Monday, December 22, 2008

A fatal fall: the death of Patrick Moran

When Patrick Moran of Kumeu died after falling off a train close to the JJ Craig brickyards in St Georges Road on 10 August 1900, it was a brief sensation in the newspaper, and then quickly forgotten. But the original article a day after the accident was reprinted by the NZ Herald in their 100 Years Ago column back in 2000, then the Friends of Waikumete republished it again in one of their recent newsletters in 2007.

People standing on the platform outside and to the rear of train passenger carriages seemed to have been an often-seen occurrence in the late 19th century. With trains such as the one on which Moran took his final fatal trip travelling at 20-25 miles per hour on the journey between Avondale and New Lynn stations, it must have seemed a breezier alternative to some who didn’t want to be cooped up in the carriages for the relatively long journeys. Others had earlier taken a tumble, however. One man near Rotorua just 5 years before was extremely fortunate to have escaped with only severe shock as the effects of his accident. A similar accident, near the same spot where Moran died, had happened about a year before, and again had no serious consequences.

But Moran was perhaps just unlucky. Not feeling well, complaining of heart attacks and that “someone was chasing him”, he got up from his seat beside his wife in the second-class carriage, and went out to the platform to have a smoke of his pipe, just before the train reached Avondale. Three boys had beaten him to the idea; he then walked across to the rear of the first-class carriage, and stood on the platform there, trying to light his pipe. The wind however was too strong, blowing the matches out, so he gave up. With his hands in his pockets, he leaned back against the door of the carriage. Had the three boys not been on that second-class carriage platform, Moran might have survived his tumble. But as the train sped down the incline from Avondale station towards St Georges Road and on to New Lynn at 20 miles per hour it approached, close to where Saintly Lane is today, the spur loop line put in place back in 1882 by Robert Hunt so that his bricks and pottery could be loaded onto the trains with swift efficiency. JJ Craig utilised the same system. The train jolted and made a sharp turn, just at the point where the main line met that loop line – Moran lost his balance and fell sideways, toward his right side, and tumbled from the train. Below, he hit his head against either a bolt from the loop line or one of the ballast rocks – the result, tragically, was the same.

Those who witnessed his fall were unable to raise the guard or the engine driver and advise them until the train had stopped in New Lynn. By the time the train reversed back, Moran was lying dead where he fell. The official inquest at the Avondale Hotel some days later ruled that “deceased met his death by accidentally falling off a train, and that no blame was attachable to anyone.”

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