DANGER OF STAGE-COACHES
THERE can hardly be a subject, in which all persons are more certain to be interested, at one time or other, for themselves, their relations, servants, or friends, than the safety of our Public Carriages: for the resort to them is become general, and complaints of their great danger are too frequent, and known to be too well founded, to leave a doubt of the fact upon any one’s mind. It was from hearing of many of these accidents, that I was induced, in the Summer of 1805, to turn my thoughts towards the possibility of providing a remedy that might go to the root of this very serious evil. The two following melancholy events particularly fixed my efforts to the subjects.
In May, 1805, a wheel came off from a crouded Southampton Coach; and nearly every one in it had a limb broken.
In June, 1805, the Dart Coach, from London to Manchester, near Stock port, by the breaking of a linch-pin of the fore-wheel, the Coachman, owing to the sudden check to rapid motion, was thrown with great violence from the box with his breast on the stump of a tree; by which his back and leg, were broken, and he lived only a few minutes after uttering some inarticulate sounds. A woman passenger, nurse to Mr. P. Statham, of Ardwick, also had her arm broken.
Since that time more than two hundred accidents, most of them attended with very disastrous consequences, have, either by the news-papers, or by communications of friends, been known by me to have happened: but when the very great care taken to conceal these events is considered, and that they are not suffered to be published, even in the provincial papers near where they happen, it will be admitted they are a very small portion of the real mischief. I knew of nine accidents that happened, in the course of one fortnight, between June 17 and July 1, 1807, within twenty miles of my own house, several of them being very serious ; only one of which found its way into the papers. I myself witnessed one of these, on the excellent road between London and Reading, in a fine summer’s afternoon, without even a swerve of the horses, to a coach of the first reputation for safety; and, what is remarkable, the Proprietor had affected to scout the necessity of any plan of safety, when mine was first brought out.
It is so few years ago, as to be in the remembrance of many persons, that all the great roads in the kingdom were provided with two descriptions of public Coaches; one was the heavy Coach, which carried six persons inside, and as many outside as could be stowed; with a large basket behind for weighty goods; such Coaches generally had six horses; and were, besides, a long time on their journey; the other was called the light, or Post-coach, and carried only four inside, and one or two outside passengers, with no luggage except small trunks or parcels; had only two, or at most four horses, and went their journey in a very short space of time. But now these latter kind of Coaches are nearly given up, the Mails excepted; and to render the present heavy loaded Coaches, (now in general use) suited to the convenience of travellers, as to expedition, they are conveyed with all the velocity of the former light Coaches, thereby uniting in themselves every possible species of danger. Of this a better example cannot be given than by stating what befell, (in its third journey,) the new Telegraph Coach, which ran alternately with the Patent Coach, in the service of the Stroud-Water concern, in broad day-light, in the afternoon of the 24th August, 1807: crossing some new-laid gravel, to pass a cart, just by Kewbridge, it lost its balance, and was overset; one woman was so dreadfully hurt as to remain at the Star and Garter for thirteen weeks: I was told that the Inn was like an hospital for some hours, as many others were hurt; the Coach was much injured; but it did not get into any of the papers; and a person from the neighbourhood of Stroud averred that it was no overturn, only the Coach sunk into a quicksand; and as to mischief, one, woman had her face cut, no other harm was done. Such are the misrepresentations by which these terrible events are glossed over to the public; and unless some opulent person brings an action for damages, or some spirited one exposes the affair in the Public prints, the mischief is hushed up, and the same risk continues to be daily incurred. In this instance, the servant of a Gentleman of my acquaintance was on the roof, and was a severe sufferer, though not by any means the most so. Being informed of the circumstance, I took an early opportunity of seeing the man, and had the whole account from his own mouth.
THE DANGER OF TRAVELLING IN STAGE-COACHES: AND A REMEDY PROPOSED TO THE CONSIDERATION OF THE PUBLIC. By the Rev. William Milton, M. A., Printed by M. Cowslade and Co., 1810