Coaching Accidents

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    (The above illustration is a cartoon by Rowlandson called "overset")

    Excerpt from Wm. Hone's Everyday Book, Vol. III (1827) "If the number of persons who have been killed, maimed, and disfigured for life, in consequence of stage-coach mishaps, could be ascertained, since the first establishment of steam-packets in this country, and on the other hand, the number who have been similarly unfortunate by steam boilers bursting, we should find that the stage-coach proportion would be in the ration of ten to one! A solitary "blow up" of a steam-packet is "noised and proclaimed" from the Land's End to the other extremity of the island; while hundreds of coach-accidents, and many of them fatal, occur, which are never heard of beyond the village, near to which the casualty takes place, or the neighbouring ale-house. These affairs it is to the interest of the proprietors to "hush up," by means of a gratuity to the injured, rather than have their property ruined by an exposure in a court of justice. Should a poor man have a leg or an arm broken, through the carelessness of a drunken coachman, his poverty prevents his having recourse to law. Justice, in these cases, nine times in ten, is entirely out of the question, and an arrangement, between him and the proprietors, is easily effected; the unfortunate fellow, rather receiving fifty or a hundred pounds "hush money" than bring his action, when, perhaps from some technical informality in the proceedings (should he find a lawyer willing to act for him, being poor), he would be nonsuited, with all the costs of both parties on his own shoulders, and be, moreover, ruined for ever, in both purse and person."

    There is a very famous, and rather unusual incident on Exeter Mail, just out of Salisbury on October 20th, 1816. It was dark and the Driver at first thought there was a large calf trotting beside his team. For some reason the horses became extremely nervous and hard to control. As they pulled up at the lonely inn of Winterslow Hut the 'calf' attacked one of the horses and the whole team began to plunge - the guard drew his blunderbuss and was about to shoot the calf when a group of men came up with a mastiff - this was a lioness attacking the horses and the men were from the menagerie from which it had escaped. The poor mastiff was released at the lioness but was quickly torn apart however the men did manage to restrain her by rope. The lioness was returned. It was fortunate that none of the horses sustained fatal injuries, and indeed in an odd quirk to this story the leading horse, "Pomegranate", who had been badly mangled survived was exhibited for some time by the showman who owned the lioness - apparently great financial success.

    Apart from the odd unexpected lioness the worst disaster for coaching was flooding but snow drifts were the greatest inconvenience. Following the great frost of December 1813 there was about 6 weeks of unremitting snow which left thick drifts of snow disrupting travel, and the Mailcoaches. Unfortunately for the guard, when the weather was bleak, the guard was still expected to deliver the mail. In the picture above we see the coach has come to grief, the guard has taken the horses and is riding on with the mail bag leaving the coachman and his passengers to find their own way as best they can. Had the horses been injured the guard would have been expected to walk to the next inn and hire horses to take him to the next stage.

    You can read more about The Mail or about the history of the Georgian postal service.

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