Ganger callous of danger

1898 – Veteran railway workers appear to become callous of danger, the coroner said as he closed the inquiry into George Searson’s unnecessary death.

Image Sharyn Moodie 2020

Searson had been a ganger in Victoria for nearly 40 years but had been run over by a railway trolley and killed.

The incident occurred after two train trucks had been derailed, about seven miles towards Albany from Denmark.

The guard and engine driver Thomas Clark couldn’t right the trucks so took the train engine to get help.

Meanwhile, Searson and his team had been told they were needed to help right the trucks. They put sleepers on two trolleys and headed towards the train.

When they met the engine and began to head back to the derailed trucks,  Searson wanted to draw the trolleys behind the engine.

He said he could hold on to the tender chain, so the trolley was dragged behind. The trolleys were not designed to be pulled, they were separate small units to allow railway workers to move along the tracks.  The tender was a unit behind the engine, the chain was a back-up to its usual coupling, to help it stop becoming derailed.

Engine driver Clark later told the inquiry he objected to the trolleys behing pulled behind the train.  The grade was up to 1 in 50 , making the procedure dangerous.

Searson said he had travelled hundreds of miles other times doing this, so eventually Clark relented.

Pearson also wanted fellow line repairer John Washington to hold onto the chain, but Washington thought they should also attach a rope. He didn’t think he would be able to hold the chain once the engine was moving.

Searson reassured him it would be all right. The tram started off, reaching only five miles an hour

As they were going up an incline, Washington  let go of the chain, causing both men to somehow fall forward off the trolley onto the track.

Washington was slightly stunned, but the trolley struck Searson as it passed over him. This caused the trolley to leave the track and the other men on it to be thrown off.

Searson appeared badly injured, so he was put on the trolley and taken back to Washington’s camp.

Clark returned on the engine to Denmark for the postmaster, Mr Doyle, who must have had some first aid knowledge, as he attended to Searson – until he died.

The coroner showed little sympathy for Searson, saying he “must have known that it was prohibited on all railway lines to attach trolleys to engines in such a manner.’’

 The jury decided that “death was due to an accident and that no blame was attachable to anyone except deceased.”

Searson’s gravestone in the Albany cemetery. Image Sharyn Moodie 2020
Albany, WA

Source: The Albany Advertiser, Saturday 26 February 1898, p3

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.

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