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.
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 carriages.
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 ravine.
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 and matchwood.”
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
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
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 after 2am.
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.
bridge where the disaster occurred was a small wooden one spanning a gully about
10.5 metres deep.
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.
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.
bodies of those who had died in the derailment were brought in about 5.30am and
taken to the Gympie Hospital morgue.
after the accident it became apparent that some passengers had been aware of the
impending danger, however, had been persuaded not to take preventive
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
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.
Court of Inquiry was set up after the tragedy with Mr. Justice Webb
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
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.
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
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 consist.
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.
inquiry stated its regret that passengers had not pulled the emergency stop cord
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.
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.
TWO TOPPLE 35 FEET INTO
NINE PASSENGERS KILL;
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.
COACH IN SPLINTERS
From the Special Representative of the Courier
Gympie 9 June 1925
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.
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 morning.
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.
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.
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 embankment.
Terrible scenes were witnessed in the darkness as the imprisoned
passengers struggled for freedom.
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.
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
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.
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 again.
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
Dean, who was killed, was only married in Brisbane on Monday and was on her
honeymoon trip. Her husband was badly injured.
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
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.
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 injured.
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 morgue.
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 Gympie hospital
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 not part.
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 accident.
Gympie citizens are shocked by the disaster. The greatest sympathy is
shown on all sides.
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.
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
Agonies of Victims
Graphic Stories by Passengers
(From the special representative
of the Courier)
Gympie, June 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.
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.
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.
Massey related how he and the others got free fairly easily, but found
considerable trouble in removing Mrs. Massey.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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 .
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.
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.
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, were
at the Central Railway Station and on the platform at Brunswick Street, there
were little groups of people awaiting the train from Traveston.
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.
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.
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.
Carriage in Fragments
“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.”
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 experienced.
Mother Who Never Came
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.
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 Station.
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.
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.
Two Return to Brisbane
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.
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 shock.
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 newspaper men.
“A Nerve Wracking Trip”
“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.
Narrations at Maryborough
Maryborough. June 9.
Passengers on the ill-fated train were interviewed at Maryborough today after the train arrived at 11am.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Coolness of Passengers
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.
Waiting for News
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.
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 department.
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.
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.
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
year or two ago, two passengers were killed and a number of others were injured
in an accident on the Mount Perry line.
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.
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 resulted.
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.
The Exeter 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.
At Hurstville on 3 August 1920,
a crowded train ran into an empty one, and four persons were killed and 14
“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.”
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
What May Have Happened
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.
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
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.