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First-ever fatality on a passenger railway
Parkside (1830)
Parkside 1830

Summary

The Rocket


Harbinger of doom? The locomotive that knocked down William Huskisson MP
Parkside, 15 September 1830 on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. It was the opening day of this, the first-ever "inter-city" railway when the first-ever fatality on a passenger railway occurred.

The overiding concern of the earliest locomotive builders was to ensure that their machines would go and go reliably. Bringing them to a halt, especially in an emergency was far from their minds. After all, they would stop frequently enough of their own volition. With the low speeds and comparatively light trains, use of the regulator and the reverser were sufficient to control a locomotive in normal conditions. In terms of braking power, all that was considered necessary was a handbrake on the tender to prevent movement after coming to a halt.
The opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway was a gala occasion and one which was graced by no lesser personage than the Prime Minister of the day, the Duke
Liverpool & Manchester Railway

At the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, its directors anticipated that carriage of goods was to provide the greatest revenue. Although goods traffic exceeded their expectations, they soon found that their line had become "swamped" by passengers.
Its popularity was no doubt due to the novelty of this form of transport as well as the speed with which they could be conveyed between the two cities. The public perception of the new line perhaps belied its potential for tragedy. As a benign influence on their lives is summed up by a contemporary spectator who wrote of its trains "The Monsters, being very civil monsters, not only relaxed their energies in passing the stands, but actually backed to give us more time to see them, for there were several engines, and each had its line of carriages".
of Wellington. Also in attendance were Sir Robert Peel, Minister of State and William Huskisson, the Member of Parliament for Liverpool. In its columns, the Liverpool newspaper, The Albion commented on the event, that it "attracted the greatest number of men of eminence in the politcal and scientific world that had ever assembled in this town". Huskisson had championed the cause of the new railway, helping to get the Bill for its construction through Parliament. His attendance at the occasion was unexpected however, having previously declined an invitation. He was in poor health, possibly due to the paralysis of a leg after surgery. Furthermore, he and the Prime Minister were not on the best of terms.
Trains drawn by a variety of locomotives had paraded along the line and had stopped at Parkside, about 17 miles from Liverpool to take on water. The Duke of Wellington's carriage was left on one of the running lines from where he was able to review a procession of trains as they passed. After this, he and the rest of his party got down from the carriage. Prior to their departure, the majority of the group returned to their carriage, but the Prime Minister remained talking to Huskisson.
The Rocket, which was being driven by Joseph Locke came down the line on which the two men were standing. Not only was the locomotive devoid of brakes, it was not fitted with a whistle to provide an audible warning of its approach. On noticing the approach of the locomotive, Wellington was able to get clear, but Huskisson who was somewhat less spritely was unable to get out of the way in time and the locomotive struck him. He fell and his leg was crushed between the locomotive's wheel and the rail.
The actual sequence of events is described by Smiles who wrote
He was taken to a local cottage where his injuries were tended, but he died later that night. He thus became the first fatality on a passenger railway and signalled to the Government potential for disaster that were possible with these new railroads.

A contemporary account of the incident is contained in a letter from Thomas Creevey to Miss Ord

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Copyright David Fry 1998
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