It’s been a long and tiring week, and so when I finally had a chance to sit down and write this morning, I found myself staring uninspired at a blank page. Seeking inspiration, I looked for databases I haven’t yet explored. The university at which I work has a great library that I can access online, and after I bit of poking I discovered a database of 19th Century British newspapers (called, for those of you who are curious, 19th Century British Library Newspapers).
I know little about the lives of my 3rd-great-grandfather Joseph Askew and his family before they migrated to Minnesota in 1875, so I set out to see if I could add learn anything at all about Joseph Askew’s time in England. I was successful, and I’d like to share one of the first items I found, about a train crash just outside Whitehaven, Cumberland.
The first mention I found of the train crash was thanks to the 19th Century British Library Newspapers database. Their full-text index led me to a news item from Tuesday, May 15, 1866, on page 7 of The Bury and Norwich Post, and Suffolk Herald of Bury Saint Edmunds, England. This short mention was in the Casualties and Crimes column:
Accident in a Railway Tunnel.—On Thursday a mineral train was passing through a tunnel near Whitehaven when three waggons became detached in consequence of the couplings giving way, and a subsequent passenger train, full of people who had attended WhiteHaven market, ran into them with a fearful crash. None of the passengers were killed, but several were very seriously injured, the following cases being the most important:—Mr. Tatham, cattle-dealer, Halifax—serious injury to the face; nose literally smashed to a jelly; head injured. Joseph Askew, a youth in the service of the Company—thigh fractured. Joseph Turner, clerk in the employment of the Company—collar-bone broken. Miss Mossopp, Sellafield—laceration of face, and contusion of head. Mr. John Leece, St. Bees—laceration of the head, and hurt on the right leg. Mr. Henry Bell, Holburn-hill, Whitehaven—contusion of both legs. Miss Quinn, St. Bees—injury to head and limbs, &c. Eighteen others are known to have been considerably shaken and bruised, and it is supposed that there are many more in the same category.
The whole column is reproduced below, with Joseph’s name highlighted in green:
Joseph was born on April 11, 1840, so he would have been 26 years old at the time of the accident. The article implied that he was an employee of the railway company, but doesn’t state which company that would have been. These are among the most likely candidates:
- Furness Railway, originally the Whitehaven & Furness Junction Railway (1846–1922)
- Whitehaven, Cleator and Egremont Railway (1855–1964)
- Cleator and Furness Railway (1864–1878)
The location of the accident appears to have been a tunnel on what was probably the Cumbrian Coast Line. If it was indeed the Cumbrian Coast Line, then the tunnel in question may well have been the 1,333-yard-long Whitehaven Tunnel (also known as the Bransty Tunnel or the Bransty-Corkickle Tunnel), which passes beneath Whitehaven’s Hospital Hill and the Whitehaven Castle.
Searching for more information about the accident, I came across this fuller description of the accident in a 1946 article by W. McGowan Gradon in the Cumberland & Westmorland Archives:
The tunnel between Corkickle and Bransty was the scene of a collision in August, 1866. All trains working through the tunnel were worked by a special Pilot engine, known right down to 1923 as “the tunnel engine.” As an added precaution a special “pilotman” was employed at Corkickle whose duty was to give the “right-away” to all trains entering the tunnel.
On the occasion of the accident a mineral train had left Corkickle en route for Maryport and when half-way through the tunnel the train parted. The driver of the engine was apparently unaware that anything had happened and went on, leaving several wagons and the guard’s van behind. The normal time interval having elapsed, Pilotman R. Johnston gave the morning train from Foxfield to Bransty permission to proceed from Corkickle. Half-way to Bransty the passenger train collided with the guard’s van and wagons which still stood in mid-tunnel. The driver of the train engine, Tom Shippen, was badly scalded and sustained other injuries. He did not work again. His fireman, who was probably riding on the front buffer beam to drop sand on the greasy tunnel rails, was killed outright. Several passengers were injured, but none fatally. The force of the impact on the stationary wagons was probably all the greater as trains did not slow up on approaching Bransty as they did in modern times. The practice then was to run right through beyond the site of the modern Furness platform and then reverse back into what is now Bransty carriage shed: this was the original Whitehaven Junction Railway terminus. The 2-2-2 well tank “Oberon” was again the engine involved in this accident.
The engine in question was the either the one pictured below (#35) or was nearly identical to the one below. In terms of its actual appearance with its iron, copper, brass, and enameled paint, it would have been similar to two preserved examples: engine #3 and engine #20. In motion, it may have looked like this as it was about to enter the tunnel; other photos of 2-2-2 engines are here).
Further searches for information on the accident resulted in finding this entry from the U.K. Railways Archive, which confirmed that the accident was on the Whitehaven & Furness Railway, and in the Whitehaven Tunnel. Interestingly, in contrast to the 1946 article above, the casualties are listed as 7 injured and 0 fatalities. The unnamed fireman who was mentioned as killed in the 1946 account is not noted as having died in this account. I was impressed to see that the Railways Archive entry pointed me to the official report of the accident, from May 29th, 1866:
An excerpt of the above accident report follows:
At 9 a.m. on the 10th instant, the pilot guard despatched a mineral train, which consisted of an engine and tender, 20 coal waggons, 9 trucks loaded with iron ore, and a guard’s van at the tail of the train, from Corkickle Station, to proceed through the tunnel to Bransty.
One of the couplings in the train broke, and three waggons, with the guard’s van, were left about 120 yards from the mouth of the tunnel at the Bransty end. The pilot man and station-master at Corkickle had returned to the office after despatching this mineral train. A passenger train, consisting of a tank engine, a guard’s van, a second class, a first class, a third class, and a composite carriage, coupled in the order stated, arrived at Corkickle about 10 minutes past 9 a.m. The telegram, that the mineral train had got clear through the tunnel, had not been received from the telegraph signalman at the Bransty end of the tunnel. Both the station-master and the pilot guard came out of the office to attend to the passenger train. The station-master was in the act of descending from the roofs of the carriages after putting in the lamps when the pilot man signalled to the driver of the passenger train to start away through the tunnel.
The pilot man remained at Corkickle, intending to proceed through the tunnel with the 9.30 a.m. passenger train. He returned to the station-master’s office, as as he entered, asked the latter whether he had received “line clear” for the mineral train. The station-master replied” No,” but the passenger train had already started and entered the tunnel. It ran into the guard’s van, which was the hindermost of the vehicles that had broken away from the mineral train, at a speed of about 14 miles per hour.
The van and one of the mineral waggons were smashed to pieces and knocked off the road, and two other waggons were damaged. As there was no lighted at the tail of the mineral train, the driver of the passenger train had no notice of his danger. He was knocked down and slightly hurt in the knees and face. The fireman was not injured, the guard was only slightly hurt, but several passengers were injured, four of them rather seriously.
This account differs from the 1946 article in many aspects, making me suspect of the accuracy of the 1946 article.
Additional coverage of the accident that mentions Joseph
Now that I had all the specifics of the accident, I undertook more focused searches for information. I wouldn’t have thought that I could find so much information about a relatively minor accident that happened nearly 150 years ago on a relatively small railway near a relatively small town, but it turned out I was quite wrong in that assumption. Here are the other articles that I was able to find on this accident that also mentioned Joseph, many of which are clearly heavily copied from other accounts:
On May 11, 1866, the day after the accident, the Carlisle Journal ran this article on page 5:
On May 12, 1866, the Liverpool Mercury ran this article on page 5:
On May 14, 1866, the Liverpool Daily Post ran this article on page 5:
On May 15, 1866, the Carlisle Journal ran this article on page 3:
On May 15, 1866, the Liverpool Mercury ran not one, but two articles on the accident—one on page 6 and the other on page 10:
On May 18, 1866, the Carlisle Journal ran this article on page 10:
On May 18, 1866, the Newcastle Courant ran this article on page 2:
On May 19, 1866, the Westmorland Gazette and Kendal Advertiser ran this article on page 6:
Summary of Joseph’s accident
On the morning of Thursday, May 10, 1866, a 26-year-old Joseph Askew was working aboard the tail end of a train carrying coal and iron ore north along the Cumbrian Coast Line towards Bransty. The train consisted of a 2-2-2 well tank engine, a coal tender, 20 cars of coal, 9 cars of iron ore, and a caboose. I don’t know if Joseph was in the caboose or on one of the forward cars. The train was most likely coming down from the iron mines around Frizington, where Joseph had previously worked as a miner.
At around 9:00 am, the train carrying Joseph departed Corkickle to head into the 1,333-yard-long Whitehaven tunnel. When the train was only about 120 yards from the tunnel exit on the Bransty side, the coupling connecting the last three iron ores cars and the caboose to the rest of the train separated, leaving the final cars in the dark tunnel. Neither Richard Johnston, the tunnel pilot who was guiding the train through the tunnel, nor Thomas Shippin, the engine’s driver, immediately noticed that the last four cars had separated from the train.
About 10 minutes after Joseph’s train entered the southern end of the tunnel, the pilot of a a passenger train traveling north from Ulverston, carrying a larger-than-normal load of passengers to Whitehaven for Thursday’s market day, mistakenly assumed that it was safe to go ahead and enter the tunnel. He was supposed to wait for a telegraphed message from the other end of the tunnel, but he had been piloting trains in that tunnel for eight years and there had never before been an accident, so his guard was down.
At about this time, someone noticed that the final cars were missing and the driver backed the train into the tunnel to reconnect with the separated cars. As the railway workers were rejoining the stranded cars, they heard the passenger train approaching just before impact, giving them very little time to move away from the train.
The rear of the caboose on Joseph’s train had no mounted light to warn the approaching passenger train, which slammed into the separated cars without having a chance to brake. Thankfully, the passenger train was only traveling about 14 miles per hour, as it was slowing down for the station just beyond the end of the tunnel; had it been much faster, the accident would have been much more serious and would likely have involved multiple fatalities.
About 40 to 50 people sustained injuries in the crash, and the passenger train immediately backed back out of the tunnel towards Corkickle, taking many of the wounded passengers back to daylight. This happened relatively quickly, so I imagine that Joseph remained in the tunnel while the passenger train left the tunnel.
Joseph’s femur was broken in the accident and he and the six other most seriously injured individuals were apparently taken by a special train to St. Bees, back through the tunnel and about four miles down the line from Corkickle. After St. Bee’s, Joseph was taken to Mrs. Williamson Peile’s home in Corkickle. From what I’ve seen so far, Mrs. Peile was a charitable woman who helped financially support a soup kitchen, and her husband ran a forge in Corkickle and was a mining engineer.
One ill-fitting detail—Joseph’s age
In nearly every account of the accident, Joseph Askew is referred to as a “youth,” a term that I would guess was not normally applied to 26-year-old men. Did Joseph look young for his age? Was this an incorrect description that was republished without verification? Or is this Joseph Askew an identically named but different Joseph Askew who lived and worked in the same area as our Joseph Askew?
The 1861 census of England, Wales and Scotland enumerated eight Joseph Askews living in Cumberland County, England, in 1861:
- Joseph Askew, born in 1860 (thus about age 2 in 1866) Dundraw, Cumberland
- Joseph Askew, born in 1841 (aged 26 in 1866) Egremont, Cumberland
- Joseph Askew, born in 1824 (thus about age 42 in 1866) St. Bees, Cumberland
- Joseph Askew, born in 1806 (thus about age 60 in 1866) Gosforth, Cumberland
- Joseph Askew, born in 1804 (thus about age 62 in 1866) Dundraw, Cumberland
- Joseph Askew, born in 1798 (thus about age 68 in 1866) Workington, Cumberland
- Joseph Askew, born in 1791 (thus about age 75 in 1866) Muncaster, Cumberland
- Joseph Askew, born in 1788 (thus about age 78 in 1866) Alston, Cumberland
From this list, the only possible candidate for the “youth” Joseph Askew is our Joseph Askew, as the only Joseph Askew younger than him is two years old.
If I expand the search area to include all surrounding counties (historically: Cumberland, Durham, Lancashire, North Riding, Northumberland, and Westmoreland; modern: Cumbria, Durham, Lancashire, North Yorkshire, Northumberland and Tyne & Wear), the list expands to twenty-five Joseph Askews on the 1861 census:
Joseph Askew, born in 1860 (thus about age 2 in 1866) Dundraw, Cumberland
Joseph Askew, born in 1861 (thus about age 5 in 1866) Allendale, Northumberland
Joseph Askew, born in 1860 (thus about age 6 in 1866) Stainton, Westmorland
Joseph Askew, born in 1859 (thus about age 7 in 1866) Burton, Yorkshire
Joseph Askew, born in 1859 (thus about age 7 in 1866) Allendale, Northumberland
Joseph Askew, born in 1858 (thus about age 8 in 1866) Arick, Northumberland
Joseph Askew, born in 1856 (thus about age 10 in 1866) Prescot, Lancashire
Joseph Askew, born in 1854 (thus about age 12 in 1866) Whittington, Lancashire
Joseph Askew, born in 1853 (thus about age 13 in 1866) Preston, Lancashire
Joseph Askew, born in 1853 (thus about age 13 in 1866) Gosforth, Northumberland
Joseph Askew, born in 1850 (thus about age 16 in 1866) Hawthorn, Durham
Joseph Askew, born in 1850 (thus about age 16 in 1866) Dalton, Lancashire
Joseph Askew, born in 1845 (thus about age 21 in 1866) Dalton, Lancashire
Joseph Askew, born in 1841 (aged 26 in 1866) Egremont, Cumberland
Joseph Askew, born in 1838 (thus about age 28 in 1866) Nether Hallam, Yorkshire
Joseph Askew, born in 1838 (thus about age 28 in 1866) Dalton, Lancashire
Joseph Askew, born in 1832 (thus about age 34 in 1866) Stanhope, Durham
Joseph Askew, born in 1824 (thus about age 42 in 1866) Dalton, Lancashire
Joseph Askew, born in 1824 (thus about age 42 in 1866) St. Bees, Cumberland
Joseph Askew, born in 1817 (thus about age 49 in 1866) Dalton, Lancashire
Joseph Askew, born in 1817 (thus about age 49 in 1866) Whittington, Lancashire
Joseph Askew, born in 1810 (thus about age 56 in 1866) Allendale, Northumberland
Joseph Askew, born in 1806 (thus about age 60 in 1866) Gosforth, Cumberland
Joseph Askew, born in 1804 (thus about age 62 in 1866) Dundraw, Cumberland
Joseph Askew, born in 1801 (thus about age 65 in 1866) Whitwood, Yorkshire
Joseph Askew, born in 1798 (thus about age 68 in 1866) Workington, Cumberland
Joseph Askew, born in 1791 (thus about age 75 in 1866) Muncaster, Cumberland
Joseph Askew, born in 1788 (thus about age 78 in 1866) Alston, Cumberland
I would guess that those Joseph Askews shown in green were most likely to be called “youth,” while those in red were more likely to have been called “child.” Those shown in blue would have been considered to be adult, but they were still young.
Further research will be required to state definitively that the Joseph involved in the accident was the Joseph Askew who later emigrated to Minnesota.