At the time
that it occurred, the tragedy which befell the Rockhampton
Mail train in the early hours of 9 June, 1925, was the worst
railway disaster in Queensland's history.
The accident occurred shortly before 2am when an
obstruction under one of the trailing wheels of the leading
bogie of the luggage van in the Mail's consist caused the van
to derail. The vehicle careered along in that perilous state
for about 2.4km before it plunged over the side of the 96 Mile
Bridge on the northern side of Traveston, taking with it two
The guard had a lucky escape from also ending up in the
creek bed when the couplings between his van and the derailed
luggage van snapped shortly before the latter van went into
The Brisbane Courier newspaper of 10 June 1925,
described how the view from the accident bridge "presents a
mangled mass of debris, quantities of which are in splinters
"It can be likened to heaps of the waste of carpenters
or joiners. How any of the passengers escaped is little short
of a miracle," the Courier observed.
Most deaths and injuries occurred in a composite van
that went over the side of the bridge. Passengers from the
front section of the train which stayed on the rails quickly
tried to help those injured, however, it would take the
arrival of doctors and ambulance from Gympie for any
substantial treatment to take place.
Among the fatalities was a boy, 4, who died in his
mother's arms, and a Bundaberg woman who had only been married
in Brisbane the day before the accident. Her husband of 24
hours sustained head injuries. There were fortunate escapes
too, as outlined by Queensland Parliamentarian, Mr. George
Carter, M.L.A., who had been travelling on the southbound
Rockhampton Mail that came upon the disaster scene shortly
"I saw a little baby boy of about 18 months, crawl
unconcernedly from underneath the debris, sucking at its
dummy, apparently none the worse for his terrible experience,"
Mr. Carter recounted.
The bridge where the disaster occurred was a small
wooden one spanning a gully about 10.5 metres deep.
News of the disaster was first received at Gympie at
2.30am. The station master there, Mr. Moynihan, quickly
organised a breakdown gang, doctors and ambulance staff and a
relief train was able to leave at 3.15pm.
At the scene of the tragedy, it was soon learnt that
nine people were dead and 48 were injured. Rescuers literally
had to break open some of the damaged carriages and jack up
some to extract the survivors. By 6.30am, however, the two
locomotives and the front portion of the train were able to
continue on to Gympie, taking with it the injured passengers.
The bodies of those who had died in the derailment were
brought in about 5.30am and taken to the Gympie Hospital
Soon after the accident it became apparent that some
passengers had been aware of the impending danger, however,
had been persuaded not to take preventive action.
John Stevens, 33, of Sydney, for example, told the Brisbane
Courier of how he had looked out of the window of his
carriage shortly before the accident and had seen "fire and
sparks" issuing from the wheels of the derailed luggage van
and had experienced a jolting and rumbling sensation.
Stevens had gone to pull the emergency communication
cord but was told by a fellow traveler not to do so as the
sensation was only caused by the train rounding a sharp curve.
Shortly after the luggage van went over the side of the
That train of 13 vehicles was headed by a B17 4-6-0, No
683, and PB15, 4-6-0 No 388. The consist was made up of a
travelling post office, a mail wagon, four sleeping cars, five
sitting cars, a baggage wagon and a brake van.
A Court of Inquiry was set up after the tragedy with
Mr. Justice Webb presiding.
The guard of the Rockhampton mail on the night of the
disaster, Mr. Peter Starkie, told the inquiry he had heard a
noise as if something was moving in the van at the spot where
the derailment occurred.
Later, Starkie had heard another sound in the down-pipe
of the lavatory in the guard's van. On each occasion he had
looked out but did not see or hear anything unusual.
Starkie said, however, that a passenger had mentioned
to him at Caboolture that he could smell a hot box. Starkie
had looked at the train and saw no evidence of a hot box. At
Palmwoods, Inspector Miles had told Starkie there was a hot
box on the second-class coach. Starkie had again checked but
found no signs of the hot box.
Starkie told the inquiry that immediately before the
disaster, he had heard a tremendous crash and made a grab for
the Westinghouse brake. He got out of his van and discovered
that a terrible accident had occurred. Starkie said the train
was travelling about 32 kph at the time of the accident.
Ganger, Michael Lourigan, said he had reached the scene
of the accident at 4.10am on the morning of the disaster. He
had inspected the line from the point of the accident to where
derailment had originally occurred but saw nothing present to
indicate that the track was out of order.
Lourigan said there was nothing to indicate that the
derailment was due to excessive speed. He told the enquiry
that due to increased traffic on the North Coast line, it had
been more difficult to keep the line up to first class
Lourigan also said that the B17 class locomotives were
very hard on the track which was built for far lighter traffic
that it was now receiving.
John William Thornton, a Queensland Railways flying
ganger, told the inquiry that he had gone to the scene of the
accident on 9 June and found 133 broken sleepers and 250 dog
spikes. He believed that something must have struck one of the
wheels to cause the derailment. Thornton said that the line
from Gympie to Caboolture was in “fair condition,” however
heavy rains in recent months had resulted in the line having
some soft spots in its formation.
Ernest Edward Porter, a railway fettler, said that he
had been over the line on the day before the accident and had
reported a “nip in the joint” about 7.3 metres, or a rail’s
length, back from the location of the derailment. Porter said
he did not think it significant and believed that it had not
contributed to the accident.
The inquiry found that the fateful train had been
thoroughly examined and no blame was attached to examiners or
engineers. It found that the derailment that led to the
disaster was caused by an obstruction under one of the
trailing wheels of the leading bogie of the luggage van in the
Evidence suggested that it was the bottom part of the
brake-shoe holding the block over the leading wheel. The
inquiry exonerated the engine crews; however, in the case of
the guard, Peter Starkie, who had had a “splendid record” of
more than 40 years service, it was forced to conclude that had
he been as alert as he claimed to have been, his attention
would have been drawn to the plight of the luggage van before
the disaster occurred.
The inquiry stated its regret that passengers had not
pulled the emergency stop cord earlier.
Two of the suggestions to come out of the inquiry, however, were instrumental in effecting changes to the operation of the Queensland Government Railways. The use of goods wagons on mail trains was restricted to specially approved vehicles and baggage cars were built specially for use on passenger trains.
At the same time, Mr. R. A. Neild’s patented train
stop- which had been on some of the carriages of the
Rockhampton Mail, but unfortunately not on the wagons that
left the line- was fitted to most carriages.
35 FEET INTO RAVINE
NINE PASSENGERS KILL;
A catastrophe unequalled in the annals of the
Queensland Railways overcame the Rockhampton Mail train near
Gympie just before 2 o’clock yesterday morning, nine persons
being killed and 55 injured. The luggage van, after being
derailed and dragged for nearly a mile and a half, was
precipitated from a bridge to the ground, 35 feet below,
dragging with it the preceding composite coach, of two
apartments. Harrowing sights of suffering were witnessed as
those of the imprisoned victims of the disaster, who still
lived, struggled for freedom.
From the Special Representative of the Courier
Gympie 9 June
The toll of the most distressing railway accident
Queensland has experienced was nine killed and 55 injured.
Happening in the early hours of this morning, when the
passengers of the ill fated train were taking their rest, it
was rendered more terrible, scenes of suffering being
witnessed in the fitful light of the lamps before the first
light of day had lit the sky.
The catastrophe was rendered all the more terrible by
reason of the fact that it was the mail train to Rockhampton,
carrying many people North on holiday, or to take up work in
new spheres. The tragedy occurred about one and a half miles
on the northern side of Traveston, just before 2 o’clock this
The train comprised some 12 coaches hauled by two
engines. At the rear were the luggage van and guard’s van. It
is surmised that the luggage van became derailed and was
dragged along off the line for about a mile and a half. The
fact that the van was off the line was not noticed, the train
going along as if nothing had happened. Four bridges were
crossed without further mishap, but at the fifth, known as the
96 Mile Bridge, tragedy was awaiting.
It is amazing that the luggage wagon remained upright
till then, though the permanent way as it was traversed bore
empathic signs of its erratic career all along the route
sleepers being cut and splintered and it is miraculous that
disaster was not experienced earlier.
At this ill fated bridge, however, the journey came to
its sensational end. Bumping and jolting along, the luggage
wagon at last plunged from the bridge to the ground, 35ft
below, dragging with it the preceding composite coach, which
consisted of first and second class compartments. The guard
had a marvelous escape from death, the coupling between the
luggage wagon and his van breaking, the guard’s van being left
on the bridge. The coupling between the composite coach and
the one immediately ahead held fast, and this coach was
dragged from the rails, and was flung on to the side of the
Terrible scenes were witnessed in the darkness as the
imprisoned passengers struggled for freedom.
The chief injury and loss of life occurred in the
composite coach, which was pulled from the bridge by the
luggage van. These were both smashed practically to matchwood,
and the scenes in the darkness were harrowing. Instances of
great coolness were observed, however, and one story is told
of a commercial traveler who coolly sought for his sample bag
amid the ruins. In the car which was dragged off the bridge,
it is said that only two escaped uninjured.
Those who first answered the cries of the injured gazed
upon a harrowing sight. Passengers from the front portion of
the train quickly rendered assistance to the injured but it
was not until the arrival of the doctors and ambulance from
Gympie that any method and substantial relief was imparted.
All worked heroically, and the ambulance men were accorded
most valuable aid in the work of bearing away the injured.
Many unforgettable scenes were witnessed. In one place a man
lay unconscious, all twisted, as if his back was broken. In
another, an unfortunate woman’s body was seen crushed in a
lavatory compartment among the debris of that part of the
carriage. The carriages were on their heads, with the wheels
in the air, and to rescue the injured beneath the debris, the
lifting jacks from the engine had to be used, in order to
raise the heavy iron work. The fear of the rescuers was that
the wreckage would catch fire, but this was averted.
Thomas Oliver and Robert McGregor, maintenance gang employees, were amongst the early arrivals at the scene. They related how in the darkness, screams, shrieks, and cries for help were heard. Those who were with them regularly posted themselves to give aid. One cry being near at hand, Oliver made in the direction, and found a passenger pinned under a wagon. His endeavours to release the victim were without avail and when others came to his assistance with a jack, the man was crying in agony. After hard work the man was extricated. One lady passenger was recovered from the carriage with a baby still clasped in her arms. Both were dead, however.
The shifting of the wreckage to liberate these two was
stupendous, some heavy material having to be first removed. It
is a miracle that anybody in that car, which was the one
nearest the luggage van, escaped. Pieces of the carriage were
lying in all directions. Oliver and McGregor declared
themselves that they did not want to witness such a scene
Another awful sight was a mother with her dead infant
in her arms, with its head badly bleeding. The cries of the
mother were only for the child. One man who was picked up in
an unconscious condition some yards away from the carriage
seemed to recover, and was placed in that section of the train
that was intact. As the minutes progressed, helpers arrived in
numbers, and worked at removing the debris and broken material
to assure themselves that no injured or dead remained.
Mrs. Dean, who was killed, was only married in Brisbane
on Monday and was on her honeymoon trip. Her husband was badly
Many stories of narrow escapes are told. One man was
free, with the exception of one foot, and a hole had to be cut
in the woodwork before he could be freed. Another was caught
by the leg. When the carriages toppled over, one passenger was
thrown through a window, and fell about 25ft without injury. A
little child, who was rescued, was seen crawling out of the
debris, and was taken charge of by one of the ambulance
bearers. The little one was about 15 months old, and was
bruised about the head. He is now being well cared for by Mrs.
Ashdown (of the railway refreshment rooms). It is understood
that the mother of the child is amongst those injured and in
hospital, and his little brother was one of those killed.
At 2.30am news of the disaster was received by the
Gympie station-master (Mr. Moynihan). A call was made for a
breakdown gang, and doctors were notified. At 3.15am, the
breakdown gang got away, in charge of Mr. Dear (chief
station-master). In the meantime, Mr. Clark (of the Gympie
Railway Ambulance) had secured three teams of four men each of
the railway first aid workers, and together with deputy
Snooks, accompanied the train, which arrived at Woondum at
about 4 o'clock. Gympie doctors were communicated with, and
Drs. Cuppaidge, Kelly, and Anderson, and the Railway
Ambulance, accompanied the train , which left Gympie station
at 3.15am. The doctors and ambulance bearers quickly set to
work, and before long it was ascertained that nine persons had
been killed and 48 injured, but a great number of these
proceeded on their journey.
The engine and the front portion of the train was able
to come on to Gympie, bringing the injured as well as the
passengers. Dr. Kelly returned with the train in charge of the
Upon arrival in Gympie, the railway refreshment manager
(Mr. Ashdown) acting under instructions from the Commissioner,
provided all with a warm meal, and gave attention to those
suffering from minor injuries. The bodies of the dead were
brought in about 7.30am and moved to the Gympie Hospital
On the arrival of the Gympie breakdown train at the
scene of the accident the ambulance men had to chop some of
the injured out of the debris. This continued until all were
liberated, and by 3.30am the front part of the wrecked train
was sent on to Gympie with the injured and the passengers.
Immediately after the receipt of the horrifying news in
Brisbane a breakdown gang was summoned, and the Commissioner
for Railways (Mr. Davidson) the General Manager (Mr.
Cochrane), and other officials, a full breakdown train, and a
gang of four shunters, two porters, and Dr. Jack Thompson,
left Brisbane for the scene of the tragedy. Action was taken
very promptly, the train leaving the city about 3.30 o'clock.
At Caboolture, Dr. Crawford was picked up, and Dr. Bowers
joined the train at Beerburrum, with two nurses. Dr. Gill was
taken on at Palmwoods, and Drs. Malaher, Penny and Shoft,
Superintendent Beech, and Bearers Whitecross, Carroll and
Parry, of the ambulance at Nambour. Every effort was put forth
to help the sufferers, and with the aid of all the available
ambulances and motors the injured persons were taken to the
As stated, the luggage wagon and composite car were
smashed to atoms, and much damage was caused to the bridge
transoms and sleepers; but the breakdown gang worked
vigorously and the line was cleared by the afternoon.
The Commissioner for Railways (Mr. J. W. Davidson)
visited the hospital upon arrival at Gympie, and made
inquiries concerning the injured persons
Too much credit cannot be given to Drs. Cuppaidge, Kelly and Anderson, from Gympie, who, with Mrs. Dear and Misses Sankowski and McCallum, did yeoman work, aided by a nurse from Maryborough, who was a passenger on the train.
One fact remarked upon by eyewitnesses was the absence
of panic. Railwaymen comment on the fine manner in which the
people behaved. Passengers in sleeping carriages gave up their
berths to the inured for transport to Gympie, and everywhere
all helped to their utmost.
The work of the gangs of railwaymen was especially
fine. The 40 or 50 railway workers of all branches performed
some hard work, and all did their allotted tasks without a
hitch. Mention must be made of the chief station-master (Mr.
C. Dear), the locomotive foreman at Gympie (Mr. Bongers), and
Mr. W. Clark (nightwatchman), who did fine work in the
arrangement and supervision of the local ambulance efforts.
The driver of No 1 engine was H. Crook, and of No 2
engine R. Ryan. The guard was P. Starkey, and the ticker
inspectors E. Miles and J. Hogan, who did good work. Among the
doctors was Dr. Hishon, of Brisbane, who was visiting a place
near the line, and Dr. Aldgate, of Pomona.
A word of praise should also be given to the local
hospital, which put forth all efforts to give the best
possible treatment to all the injured persons.
The scene viewed from the bridge presents a mangled mass of debris, quantities of which are in splinters and matchwood. It can be likened to the heaps of the waste of carpenters and joiners. How any of the passengers escaped is little short of a miracle. The force of the contact in hitting the ground must have been terrific, and the difficulty of the rescue parties in extricating the wounded and killed can be realised.
The highest fall was by the luggage van, which shows
more shattered wood than the other two overturned carriages.
The couplings on either end are broken off. Packages are
strewn in all directions. The side of one large travelers’
sample box bore the name “Thomas Brown and Son.” The police
did good work with maintenance men and civilians in picking up
parcels and personal belongings.
In the vehicle which was next to the luggage van, the
undercarriage was broken in two places. There hardly remained
any length of timber intact, which was the reason why several
passengers were pinned down in such a manner that jacks and
crowbars were necessary to release them. The end of the
carriage which was nearest the engine is on the upper part of
the bank, and the remainder is in the gully. The couplings of
this coach, with that which turned over on the high ground did
A postmortem examination on the bodies was held this
afternoon, and a medical certificate was given that the deaths
of the nine persons were owing to injuries received in the
Gympie citizens are shocked by the disaster. The
greatest sympathy is shown on all sides.
All the funeral arrangements are being carried out
under the direction and at the expense of the Railways
Department. The body of Mr. Rout, who was a member of the
staff of the Clerk of Petty Sessions, Rockhampton, has been
embalmed and will be taken to Rockhampton for burial.
Little Jack Gardiner will be buried at Gympie. Mrs.
Dean and Mrs. McDhagar will be buried at Bundaberg.
The assistant Secretary of the Railways Department (Mr.
J. Grant) left Brisbane last night for Gympie, where he will
represent the Department at the funeral of the victims today.
Stories by Passengers
special representative of the Courier)
9: Interviews with passengers in Gympie give credence to the
statement that the luggage van, becoming derailed, was the
cause of the accident. John Stevens, 33, Oxford Street,
Sydney, states that he looked out of a window, and could see
the luggage van off the rails. Fire and sparks were seen
issuing from the wheels. He went to pull the communications
cord, but some one in the carriage told him not to do so as
the sensation was only caused by the train going around a
sharp curve. The jolting and rumbling noise continued for some
time. Then came the toppling over of the train, followed by
screams and shrieks. Philip Reid, who was near him, was
killed. He had only recently arrived from England.
Cecil Baxter, Kolan River, South Bundaberg, who
sustained a fracture of the arm, cuts on the face and head and
injuries to the back, said that as the wagon crashed to the
ground he felt himself injured, but managed to crawl out
unaided, after removing the debris, and then lay down. After
that, some one picked him up, and put him in a carriage.
Joseph Tarrell (a native of Poland) said that he was
asleep at the time of the fatality, and though he has a
recollection of a heavy thud he remembers nothing more until
recovering consciousness near a tree. He concluded that the
carriage, in falling, caused the door to burst open, through
which he was precipitated. While he was in a dazed condition,
some helpers came, and placed him in a sleeping carriage.
George Arlett, who is severely injured about the head,
said that he saw the lights of the carriage go round, and the
carriage rolled over. He was buried under the debris, from
which he was released. His hands were badly hurt, and after
being helped out he crawled under the bridge.
Colin Andrew Robertson, a blind man, 32 years of age
(of Sydney) said that his travelling companion reported two or
three stations back to the guard that he smelt a hot box. The
guard said that if such was smelt again to report it, and if
everything was not all right an inspection would be made at
Gympie. He confirmed the remark of others about the passenger
desiring to pull the alarm cord. Shortly afterwards he felt
the carriage turn over. It was but a brief moment, but that
sensation was not again desired. He could not describe his
feelings beyond imagining that his time had come. There was an
awful smash. He was brought to consciousness by some one
removing broken timber and heavy timber which was holding him
down. This had to be shifted before he could be removed. One
mate who was in his company was amongst the killed.
Mr. Massey related how he and the others got free
fairly easily, but found considerable trouble in removing Mrs.
Mrs. Massey stated how she was underneath a quantity of
broken timber, and could see her husband and others
endeavouring to release her. She managed to put her hand
through, and removed pieces of timber, and pointed in the
direction in which she was held. She became exhausted, and
when released had to be dependent upon the support of her
husband and others, to reach the sleeping carriage, which
remained on the line. Mrs. Massey paid a high compliment to
the manner in which the workers helped, and mentioned how the
people in the sleepers gave up their berths, and even provided
blankets, rugs, and pillows for the wounded.
Mrs. Sophia Gardiner (35, of Warwick) also supported
the statement about the alarm in the carriage, because of the
van being off the line, and of the prevention of the cord
being pulled. She repeated in sorrowing terms how she was held
down with her boy, four years of age, on her breast. She
retained hold of her little boy, even when helped to her feet
by those who were rendering aid. Her boy had been sleeping on
the seat beside her, and when she felt the carriage turning
over she picked up her boy, and it was thus that she was found
on being released. She realised that her boy was dead, for
there was blood on his head, and the injuries were bad.
Thomas Michael Moar (20), single, who has a fracture of
the hip, said that he saw a light, giving him the idea of
turning over. He remained conscious all the time, even when
the heavy beam which held him down was being lifted with
Jack Frederick Zimmerlie (42, of Toowoomba), stated
that it was a terrible moment’s experience to feel the
carriage turning over, and then he remembered no more until
lying on a rug on the ground.
Miles and Hogan (ticket inspectors), interviewed, said
that they first noticed the carriage going over when they were
thrown off the seat of the first class compartment in which
they were travelling. They had no intimation that anything was
wrong. They estimate that there were about 50 passengers in
the composite car pulled off the bridge, and about 40 in that
thrown off the embankment. Neither was hurt and both at once
did all in their power to help the injured. Passengers on the
train who gave great help were: Messrs. Crawford (of Mosman),
Hartley (M.L.A. for Fitzroy), Grier (Electrical
Superintendent, Works Department), Foster (who himself was
injured), Lieutenant A. A. Joyce (of the British Imperial Oil
Company), A. C. Samuel (of Clayfield), and W. Harlow
(Rushcutters Bay, Sydney). Mrs. W. Frith (of Lismore) worked
splendidly for the women patients.
Mr. George Carter, M.L.A., who was a passenger by the
Rockhampton mail train travelling South arrived at the scene
of the disaster about 2 o'clock yesterday morning. “We were
held up at Woondum,” he told a Courier reporter last night.
“That was the first inkling we had that the appalling smash
had occurred. I joined the breakdown train at Woondum, and
went to the scene of the accident with the Gympie railway
ambulance and breakdown gang. Doctors and nurses accompanied
us. The scenes that met our gaze on arrival are beyond
description. The groans of the victims are pitiful to hear.
Several of those who were terribly injured were crying out in
their agony to the relief party to kill them and put them out
of their misery. Here and there we could see in the moonlight
blood spattered limbs protruding from the wreckage; the
suffering of those pinned beneath the carriages were terrible
to behold, and this sight, as the dead were removed, was the
saddest of all. The end of one carriage had to be cut away to
enable the body of a young woman who had been crushed to death
by the falling carriage, to be taken away. She had evidently
just looked out of the window when the carriage toppled over.
She was on her honeymoon trip, and her husband, poor fellow,
was badly injured. I saw a little baby boy of about 18 months
crawl unconcernedly from underneath the debris, sucking at his
dummy, apparently none the worse for his terrible experience.
The wife of the manager of the refreshment room, Mrs. Ashdown,
is looking after him. I saw a blind man being released from
the wreckage. He was terribly smashed up about the body, head,
and legs. The ambulance men, doctors, nurses, and breakdown
gang, worked heroically.
The work of the ambulance men was really magnificent;
each section worked like clockwork; and they showed amazing
skill and swiftness. Surely there is not a finer ambulance
corps in the world than this! By the time the relief train
arrived from Brisbane the relief party from Gympie had
practically completed the whole of the rescue and relief work
The greatest praise is due to Mr. Ashdown, the manager
of the refreshment rooms, who, as a member of the Railway
Ambulance, joined the first relief party. After working like a
Trojan for five hours to relieve the sufferers he went back to
the refreshment rooms and provided meals for the passengers of
both trains. He is a man of iron.
“The accident could not have occurred, in my opinion,
through any defect in the permanent way. At daybreak I made a
very careful inspection of the rails, and traversed the
railway track, back for about a mile and a quarter on the
southern side. It was in excellent condition. The accident,
apparently, was brought about by a “C” wagon, the second last
carriage, which had left the rails about a mile and a quarter
on the southern side of the scene of the accident, travelling
off the rails for about that distance until it reached the
centre of the bridge, when it toppled over, breaking its
couplings with the guard’s van, and dragging over with it the
two last passenger coaches. The “C” and the second last
carriage were smashed to firewood. It was hard to imagine that
the solid coaches could be splintered into such minute
fragments. The “C” wagon fell into the bed of the creek, a
distance of about 40 feet. The carriage next attached to it
fell right on its top, about 15 feet, on to the bank of the
creek. The guard’s van, fortunately, after being freed from
the “C” wagon, though pulled off the rails, ran along the
sleepers on the bridge for about 30 feet and stopped with its
wheels on the very edge of the sleepers, another two or three
inches, and it, too, would have been smashed to atoms. The
guard escaped injury.
The telegraph offices at Woondum and Gympie were
crowded during the morning with survivors anxious to telegraph
news of their safety to relatives and friends, and all the
public telephones and the telephones in the hotels at Gympie,
Both at the Central Railway Station and on the platform
at Brunswick Street, there were little groups of people
awaiting the train from Traveston.
Some were merely impelled by curiosity, but others were
anxiously seeking news of friends whom they believed to be on
board when the accident at Tandur occurred. When the Traveston
train entered Brunswick Street Station, 15 minutes late, there
was a rush from those who were waiting on the platform, and
hurried enquiries were made of persons in the carriages
whether they had any definite news of the disaster.
One of the passengers, Mr. Gordon Russell, Gympie, said
that while his train was waiting at Tandur, he saw a shattered
carriage lying 20 feet below the rails in a little gully,
which, in the rainy period, would have been full. The other
carriages were on the permanent way, with the exception of
three which were just off the line. He saw the rescue party
working feverishly to release a young girl about 20 years of
age, who was still alive. As they completed their task of
clearing the debris from the body, she looked up at them and,
after trying to say something, died.
Mr. Russell said that the locality was crowded with
sightseers, who came from all parts of the surrounding country
in motors, in buggies and by bicycle.
“The scene was one of indescribable chaos, the carriage which fell from the bridge being reduced to veritable matchwood,” said a passenger on the first train from the North to arrive in Brisbane last night. “Providence must have intervened on behalf of the uninjured occupants of the carriage which was so precipately hurled from the lines.”
The speaker went on to say that the luggage van had
left the rails about a mile from the scene of the accident,
and the wheel marks could plainly be traced at the side of the
line. He surmised that the couplings joining this van to the
guard’s van at the rear caused the van to swing farther away
from the lines dragging away by the force of the impetus the
two carriages immediately preceding it. The breakdown gang
were still engaged in clearing away the remains of the first
carriage, which lay wheels upward under the bridge about 20ft
below the level of the lines, when we first viewed the scene
of the disaster. “I saw only a few of the injured, but one
case particularly attracted my attention. A middle aged man
with both his legs badly broken was calmly lying back on a
stretcher puffing on a cigarette and regarding the other
patients as they were gradually extricated from the debris,
some alive, others dead, with a coolly critical eye as to the
extent of their injuries. I thought that he must have been a
Digger.” Passengers on the Down train were worked up to a high
pitch of excitement, and one of them, a woman, had no sooner
seen the wreckage than she fell in a swoon. So great was the
rush of enquiries by relatives and friends that the Post
Office at Gympie ran out of forms, and had to resort to plain
paper for the despatch of telegrams, and queues of people
waited to use any available telephones. The first division of
the train was sent back to Gympie for breakfast at about
7.30am and returned immediately after to the scene of the
accident. When the Commissioner arrived the train was again
ordered back to Gympie. Altogether a delay of 12 hours was
Out of the wreckage crawled a 12 months old baby, still sucking the dummy that had been placed in its mouth by fond maternal fingers, probably only a few minutes previously.
A rescuer espied the tot staring helplessly and
uncomprehendingly at the awfulness surrounding it. He picked
it up, and placed it snugly aside to await the coming of its
mother when she was found. But she was not found, so later the
baby was taken to the refreshment rooms at Gympie Railway
For the greater part of yesterday, the mite sat on the
counter, still waiting for its mother, and still, for the most
part, placidly sucking its dummy.
Men gazed at the tiny picture of tragic desolation and
looked away. Women gazed, and wept in pity. For the mother who
a few hours previously had so fondly placed the dummy by the
baby’s lips was among those killed.
Five men were on the train, going to Eidsvold for work, having had their fares paid by the Labour Bureau. They were in a compartment of the carriage which went over the embankment.
One had his hand severely cut, and received a kick on
the head as he was clambering from underneath the wreckage. He
was attended to by a doctor, and advised to return to
Brisbane. He came back on the first train from the North, with
one of his “mates” who escaped without a scratch. These two
told their fellow travellers their experiences on the way
down. Of their three “mates” they knew nothing. The man who
escaped injury said he
wakened in a dazed condition, left the train and wandered half
unconscious through the bush. He was found and brought back to
the scene of the disaster. When he stepped from the train at
Central Station last night, he was visibly suffering from
The man with the injured hand and head put a brave face
on it and at first said that he was not in the accident. When
he at last admitted that he was, he would tell nothing to the
“A tumbled mass of matchwood,” was the description given of the wreckage by Mr. J. G. Freeman, of Adelaide, a passenger from Maryborough, on his way home, who arrived on the 7pm train from the North last night. “We had a nerve wracking trip past the scene of the smash,” he added. “We were held up for a time. One van was turned over, but it had stuck to the line. The post office van, and another carriage were in the creek. Some of the unfortunates who were in the smash told us that looking at the fallen carriages afterwards, they wondered how they ever managed to get out unscathed.”
Another passenger, who declined to be give his name,
said that he had seen the marks where the carriages had run
for some distance on the sleepers. A woman passenger on the
train last night had fainted when passing the scene.
Maryborough. June 9.
Passengers on the ill-fated train were interviewed at Maryborough today after the train arrived at 11am.
Mr. Charles Payne, resident of Albert Park, Melbourne,
was travelling to Rockhampton in the first of the wrecked
carriages, with 25 or 30 others. He said that the time of the
accident appeared to be about 1.30 am. He noticed nothing
unusual about the speed of the train, and would say that it
was going at about 20 to 25 miles per hour. His opinion was
that his compartment left the rails and was pulled along for a
few feet, when it became uncoupled, and fell on its side,
causing the next one to fall into the gully from the bridge.
The only one killed in his carriage was a woman. About two
hours elapsed before a breakdown gang arrived from Gympie. Mr.
Payne escaped with slight injuries and his carriage was only
damaged on the side on which it fell.
Mr. A. Ferricks (another passenger) said that he had a
seat in a carriage near the engine of the train. He was dozing
at the time of the accident, but he never felt any bumps or
jerks when the train pulled up. The first indication that
anything was wrong was when someone asked “Is there a doctor
aboard?” This startled the passengers and later a man was
brought in bleeding from the head. He was saying “My wife is
killed.” The male passengers then walked back, and everyone
helped to relieve the suffering. He saw one carriage on its
side, and the one beyond that was completely turned upside
down, the passengers being pinned underneath. The rescuers did
well in the circumstances, as they only had torch lamps, and
it was hard to see. With the exception of the guard’s van and
the luggage van,, the whole train had crossed the bridge
before the carriages left the rails. Luggage was scattered all
over the gully, which appeared to be dry. He thought that it
was about one and a half hours before help came from Gympie.
Mr. H. Hartley, M.L.A., was another passenger. He said
that the harrowing scenes were beyond all description. He
heard a snap, as if something had given way, but paid no
attention to it. Later he heard a man saying that his poor
wife was pinned under a carriage. He asked for a doctor
immediately. All went to the assistance. What appeared
remarkable to everyone was that the guard’s van stood intact
on the bridge although the luggage van had fallen into the
creek 40ft down, and had been smashed to matchwood. All that
could be recognised of the luggage coach was the upturned
chassis and bogey wheels with luggage scattered everywhere.
Nothing could be seen of the luggage van but splintered wood.
The second derailed carriage was also smashed and splintered.
Wonderful assistance was rendered by the passengers, despite
the danger. Men went into the creek, and worked hard with the
jacks to get out those pinned underneath. Mr. Hartley paid
great tribute to the conductor of the train, Mr. Philden, and
an electrician, Mr. Grier, also to Mr. Crawford/ Mr. Joyce
also rendered great service. As far as possible, work was done
in a sympathetic manner.
Mrs. Jackson, a sister of a well known resident of
Maryborough, was another passenger. She said that it was
pitiful to see the plight of a little girl whose father had
been killed, and whose mother was injured. The little girl was
befriended at the refreshment rooms at Gympie.
Another eye witness said that it was distressing to see the plight of an Italian, who had been pinned underneath wreckage for three quarters of an hour, yet had the courage to instruct his rescuers how to get him out.
Mr. Hapdale (a showman, of Sydney) said that he had
travelled extensively on Australian railways. It was the most
heart rending experience he had ever witnessed. He was in the
first derailed carriage. One man was pinned by the ear and
neck to the rack, and was terribly lacerated. A woman close to
the lavatory was killed instantly. Another terrible sight was
that of a lady holding a dead child with its brains battered.
A policeman carried a child with a white cloth over its body.
Mrs. A. Boden (of Melbourne) was in the first carriage
of the two that were wrecked. She was on a visit to her
parents in Maryborough. She had a nasty scar on her forehead,
and other bruises. She said that the carriage was a corridor
one, with seats on both sides. She was sitting with her eyes
closed. Just before the accident, she saw a young woman, who
she learned was only recently married, at the window looking
outside. The passengers were thrown in all directions. Mrs
Boden herself grasped the hat rack and managed to save
herself. The horror of the situation, she said, was minimised
by the admirable calmness of a man whose name she thought was
Mr. Foster, and also another. They assisted a number of women
through the windows. Mrs. Boden gave great praise to the
wonderful rescue work done.
Mr. Arthur Keers (of Maryborough) was in the carriage next to the first wrecked one. Thee were 10 carriages on the train and the accident happened at 1.30am. There was a sound as if a coupling had given way, and almost immediately the front portion of the train was stopped through the Westinghouse brakes being disconnected. They then heard cries of a man saying, “Oh! my God! My wife has been killed.” They helped the man into the carriage and went to assist. The sky was cloudy and there was semi moonlight. It was difficult to see as the guard’s van was standing in a dangerous position on the bridge. Rescue work was risky. The second carriage was terribly smashed, looking like a concertina. The work was considerably hampered by need of lights. Mr. Keers said that the need of an emergency lighting system was brought home forcibly. The suffering would have been relieved sooner if there had been better light. The bravery of those pinned down was remarkable. They patiently waited their turn. The Gympie Railway Station presented a pathetic scene after the train arrived there, and the injured were taken to hospital.
Mr. H. Dunlop (of Queensland Motors Ltd., Brisbane) interviewed at Gladstone, said that all went well until the train was 18 miles from Gympie, on the Brisbane side. Mr. Dunlop was in a second class sleeper, the fourth carriage from the guard’s van. The train gave a couple of lurches, but nothing more than is often felt when a train is stopping. The train almost immediately came to a standstill. No one in the carriage thought that there was anything wrong, and took no notice, thinking that it was an ordinary stopping place. The first thing to apprise the passengers was the stumbling into the carriage of a young man of about 25 years of age, with his face badly cut and covered with blood. He was suffering severely from shock, and shouted that there had been an accident, and that his wife had been killed, and some of the carriages turned over. Mr. Dunlop immediately jumped out and went back along the permanent way about 100 yards. Fortunately there was a good deal of light, notwithstanding the fact that the train lights had gone out. The first thing that he saw was a carriage lying overturned two or three feet from the edge of the sleepers on the embankment, just clear of the bridge. Cries and moans were issuing from the carriage. Further along another carriage lay upside down. Several passengers were already trying with difficulty to get the inured out. The sight was awful, with the killed and injured lying in every direction. Jacks were procured from the engine, and endeavours made to lift the second wrecked coach. This was successful after a lot of work. One man in particular showed great fortitude in this trying ordeal. He was severely injured, but talked the whole time. Two or three were dead when released, and some of the facial and bodily injuries were frightful. Mr. Dunlop then went back to the first carriage. The passengers were busy lifting the women and children through the windows. So far as he could tell, the casualties in this carriage were a child, a woman, and a man. A lot were injured but there was no panic. He was there from the time of the accident until 4am, when the doctors, ambulance, and nurses arrived. The injured were then put on the train and despatched for Gympie. The breakdown gang had by this time, arrived from Gympie. One lady had bad scalp wounds and a sever wound on the lower jaw. Another lady in the first carriage was killed through a partition collapsing on her. Two children died from injuries shortly afterwards. Where the carriage left the rails the sleepers were cut through as if by a circular saw.
Directly the news spread in Brisbane that disaster had overtaken a Northern mail train, the railways head office and the chief railway stations were inundated with a flood of inquiries. by agonised relatives, who feared that the worst may have befallen loved ones who had left by either the Townsville or the Rockhampton trains. The inquiries were made either personally or by ‘phone, and officials everywhere were seen trying to allay the fears of the inquirers or to pacify them. Great was the relief of relatives of those who were passengers by the Townsville train to learn that it was not that one which had met with such tragic disaster.
The official announcements were made by the Secretary
of the department (Mr. C. A. Murton). He was assisted by the
assistant Secretary (Mr. J. Grant), the Commissioner’s
Inspector (Mr. P. T. R. Wills) and the private Secretary to
the Commissioner (Mr. J. T. Lingard) in receiving and
announcing to the Press representatives the details of the
disaster and in making many necessary arrangements, besides
giving information to the multitude of anxious inquirers
respecting the welfare of relatives and friends who were on
the train. Some of the inquiries were repeated again and
again, and there was a constant stream of visitors to the
There was considerable delay in receiving the list of
names of the killed, and the suspense of those who were
awaiting news of the fate of those near and dear to them was
painful and prolonged.
In the meantime, the receipt from various sources of
different versions of the catastrophe and of the death roll
served to heighten the consternation of both the waiting
public and the officials.
Bundaberg. June 9. The fact that there was a large number of Bundaberg passengers aboard the ill-fated train caused considerable anxiety among relatives this morning. Fortunately, however, the majority of the local passengers in the first class carriages arrived home safely at midday. Mrs. McDhagger, who was killed, was a resident of North Bundaberg. She was 80 years of age, and was full of activity. She proceeded to Brisbane last week to meet her two grand-daughters, the Misses Gold, from West Australia, and accompany them on to Bundaberg. She is survived by her husband and adult family.
It is a somewhat remarkable coincidence that some members of the Philip Lytton Dramatic Company were in the train at the time of the accident, and that some members of this same company were also in the railway accident which occurred at Macalister, in the Dalby district, some years ago.
It is claimed that on only two previous occasions have there been railway accidents in Queensland involving the loss of passenger lives through mishap to the rolling stock.
In 1909 two passengers were killed and 50 injured in an
accident near Macalister, on the Western line. On that
occasion there was a derailment at a bridge, and a car
A year or two ago, two passengers were killed and a
number of others were injured in an accident on the Mount
The most serious loss of life in a railway disaster in Queensland, however, was that at Murphy’s Creek in January, 1918. This was a double accident, and those who lost their lives were railway workers, members of a breakdown gang, who were engaged in clearing away the debris caused by the derailment of a goods and livestock train. By some mischance a train of empty carriages for Toowoomba came into such sudden violent contact with the breakdown train at a point which was partly cutting and partly siding that a number of the men could not escape, and six were killed while several were injured. The mixing of the debris of the collision with the shattered vehicles of the stock and goods train, dead cattle, and broken up merchandise and produce, and the piling up of trucks and other rolling stock created a scene of confusion and horror.
Some time ago a carriage on a Northern train left the
rails on the North Coast line and, it is said, ran for several
hundred yards before being brought to a standstill. No damage
At Cootamundra on Anniversary Day, 1885, a Melbourne train fell through the bridge at Salt Clay Creek. Seven passengers were killed and 25 injured.
The Peat’s Ferry smash on 21 June, 1887, killed 6 and injured 40, when a train from Sydney got out of control on the grade down to Hawkesbury station. A signalman shunted it into a siding and averted a collision with another train.
At Tarana on 27 April 1892, nine were killed and 11 injured, when the Bourke mail was thrown off the rails by a broken rail in a rocky cutting between Sodwalls and Tarana. The derailed carriages were dragged for 100 yards, and the sides were torn out of them.
In the Redfern smash on 31 October 1894, at Redfern, 13 were killed and 42 injured. This was a collision between the 9.30am train for Goulburn and the 8.50am from Parramatta, almost under the old signal box on the station side of the Redfern tunnel. The engine of the Parramatta train was wrecked, and the first passenger carriage telescoped. Both the driver and fireman were killed.
In the Sydenham disaster on 15 February 1901, the engine and several carriages left the rails and eight persons were killed and 14 injured.
disaster on 13 March 1914 was responsible for the deaths of 14
and injuries to 20, when the Temora mail ran into the rear of
a goods train.
on 3 August 1920, a crowded train ran into an empty one, and
four persons were killed and 14 injured.
“We, the members of the Baptist Home Mission Committee of Queensland, in monthly meeting assembled, desire to express our sympathy and condolence to friends and relatives of those killed and injured in the appalling railway disaster on the North Coast Line. We pray that all afflicted may be graciously sustained in this hour of trial and loss.” This motion was carried in silence last evening.
The Commissioner (Mr. J. W. Davidson) returned to Brisbane by train shortly before 8 o'clock last night. Explaining how the accident happened, Mr. Davidson said the train was made up of two engines, a travelling post office, a mail waggon, four sleeping cars, five sitting cars, a baggage waggon, and a brake van running in the order named. “From an examination of the permanent way,” he said, “it is apparent that the baggage waggon, next to the brake van, left the road for some cause not ascertained, and travelled for about a mile and a half before falling over the line at the bridge, pulling as it fell the carriage next to it, which fell over the bridge, and the next carriage also, which fell on its side on level ground at the end of the bridge.”
In reply to a question as to the condition of the
roadway, the Commissioner said, “The road on close inspection
was found to be in good running order, well sleepered and
ballasted, with a good running top. This is borne out by the
fact that the whole of the train in advance of the baggage
waggon did not leave the road.”
Asked as to the cause of the accident, Mr. Davidson
said he did not know. An inquiry, he said, would be held, and
information obtained. He could not say whether it would be a
special inquiry or what would be the composition of the
inquiry board. “None of the officials,” he said, “have been
suspended. It is considered that it is clearly an accident.
Nothing was wrong with the road or the rails.”
Upon surprise having been expressed that the emergency communication cords in the carriages, for the stoppage of the train, had not been pulled, Mr. Davidson said all the other carriages except the four affected were running all right, so that there would be no alarm in them. There might, he admitted, be some jerking in the carriages that had been derailed, but not a great deal. The patients in the hospital informed Mr. Davidson that they had been asleep at the time that the accident happened. Possibly the fact that the time of the accident was shortly before 3 o'clock in the morning would account for no alarm had been given through the medium of the emergency cords.
A safety device patented by Mr. R. A. Neild, designed to avert such accidents, was in use on some of the carriages of the train, but unfortunately was not attached to the waggons that left the line. This safety device has only been in operation for a few years. It is now being adopted as far as possible, and all new rolling stock is now supplied with it, including the recently made new northern mail train. It should be borne in mind, Mr. Davidson said, that Queensland is the only State using this safety device.
The bridge where the accident happened is a small
wooden one on the Gympie side of Traveston and spans a gully
30 ft or 40 ft deep. The bottom of the waggon is turned
upwards- it fell right over on its edge.
Mr. Davidson visited the whole of the patients in the
hospital at Gympie. The exact casualties he said, were nine
killed (7 adults and 2 children) and 26 injured. These 26 were
all now in hospital, others who were less seriously hurt were
able to proceed on their way.
The statement made by Mr. T. Moroney, general Secretary
of the Queensland Branch of the Australian Railway Union, in
which he said, amongst other things, that he was not surprised
at the happening which he thought would be found to be due to
defective rolling stock, or road, was brought under the notice
of the Commissioner. Mr. Davidson, however, said he did not
desire to comment on it. “The only comment I have,” he said,
“is what I have already said about the road. The road was in
good order. I walked over every foot of it for some distance
beyond where the baggage waggon left the line.”
The Commissioner pays a warm tribute to the celerity with which the breakdown gangs from Brisbane and Gympie were got to the scene of the accident. Within 40 minutes of the news being received in Brisbane, a breakdown train with doctors, officials and workmen left for the scene, and equal despatch was recorded at Gympie. Those accompanying the Commissioner were Mr. J. B. Cochrane, general manager, Mr. J. H. Rees, locomotive engineer, Mr. A. Le Grand, district maintenance engineer, Mr. W. Humphreys, locomotive foreman at Roma Street and Inspectors James and Lipscombe.
The statement that the derailed carriage travelled for about one and a half miles before falling over, while occasioning the astonishment of railway men, is admitted by them to be quite possible of occurrence. At the same time the view has been expressed that the jolting of the car along the permanent way could scarcely fail to have been noted by those in the vehicle, who, in that case, would be expected to pull the emergency brake cord, with which all carriages of mail trains ordinarily are fitted.
One old railway man pointed out last night however,
that only two of the eight wheels may have been derailed in
which case the bumping would not have been so perceptible. The
permanent way, he said, would not have provided support for
the wheels, and permitted the couplings at each end to remain
fast to the vehicles in front and behind it, thus keeping the
carriage more or less in position. The carriage would progress
something like a stumbling horse which was just managing to
keep its feet. Once the bridge was reached, however, there
would be no support from the permanent way, and the derailed
wheels would have nothing on which to rest. They probably
would be caught in the spaces between the sleepers, or the
equivalent bridge structure, and something would have to go.
The couplings in all probability would break under the strain,
and the vehicle would topple over.
It also has been pointed out that often in accidents of the kind considerable difficulty is experienced in determining their precise cause. The trouble rests in the fact that in the ensuing smash any evidence of the cause was very likely to be destroyed. For instance, if a defect existed in one of the carriages, the fact might escape detection as any break or damage might have occurred subsequent to the accident, and not be the cause of it. Of course, if some broken part of one of the vehicles were picked up on the line at a point before the spot of the actual smash, it might give reliable proof of the cause of the accident.