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Western Leader. 16-10-1963
In 1917 a quarry was being worked where Trafalgar Street meets Queen Street, there being no roadway connecting Trafalgar Street with Cardwell Street. A bluff of solid rock was opposite the shopping area on the north side of Trafalgar Street, below which was a tram shelter.
Gas was the medium for street illumination, a lamplighter going from lamp to lamp turning on the gas as sunset approached. Earlier, he carried a ladder to get to the lamp, lit the jet, and wended his way to the next one. But, at the time of which we are writing, the incandescent mantle was used with a pilot light, and all the lighter had to do was turn on the gas with a long pole which he carried. The gas had to be turned off again in due time. Later still, the time-clocks were installed, thus automatically controlling the times for gas to be turned on or off. The lamp-lighter would use the trams to travel from lamp to lamp, when he had finished he stood his long pole upright at the rear of the tram.
A DRIVERLESS TRAM LASHES INTO SOLID ROCK.
At five o'clock on Saturday afternoon on Mat 26th, 1917, tram No. 107, fully manned with its driver and conductor, left Auckland on it regular run to the Onehunga terminus, a run that was not completed.
After picking up and setting down passengers on its Pacific Coast to the Tasman Coast run, it eventually arrived at the Selwyn stop in Trafalgar Street about 35 minutes later. Rain was falling. When the conductor gave the usual two bells to proceed, denoting all was clear as far as he was concerned, the motorman, as was customary before accelerating, leaned out from his platform to see that all was clear behind, using the control handle and a stanchion as an anchor. Unfortunately the control handle was a little loose and came away from the control post, when it was most wanted to stay put, the driver lost his balance and landed on the roadway, the driverless tram gathering speed as it went down the incline. He immediately got up to give chase, but his efforts were in vain. He knew, with the ever-increasing speed disaster was on its way, no tram could take that sharp-angled bend into Queen Street, at speed.
Meanwhile, inside the tram the scene was of ordinary homeward bound passengers reading their papers or chatting in light unconcern, unaware of the tram having no controller, the darkness and the closed door preventing them from noticing his absence; even the unusually loud rattle and noise of the racing machinery passed unnoticed until, arriving at the sharp bend into Queen Street, the runaway jumped the rails, when it was too late for them to realise their desperate situation, as the tram, now without lights, crashed into the solid rock cutting, which at this point bounded the roadway, just grazing the shelter-shed in its mad career.
The force of the collision telescoped the front platform, the body was torn off the bogies on which it rode and the whole forepart of the framework was cracked and splintered, while flying glass added to the peril of the occupants. (All control handles were fitted with a locking device after this. Ed.)
The interior of the tram immediately became a scene of pitiable confusion and suffering. Some of the passengers in the fore compartment, by the force of the impact, were thrown right over the heads of others in front of them, others were badly hurt by the grinding wood¬work, and others by flying glass. Those in the rear, naturally did not suffer such severe injuries, but all suffered from shock, whilst the horror of the situation was made worse by the cries and moans of the injured and the uncertainty in the darkness of the extent of the damage.
Although only two or three actually saw the disaster, the noise caused by the impact of travelling tons of steel and wood on to the face of solid rock was heard for some distance away, and rescuers were quickly on the scene, some sensibly bringing lamps, and lanterns. Police Sergeant Rodgers and his staff and Doctors H. Tresidder, W.G. Scott, and W. Scott-Watson quickly responded to the urgent call for help. The work of releasing the more seriously injured from the wreckage of the tram went on as expeditiously as possible although the falling rain and muddy state of the roads hampered them somewhat. First-aid was rendered to the more urgent cases before being despatched by ambulance to the hospital. The ambulance was on the scene in very smart order, about eleven minutes after the hospital had received word of the tragic accident.
Among the injured were; Fourteen year old Gladys Rhodes, fracture at base of skull, condition very serious two Gays later (Miss Rhodes is now Mrs. D. Grant of Huapai Street, and is confined to a wheelchair as a result of the tram smash); an eight year old girl who was travelling with her mother, who was killed, fracture of the thigh, abrasions on other parts of the body, was semi-conscious two days later; a twenty year old man, fractured thigh; a married woman, general bruising, face and body, sprained wrist. All were in hospital within one hour of the smash.
Thirty other passengers including an eighteen year old and a fifteen and a half year old, two other daughters of the woman who received fatal injuries, and the motorman who received minor injuries and shock, were treated on the spot before being sent home by motorcars requisitioned for this purpose.
Most of the injuries were fractures of wrist and fingers, scalp wounds, chest injuries, bruises, abrasions, and cuts on all parts of head and body, and one lost upper canine teeth.
(Mrs. Grant told the “Manukau Progress" that she was unconscious for a fortnight and was in hospital for seven weeks. A broken collarbone was discovered after she had been in hospital for some weeks. The compensation that was paid out on her behalf was two weeks salary for her father, who had visited her continuously in hospital, and compensation for her clothing which was ruined.
THE INQUEST OF THE FATAL TRAM CRASH
On May 28th, 1917, at the Onehunga Courthouse, an inquest into the death of the woman who lost her life in the FATAL TRAM CRASH was held before the District Coroner, Mr. D.A. Sutherland, and the following jury, Mr. J. Laping,(foreman) Messrs. R. Buchannan, L. Whitaker, E.V, Sutherland T.R. Partington and S. Strong. Sergeant M. Rogers represented the police. Mr. C. Schnauer appeared for the relatives of the deceased.
Evidence of identification was heard. The doctor gave evidence that the deceased died a few minutes after his arrival at a house in Tra¬falgar Street, and that to him shock was the cause of death. After the hearing of Mr. J.J. Walklate, manager of the Auckland Electric Tram¬ways Co. who expressed the company's sympathy, the inquest was adjourned.
The conductor said that he was about the middle of the car collecting fares when he gave the signal to start at Selwyn Street stop. He noticed that the brakes were not being applied at the approach to Queen Street and when the tram jumped the rails and crashed he was thrown against a window. He extricated himself and saw the motorman coming down the street with the control handle in his hand. He said, in answer to a question, that, had he known that the motorman had fallen off, he would have gone either to the front or the rear platform, and by knocking out the switch and applying the brake, stopped the car.
A tram inspector said that the motorman was a trustworthy and reliable man, and notwithstanding the accident, he considered that the precaution taken by the motorman in looking to the rear of the car before starting was for the safety of the travelling public.
A car-shed foreman said that all the controller handles were regularly examined and repaired. He removed the wrecked car and noticed that the controller was on the second notch of the power. The inquest was again adjourned.
Before proceedings commenced on the adjourned inquest, the jury and other interested parties witnessed an ocular demonstration by the motor¬man that went to clear up several points over which there was some difference of opinion, one of which was between the motorman and Mr. Schnauer of the matter of 20 feet and 50 feet at the Selwyn Street stopping place. The demonstration cleared this matter up. The evidence of the motorman was that the controller handle was quite loose and, if he had one as close-fitting as used on the demonstration, the accident may not have happened. The handle in use on the night of the accident was then used, and it fitted very much looser than the other one.
After deliberating for two and a half hours, the following verdict was announced.
1. We find that tramcar No. 107, in which the deceased was a passenger on Saturday. May 26th, 1917, left the rails at the foot of Trafalgar Street, Onehunga, and dashed into an el1bankment on the east side of Queen Street.
2. What caused the tram to leave the rails at this point? Excessive speed of the car through the motorman not being in charge to control it.
3. Why was the motorman not in charge of the car at this point? Because he fell off the car at or near the Selwyn Street stopping place while looking out of the car at his left hand towards the rear and taking the control handle with him.
4. Was it part of the motorman's duty, as defined by the company's rules, to look round to the rear of the car when starting it! No. That has been the custom for the motorman to do so for some years past.
5. We find that the motorman would not have fallen off the ear, notwithstanding that he observed this custom, if the controller handle had been a sufficiently close-fitting one.
6. We find that the deceased died of shock as the result of an accident to a tramcar on Saturday evening, May 26th 1917, in which she was a passenger. We further find that the motorman accidently fell off the tram car, No. 107,
The jury added the following rider.
I. We approve of the custom of the motorman looking round the rear of the car and we recommend that as long "as this custom obtains, he shall not start the car before doing so.
2. We consider that there should be some protection, such as a chain across the motorman's entrance, to prevent him falling off the car when on duty.
3. We recommend that the advertising matter which obstructs the passengers and conductor's view of the motorman should be sufficiently removed to admit a clear view of the motorman from inside the car.