Privett, William

Privett, William             1884 May 24th

A fatal accident, shocking in its circumstances, occurred at the Salisbury South Western Railway Station on Saturday. Early in the morning a goods train left Southampton for Salisbury, the engine-driver being William Privett, who resides at Southampton. His engine was the “Dragon.” At Salisbury his duty was to have taken a portion of the train with other trucks on to Exeter via Yeovil Junction. At Salisbury he had to oil the engine and take in water. Both duties were performed at the same time, and more than this the train was made up as they were being carried out. As the last lot of trucks were being put on by the “Bison” engine-driver, either the force with which the carriages were attached or the fact that the brake was not on – but it seems improbable that it was the latter or the engine would have moved earlier – caused the engine to move. The man was at this time standing on the ash-pit – the usual position during this operation of cleaning – his head being on a level with the “big-end” of the engine. This “big-end” came home with fatal force and the unfortunate man’s head was literally crushed. Death must have been instantaneous. For some minutes his companions were in complete ignorance of the fatality; it was not until the guard had sung out “right away” and came back to see why it was not obeyed that it was discovered. The body was at once taken out and removed to the Infirmary. There later in the day the inquest was held by Mr George Smith, the city coroner, Mr T Maunder being foreman of the jury. Mr Davis, district superintendent at Salisbury, was present on behalf of the company.

The first witness examined was Mr Mervyn Wilson, the surgeon at the Infirmary. He said that the body was brought there at about five minutes past seven. He should think from the injuries that death must have been almost instantaneous. The bones of the skull and the jawbone were completely smashed. Deceased had a large scalp wound on the right side of the head, and between the fractured bones the brain was visible. On the back of the head was another scalp wound, and the left ear was almost severed from the head, the wound penetrating deeply into the brain. There was an extensive abrasion on the back, and he believed – though he could not say with certainty – that the neck was dislocated.

John Spicer, of 8, Windsor-road, goods guard in the employ of the company, deposed that on this morning he was going to take charge of the train which deceased was about to take on down the line. He, however, had nothing to do with making-up the train – that was the duty of the shunters. After the train had been made up he went up and told the fireman to go on. He was then told that the driver was under the engine oiling it. Finding the engine did not proceed he walked on to the engine and said, “We are ready when you are, driver.” Having no response, he looked under the engine and saw the deceased entangled in the machinery. The man was really still standing in the pit, and his head had been caught. He at once went to the fireman and told him to get under the engine. He did so, and discovered that the deceased was severely injured, if not killed. He (witness) at once called Mr Ridett (the foreman of the locomotive department) and with his assistance and that of two or three others and after the engine had been backed deceased was moved. He was then taken to the Salisbury Infirmary.

The Foreman : Did you give any instructions indicating that the engine should move? No.

Was any undue violence used in attaching the carriages? Not that I know of.

By jurymen : The guard who had charge of the train from Southampton had gone when he (witness) arrived, and he could have given no order. It was always the practise to oil the engine at that spot.

Was there no one to warn other employees that the engine was being oiled? No.

What, no one to give warning that the man was in a dangerous position? Not that I know of.

A Juror : Life is as nothing to the company sometimes.

I ask you as a practical man, is not that pit situated as it is on the main line in a very dangerous spot? Ought it not to be in a bye-way? It was suggested Mr Davis should reply to this.

The man then was really doing his duty in being under the train? Yes, he was obliged to oil his engine there for there is no other pit between Salisbury and Yeovil Junction.

The Coroner : Would not the other carriages if pushed up cause a movement in the engine? No, not if the brake was on properly.

A Juror : Whose duty was it to put the brake on? The fireman’s or driver’s.

George Westcott, the stoker of the engine, and residing at Northam, Southampton, stated that he came from Southampton with the deceased. They started at 4.15 and arrived at Salisbury at about 6.30. At Salisbury some of the wagons were taken off the train and others added. As the train was being made up the engine was standing over the ash-pit for the purpose of oiling and taking-in water. The deceased got underneath to do the oiling, he (witness) at the time taking water. While Privett was underneath the engine moved probably about a yard. It moved sufficiently far to draw the pipe out of the tender. The motion was caused by the waggons coming down on the waggons already attached to the engine. They appeared to him to come too rather hard. He did not, however, hear any word or sound from the driver. He, indeed, looked through the wheel and exclaimed, “Wire in, mate we shall have to go back to finish taking in water,” but received no reply, never, however, imagining that injury might have befallen him.

Don’t yu think it a dangerous thing to be under during shunting? Yes, I think it a dangerous practise to be making up a train when a man is underneath. I never saw it done before.

Is it your duty to put the brake on? Yes, and the brake was on hard.

Are you sure of that? Yes, positive. And it’s a good brake, too.

Witness continued that when he went underneath the engine after the guard came up he saw his mate was “jammed.” He found they could not get him out without moving back the engine. That was done, and the body was taken out.

The Foreman : Is it unusual for an engine to move under similar circumstances? It was unusual for the engine to move. But a heavy weight behind would move it.

Answering other members of the jury the witness said he had been a stoker seventeen months. He had only, however, been this route once before, and then with a passenger train.

Do you think it necessary to detach the train from the waggons during the oiling? I do.

Answering Mr Davis, the witness said it would take Privett only three or four minutes to oil the machinery.

A Juror : Is it customary to do oiling on main line or at a siding? We always do it on the main line.

Mr Davis asked if the oiling could not be done after the making-up. “Yes,” replied the witness. Mr Davis said that as a fact he should say that this dangerous part of the engine was usually oiled after the shunting.

A juror asked what the directors would think if after the guard called “right away,” the man still kept the train if only a few minutes. Mr Davis admitted that every expedition should be used; but said a man should be careful where life was concerned.

The juror asked if oiling was necessary at that moment ought not a man to have been so stationed as to prevent trucks rushing against the carriages. Mr Davis said it was impossible to know when the man would get under the engine for these two or three minutes.

The Coroner : Do you think it right to have the engine oiled while the train is being made-up. Could it not be taken in a siding? Mr Davis replied that there would be far more danger if the ash-pit were on the siding. As a fact, he believed the engine was oiled and water taken-in on the main line in connection with every line in England.

Alfred Courteney, who resides in Gaol-ground, Fisherton, who was the driver of the engine with which the train was made up, said that he remembered during the shunting sending back three or four waggons (whether loaded or not he could not say) to be attached to the other carriages. These waggons, considering the way in which they were moved back, could not have moved the engine had the tender brake been down.

The Foreman : What speed were they run in? About 1½ miles an hour.

And you believe if the engine was properly braked she could not have moved? No. But at the same time, if a man was oiling at a certain spot, the spot indeed the man had to oil, the movement of that portion of the machinery to a small extent would crush him.

It was mentioned by Mr Davis that this practise of oiling had continued at this station for no less than 24 years, and that excepting that a man had his arm broken this had been the only accident that had occurred at the spot.

A juror asked if it would not be much safer if the train and engine were detached, a distance of eight or ten yards dividing them. In this instance, had such been the case the accident would have been prevented.

Mr Davis : But the question is would there be that room?

The juror : That is the point, Mr Davis, is there room?

Mr Davis was then examined as a witness.

The Coroner : Having heard the evidence what is your opinion as to the position of the ash-pit? Do you think it would be possible to have it say on a bye-rail? Or could not the train be made up so as to allow the oiling being done before or after the train is made up? Could nothing be done to prevent accidents of this kind?

Mr Davis : I should think some hundreds of thousands of trains are made up in this way. If the brake is on tight I can’t understand the moving.

A juror : The evidence goes to show that the brake was on. Could not the ash-pit be elsewhere? These ash-pits would be very dangerous in sidings; men and horses would be in constant danger of falling in because of the continuous traffic.

Would it not be better to detach the train? There would certainly be less danger. A man might have time to drop down before moving trains reached his engine. But there would still be danger A man can detach his train now; there is no rule against it. There would, however, be still the danger of the trains being driven back. I may say that the accident is altogether of an exceptional character.

A juror : It would well that everything should be done to enable Salisbury to keep the good reputation it has hitherto had of immunity from accidents. I believe more room is wanted. (To Mr Davis) It was recommended by the jury after the last accident that more lamps should be placed at one spot. Has that been done? The matter will be soon attended to. We are going to have some Sugg’s burners, and I have no doubt we shall have the spot lighted in a superior manner before winter.

Do you think trucks running down at the rate of a mile-and-a-half an hour would move the engine a yard with the brake down? Theoretically, I should say not.

Walter Riddett, residing in Churchfields, the locomotive foreman at Salisbury, was asked if in his opinion three waggons shunted on to a stationary train with the brake on would cause the engine to move. He replied that it was his opinion that if the brake was down they would not; but then it would principally depend on the weight of the trucks and the speed at which they travelled. (Neither Mr Davis or the engine driver of the shunting engine could state definitely whether the trains were loaded. Mr Davis, however, said he should think they were loaded.) The question was asked if the fireman of the “Dragon,” had the brake on at the time of the accident. Dr Riddett said he assumed it was on, and after they discovered the accident he gave orders for it to be released, and the fireman went up to do it.

Frank Barnes, of Grosvenor-terrace, Wilton-road, a shunter in the employ of the company, and who on this morning was assisting in the shunting, stated that they added sixteen waggons to the deceased’s train. They were put on in two batches, eight in each. Eleven of them were empty, and five loaded. The five loaded ones were sent down together with three empty ones. These loaded waggons were sent down at a walking pace. They had to go about sixteen lengths. He was not aware that the man was under the engine when he sent the trucks down. They never knew under such circumstances whether a man was under or not. Of course, they had to be careful not to send them down at too great a speed; and he was especially careful this morning. The eleven empty carriages were put on to the train last. (This question was asked because it was evident that the man was killed as the last lot was put on).

James Privett, of New Town, Southampton, also in the employ of the company, stated that his brother, the deceased, lived at No 3, Valley-road, Southampton, and was 28 last May. He was a married man and had three children.

There being a discrepancy in the evidence of Courteney and Barnes as to the number of waggons sent down to be attached, Courteney was re-called. He stated that as a fact he could not tell how many waggons he sent down.

Deceased’s brother was the last witness. Before the jury finally came to their verdict they consulted privately. Eventually, after recording a verdict of “Accidental Death,” they agreed to this rider : “We suggest that in future steps should be taken to prevent a train being made-up whilst a driver is under his engine, and that the engine of a train being made-up should be detached for the purpose of oiling. We consider that there was no want of caution on the part of the deceased and that he was only doing his duty.”

All the jurors agreed to give their fees to the widow. At least, all the jurors at first agreed to give their fees to the widow. Afterwards one objected, as he stated to his fellow jurors, “on principle.” His contribution was, however, made up by another juror.


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