|'Overset' cartoon by Rowlandson|
Thursday, 6 November 2014
Travel in Austen's time was fraught with danger... and it wasn't just potholes
A dreadful accident befell the London mail coach which left Glasgow on Tuesday, Oct. 25th  the particulars of which will be found in the following letter:
“Moffat, 26th October, 1808.
“We had, yesterday, a most dreadful storm of wind and rain, and the rivers in the neighbourhood came down in torrents, such as have never been seen by the oldest people here. Among other damage occasioned by it, we are sorry to state that a shocking accident happened to the mail coach from Glasgow to Carlisle. At the bridge over the river Avon, about nine miles from this, at a place called Howcleugh, betwixt 9 and 10 o’clock last night, the coach had just got about half way over, when the bridge gave way in the middle of the arch, and the coach, passengers, horses &c. were instantly precipitated into the river, a fall of about 30 feet. There were four inside and two outside passengers. The two outside passengers and two of the horses were killed on the spot, and the other passengers made a miraculous escape with their lives; though we are sorry to say, they were all very considerably hurt.
The coachman and guard were also much hurt; the former had his arm broken, and was otherwise much bruised, and the guard received a severe contusion on the head.
“The other coach from Carlisle to Glasgow was narrowly prevented from falling into the same precipice. It was coming up just about the time the accident happened, and from the darkness of the night, and the rate the coach necessarily goes at, it must inevitably gone into the river at the same breach in the arch, had not one of the passengers who escaped given the alarm.
“By the exertions of the coachman and guard of the other coach, the passengers who survived (a Lady and three Gentlemen) with the coachman and guard, who had fallen into the precipice, were enabled to extricate themselves from the dismal situation into which they were thrown, and conducted to a place of safety till other assistance was afforded them.
“Much praise is due to Mr Rae, the Postmaster here, one of the proprietors of the coach, for his exertions and assistance on this occasion. Immediately, on hearing of the accident, he set out in the middle of the night, with several of his servants and others, in two post chaises, and gave every possible assistance to the passengers, &c. and by this means, we are happy to say the London mail and other valuable articles in the coach have been saved.
“Mr Clapperton, the surgeon, is also entitled to much praise for his ready assistance upon the occasion; and the exertions of John Geddes, one of Mr Rae’s servants, are particularly deserving of notice, who, at the risk of his life, went into the river with a rope fastened to his body, and saved the life of the lady (one of the passengers) and some of the mail bags, which must otherwise have been carried down the stream.
“the coach and harness are completely destroyed. Mr Rae has lost two valuable horses by the accident, and the other two are severely hurt and bruised.
“The bodies of the two passengers who were killed have been found, and have been brought here this morning; the are Mr William Brand, Merchant in Ecclesechan, and Mr Lund, of the house of Lund and Toulmin, of Bond Street, London.”
And remember the phrase in the old phrase books ‘my postillion has been struck by lightning’? I always thought that a silly phrase until I read how many people travelling by coach WERE struck by lightning. This example from The Ipswich Journal, Saturday 19th August 1909:
I’ve come across several incidents of carriages struck by lightning, including one where a lady passenger had her arm burned and her wedding ring melted.
On can’t help wondering if the unfortunate horse had a burr under its saddle with malice aforethought to the unfortunate prince, especially in light of his father’s accident, and the fire.