Coombes, Samuel 1883 February 17th
An inquest was held at the Salisbury Infirmary on Thursday afternoon, by Mr George Smith (city coroner), and a jury, of whom Mr T Scamell was foreman, on the body of a man named Samuel Coombes, a porter in the employ of the South Western Railway Company, whose death was the result of injuries received at the Milford goods station on Tuesday, by the breaking of a crane. Mr Davis, the station-master, was present.
Mr Edward Knight, the Company’s agent at the Milford goods station, stated that on the 13th of this month six porters and himself were engaged in removing iron rails from a broken-down goods truck by means of a crane. They were being taken off the truck for the purpose of the truck being repaired. Amongst the porters was the deceased. They were just in the act of putting the rails on the truck again, when the shaft of the crane – upon which the rails had been partially resting from 12 till 4, and which were then entirely suspended – broke. The deceased was standing by about the centre of the metals under the crane; he was warned to move no less than four times during the progress of the work; but he persisted in standing there, and as the crane broke a portion of it struck him, and he was knocked down. The crane was marked to take ten tons; and, although he did not know the weight of the metals (48 in all) he should say they were above that weight. One of the metals was, however, touching the ground for the greater part of the time, and that would necessarily reduce the weight on the crane. He should say, indeed, that that would have reduced it to about the ten tons (Actually about 12.3 tons – Ed). The metals weighed 82lbs to a yard, and each was about seven yards. As soon as the man was struck down he ran him to Fisherton station by a special train, and Mr Davis, the station master, had a stretcher ready, and he was at once removed to the Infirmary.
A Juror : I should like to ask you how the whole weight of the metals was not on the crane at the time of the accident?
Witness : It was at the moment of the accident.
The Juror : You say he was warned to move from under the crane? Can a crane be worked without a man being under? Certainly, the whole business can be done without anybody being under the shaft of the crane.
Was it wise to have overburdened the crane in that way? I did not know that it was over the burden. I have shifted many and many a load like that.
The Coroner : Then what would be the object of the injunction on the crane not to load more than ten tons? It was no consignment to us, it was consigned to London, and we had no means of ascertaining what the weight was.
The Coroner : Who should have known that 20 tons were not put on the crane? I should have known that at once.
Then you were the person responsible for it being overloaded? Well, I did not know the weight. It was brought to the station because of an accident to the truck; it would not have come to my station at all but for the accident. The metals came in two trucks, and as each truck was supposed to carry only five tons, I did not think it would be more than ten – certainly I did not think it was between twelve and thirteen. I may say that the deceased was injured eighteen months ago – in walking between the trucks, a thing no one ought to do.
The Coroner : The evidence is clear that the weight was more than the crane should bear.
Mr Davis : I have had 36 years experience in this and I never knew the jib of a crane break before. If a crane breaks it usually breaks in the chain; and it is that we prepare against.
Charles Baker, a porter in the employ of the company, who was engaged in working the crane when the accident happened, said that after the accident happened he saw the deceased on his knees. When he was lifted up blood rushed from his head.
By a Juror : He did not hear the deceased cautioned about his position; he did not hear anyone cautioned the whole day.
Isaac Lailey, yard foreman, deposed that Coombes was working by his side on this occasion. When the rails were about six inches from the ground the crane broke giving way suddenly. At the time he was of opinion that the metals did not exceed the proper weight. Seeing the deceased under the jib he cautioned him to move out of the way. The portion of the crane which struck Coombes fell within a foot or so of him: but Coombes was right under the crane. One part of the jib fell on the rails and another on the truck.
Walter Bunday, a porter, said that the deceased was standing a foot from him, and the rails were about a foot from the ground. He was standing under the crane, and he had cautioned him to get from the dangerous position, but the words were scarcely out of his mouth when he heard a crack, and the jib fell. On looking around he saw the deceased on the ground.
A Juror : How far were you from the crane when it fell? I was about three feet from it. When it broke the crane swung round; and had I not struggled back the crane would have fallen on me.
James Brinton and William Fay, two porters, were called, but simply to give evidence as to the alleged warning the deceased received. They both testified that they heard no one caution him, though standing close to Coombes.
Harvey Rolfe, an inspector in the employ of the company, stated that on Saturday week he tested this crane and put up a new chain. It was then in good order, and did not appear to have any crack. He had never tested its strength by weight. On this occasion he tapped it with the hammer and it sounded all right. This crane was marked not to carry more than ten tons; and he should say that it would be unsafe to carry more. Certainly, there was generally a wide margin left.
Mr Supt Mathews gave the formal evidence that the deceased – who lived at 8, Fairview-terrace, Manor-road – was 31 years old.
Mr Mervyn Wilson, house surgeon at the Infirmary, gave evidence to the effect that the deceased was admitted on Tuesday. He had three large incised wounds on the head, and fracture of the skull; his collar bone and several ribs were broken, and there were some symptoms pointing to injury of the lung by one of the ribs; he had a fracture of the left thigh and a compound fracture of the left leg. He died at about 12pm on Wednesday. His death was due to the injuries he had sustained.
At the conclusion of this evidence the Coroner said he could not but think a want of care had been exhibited in connection with ascertaining the weight of the load; and that hence the accident. The jury thought it advisable to visit the place and inspect the crane, and the inquest was accordingly adjourned.
The following morning they went to the Milford goods station, and after inspecting the crane, re-called Brinton, Baker and Mr Knight.
Brinton stated that just previous to the accident he saw that one of the cogs of the slewing gear was out of order, which he pointed out to Mr Knight, and which breakage he believed was the cause of the gear not being able to work properly. Lailey, he said, attempted to move the broken cog with a piece of iron.
Baker added that they could not move the gear, and that both Mr Knight and Lailey attempted to remove the broken cog. Witness added: “Brinton then said ‘I do not think we can do much unless the cog is taken out,’ but Mr Knight said, ‘I think we can if we go to the rails.’ In consequence of this remark of Mr Knights’ we went to the rails; we then attempted to push the rails round on the truck when the crane suddenly broke.”
Mr Knight gave evidence that the original weight of the rails was 12 tons 6 cwt. He said that his attention was called to the broken cog and that the gear would not work; and that he had hoped to slew the rails round without the aid of the slewing gear.
The jury returned a verdict to this effect – Accidental Death caused by the breaking of an overloaded crane.
The jury and witnesses gave their fees to the widow, together with an additional sovereign which the jury subscribed.