so it is possible that he did travel north.
His Canadian descendants were unaware of his first family, which only came to light when they were doing their family tree. We, in our family, were well aware that Andrew Deas had abandoned his family in Edinburgh but never knew to what extent. Andrew Deas Mitchell died on 22 December 1957 in Canada.
Who would have thought that within my Great- great grandfather’s life as Station Agent/Master at Steele Road, working for the North British Railway at the turn of last century that there would be a storyline that would grace any modern soap?
Kenneth G Williamson
Having grown up in the Abbeyhill area of Edinburgh and spent plenty of time at the station, my early interest in trains has remained with me to this day. With my family having worked for the North British Railway, it was perhaps inevitable that I would be drawn to the Company – I’m currently a Committee Member of the North British Railway Study Group.
Unless specified, all images are courtesy of Kenneth. An earlier version of this piece was published in the Journal of the North British Railway Study Group. For more about the Group, see: www.nbrstudygroup.co.uk