[December 24, 1897 – Auckland Star] A terrible accident occurred yesterday afternoon at the Kingsland railway crossing, which resulted in the instantaneous death of a highly esteemed citizen, Mrs F. Battley, wife of Mr F. Battley, of Mt. Albert. Both Mr Battley and the coachman James Kelly had very, narrow escapes from instant death, each receiving blows on the head.
The primary cause of the accident was the fire on New North Road, in front of Mr Page’s grocery store. Mr and Mrs Battley were being driven home between three and four o’clock, and when the buggy reached the scene of the fire the horse, usually a quiet one, became frightened, and as people were throwing furniture into the roadway from the upper windows of adjacent buildings the driver turned round with the intention of reaching Mount Albert via the Kingsland and Cabbage Tree Swamp roads.
This entailed going over the railway crossing just below the Kingsland station. Down here the grade is steep, and it is impossible to see any train approaching Mount Eden from the Helensville side as the line is hidden by a spur of McElwain’s hill which is scarped by Kingsland Road.
Before the crossing was reached Kelly heard the engine whistle and he at once got down and seized his horse’s head. Almost immediately the train came over the crossing. It was a special goods train heavily loaded with bricks, and according to Kelly’s statement was not going quickly. This is also borne out by the fact that the train was a heavy one, and the rise up to Kingsland station is somewhat steep. As soon as the train came on to the crossing the horse, which had been stopped about half a chain away began to rear and plunge, with the result that the driver was struck on the head and thrown down, the wheels of the buggy passing over him, but fortunately without causing any serious injury.
The horse, now thoroughly excited, made down the road straight toward the crossing and then swerved towards the cattle guards towards Mount Albert. The result was that the hood and wheels on one side of the buggy came in contact with the train moving in an opposite direction, and this immediately wrenched off the wheels, causing the vehicle to tilt over towards the line. Mrs Battley being on that side was at once thrown out on the roadway so close to the line that her clothing was caught and she was dragged under the wheels. The unfortunate lady was so seriously injured that death was instantaneous, her body being dragged for about 60 feet along the line. Mr Battley, who was sitting on the side furthest from the train, was thrown into the seat lately occupied by his wife and received some injuries to his head owing to striking the trucks towards the end of the train.
As soon as possible the train was stopped at the Kingsland station, and the body of Mrs Battley was removed from the line and covered over. Mr Battley, who was almost unconscious from his injuries and grief combined, was taken to the residence of Mr Page, and medical assistance was at once telephoned for, and Drs Somerville, Challinor, Purchas, McDowell and Roberton, were shortly in attendance.
Mr Battley’s injuries were not of a serious character if sustained by man in good health, but to an invalid the general shock both mental and physical may have serious results. Dr. McDowell is attending Mr Battley, and it is thought that the effusion of blood resulting from scalp wounds may have a beneficial effect, but it is impossible to give any definite opinion for at least 24 hours. The tidings of the sad occurrence were sent to Mrs Battley’s children, who were quickly on the scene. The deceased lady was a Miss Ward, and her parents were amongst the earliest settlers in Auckland. The sad news of her death under such shocking circumstances caused grief to her many friends, for the deceased lady was highly esteemed by all who had the privilege of her acquaintance. She had been associated with the Baptist Church of Auckland for over a quarter of a century, and in her earlier years was a most energetic worker.
THE ENGINE-DRIVER’S STORY
Charles Smith, the driver of the engine, states that he blew the whistle when about 100 yards from the Kingsland crossing where the accident occurred, and when the train reached the crossing the driver of the buggy was on the ground, standing at his horse’s lead, apparently waiting for the train to pass. As the engine passed over, the horse reared up, struck out with his fore-feet, knocking the man down, and then bolted towards the train, at the same time slewing around, and thereby throwing the lady out of the buggy underneath the waggons. Apparently the horse was excited by the fire and got out of control. There is a mark on one of the waggons (sixth from the engine) where the buggy struck it. The train was moving dead slow at the time, as the load was a very heavy one, taxing the power of the engine to the utmost, and it was pulled up at once, the van being just clear of crossing and over the cattleguards when the train was stopped. It only moved six or eight waggon lengths after the accident occurred.
THE GUARD’S STATEMENT.
William Archibald Tate states that as the van came in sight he saw the horse and buggy. As the engine reached the crossing the animal became somewhat restive. He at once sprang to the brake and put it hard on. When he looked out again he saw that the lady had been thrown from the buggy and was rolling under the platform. The train was going dead slow before the brake was put on owing to the stiffness of the grade and the extremely heavy load of bricks. The engine driver, Smith, blew the usual whistle on approaching the crossing.
This particular train comprised the engine, 14 waggons, and the van. Where the accident occurred the grade is stiff being one in 40. As each truck was carrying about seven tons, it was impossible for the train to be going very fast. It is estimated the speed at the did not exceed five miles an hour.
At 11 o clock this morning an inquiry as commenced by the Coroner, Dr. Philson, at the residence of Mr Battley, into the facts connected with the accident. Mr Thomas Cotter appeared on behalf of the Mount Albert Road Board and Mr Theo. Cooper watched the proceedings on behalf of the Railway Department. Mr Grant, District Manager, and Mr A. V. McDonald, Locomotive Engineer, also being present. Sergeant Lyons attended on behalf of the police in company with Constable Hodson. A jury of six was empannelled of which Mr John Wilken was chosen foreman.
Dr Joseph Sommerville was the first called, and deposed he had known the deceased for the past six months, but had not attended her professionally. He was called in at 4.30 o’clock yesterday, and saw deceased lying on the side of the railway crossing at Kingsland. She was quite dead and appeared to have been so about an hour. Dr. McDowell was with him at the time. Witness described the nature of the injuries sustained by deceased, which he said were undoubtedly the cause of death. Besides scalp wounds an arm and a leg had been severed. He was informed that Mrs Battley had been injured by a train.
THE DRIVER’S STATEMENT.
James Kelly deposed: I am gardener and coachman, and have been so employed by Mr Battley for the past four years. I was driving Mr and Mrs Battley from town yesterday afternoon. We left town about 4 p.m. As we came near Mr Page’s store, Kingsland, I saw the fire, and also that there was no room to get by, as people were getting away their furniture and things. I then turned round to go down Kingsland Road. Just as the buggy was getting near the crossing a train was coming up the line towards Auckland. I got out and took the horse by the head. The train was not coming very fast. It was going at a reduced rate of speed, as it had a very heavy load of bricks on. The horse had not taken fright when I took it by the head. I got out and took a rein in each hand as a matter of precaution. When the train came in front the horse started plunging, struck me on the head and brought me under his front feet. He reared and struck me on the head coming down. I was dragged under the horse’s feet and the buggy passed across me. The horse then ran down the side of the trucks as they were coming up. The trucks were on the eve of stopping as quick as the driver could do it, but he could not stop them at once. The buggy then got foul of one of the trucks, which struck the hood of the buggy on the side and the back wheel. It tore away the hind wheel, throwing Mrs Battley out between the line and the buggy. She was not thrown on the line. As near as I could gauge it, she was free at first, but some of the flanges of the wheel caught her dress and she was dragged on to the line. I could not say for certain whether the wheel or part of the truck struck Mrs Battley, but something carried her on to the crossing. Seeing I could not do anything for Mrs Battley I went back to the horse, which was still attached to part of the buggy. I held the horse again, and asked some bystanders to help Mr Battley out, as he’ was an invalid. I do not know what happened after that, as I had to go away in a cab. I first saw that Mrs Battley was quite dead.
By Mr Cooper: I did not hear the engine whistle until it was very close to me, but owing to the crackling of the fire and the noise, it might have whistled earlier, and I not have heard it. I was about half a chain from the crossing when I first stopped the horse, but when the animal took fright and was plunging it carried us nearer to the crossing. As a rule the horse was not frightened by passing trains. It was accustomed to trains. I think it was the fire first alarmed the horse. It was very quiet and obedient at other times, but on this occasion it took charge of me. There was a lot of noise as people were throwing furniture from the windows of the houses. I do not think the engine driver or the men in charge of the train were to blame in any way. The crossing is a very bad one, as the bank hides the line on the side from which the train was approaching, so that you cannot see the engine until it is upon you.
Coroner: The train did not run over the carriage, but the buggy ran into the train.
Witness: They both struck each other while moving.
By Mr. Cotter: A train coming into Auckland cannot be seen until it is right upon you at that crossing. You have to depend entirely upon the whistle to know when the train is coming. The road down to the crossing is very steep, and I had the brake on. The mare was a favourite of Mrs Battley’s and I got out to take its head because Mrs Battley told me to do so. From the time I first heard the whistle I had no chance to get over the crossing before the train arrived. I do not think it would be much safer if the crossing was made the width of the road, as it is a nasty corner. If the live fence was removed it might be better, but I have not noticed it much. I am sure the train was not going very fast. I thought it was going at a very slack speed. As far as I can remember the engine was whistling all the way over the crossing.
Evidence was also given by William Archibald Tate, guard on the train, and Charles Smith, engine driver, confirming the statements already made.
The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental death; no blame attachable to any one.”
The remains of Mrs Battley were interred at Waikomiti Cemetery this afternoon. Many beautiful wreaths were sent by mourning friends.