Death on the Railways

Death on the railways

Ill-fated MP of the 19th Century, compared to Transport Secretary Grayling and killed by Stevenson’s Rocket, lived in Richmond.

In 1792 the ruins of the old Richmond House on Richmond Hill were cleared for the building of a row of new houses planned for the gentry. Known as Richmond Terrace, 226 years later the windows of these marvellous buildings still look out onto one of the most stunning views in England.

Many notable characters have lived within their walls Including at No. 3, Mr William Huskisson a prominent Member of Parliament. He would become famous not for his parliamentarian work but the manner of his death. Being the first person to die on the new railways.

The most significant technological advancement of the early 19th century, the Railways were big news. George Stephenson constructed the first locomotive and was employed as an engineer for the new lines. The Liverpool to Manchester line would be the first passenger line in the UK and launched to much fan-fair on the 15th September 1830. The then Prime Minister and national hero the Duke of Wellington attended the event.

Mr Huskisson was also invited, although he was meant to be convalescing at home suffering as he was with a serious kidney disorder. However, he didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to see the Prime Minister, especially as there had been a somewhat awkward situation in parliament, which he was keen to smooth over. William had the honour of travelling on the Duke’s special train, the Northumbrian, driven by Stephenson himself. But his journey was to end in tragedy.

About halfway into the journey, the train was scheduled to stop for more water. Although advised to remain aboard, he was one of many who clambered from the train to approach the Prime Minister. William shook the great man’s hand and shortly after a cry went up that a train was approaching on the neighbouring track. There was plenty of time to get out of its way, but Mr Huskisson’s hesitation cost him his life. Known for being somewhat clumsy, after starting to follow others crossing the track to safety, he decided to turn back. There was enough room, by standing close to the stationary train, for the Rocket driven by Stevenson’s assistant to pass by. At the very last minute, he changed his mind again and tried to board the train. Grabbing the door handle he found it unlatched and desperately hung on as it slowly swung directly into the path of the oncoming train.

Everyone watched in horror as he was thrown to the tracks suffering fatal injuries. He was taken away and made comfortable, able to say goodbye to loved ones and complete his will before dying some hours later.

His death was reported on both sides of the Atlantic with everyone, including the ‘Father of the Railways’ deeply regretting that such a tragedy should happen at the opening of the first passenger railway line in the United Kingdom.

Now poor Huskisson’s has experienced a renewed fame with comparison to Chris Grayling our current Transport Secretary.



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