Opening of the Inquest at Breamore
The inquest on the first four bodies was opened in the Lecture-room of the Agricultural College (Charford, Breamore, where the injured were first taken from the crash site) on Wednesday afternoon by Mr Hannen, the Coroner for the hundred of Fordingbridge, and a jury, of which the Rev. E Dew, the incumbent of Breamore, was foreman. A number of people assembled in the apartment, including several relatives of the deceased.
In opening the proceedings, the Coroner said he did not propose that day to go into the evidence, but simply to swear the jury and take sufficient evidence to give an order for burial. He should then adjourn the inquiry for the purpose of giving time for the gathering of all the necessary evidence, which it had yet been impossible to gather for the inquiry. It was necessary to hold a preliminary inquiry as soon as possible in order that the relatives might take charge of the bodies, but when that had been done the inquiry would be adjourned until Friday.
Mr Hall, solicitor, of the Company, who with Mr W Jacomb, the chief engineer, attended to represent the company, said he desired to express the regret of the directors at what had occurred and to say that they should be willing to render every assistance in their power to gather evidence.
After the jury had been sworn in, they proceeded to view the bodies, and on returning the Coroner adjourned the inquiry and asked the jury members to attend at the “Bat and Ball” inn Breamore, at eleven o’clock, on Friday. He was sorry to have to call them together again, but it was a question involving matters other than discovering the actual cause of death, and he had thought it necessary to take sufficient time to prepare all the needful evidence.
The Inquest at Breamore 1884 June 14th
The inquest on the four killed directly by the accident – George Waters, Lilian Kate Chandler, Mary Ann Lush and Emily Corbin – was resumed at the “Bat and Ball” inn, Breamore, this (Friday) morning. The Company was represented by Mr Noble, barrister, and Mr Hall, solicitor. There were also present Mr Jacomb, resident-engineer, Mr Adams, locomotive engineer, Mr Higgs, superintendent of the locomotive department, and Mr Davis, superintendent of the Salisbury district.
I will skip the next passage in which the Company’s legal rep gives the usual “we will do all we can” spiel.
William Witt, the Company’s gatekeeper at Charford, said he was the first person who was likely to see the accident. At 4.45 on the day in question, he was on the lookout for the down train at the crossing. He saw the train leave Downton station and pass Mr Gough’s bridge and over the pile bridge. After proceeding some way further he saw one of the middle carriages come off the train. The carriages then rocked considerably, then went up and down, and then telescoped. The guards van then turned partially round. He then saw the carriages fall over the embankment. It did not strike him that the train was proceeding at an unusual rate. It seemed to go as it did every afternoon. He at once ran towards the spot where the accident occurred, and met the fireman and driver of the second engine and proceeded to the spot. All the carriages were overturned but one, and that was the guard’s van, which remained on the metals. The engines and tender were still attached to that, but the tender was off the metals. They were, however, all some way from the overturned carriages – over a hundred yards. He noticed that the coupling of the van was broken. He did not notice that any axle or wheel of the engines was broken. He did not stop long at the scene of the accident but went back to his post. He had seen two engines attached to the train on previous occasions. By the jury : It was not his duty to take the time the train passed him.
James Porter, shepherd to Professor Wrightson, said at about five o’clock on Tuesday afternoon he was in the road near the line when he saw the train coming from Downton. It was coming “fastish” – he thought at the time that it was going faster than he ever saw it go before. That made him watch it. He did not see the carriages rock at all. He saw the train pass over the pile bridge and about half a minute afterwards he saw one of the carriages in about the middle of the train roll over. He could not see anything further for a time owing to the dust and gravel flying about so. He ran to the spot and by that time the engines had got to the crossing at Charford and had stopped. He did not notice anything attached to either engine. He did not stop to look at the engines, but went back to where the accident had occurred, and found that all the carriages had gone down the embankment. Two of the carriages were nearly upright but the remainder had rolled over the embankment. He assisted to get out his brother who was in the train and took him off home. When he got back all the passengers had been got out. He did not see any of the train rocking.
By jurors : He was about 200 yards away from the train when he noticed it. He had not, however, noticed trains go down very often, but he thought this was going faster then usual. He had before thought the train went very fast at that spot but not so fast as it was going that day. (The witness afterwards explained that he was at a spot which must have been, said Mr Nobbs, 400 yards away).
Emily Herridge, aged 14, said she lived at the Down, near Mr Wrightson’s at North Charford. She was in a lane near the line when the five o’clock train went down. She saw the train after it had passed the pile bridge rocking very much. She went on and then heard a crash. She then looked around towards where the train should have been. She could see nothing for the cloud of dust or smoke. She at once ran and told the dairyman that the train had gone off the line.
Benjamin Croom, dairyman for Professor Wrightson, deposed that after receiving the girl’s message he at once ran to the spot and saw that the train was a complete wreck. No carriages were left on the line. The engines stopped at the South Charford crossing. He helped to extricate some of the passengers. The first person he saw was Mr Waters lying on the field and his cousin standing over him. He saw him breathe once. The lines were much damaged. One of the rails was bent to a curve and some of the sleepers were broken. He saw three dead bodies at first and Mr Waters died subsequently.
Mr Duke, surgeon, of Fordingbridge, stated that having been summoned by Mr Pettyfer to go to Charford where it was said the train had fallen into the river he proceeded there. On arriving there he found the train a complete wreck, and after attending to some of the wounded, viewed the dead bodies – which were lying in the meadow adjoining the line. From the appearances of the bodies he was of opinion that two of the females died from drowning or suffocation. There was not the same evidences of drowning in the other cases – those of Mr Waters and Mrs Lush, the cause of death there being, he should say, crushing and the violence of the concussion.
Dr Clifton, of Fordingbridge, said that having been summoned by Mr W A Neave, he proceeded to the scene of the accident. He attended first to two patients seriously injured. He then saw Mr Waters and he should say that he must have died in an instant. The cause of death was the concussion and injuries to the head. Miss Chandler and Mrs Corbin died from drowning, and Mrs Lush he should say was partially drowned.
Mr Coventry, of Burgate House, a traveller in the train, said he believed he was in the third car from the front guard’s van – a first class smoking compartment. Mr William Neave, and Mr Ridley, of Damerham, were in the same compartment. He could not say if they were punctual in starting; they were not, at all events, very late. The first thing he felt was a lurch of the train after they had left Downton; it was not much more than they sometimes felt in going over the points at the goods station at Salisbury. The carriage then lurched more widely to the other side. He then thought they were going off the line. It then lurched to the right again wider still, and he was then thrown down into the bottom of the carriage. He endeavoured to throw himself between the seats to avoid broken glass. There was then, he believed, a fourth lurch, and that, he believed, rolled them over the embankment.
By the Jury : He noticed nothing extraordinary about the train. He was accustomed to travel by the train, and never had noticed anything extraordinary about the train at this spot. It went fast, he had noticed before, after going past Alderbury junction.
Continuing, Mr Coventry said they endeavoured to get out of the carriage by the door, but it was too high up, and they crawled out underneath. They were not delayed more than a few seconds in getting out. He assisted in getting the wounded out. The first was a woman he believed – Mrs Lush – who died almost immediately. She moved her lips as he drew her out. He then saw her eyes glaze over, and he concluded she was dead. He then helped to get out one of the Misses Gale.
The Coroner : Can you give me any idea of the speed the train was going at the first lurch? No.
Is it usual to have a lurch at the Alderbury junction? No, it jolts but not very severe.
By the Coroner : He noticed one rail behind the spot where the accident took place was bent and up in the air.
John Hobbs, well-sinker, of Woodgreen, said he was walking with two others along the Hale-lane which is about 200 yards from the railway, when they saw this train approaching. There was a dispute as to whether both engines had the steam on. But just as they spoke they saw one engine stop-off the steam, and that the other had it on. They then saw – as the train had got about 60 or 70 yards from the pile bridge – what they thought was smoke arising from the centre of the train. They afterwards saw it was dust. The train went on a little distance, and the engines then broke away with one van. The carriages rolled over, excepting one, which had been kept up by a tree. All the carriages were off the line. As he saw the train first he thought it was not going very fast.
Mr H F Withers, of Fordingbridge, who travelled by the train, said that after leaving Downton the train travelled at a good pace. Just as they were passing the pile bridge a peculiar sensation came across his eyes from the pace at which they were going. He was obliged to hold his breath. In a few seconds there followed a tremendous shaking of the train, and he was forced from one side of the carriage to the other. The carriage he was in ran into a tree and that he considered saved his life. Immediately the train stopped a young man came to the door and assisted him and the other three passengers out of it. The first thing he saw was the body of Mr Waters. He had been in the habit of travelling this line for about 17 years. He considered that the train was rather faster than usual.
Mr W R Neave, of Bickton, Fordingbridge, a passenger by this train, said he was travelling in a first class smoking carriage. He could not say whether the train started punctually or not. The speed, he thought, was rather rapid; and he noticed it particularly in passing the Alderbury points. He also noticed the speed was great after leaving Downton before passing the bridge. There was a considerable decline from Downton to the bridge. After passing the pile bridge he felt another lurch as if the drivers had suddenly put on steam. The carriages then oscillated considerably. They then found they were on the sleepers instead of on the rails, being jumped up and down considerably, and the next thing he found himself in the water and the train stopped.
By the Foreman : The speed was extra, and it seemed as though they were trying to make up for lost time. The speed at Alderbury was at other times too great. That was not a safe point, he considered. As to the passing the Avon bridge he often felt glad – and more especially when the water was high – when they had got beyond it. At Alderbury junction there was often remarks as to the speed, but he had not heard any remark at any time as to the speed by the pile bridge.
Frank Sevier, carter to Mr Read, who travelled by the train, said the train was very shaky from Alderbury junction to the cutting before Downton and he remarked to his wife that he hoped there would be no accident before reaching home. At the pile bridge the speed was so great that they could scarcely see the water as they passed. Just after this there was a tremendous shaking and he was knocked from one side of the carriage to the other.
Mr Herbert Hall, of Breamore, a second-class passenger, deposed that after passing the pile bridge, the carriage rocked tremendously. The oscillation continued to get more severe, he then being thrown from side to side and afterwards to the bottom of the carriage. He escaped from the wreck. He did not notice that the train was proceeding at a pace different from the usual.
Stephen Thorne, labourer, of Godshill Wood, who was with John Hobbs in Hale-lane this afternoon, repeated the latter’s evidence.
Mr W F Alexander, iron-monger, of Fordingbridge, said that having heard of the accident he went by the train to the scene.
The inquiry was then adjourned until Wednesday, and it was then understood that witnesses would be called who would give evidence as to the state of the line.
The Inquest at Breamore cont 1884 July 12th
The inquest on the four persons killed at the railway accident near Downton ….. was resumed at the “Bat and Ball,” Breamore, this (Friday) afternoon. It was adjourned from the 6th June for the distinct purpose of letting the jury become acquainted with the Board of Trade Report. It was expected, however, in consequence of the result of the inquest at Salisbury, that additional evidence would be obtained.
Mr J Ridley said he was a traveller by the train to which the accident occurred. He was sure that the train did not leave Salisbury at its proper time, but he could not tell how late it was. He was conversing with Mr Coventry nearly the whole of the way from Salisbury to Downton, and did not notice anything particular about the speed at which the train was going. In thinking over it afterwards, however, he did remember that the speed at which they came from the tunnel between Milford and Downton was quicker then usual. He did notice the speed soon after they left Downton, and then it was certainly unusually fast. When near Hale Bridge the train commenced rocking, and before they got to Pile Bridge Mr Coventry spoke to witness of the rocking of the train. He spoke of it again almost immediately before the train left the rails. This was done before the carriages were turned over, for witness distinctly felt the wheels of the carriage bump against the sleepers. Witness had a distinct recollection of being thrown out of the carriage for he felt that a rush of water came to his right shoulder. He did not lose consciousness at this, for he distinctly heard the other carriages following along the rails. He was sure of this because the thought flashed through his mind, “If I am not drowned I shall be crushed.” The more he thought of it the more he felt convinced that the train was going at a very great speed. He would not pretend to speak positively as to the speed of the train, but he morally believed that it was very much over 50 miles an hour. He was of opinion that the fact that the middle part of the train left the metals first was an evidence that the extra pulling power had quite as much to do with it as the speed. It had often occurred to him when travelling over the line that the speed at which they came down the decline was too great to round the curve in safety. He certainly thought there ought not to have been two engines attached to the train which was light. He had been over the line twice since the accident, and on one occasion the journey between Downton and Breamore occupied 5 minutes and on the other occasion 5¼ minutes.
Mr F Yearsley, of Wareham, said he felt sure that the fatal train was late in leaving Salisbury, because witness did not arrive at the station until quite a minute after it ought to have left. He was travelling in a second class compartment with Mr George Waters, Mr Stanford, and Mr Allen. All in the compartment noticed that there was a good deal of shaking at Alderbury junction – much more then usual. Soon after they left Downton, Mr Waters made some remarks as to the rapid speed they were travelling, and he repeated this remark just before the accident occurred. He had travelled over the line a great many times, but he certainly thought the train on this occasion was going faster than it had ever gone before. When the accident occurred witness was thrown about 30 feet into the meadow. He sustained several injuries – marks of which he still bore. Mr Waters did not open his eyes after he was thrown out.
This was all the evidence and the jury at first expressed their regret that some of the evidence given at the Salisbury inquiry with respect to the condition of the line was not produced before them.
The verdict was — “The jury find that George Waters, Lilian Kate Chandler, Mary Ann Lush and Mary Corbin, met their deaths by the railway accident of June 3. We also find that the accident was caused by the excessive pace at which the train was run over the line in a very unsatisfactory condition. We condemn the practise pursued by railway companies after an accident of immediately clearing the road, whereby evidence which might throw light on the cause of the accident is destroyed. We wish publicly and emphatically to express our strong opinion that it should be made compulsory on railway companies in the case of an accident where injury is caused to human life that the spot where the accident has occurred should be secluded and left undisturbed until it has been inspected by an officer of the Board of Trade, and we request the Coroner to indicate this expression of opinion to the department of the Board of Trade.”
The Coroner said he quite concurred with the verdict.