The 1884 Little River train crash

From the Geelong Advertiser, 4th of April, 1884.

Bloody carnage as two trains crash

At twelve o’clock last night, a telegram was received from the Werribee railway station, intimating that a collision had taken place between the passenger train, which left Geelong for Melbourne at a quarter past nine o’clock in the evening, and a goods train, which left Melbourne for Geelong at twenty minutes past eight o’clock. “The collision took place about one mile from the Werribee station and between Werribee and Little River.

“No information was telegraphed to Geelong as to how the goods train was allowed to leave Werribee before the passenger train arrived from Little River.

“The message, which was received in Geelong was as follows:-

“Railway collision between Little River and Werribee tonight; engines and 2nd class carriages wrecked; line blocked, but believe no life lost. Collision was between passenger and goods trains.”

“Immediately on the Geelong station-master (Mr. Sinclair) being made acquainted with the news of the disaster on the Melbourne line of railway, he communicated with the foreman of the locomotive branch, and had an engine, a casualty-truck, two carriages, and a van got ready, and a doctor was sent for.

“The special train started as soon as possible for Werribee to render any assistance.

“The collision was of course known in Melbourne an hour or two earlier than in Geelong, and a special train with several doctors was despatched to the scene of the accident shortly before eleven o’clock.

“4.30am despatch

“The collision was a frightful one, the front guard van of the passenger engine being thrown off the line, together with a second class carriage, whilst a first-class carriage next was wrecked and several trucks of the goods train were piled in the air.

“The driver of the goods train, T Kitchen of Geelong, was crushed between the tender of the engine, death proving instantaneous.

“A lady in one of the carriages, whose name was unknown, was so dreadfully hurt that she died raving an hour afterwards, whilst another lady was taken clear of the wreckage in a dying condition.

“There was over twenty persons injured, ribs arm, and legs being broken.

“Among the injured were Mr Dawes, of Brighton, Miss Adams, of Sandridge, Mrs Pell, Mr Craig, driver of the passenger train, Mr D M’Murtie, guard of the passenger train, Mr Walker, fireman, and Mr Best, guard of the goods train.

“Dr Ryan, of Melbourne, arrived by a special train and attended to the wounded, all of whom excepting Mr Walker, who lives in Geelong, were taken to Melbourne by the special train.

“The body of Mr Kitchen was brought to Geelong, but the body of the lady was conveyed to Melbourne.

“The scene was one of a terrifying description, and the passengers who escaped injury stated that the shock of the collision was terrific, although the speed of the passenger engine had been slackened when the driver noticed the ordinary goods train.”

“(Time does not permit us to give further, particulars in our present issue)”.

The driver of the passenger train died the next day.

An inquiry subsequently revealed that the collision was caused by an incorrect telegram sent by the daughter of the Werribee stationmaster, Mr Biddle.

Thomas Biddle had left his daughter in charge of the station whilst he attended choir practice.

He was charged with manslaughter but found not guilty.

As a result of the accident, the Government paid 23,000 pounds in compensation.

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