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The Death of William Huskisson

On 15 September, Huskisson became the first railway fatality. The accident occurred at the official opening of the Manchester to Liverpool line. Thomas Creevey spoke to an eye-witness to the event and wrote the following account.

Bangor, 19 September 1830

Jack Calcraft has been at the opening of the Liverpool rail road, and was an eye witness of Huskisson's horrible death. About nine or ten of the passengers in the Duke's car had got out to look about them, whilst the car stopt [sic]. Calcraft was one, Huskisson another, Esterhazy, Bill Holmes, Birch and others. When the other locomotive was seen coming up to pass them, there was a general shout from those within the Duke's car to those without it, to get in. Both Holmes and Birch were unable to get up in time, but they stuck fast to its sides, and the other engine did not touch them. Esterhazy being light, was pulled in by force. Huskisson was feeble in his legs, and appears to have lost his head, as he did his life. Calcraft tells me that Huskisson's long confinement in St George's Chapel at the king's funeral brought on a complaint that Taylor is so afraid of, and that made some severe surgical operation necessary, the effect of which had been, according to what he told Calcraft, to paralyse, as it were one leg and thigh. This, no doubt, must have increased, if it did not create, his danger and [caused him to] lose his life. He had written to say his health would not let him come, and his arrival was unexpected. Calcraft saw the meeting between him and the Duke, and saw them shake hands a very short time before Huskisson's death. The latter event must be followed by important political consequences. The Canning faction has lost its corner stone and the Duke's government one of its most formidable opponents. Huskisson, too, once out of the way, Palmerston, Melbourne, the Grants & Co. may make it up with the Beau [Wellington].

Taken from the Creevey Papers. Letter from Thomas Creevey to Miss Ord.

Charles Greville also wrote of the events of that day.

It is a very odd thing, but I had for days before a strong presentiment that some terrible accident would occur at this ceremony, and I told Lady Cowper so, and several other people. Nothing could exceed the horror of the few people in London at this event, or the despair of those who looked up to him politically. It seems to have happened in this way:

While the Duke's car was stopping to take in water, the people alighted and walked about the railroad; when suddenly another car, which was running on the adjoining level, came up. Everybody scrambled out of the way, and those who could got again into the first car. This Huskisson attempted to do, but he was slow and awkward; as he was getting in some part of the machinery of the other car struck the door of his, by which he was knocked down. He was taken up, and conveyed by Wilton and Mrs. Huskisson (who must have seen the accident happen) to the house of Mr. Blackburne, eight miles from Heaton. Wilton saved his life for a few hours by knowing how to tie up the artery; amputation was not possible, and he expired at ten o'clock that night. Wilton, Lord Granville, and Littleton were with him to the last. Mrs. Huskisson behaved with great courage. The Duke of Wellington was deeply affected, and it was with the greatest possible difficulty he could be induced to proceed upon the progress to Manchester, and at last he only yielded to the most pressing solicitations of the directors and others, and to a strong remonstrance that the mob might be dangerous if he did not appear. It is impossible to figure to one's self any event which could produce a greater sensation or be more striking to the imagination than this, happening at such a time and under such circumstances: the eminence of the man, the sudden conversion of a scene of gaiety and splendour into one of horror and dismay; the countless multitudes present, and the effect upon them-crushed to death in sight of his wife and at the feet (as it was) of his great political rival-all calculated to produce a deep and awful impression.

Chatsworth, September 27, 1830: . . . Lord Granville was just returned from Huskisson's funeral at Liverpool. It was attended by a great multitude, who showed every mark of respect and feeling. He died the death of a great man, suffering torments, but always resigned, calm, and collected; took the Sacrament and made a codicil to his will, said the country had had the best of him, and that he could not have been useful for many more years, hoped he had never committed any political sins that might not be easily forgiven, and declared that he died without a feeling of ill-will and in charity with all men. As he lay there he heard the guns announcing the Duke of Wellington's arrival at Manchester, and he said, "I hope to God the Duke may get safe through the day". When he had done and said all he desired, he begged they would open a vein and release him from his pain.

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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