Monument to the first person killed by a train

Cynical-C's post on the first person killed by a robot (at a Michigan Ford plant in 1979) reminds me of an odd statue I saw in southwest London as a study-abroad student in '92. Despite the times its subject lived in, the late 1700s and early 1800s, British statesman William Husskisson is depicted in a toga. The reason for the commemoration, according to our tour guide? Husskisson was the first widely reported case in history of a person being killed by a train. And it happened on the inaugural run of Robert Stephenson's Rocket, the first "modern" locomotive, on the Liverpool/Manchester line:
While attending the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, Huskisson rode down the line in the same train as the Duke of Wellington. At Parkside, close to Newton-le-Willows in Lancashire, the train stopped to observe a cavalcade on the adjacent line. Several members of the Duke's party stepped onto the trackside to observe more closely. Huskisson went forward to greet the Duke. As Huskisson was exiting his car, the locomotive Rocket approached on the parallel track. Huskisson was unable to get out of the engine's way in time, and his left leg was crushed by it.

After the accident, the wounded Huskisson was taken by a train (driven by George Stephenson himself) to Eccles, where he died a few hours later. The monument where his remains are buried is the centrepiece of St James Cemetery, Liverpool.
A fact that our tour guide apparently got wrong: The statue of a Roman wasn't intended as a likeness of Husskisson, but merely commemorates his passing.

Here's a video on the statue that dubs Huskisson the "first rail fatality of the steam age."


emily said...

I'm curious if he was REALLY the first person killed by a train-- With working conditions in those days, it seems unlikely no workers were killed in the construction of the tracks or locomotives. But that doesn't make as good of a story, and eurocentric history and culture would not be as interested in commemorating the life of a poor laborer (who was probably of color).

Paul Schmelzer said...

Some of the histories say he wasn't the first one runt over by a train -- several British railworkers were killed before him -- but that he was the first "widely reported" case. Which, to your point, means he was the first person of newsworthy import to die that way.