Simple mistake costs life

  Blayney Cemetery, NSW John James Donahee, who was accidentally killed 16 September 1909. Image Sharyn Moodie 2019

1909 – Railway fettler John Donahee was instantly killed when he was run down by a passenger train from Cowra.

Donahee and another fettler, Mackay, were on a railway tricycle, about a quarter of a mile west of the Blayney station.

 The passenger train from Orange was due, and the men were cautioned to watch for it.

 But it was windy and raining heavily, and the men did not hear the approach of the train until it was 30 or 40 yards behind them.

 The men were not in any danger on the line they were on.  The train was on an adjacent line and would have run past them safely. But Donahee was apparently under the impression the train was on the main line.

The above is a manual railway tricycle made for use in the New South Wales rails system in 1945, and is similar to the one Donahee would have been using. According to the Railways’ 1945 Book of Rules and Regulations “An employee must not use a tricycle unless he can read and write, and has in his possession a watch which shows the correct railway time, a copy of the last issue of the Working Timetable corrected to date and applying to the District in which the tricycle is being used” and “when a tricycle is used on a double line, it must be taken in the opposite direction to the ordinary trains, and always facing trains on the same line”. Perhaps these rules were put in place after too many accidents like Donahee’s.

He jumped off the tricycle and stepped right in front of the arriving train.

 Its entire length passed over him before the driver could stop, dismembering him completely.

The 40-year-old left behind a widow and family of young children.

Blayney, NSW, where Donahee is buried.

SOURCES: Albury Banner and Wodonga Express  Friday 24 September 1909 p 32

NSW Government Railway tricycle made at Per Way Workshops, Goulburn, NSW, c.1945 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 21 February 2021, <;

Published by Sharyn Moodie

Travelling around Australia for work, I've found so many amazing headstones. But what is more amazing is the stories behind some of these deaths, and the way newspapers of the day reported them.

One thought on “Simple mistake costs life

  1. Thanks Sharyn for your great posts, showing how tough life was back in the early days. So many people don’t realise how well off we are today.
    Take care.


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