No-one saw Thomas Hood, driver of the mail coach from Mudgee to Wellington in rural NSW, get kicked in the face by a horse, but the mark of the shoe was plainly visible on his face.
Death-by-horse was a reasonable common occurence in early Australia, particular as horses were essential for transport of people and goods.
For many, they turned out to be a fatally unreliable way to get from A to B, particularly for Thomas Hood and three other men who were killed in rural New South Wales, in separate incidents.
In 1912, Thomas Hood’s arm was broken above the elbow, and his skull fractured when he was killed between Ballara and Spicer’s Creek.
His body was found after a man waiting for the coach at the bottom of the next rise saw the horses galloping with no driver.
He stopped the horses, and, going back, found Hood lying dead on the middle of the road.
An examination of the coach showed that the clip under the carriage was broken, and it was surmised that Hood leaned over to see what had happened when one of the horses kicked him in the face.’’
Dashed against a post
While it is unknown where Hood is buried, at least three other Gulgong Cemetery headstones are related to horse-caused deaths.
Henry Allen, a 61-year-old Gulgong region farmer, had just unloaded a load of wheat from a horse-drawn lorry. He had brought it from his home a mere 200 metres away.
The horses took fright and bolted for home.
Allen jumped on to pull up the horses, but having no luck, decided it would be safer to jump off.
It wasn’t. He was thrown against a telephone post, fracturing his skull and dying immediately.
He left a “sorrowing widow”, not named, and four sons, one of whom was on active service (Private Wilfred was a schoolteacher off fighting in the war. He had returned home wounded in the left hip and thigh by June that year – 1918).
There are fewer details known about Emanuel Beazley, a 30-years-resident of the district, except that he had his leg broken by a horse wagon passing over it in 1896, and died two weeks later in the Gulgong Hospital.
Bucked off a horse
Thirteen-year-old schoolboy Leo Smith was considered a good rider for his age. When he was late home on a Friday afternoon, his mother went searching, and found his pony.
Not long after, she and his uncle found him dead, with only an abrasion to his right knee visible. Unfortunately, his neck was also most likely broken.
Marks on the ground showed where the horse had bucked near the railway tracks at Home Rule, and Leo’s hat lay nearby.
Died doing horseback duty
David Peter Thompson, was a first-class constable in the mounted police.
He was at the Binnaway racecourse on the Queen’s Birthday, presumably working.
His horse dashed him against a tree, partially fracturing his skull. He took a month to die, and his funeral was ‘very largely attended’.
An eloquent tribute
While William Kerr’s weathering gravestone in the Coonabarabran cemetery is a solid tribute to the man, the descriptive newspaper report of his death is also worth some admiration.
The flowery language of the time tells the tale.
“It is my painful duty to record one of those melancholy and fatal accidents which too plainly remind us that “in the midst of life we are in death.
“On the morning of Wednesday last, one of our most respected townsmen, Mr William Kerr, was hurried violently before the tribunal of his Almighty Judge, without having scarce time to call for mercy, so terribly sad was the awful event which caused his death.’’
It goes on to explain that Kerr was catching a young horse in a small paddock near his house.
The halter which had been put on him the evening before had slipped off his head and on to his neck.
“As it was impossible to manage the animal by the short halter round his neck, Mr Kerr proceeded to tie the end of the catching rope to the halter, inadvertently leaving the other end of the rope, which had the usual catching noose fixed on it, trailing on the ground, when this was done, while trying to readjust the halter the animal plunged violently, breaking away, the noose of the rope catching the unfortunate man’s leg just above the ankle…
“The infuriated animal at this point having stopped, the boy who had been assisting Mr Kerr managed to extricate his leg, when he was removed to the house in a state of insensibility, the blood oozing from his mouth, ears, and nostrils.
“Death put an end to the poor man’s earthly sufferings in a few hours; he never spoke nor showed any sign of reason from the moment that he first fell.
“William Kerr … was a man of very quiet persevering, and obliging habits, and his melancholy end has cast a gloom over the neighbourhood.”
Horse collided with cow
Fred Rutter, 21, was trying to wheel a cow, but his horse collided with it.
The result was the horse fell on Rutter, breaking his spine.
He was taken to hospital, but died at midnight.
Australian Town and Country Journal Saturday 10 July 1880 p 26
Dubbo Dispatch and Wellington Independent, Friday 4 October 1912, p 4
Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative, Monday 7 January 1918, p 2
Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative Thursday 19 March 1914 p 7
The Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 10 December 1896, p 5
The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, Tuesday 13 September 1870 p 4
Western Champion, Thursday 10 October 1912, p 4
Western Champion Friday 4 August 1899 p 6