As part of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine’s ‘Transcription Tuesday’ earlier this year, our project made available a set of records produced by the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, one of the major railway trade unions. It listed over 2000 cases involving members, many of them accidents. In this blog post, one of the transcribers, Gordon Dudman – himself a former railwayman – delves deeper into a few of the entries.
In a previous blog, I outlined the degree of detective work necessary, using the map resource of the Scottish Library, the newspaper archive of the British Library and genealogical resources such as Ancestry, to gain a fuller picture of the story that the ‘Transcription Tuesday’ Register entry covered.
In this blog, I’m looking at some of the hidden consequences of early railway accidents.
William Simpson Marshall and George Henry Coggan
These two railwaymen do not feature directly in the records of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (ASRS). By the late 1880s, there had been a fracture within the ASRS, where some members, in the main drivers and firemen, believing the leadership were acquiescing with management over the reduction in wages and an increase in working hours, established their own “craft” union. Founded in 1879, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) had over a relatively short period of time become the trade union of choice for drivers and firemen. This situation still holds good in the modern railway. The ASRS Register entry number 412 records a boiler explosion occurring at Knottingley. The known events are that on 14 March 1901, engine number 676, hauling a heavily loaded coal train, running from Glasshoughton to Goole suffered an explosion just after passing over the Knottingley and Goole Canal.
The full details of the Board of Trade inquiry, conducted by Major Drewitt and assisted by Mr H J Helm can be found here. When reading the report, it becomes clear that the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway tried to persuade the inquiry that the cause of the boiler explosion was due to a failure by the enginemen to maintain sufficient water in the boiler. This view was dismissed by the inquiry who held that the cause was defective workmanship. What the ASRS Register shows is how much they spent in defending their members. A Mr Seaton was engaged as an “expert” by the ASRS, through a firm of Solicitors (Hyde, Son and Burniston) at a cost of £54.17.10 along with their own engineer, a Mr Gibbons, at £14.1.0. Their own solicitor also charged the ASRS a further £34.19.5½ making a total outlay by the union of £103.7.3½. That is a sum approaching £12,200 at today’s value. Given the very formal nature of BoT Reports, I was rather taken by the following comments by Major Drewitt in his remarks: “I consider it is due to the memory of the deceased driver Marshall and his companion fireman Coggan, to point out there is no evidence to show that the explosion was due to any want of care or attention on their part.”
Both William Marshall and George Coggan are buried in Goole Cemetery
Dalnashpidal is a dangerous place
For those that know where it is, Dalnashpidal is a rather bleak place. It sits just under half-way between Perth and Inverness on the Highland Mainline. It marks the southern end of 9-mile section of double track; Dalwhinne is at the northern end. Between them lies Drumochter Summit, which at 1484 feet above sea level is the highest point on the rail network. The first Register entry for an accident at Dalnashpidal is that of Driver Adam Chisholm on 29 June 1901. Then on the 17 August is an entry for Driver George Michie. Thankfully, no further entries for Dalnashpidal have been found.
So, what do we know about these two men? The first, 40-year old Adam Chisholm, was a single man and thus the ASRS Register records that there was no compensation to claim and that the record was closed. Thanks to Scotland’s People we can find this death certificate and the subsequent court proceedings in Perth Sheriff court to determine the outcome of his estate.
His death is recorded as having occurred at 7:15pm on 5 July 1901 in Perth Infirmary. Cause of death is given as a head injury some 7 days earlier. The certificate has been amended, following an inquest, to meningitis and laceration of the brain.
From the transcript of proceedings at Perth Sheriff Court on 1 August 1901 we know that he lived at 1 Mosset Terrace, Forres and that the property appears to have been rented. He had £94.7.4 on deposit in the Forres Savings bank and a Life Policy with the Prudential Assurance Company valued at £106.0.0. He died intestate, a major part of the hearing in the Sherriff Court was to firstly identify his older brother George (a Masonry Inspector with the Highland Railway) and to assign him his brother’s property.
The second death was that of George Begg Michie, a married man aged 26. He appears to have died instantaneously. His death is recorded as occurring “on the Highland mainline, south of Dalnashpidal station” on 17 August 1901. We know that he left a widow (Sarah) and that the cause of death was from a fracture of the base of the skull. From the transcript of proceedings at Inverness Sherriff court on 8 February 1902 and that he lived at 12 Waterloo Place, Inverness. His estate was valued at just £13.0.0, represented by £3 in cash and £10 as a notional value of his personal property. It does note that his widow would receive £236.13.4 from the Highland Railway as a result of the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1897. (Good to confirm the same sum is in the Register.) Like Adam, he died intestate, so a major part of the hearing in Inverness Sherriff Court was to firstly identify his wife Sarah and to assign her George’s property. We know from Ancestry records he already had a young daughter, Jessie, and that Sarah was heavily pregnant. Their son, named for his father, was born on 13 October 1901.
In many other cases, the death of the husband could cause the family to splinter. In this instance both George and Sarah came from large families all living in the Inverness area; they appear to have been very supportive. Sarah’s death is recorded in 1964. Jessie appears never to have married but travelled widely and died in 1963. George died in 1976.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: GORDON DUDMAN
This is me, aged 14, running the signal box at Rowfant after school one late afternoon in the Autumn of 1966; a few months before the line closed at the end of that year. A year later and I started my railway career, working as a Booking Lad in the Signal Box at Haywards Heath.
My interest in Genealogy was sparked by watching BBCs “Heir Hunters” and the realisation that the digitisation of so much historical data meant it was quite easy to build family trees. My first attempt came after I spotted a tweet asking if anyone knew about Private Jacob Rivers, a railwaymen VC holder. Within a couple of hours, I was able to suggest a couple of names and telephone numbers of likely living relatives. This resulted in a gathering some months later of some 150 relatives, some meeting each other for the first time, at the unveiling of a memorial to Jacob at Derby station.
Since then I have investigated the backgrounds of notable railway families along with all 12 names on a WW1 memorial in the Parish Church at Chacombe; again, this time uniting a family to the grave of a great grandfather.