ONGARUE RAIL DISASTER
FRIDAY 6 JULY 1923
MAIN TRUNK LINE BETWEEN TE KUITI AND TAUMARANUI, NORTH ISLAND
Ongarue is between Te Kuiti and Taumaranui on the Main Trunk Line. On the 6 July 1923 the South Bound Express ploughed into a mud slide - just around the bend south of the township. Unfortunately in the mud slide was a large boulder and the engine rode up on to the boulder resulting in the following carriages telescoping. However those at the rear of the train in the sleeping compartments had to be woken for their bedding for the accident victims.
Seventeen people were killed or died of their injuries from the Ongarue Rail disaster. Railway worker Louis Hill who was assisting at the scene died from a Cerebal Haemorraghe aged 52 years.
Thanks to John Billing for his help with the names of the victims and additional information gleaned from newspaper reports. Additional information is in bold. John's work is greatly appreciated.
Also from a visitor to Sooty - Re your page on the train Ongarue disaster, 1923. I am currently reading a book, "Doctor in the Sticks" by D.A. Bathgate (a Dr.) published in 1972/3 by William Collins (NZ) Ltd. There is a very good account of this accident in chapter 8. He was a Doctor who was travelling on the train at the time. Thanks for this.
|BILLING||Thomas J||75, a retired farmer from New Plymouth|
|BRADY||James Joseph||Tay St, Woodville|
|CONNOR||Maurice John||storekeeper and farmer Pahiatua|
|CURRIE *||Lawrence Watson aka as Poll or Paul in newspaper reports||17 years old amateur boxer travelling to a tournament in the King Country. Employed as a brass finisher, identified by his brother Union St, Auckland (Died of injuries)|
|DONALD||W Mrs||24, Tredia Rd, Epsom, Auckland The only woman killed had travelled in car C.|
|GRANT *||A M Constable||Police constable and storekeeper of Te Whaiti/Tewhiti, Rotorua. Compund fracture of left leg (Died of injuries)|
|HUNT *||Horace Greenwood||Te Kauwhata (Died of injuries)|
|LEAR||W||C/o J WHITE, Waimana Ave, Northcote, Auckland|
|MAIN (MAINE)(MAYNE)||Charles (Charles Campbell)||21, Morrinsville|
|McCOMBS (McCOMBE)||D||52, tailor of Rotorua|
|MEAD (MEAR)(MEARS)*||Benjamin||Sawmiller of Mahirakau Injured with extensive burns and bruises(Died of injuries)|
|PETSCHUKET||William||22, Orphan, single with no relatives|
|POYNTER (PAYNTER)||Charles Howard||Horahora|
|SAXBY *||Allan Gordon||Clyde Rd, Napier (Died of injuries)|
|WARD||H T (Henry T)||aged 45 years or 23, Herne Bay, Auckland Papers also show a Christchurch address of Bealey St, St Albans. Buried Linwood Cemetery, Christchurch Block 36 Plot 451|
|WATERS||Norman Leslie||Returned soldier 77946 (24), Papatoetoe|
|HILL||Louis||Died at the scene aged 52 Cerebal Haemorraghe (In charge of gang)|
Eleven people were killed in the smash and were laid on cushions beside the rail track covered with rugs, one died before going to hospital a further five * initially report as injured died in hospital from their injuries.
|ACE||Ronald||a boy from Whangarei. Fractured leg - had been pinned by wreckage and was rescued by mill workers W N Edgar and R McLeod|
|BILLING||Lawrence||Rahotu, New Plymouth. Injuries to head and face|
|BROWNLEY (BROWNLIE)||Les||Australia or Te Puke? Contusions and abrasions to face and right eye|
|CAMPBELL||William S (Bill)||Engine Fireman of East Tamaki, Auckland. Badly scalded on his face and body and suffered injury to his shoulder.|
|COLLINS||W (Tom, Tommy)||Beresford St, Newton, Auckland. An amateur boxer travelling to a boxing tournament in the King Country — he suffered back and chest injuries and had ribs fractured|
|DIGNAN||Charles||Pokako. Fractured ribs and haemorrhage.|
|GEORGE||G||Willis St, Wellington|
|GORDON||Christiana||Ohakune. Scalded left arm and injuries to both legs|
|HENDERSON||Doris Mrs||Te Kuiti. Fractured ankle|
|HUGHES||Sam||Seaman.Contusions and abrasions to face and right eye|
|KELLY||Blanche||Spottswood, Cheviot, North Canterbury. Injuries to head and legs|
|LEITCH (LEACH)||Herbert||Matiere, Taumaranui|
|LEY||Henry F||Te Aroha|
|LASKE (LOAKE)||Harry||Huntly. Slight abrasions to head and hand|
|McFARLANE||Charles||Sawmill hand,Milford, Takapuna.Fractured forearm and collapse|
|MORGAN||John||from Te Kuiti. Fractured upper and lower jaw, contusions to face and both eyes.|
|NEALE (NEIL)||John||Manawaru, Te Aroha. Abrasions and contusions to face and scalp, compound fracture of left leg|
|NIZICH (NISFFICH)||Mati||Thames. He was travelling in car D that over-rode car C|
|SHEPHERD||Harold||Wellington. Wound above eye|
|SMITH||Myra Mrs||Toko, Stratford. Injuries to head|
|STEWART||Alexander (Alec)||Engine Driver, of Auckland|
|TYLER||A||Martinborough. Crushed hips|
|WALKER||William George (George William)||Dannevirke. Cut on head and bruised ribs.|
|WHEELER||Sidney||Dannevirke. Abrasions to face, head and thigh|
Newspaper reports said that Currie and Collins were to take part in a boxing tournament in the King Country, which ‘was postponed out of sympathy with the deceased'.
|BANNISTER||Member of the NZ Maori Rugby Team|
|BATHGATE||David Albert Dr, Dunedin. Had travelled in last compartment car D - gave evidence.|
|CROUCHER||A H, Christchurch|
|DRAKE||Ernest, Opera singer. (Newspaper reports that he had been in Wellington where he sang a tenor solo in Faust.|
|ENTICOTT||Methodist Minister from Taumaranui|
|HINGSTON||Member of the NZ Maori Rugby Team|
|IZARD||W, lawyer from Christchurch|
|KILMARTIN||Boxing referee from Dunedin|
|LOUGHNAN||From Christchurch, son in law of Izard|
|MATTHEWS||C S from Wellington|
|NASH (WALSH)||H W, Medical Student from Palmerston North|
|NZ MAORI RUGBY FOOTBALL TEAM|
|RUTTLEDGE||J, Horse trainer from Dunedin|
|SCANDAL THEATRICAL COMPANY||"Members of Harry Cohen’s ‘Scandal’ theatrical company joined the train at Te Awamutu for Palmerston North and had reserved seats at the front of train but placed at the rear otherwise they would have suffered injuries."|
|SMITH||D'Arck Reginald (Postal worker|
|PARATA||Manager of the NZ Maori Rugby Team|
|DUNSTAN||Postal worker on board the train|
|HOBSON||Henry Percy - Guard - also reported as HOPKINS|
|McDONELL||Postal worker on board the train|
|MEEHAN||Mrs - Ladies car attendant|
|SMITH||D'Arck Reginald - Postal worker on board the train|
|STEWART||Alexander (Alec)- Engine Driver of Auckland|
|EDGAR||W N - Mill worker, Ellis & Burnands Timber Mill, Ongarue|
|LAIRD||Mrs - Member of committee who prepared the bodies for viewing.|
|MAHONEY||Thomas, Constable, Ongarue|
|McLEOD||R - Mill worker, Ellis & Burnands Timber Mill, Ongarue|
|McNAB||Mrs - Member of committee who prepared the bodies for viewing.|
|MILLER||George, Ongarue Postmaster|
|REECE||Mrs - Member of committee who prepared the bodies for viewing.|
|SOUFFLOT||P L, Assistant Ongarue Postmaster|
|WORRALL||Mrs - Member of committee who prepared the bodies for viewing.|
|LAIRD||A S - District Coroner made arrangements for the bodies to be properly attended to, and shrouded before relatives arrived.|
RAILWAYS STATEMENT BY THE MINISTER OF RAILWAYS, HON. J.G. COATES.
Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1924 Session I, D-02
Accident to Auckland-Wellington Express Train near Ongarue.
A happening that calls for more than passing mention is the very unfortunate accident which befell the Main Trunk express train near Ongarue early on the morning of the 6th July, 1923. This was one of the most disastrous accidents that have taken place on the New Zealand railways, and it was of a magnitude which has happily boon very rare on our system. For some days prior to the accident there had been a very heavy fall of rain in the Ohakune district of the Main Trunk line, and this was, without doubt, the primary cause of the accident. The immediate cause was the slipping-away of a bank composed of pumice formation in which were embedded some very large boulders.
Some of these boulders were precipitated on to the track in front of the train at tho moment it was passing, causing the derailment of the engine, which led to the telescoping of the carriages. The point at which the accident occurred had never previously given trouble. It was patrolled and inspected shortly before the accident, and there was then no indication of instability or other cause to suspect trouble.
It is interesting to note that the postal car, which was immediately behind the engine, sustained comparatively little damage, while the second and third cars were practically telescoped into one, and tho third car was telescoped over more than half its length. As the occurrence was unfortunately attended with serious loss of life and injury to passengers, a special inquiry was instituted into the circumstances by a Board composed of a Magistrate and two engineers of high standing in New Zealand who had had considerable experience in connection with railways.
The conclusion at which this Board arrived after close investigation and most exhaustive inquiry was that the accident resulted from causes over which the Department had no control, and entirely exonerated the Department from any suggestion of negligence. The evidence that was available to the Board and to the public in connection with the matter clearly established the fact that unremitting vigilance and a very high degree of care are exercised by the Department to ensure the safety of those who have occasion to use the railways. It was clearly demonstrated that the Railway staff have a very high appreciation of their responsibility, and that in districts where night running of trains is involved and the formation of the country introduces any element of risk they maintain a degree of vigilance worthy of high commendation, and such as to justify the conclusion that public safety is their first consideration in all circumstances, and everything possible is done to ensure that end.
Notwithstanding that the Department was under no legal liability to pay any compensation to those who suffered loss as a result of the accident, a generous measure of assistance has been given to those who have found themselves in a position of necessity as a result of the unfortunate occurrence, and it is believed that the help which the Department has found itself able to afford in this direction has generally been much appreciated by the recipients. Steps have been taken to give effect to the various suggestions which were made by the Board. As a result of action along these lines the cars that are used for the Main Trunk express traffic are being specially strengthened so as to reduce the possibility of telescoping, and the equipment of guards' vans, both in respect of ambulance and other appliances, has been increased and generally made more suitable for coping with an emergency such as the one under notice. Prior to the accident it had already been decided to equip the Main Trunk express trains throughout with electric light. This work is now well forward, and, when complete, will not only provide a more efficient and satisfactory light and increase the comfort of the passengers in that direction, but will also reduce the danger of fire occurring in the case of serious accidents.
Comment on this accident would not be complete without including in this report appreciation of the assistance rendered by the medical practitioners and hospital staff at Taumarunui, many passengers on the train, and numerous other willing helpers who gave ready and effective assistance in connection with the accident. This Railway staff met the emergency with commendable promptitude. The rapidity with which relief was organized, and despatched to the scene of the disaster reflected greatest credit on all concerned, while the energy and zeal displayed by the staff were generally recognized. When so much good work was done by many persons both in and out of the service it is difficult to particularize any section, and it is hoped that the foregoing remarks in which particular mention is made of various groups of persons will not be taken as indicating any lack of appreciation of the good work that was done by every one concerned.
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