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An unfortunate accident (part two)

The following letter to the editor was received as a response to ‘Cycling through time’, the cover story of Traces Edition 6. In the second part of the letter, Susan Weisser further shares her family’s unfortunate history with 19th century transport. Click here to read part one.

Tragically, this was not the only brush with new forms of transport to impact my family; William Waterworth, my great-grandfather on my mother’s maternal side, was fatally injured on 28 August 1921 when he was knocked down by a motor car driven by Thomas S Reynolds. The accident occurred near the corner of Swanston Street and Flinders Lane in Melbourne. He was taken to hospital but died the following day as a result of his injuries. He was 84 years old.

A Coroner’s inquest was held into his death and one of his daughters gave evidence that just before he died William said ‘The driver gave me no warning. If he had I could have got out of the way’.

In making his finding the Coroner noted that there did not seem to be any blame attachable to the driver of the car, while at the same time noting that ‘He admits he did not sound the horn, but the sounding of the horn is very often the cause of trouble’. The Coroner’s finding was death due to shock and injuries received, and that the death was due to an accident. (i)

William Waterworth. Image provided by Susan Weisser

Not to be outdone, on my husband’s side of the family there were two ancestors who had close encounters with trains!

His great-great grandfather, David Houghton, was a fettler on the railways, and on the night of 7 February 1892 he was out on the tracks at Wattamondara, near Cowra (New South Wales), on a hand-pumped track tricycle that the railway crews used. He obviously wasn’t pumping fast enough as he was ‘overtaken’ by the midnight train from Young. His body was found the next day after the train had arrived with bits of his tricycle wedged in it.

As some compensation for his death, his widow, Sarah, was given a job as the gatekeeper at the Tarcutta Road Railway Crossing in Wagga Wagga, as she still had a number of young children to raise. Her job required her to open and close the gates for every train on the main Sydney-to-Melbourne line – day and night. It was not unusual for her to be called out for 12–15 trains a night.

On the night of 3 November 1896 she fell asleep to be awakened by an approaching train. She rushed out to open the gates but had not fully opened them when the train came through and knocked her over. While she suffered severe injuries, which doctors thought would be fatal, she subsequently recovered. Her accident sparked heated newspaper discussions regarding reasonable workloads and pay.

Safe travels!

Susan Weisser

Wagga Wagga.

(i) Old Man Fatally Injured, Weekly Times 17 September 1921.

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