Sunday, June 15, 2014

Nhill Railway Station; A dangerous place?

This post was prompted by Sepia Saturday

 July 1886
"For two hours and a half the engine rattles over what have hitherto been such undisturbed, unfruitful solitudes that kangaroo have not yet learned to be frightened of any intruder, and sit placidly near the line while the train rushes by"1
"Nhill, 24 miles from Dimboola, is the largest township on the line between Dimboola and Adelaide.  It has the appearance of a thriving place, and there are large stacks of wheat on the platform ready to be sent down the lines"1
Nhill Railway Station with wheat waiting to be transported - Undated
From My Grand Aunts Album
 The Argus newspaper reports on the 15th July 1886 that the railway from Melbourne to Adelaide was not formally open but "passengers have been carried over the line since the 1st of this month"1

Nhill is a small country town in Western Victoria.  It is situated about half 
way between Melbourne and Adelaide and lies about 45 minute drive from
 the South Australian Border

Catastrophe was narrowly avoided the following month, in August 1886, when children of a farmer residing near the Nhill Railway Station, laid two wooden rails across the tracks, which resulted in a trolley of workmen being derailed. "One man had his collar-bone broken, and the others received injuries which necessitated medical attendance"......"The train from South Australian to Dimboola was due shortly after, and had the trolley not passed over the obstruction serious loss of life might have resulted"2

The opening of the railway must have been favourable to the farming community of Nhill as only a year later, in August 1887,  it was reported "The township is improving fast.  A large goods-shed and platform are being erected at the railway-station by Messrs. Sutcliffe and Harley to cost £837. A new post-office, telegraph station, and public offices are being erected by Mr. Irvine.  A new schoolhouse will also be erected, and the size of the hospital will be doubled.  It has also been decided to erect a shire hall at a cost of £800.  All these works will be proceeding during the next four months"3

Another train derailment was reported in the area in 1887, when "six trucks and the van ran off the line, tearing up several lengths of the rails and doing considerable damage to the tracks and van.  The cause of the accident is supposed to be the gradual sinking of the line in consequence of the wet weather and the heavy traffic passing over it."

The Argus (Melbourne, VIc: 1848-1957)
Wednesday 28 August 1889, page 8
Retrieved 13th June 2014

August Hirst (age 35) was the first recorded death at the Nhill Railway Station on 27th August 1889.  His "right foot was cut off just above the ankle, the left foot was crushed, and the skull was injured.  The body had been carried along the line for about 40 yards"

Shortly after, a poor horse "was cut to pieces"

Chronicle (Adelaide, SA: 1895-1954)
Saturday 18 March 1899, page 21

My grandmother's journal reports another death relating to the Nhill railway station, although not directly;
"My grandfather was chief mechanic at the Nhill Railway Station.  He was sick in bed and something went wrong.  They sent for him.  Grandmother didn't want him to go. He did - got pneumonia and died"
My research has revealed that my Great Great Grandfather, Edward "Ted" Geyer, died 5th May 1899 from Typhoid (not pneumonia as my grandmother believed).

Melbourne Exhibition Building on ANA (Australian Native's Association) Day 26th January 1898
Source: National Library of Australia (Trove)
State Library of Australia Image Number H96. 160/565
On what is now known as Australia Day,  January 26th 1905, an excursion train ran to the ANA Fete (Australian Native's Association Fete) in Melbourne.  The second class fare from nearby Horsham to Melbourne was 18 shillings with first class fares nearly 50 percent more.4

Railway Crossing at Noske Bros Flour Millers Nhill - Undated
From my Grand Aunts Album

In March 1905 another "accident occurred at the Nhill railway station at noon on Monday, resulting in the engine, tender, and two trucks belonging to the 1pm goods special leaving the rails and tearing up the permanent way for a distance of 20 or 30 yards.  It appears that the engine had shunted on to the siding leading to the Wimmera Flour Mill, where it picked up two empty trucks, and was returning to the main line when it suddenly left the rails, ploughing through the sleepers and the permanent way, as likewise did the tender and trucks.  Apparently the points were the cause of the mishap"5

In December 1905, Mr Strass was very lucky to be alive to celebrate Christmas;
"Almost stupefied by fright, he leaped forward over the dashboard.  The engine caught the buggy just in the centre and smashed it into a thousand the aid of lanterns Mr. Strass was found, and fortunately he was not much hurt, although unconscious.  He was taken to Nhill and after a considerable time consciousness returned".6

The death of Mr Edwin Thurston, in 1906, made headlines around the country, including in Western Australia.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1957), Friday 25 May 1906, page 4

Mr Edwin Thurston
Killed in a Railway Accident at Nhill on
May 24 1906
The Australasian (Melbourne),
Saturday  June 2 1906,  page 28
Retrieved 13th June 2014
NHILL, Thursday -  A Terrible railway accident occurred at half-past 1 o'clock this morning at the local railway station, when the the Melbourne express train, in shunting, dashed into a cab at the town level crossing.  At the time the train was backing to allow the Adelaide express in.  The cab-driver was hurled clear of the rails, but a passenger, Mr. Edwin Thurston, a commercial traveller for Patterson, Laing, and Bruce Limited, Flinders-lane, had not possible chance of escape.  The train forced the cab, with its hapless freight before it, for over 130 yards.  The guard tried to signal the driver, but failed, and the train was shunted the full distance.  Mr. Thurston, who was dead when picked up, had both legs almost amputated, several ribs fractured, and sustained abrasions on the head.  Dr Bennett says that death was probably instantaneous.
Anderson, the cab-driver, sustained concussion of the brain, and is now lying in the Nhill Hospital in a very low state.
When the express van struck the cab it cut the pole and trace in two, and the horses dashed off untouched.  The scene of the accident was visited by numbers of people today.  The cabman was endeavouring to take Mr. Thurston to the hotel, and to return to the station in time to attend the other express train.  General sorrow at the occurrence was expressed locally, as the deceased gentleman was highly esteemed here."7

A later report stated "William Anderson the man in charge of the cab, is an elderly man, who has resided in Nhill for many years and that one so well acquainted with the train movements should have fallen into such a grevious error of judgement, is inexplicable.  We learn that poor Anderson has paid for his rashness with his life, having died in the hospital."8

It was some years until I found record of another accident;

Albury Banner and Wodonga Express
(NSW: 1896 - 1938), Friday 28 1919
page 29
31 March 1912 - Alfred R G Starick was killed when he accidentally fell between the cars when  changing compartments 9

25 Aug 1914 - A Guard, Peter Bannon, received a severe knock to the head during shunting, which resulted in unconsciousness and concussion of the brain.10

5 July 1916 - Another Guard, Mr Louis Bence, had his arm severely crushed between the buffers of two trucks 11

5 October 1916 - Horses bolted towards a train, they swerved at the last minute, overturning the buggy and throwing out the driver.  There were no serious injuries.12

27 November 1918 - A young soldier, Carl Kalleske, was returning from training in Melbourne.  As the train was coming into the station he opened the wrong door, overbalanced, falling off the train.  He was dragged along for several metres, with his arm was almost severed near the shoulder and later amputated.14

 28 February 1919 - George Cummings, a chauffeur was terribly injured when a train hit his car.  He later died in hospital. 15

12 January 1922 - Lieutenant Eileen Evans, of the Salvation Army, was on the platform at Nhill Railway Station with colleagues when the train began to move. The group was running alongside the train, scrambling to get back on.  At the end of the platform, Miss Evans fell. "The poor girl had one leg completely severed and the other was frightfully crushed" 16  She was operated on at the Nhill hospital but died from shock and loss of blood. 17

Chronicle (Adelaide SA: 1895 - 1954) Saturday 15 November 1924, page 38

Through the rails spreading near Nhill, in Victoria, early on Saturday morning, an engine and trucks became derailed.  The Adelaide express from Melbourne, the Melbourne express from Adelaide, and the East-West special to Melbourne were in consequence held up for some hours, and the passengers only got through by exchanging trains after much inconvenience. Left- The derailed engine Right - The Adelaide express held up near the signal, which stands at danger"

Nhill Railway Station from the Silo
Taken by my Grandmother, Eva Scott (nee Pilgrim) 1930

Sources (all retrieved from on 13th June 2014)
1 The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848 - 1957), Thursday 15 July 1886, page 10
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848 - 1957), Wednesday 18 August 1886, page 6
3 South Australian Weekly Chronicle (Adelaide, SA 1881-1889), Saturday 3 September 1887, page 21 
4 The Horsham Times (Vic: 1882-1954), Friday 13 January 1905, page 2 
5 The Horsham Times (Vic: 1882-1954), Friday 31 March 1905, page 2
6 The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA: 1889-1931), Thursday 28 December 1905, page 7
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1957), Friday 25 May 1906, page 4
8 The Horsham TImes (Vic: 1882-1954), Tuesday 29 May 1906, page 4
9 The Register (Adelaide SA: 1901 - 1929), Monday 1 April 1912, page 6
10 Nhill Free Press (Vic: 1914-1918), Tuesday 25 August 1914, page 2
11 The Register (Adelaide SA: 1901 - 1929), Wednesday 5 July 1916, page 6
12 The Ballarat Courier (Vic: 1914-1918), Thursday 5 October 1916, page 5
14 Nhill Free Press (Vic: 1914-1918), Friday 29 November 1918, page 2
15 Albury Banner and Wodonga Express, (NSW: 1896 - 1938), Friday 28 1919, page 29
16 The Advertiser, Friday 13 January 1922, page 7
17 Daily Herald (Adelaide, SA: 1910- 1924), Saturday 14 January 1922, page 6

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  1. You did a great job compiling this history!

    1. Thank you Jackie. I got bit carried away. There were more accidents that I thought!

  2. That's a heckuva lot of train accidents. My goodness! But they do happen. In the three years I lived in my apartment near railroad tracks & a street crossing, there were four fairly serious accidents. Luckily no one was killed, but they all involved people trying to get across the tracks ahead of the train when they should have waited - except for one hapless group who turned on what they thought was a street but wasn't, then tried to make a U-turn over the tracks & got stuck. I had just arrived home from a date around midnight when I heard people over near the tracks shouting at each other. It was, of course, dark & lightly raining. I shined a flashlight in their direction & saw what the trouble was. Knowing a train was due to come by in only another couple of minutes I told them to get far away from their car, then went inside & called the police, but it was too late. We all heard the train's horn in the distance as it approached other crossings & knew there was no chance. Shortly thereafter we heard a long blast of the trains horn & then a tremendous squealing & screeching of the its brakes followed by a big "crunch". Fortunately the people had taken my warning to heart & were back out of the way when the empty car was flung from the tracks at impact. Meanwhile, the loud wigwag signals at the street crossing had begun to clang with their red warning lights flashing. It was not a very quiet night for a few hours after that!

    1. WOW! What a frightening experience! I hope that no one on the train was injured?

      Thank you for adding to my theme.

  3. see you and I had the same idea of looking at the history of a particular station, but yours is a lot more comprehensive, with a lot more accidents. Excellent work!

    1. Isn't it great how Sepia Saturday prompts us to research aspects that we may not have otherwise!

  4. There was a 15 car derailment yesterday not too far from where I live. The same rails run about a block from where I live. I hope none of the oil trains derail. There have been a lot of oil trains in the last couple of years and some bad accidents.

    1. What a (bad) coincidence! I hope that no one was injured. 15 cars! What caused it do you know?

  5. Excellent work Sharon. This blog post will get a lot of hits over time.
    Your grandmother had a 'good eye' for photography.

    1. Thank you Lorraine. I hope that my research can help someone else.

      Yes Gran was an excellent photographer (with her box brownie). Just wish that I had known that when she was alive!

  6. Fascinating and a reminder of just how dangerous those early forms of travel were.

    1. And how long that they took! We complain now about the unreliability of public transport in Australia but in reality it is luxury compared to what our ancestors experienced!

  7. Gad! Who'd have thought so many accidents would happen on one small stretch of railway!

  8. Impressive work to come up with such an astonishing number of tragic accidents. I'm fascinated by the quantity of details that newspapers would include in their reports.

    1. We are so lucky in Australia to have free access to newspapers via Trove (National Library of Australia)

  9. Gosh Sharon, that was pleasant. I don't think newspapers report tragic accidents with that level of detail anymore.

    1. Yes, the descriptions were morbid at times!

  10. Sounds like a station to be avoided with so many accidents.

  11. I think railways were closer to towns and more accessible than they are now. And with proximity would come accidents. Horrendous accidents, to be sure. I also wonder if the gruesome details included in newspapers were in lieu today's modern television broadcasts that can (but don't usually) show details. It's an interesting phenomenon to me how detailed those old newspaper accounts were....

    This was a really interesting post, Sharon.

    1. Thank you Nancy.

      Yes I agree, the railways were closer to towns. Also they didn't have the OH&S rules that we do today!