This guest blog post, from Pauline Figliolini, came about after Pauline had found the project and enquired about early staff accident records. Sadly we didn’t have further details to help directly, but we made a couple of suggestions and after a few emails back and forth Pauline not only found more information on her Great Great Grandfather, but was also willing to put together this post!
That wasn’t the end of the story – of course. After Pauline had sent us the blog, an unexpected stroke of luck revealed more information – all down to the kindness of strangers. Read on to find out more.
So – our thanks to Pauline, and a reminder that we’re always interested in guest posts which help share knowledge of railway staff accidents.
My paternal Great Great Grandfather, Charles Stewart, was born around September 1806 in Banchory Devenick, Kincardineshire (now Aberdeenshire).
Charles married twice, firstly to Helen who died between 1829 and 1845. She bore him two sons and one daughter.
In January 1846 Charles married again to Thurziah Maitland (who was 20 years younger than him), and they went on to have 3 sons and 2 daughters. Their last son and youngest child, Francis Stewart (born 9 November 1862) is my Great Grandfather. Francis was one day short of his second birthday when his father was killed, aged 58, whilst working on the railway line.
During his lifetime, Charles was employed as “a crofter of 10 acres”, “a surfaceman”, “a book deliverer”, “a book seller”, “a day labourer” and, at the time of his death, “a Wayman with Scottish North Eastern Railway”.
Tragically, on 8 November 1864 Charles was killed. His death certificate states “injuries received by being knocked down and run over by a train of goods wagons travelling towards Aberdeen at Blackhill Cutting, half mile south of the Cove Station. Dr John Ferguson saw the body of the deceased shortly after death and made an external examination”.
At the time of his death, Charles and his young family were living at 22 Boggside, Banchory Devenick. His death left Thurziah with 5 young children to bring up on her own and possibly 3 children from his first marriage (although they would have been older by then).
I’ve known for many years that Charles had died in an accident on the main railway line into Aberdeen. I’m Aberdeen born and have lived in Laurencekirk since 1998. Laurencekirk is some 25 miles south of Aberdeen and, pre-Covid, I would often take the train through to Aberdeen at the weekend. This journey became more poignant due to my knowledge of the accident as, although there is no longer a station at Cove, I’ve always thought of Charles as the train passed through the area where he died.
I feel a strong connection to Cove as Charles’ son, Francis (my Great Grandfather) went on to live most of his life there. I know the area quite well having worked for the last 9 years at a company which is only a mile or so from Cove village. So, all in all, I’ve always felt a strong emotional bond to the area and to my ancestors who lived, worked and died there.
I first started researching my father’s side of the family around 35 years ago; however this was at a time when records weren’t so easily found and the internet was in its infancy.
I’ve been working from home since the start of Covid and during that time I’ve cleaned out every cupboard in my home, plus the loft and the shed! During a clear out of the loft, I came upon my “family history box” and, due to having more time on my hands than usual, I decided to start researching again.
Where Charles was buried has always been a stumbling point in my research and I would dearly love to be able to lay flowers at his grave. Many years ago, I contacted Aberdeen City Archives but they were unfortunately unable to help as many of the registers pre-1878 had not survived. I left things as they were at that time.
As Charles was killed in a railway accident, I more recently began wondering if any records of that would have survived. An online search eventually brought me to the ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project website. I thought I had nothing to lose by submitting a query regarding the possibility of any records surviving for Charles’ fatal accident. I was delighted to receive a response very quickly from Mike Esbester from the project and he kindly pointed me in the direction of the local newspapers from the time as there was a chance that the accident may have been reported there.
I found my way onto the British Newspaper Archives and to the online editions of the Aberdeen People’s Journal for the time (now the Press & Journal, and still going strong!). Fairly quickly, I was able to find an entry from Saturday 12 November 1864 which featured a short article on the accident. It was quite emotional, sitting in my spare room, reading the news report on my Great Great Grandfather’s death.
Unfortunately, there was no mention of funeral arrangements and further searches of the newspaper records haven’t revealed anything. I know where Charles’ wife, Thurziah, is buried, as she lived to the age of 73 and was buried by her son in 1906.
Going off on a sad tangent here, following Charles death, Thurziah went on to marry a further two times (completely understandable with having a young family). Her third husband sadly committed suicide by drowning, allegedly following an altercation and dismissal from his work in the Aberdeen granite industry. She is buried in Nellfield Cemetery in the heart of Aberdeen and I’ve visited her grave, albeit many years ago. I intend visiting again once restrictions allow. I have a record of all the occupants of the grave and, unfortunately, Charles isn’t there.
Charles’ son Francis, who was 2 years old at the time of his father’s death, lived to the age of 80 (having married 3 times, outliving all wives!). His youngest son and last child, James Taylor Stewart, my Grandfather, was born on 1 March 1891 and died in 1971 at the age of 80. During the First World War, he served with the Gordon Highlanders and was taken prisoner in France weeks after the start of the War. He served 4 years in a Prisoner of War Camp, Sennelager 2 near Paderborn in Germany (that is a whole other side to my story!). I was born in the late 1960s and sadly don’t remember my Grandfather. My own father, also James Taylor Stewart (can get a bit confusing!) was born in 1925 and died in 2000 at the age of 75. This brings me up to date with my branch of the Stewart family history.
I am extremely grateful to Mike Esbester for all his guidance and encouragement. My search for Charles’ burial place goes on!
August 2021 update
Having submitted my original blog to Mike in March 2021, I continued with my search for Charles’ burial place. Unfortunately, to date, I have had no success. However, I came across a website called RootsChat.com, which is advertised as “The country’s busiest, largest free family history forum site. 279,298 members are ready to help you with your questions. Yes, it’s all yours, no subscription. Bursting with help. Just join in!” I thought I’d take a chance and post a query, giving a few details of Charles, the dates of his fatal accident and asking if anyone had him in their family tree and/or knew where he may be buried. That same day, I received a reply from a fellow subscriber (not known to me) asking me to confirm where Charles had been living at the time of his accident. I gave the relevant address and thought nothing more of it.
The next day, I had reason to be in Aberdeen for the day and had not long boarded the train at Aberdeen to head South, home to Laurencekirk. Less than 10 minutes into my journey, having passed through the area where Charles was killed, I began checking my emails and noticed that I had received another response from the same person. Although they were not related to Charles, they had come across a press report (available here) outlining the compensation claim for his fatal accident and had sent me the link!
They confirmed they had been looking for a site they’d been on previously when they stumbled across the report. They also mentioned that there is another site which lists every train/railway accident but that it, unfortunately, doesn’t list his burial place. They had also carried out some research on the online Nigg and Banchory Devenick Memorial Inscriptions database (which I had already checked) and confirmed that he wasn’t listed there. To have a complete stranger contact me and having taken the time to do some research and send me the press report was amazing!
I opened the report and discovered that Treziah Stewart – spelt differently to how I’d seen it recorded elsewhere – had raised an action of damages against the Scottish North Eastern Railway Company, on behalf of herself and her children, for injury occasioned to them by the death of Charles while in the service of the railway company, through the fault of the defenders. The damages for Treziah lay at £300 and for each of her 5 young children, at £200. To cut a long story short, the verdict was found for the defenders, not for Treziah and her children, and she left the Court without being awarded a penny.
To be sitting on the train reading the report and having just come through the area where Charles was killed was an emotional moment for me. I had no real appreciation of the immediate aftermath of the accident other than that Thurziah had been left with 5 young children and had gone on to marry a further two times. I was disappointed and angry that the family didn’t receive any compensation and sad that Thurziah just had to carry on regardless while the rail company, apparently, walked away, blameless.
Had it not been for the kindness of this complete stranger, I would be none the wiser. To have such a great, free, resource as RootsChat.com at our fingertips is wonderful. I have since posted further queries regarding other ancestors and received a reply from a third cousin that I didn’t know existed. He very kindly supplied me with a photo of my Great Great Grandparents who, up to that point, had just been names on a piece of paper. I have since found out where they are buried in Aberdeen and, by the time anyone reads this, I’ll have been and visited their grave. The kindness of some people is just amazing and it warms my heart!
After having read the press report of Thurziah’s damages claim, I again checked the British Newspaper Archives and found two reports from the Montrose Standard; the first, dated Friday 27 January 1865 describes a “charge of culpable homicide” against William Matthew, the station agent at Dubton Station (near Montrose) and the second, dated Friday 10 February 1865, gives a detailed report of the case being heard before a Sheriff and Jury at Forfar Sheriff Court, the outcome of which we already know.
From his death certificate, I knew that Charles’ eldest son from his first marriage, John, was present at the scene of his death. However, from reading the newspaper report, I now know that it appears that the driver of the northbound train (which hit Charles) had been unaware of the incident and that it was the driver of a southbound train which was passing shortly thereafter who had seen his body lying on the tracks. The driver stopped his train and reported the incident to John Stewart who had been working nearby. It upsets me to think that John had to face the terrible sight of his father’s body after him having been dragged along the railway line and killed. Undoubtedly, it would also have been John who had to tell Thurziah and the rest of the family the terrible news.
It appears that Charles had actually finished work for the day and was walking along the railway tracks to his home which, due to its semi-rural location, was the only way he could get there, when he was hit and killed. I feel very emotional thinking about him making his way home, as usual, and never reaching there.
Having found this additional information has fired me up again to keep ploughing on until I, hopefully, find his grave and can pay my respects. I have also recently, as mentioned in my original blog, laid flowers at Thurziah’s grave in Aberdeen.
Pauline Figliolini (nee Stewart)
I started working in Admin with Grampian Police (now Police Scotland) and was there 6 years, following which I’ve worked as a P.A. in the oil and gas industry. I enjoy walking, documentaries, meeting friends (all the usual stuff!), weekends away around Scotland and family and local history.