Thomas KINGHORN narrowly escapes with his life

15 Apr

I had one of those jaw dropping moments this afternoon, I was idly Googling Thomas KINGHORN (as you do) and one of the results a long way down the list was a link to a book published in 1885 entitled The Royal Mail: Its Curiosities and Romance (by James Wilson Hyde) within the Internet Archive.

Now I haven’t read the entire book yet (I don’t read that quick!), only the section relating to the incident in which Thomas KINGHORN was involved. It literally left me speechless when I read it, my 4x great grandfather involved in such a terrible accident and he lived to tell the tale!

The story is quite long, and well worth reading in full, so apologies for the length of this post (the details about Thomas KINGHORN are in bold at the end of the text):

On the night of Tuesday the 25th October 1808, the road between Carlisle and Glasgow was the scene of a catastrophe which will serve to illustrate in a striking degree one of the perils of the postal service in the mail-coach era. The place where the event now to be described occurred, lies between Beattock and Elvanfoot (about five miles from the latter place), where the highway crosses the Evan Water, a stream which takes its rise near the sources of the Clyde, but whose waters are carried southward into Dumfriesshire. To be more precise, the situation is between two places called Raecleuch and Howcleuch, on the Carlisle road; and a bridge which now spans the water, in lieu of a former bridge, retains by association, to this day, the name of the “Broken Bridge.”

It was at the breaking up of a severe storm of frost and snow, when the rivers were flooded to such an extent as had never been seen by the oldest people in the neighbourhood. The bridge had been but recently built; and though it was afterwards stated that the materials composing the mortar must have been of bad quality, no doubt would seem to have been entertained as to the security of the bridge. The night was dark, and accompanied by both wind and rain elements which frequently usher in a state of thaw. The mail-coach having passed the summit, was speeding along at a good round pace, the “outsiders” doubtless making themselves as comfortable as circumstances would allow, while the “insides,” as we might imagine, had composed themselves into some semblance of sleep, the time being between nine and ten o’clock, when, suddenly and without warning, the whole equipage – horses, coach, driver, guard, and passengers – on reaching the middle of the bridge, went headlong precipitate into the swollen stream through a chasm left by the collapse of the arch. It is by no means easy to realise what the thoughts would be of those concerned in this dreadful experience pitched into a roaring torrent, in a most lonely place, at a late hour on such a night. The actual results were, however, very serious.

The two leading horses were killed outright by the fall, while one of the wheelers was killed by a heavy stone descending upon it from the still impending portions of the wrecked structure. The coach and harness also were utterly destroyed. But, worse still, two outside passengers, one a Mr Lund, a partner in a London house, and the other named Brand, a merchant in Ecclefechan, were killed on the spot, while a lady and three gentlemen who were inside passengers miraculously escaped with their lives, though they were severely bruised. The lady, who had scrambled out of the vehicle, sought refuge on a rock in mid-stream, there remaining prisoner for a time; and by her means a second catastrophe of a similar kind was happily averted. The mail from Carlisle for Glasgow usually exchanged “Good-night” with the south-going coach, when they were running to time, just about the scene of the accident. Fortunately the coach from Carlisle was rather late; but when it did arrive, the lady on the rock, seeing the lights approach, screamed aloud, and thus warned the driver to draw up in time. Succour was now at hand.

Something ludicrous generally finds itself in company with whatever is of a tragic nature. The guard of the Carlisle coach was let down to the place where the lady was, by means of the reins taken from the horses. Hughie Campbell – that was the guard’s name – when deliberating upon the plan of rescue, had some delicacy as to how he should affix the reins to the person of the lady, and called up to those above, “Where will I grip her?” But before he could be otherwise advised, the lady, long enough already on the rock, broke in, “Grip me where you like, but grip me firm,” which observation at once removed Hughie’s difficulty, and set his scruples at ease. The driver of the wrecked coach, Alexander Cooper, was at first thought to have been carried away; but he was afterwards found caught between two stones in the river. He survived the accident only a few weeks – serious injuries to his back proving fatal. As for the guard, Thomas Kinghorn, he was severely cut about the head, but eventually recovered.

It was usual for the coachman and guard over this wild and exposed road to be strapped to their seats in stormy weather; but on this occasion Kinghorn, as it happened, was not strapped, and to this circumstance he attributed his escape from death. When the mail went down, he was sent flying over the bridge, and alighted clear from the wreck of the coach. The dead passengers and the wounded persons were taken by the other coach into Moffat.

It may be added that the fourth horse was got out of its predicament little the worse for the fall, and continued to run for many a day over the same road; but it was always observed to evince great nervousness and excitement whenever it approached the scene of the accident.

My mind is now full of questions and sources to check, my visit to Carlisle Record Office is probably now going to have to include a visit to “Broken Bridge”, and I am going to have to see what the British Postal Museum and Archives have on this accident.

Presumably this report is taken from newspaper accounts or was there an official report, either way I have to get my hands on them and try and find out more details. Are there any other accounts of the accident available? Has anyone else researched it in any depth? Always more questions than answers!

3 Responses to “Thomas KINGHORN narrowly escapes with his life”

  1. postalheritage April 16, 2009 at 12:09 pm #

    Let us know how you get on with your research. You might find something in a time bill, although we only hold representative examples of these. You may be better off looking in minute books or for newspaper clippings. Good luck!


  1. Another tale of postie heroism « The British Postal Museum & Archive - April 17, 2009

    […] · No Comments Wandering Genealogist’s recent blog on a mail coach accident involving his ancestor reminded us of two photos in our collection […]

  2. Ancestral Profile: Thomas Kinghorn (c1781-1833) « The Wandering Genealogist - May 12, 2012

    […] a mail guard is his involvement in an accident on the 25th October 1808, which I have written about before, during which he was injured, but seemingly recovered quickly and returned to […]

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