Dewitt, Richard

Dewitt, Richard              1875 October 11th

On Tuesday evening the Coroner, Mr Smith, held an inquest at the Salisbury Infirmary, on the body of Richard Drewitt, 27, who met with his death on the previous night through being crushed between the buffers of some wagons at the station of the Great Western Railway.

The Coroner, after the jury had been sworn, said the deceased man had unfortunately been killed on the railway, and it would be for them to inquire by what means he came to his death. He was not aware of any circumstances at that period respecting which he had any observation to make, and they would at once proceed to view the body. On the return of the jury the following evidence was adduced.

Mr M Biggs, house surgeon, said : The deceased was brought to the Infirmary last night, between ten and eleven o’clock, quite dead. On the right side several of the lower ribs were broken, the whole of the side severely bruised, and about the centre of the back there was another large bruise; his spine was uninjured. Those were all the injuries I could observe, and they were, in my opinion, sufficient to cause death.

Joseph Cooper, ganger, said : I was at work last night at the Great Western Station, and the deceased was with me. I was at work getting ballast wagons out from the station to the siding. The deceased was my master, and he was giving me instructions.

The Coroner : Now just explain how this accident occurred.

Witness : He stood about eight feet behind me when he told me to uncouple a wagon from another. I did so and turned to “scotch” it, by putting a stone under one wheel to prevent the wagon going any further. I immediately heard a cry; he cried out, but did not speak. On turning round I saw him between the buffers and caught hold of him. He was not dead but he said nothing, and I called the men out of the van to take him to the Infirmary. When I caught hold of him he appeared to be insensible.

By the jury : There was one carriage attached to the engine. There were eleven carriages behind the van. The engine was going towards Wilton. All I had to do was uncouple the wagon, and how the deceased came there I don’t know. He was standing eight feet from me when he gave the direction, and he might afterwards have stepped on to the line.

A juryman remarked that a piece of wood and not a stone was the proper thing to “scotch” a wheel with.

The Coroner : Can you say whether the collision occurred by the engine being backed? I can’t tell; I looked afterwards to see if the “scotch” was in place, and it was.

The Coroner : Then the engine must have backed.

By the jury : I don’t know whether any signal had been given. It was very dark. I had a lamp.

A juryman : Don’t you think it would have been better if all the lamps around the shed had been lighted? We don’t work near the shed. It was very dark last night where I was posted. There was only one lamp that I could see.

By the jury : The wagons were full, and the engine was just ready to draw up. The object of uncoupling was to clear the line so as to go back and fetch others out of the siding.

By the Coroner : It is not usual for the engine to back without orders are given.

George Jay was then called, and before being sworn said, in answer to questions : I was the guard of the train, and I was in the front part putting on some breaks because the trucks should not run back. I heard him cry out and went to his assistance. I should be the person to give the signal for the engine to back. It is part of my duty to lay the breaks on.

A juryman : Do you think that if you had better lights there it would have been prevented.

Witness : No; we had very good lights there – last witness and myself. If the engine had not moved this would not have happened. It must have moved to go ahead and then have come back. The deceased knew his work very well, and was no stranger to it.

The witness was then sworn, and the jury having expressed a wish that the engine driver should be in attendance, he was sent for. The witness, in addition to the evidence given above, said : I heard the deceased give orders, saying, “You must go inside to take on six more trucks and go ahead,” but they had no right to move back without my instructions. The engine went ahead, but I can’t say how far. The driver would not be doing his duty if he came back without my instructions. I should have indicated my wishes to him by a green light, but I did not signal as I was in the van. If the deceased had given orders to come back the driver would have been right in following his directions. I was two yards from the deceased, but from the position where I was he could have given the order without my hearing. The cause of the accident was the engine coming back, but I never gave directions. My lamp was down on the ground, and the white light was showing.

The Coroner : Is it usual for contractors to take it out of the control of the guard? I don’t know.

By the jury : I can’t tell how far the engine went ahead. The breaks were put on to prevent the wagons starting when the engine came back.

By the Coroner : I did not see any “scotch” in the wheel behind. I only know what Cooper has said. Deceased had no light this evening although he had one on the previous night, and was on the engine.

The Coroner then directed the witnesses to retire and then pointed out to the jury that if the engine driver was called he was not bound to answer any questions that might criminate himself, and if he said an order was given by the deceased there was nothing additional for them to be guided by.

Several jurymen expressed a desire that the driver should be called, and,

The Coroner told them it would be his duty, before he spoke a word, to caution him that he need not give any evidence to criminate himself. He left it to the jury whether they required him to be called, or whether they had enough evidence before them to enable them to come to a verdict.

The jury, after a little deliberation, announced their opinion that the cause arose from a pure accident, and on the witnesses being re-admitted a verdict of “Accidental death” was returned.


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