Remembering The First Victim of the Railways


Posted by Colin

This is William Huskisson. This statue of him, which stands in Pimlico Gardens, on the North bank of the Thames, describes him simply as a “statesman”. Nothing else in the area eludes to anything else about him, save that he was born in 1770 and died in 1830. That death turns out to be a tale in itself.

Some research reveals Huskisson was an MP who made it to the Duke of Wellington’s cabinet but resigned from his post in 1828 after a disagreement over parliamentary reform, returning to his Liverpool constituency.

(As a personal aside: the row was centered on the constituency of East Retford – the area where Ruth grew up).

When Huskisson and Wellington were both attending the opening of the Liverpool to Manchester railway in 1830, Huskisson got off the train and headed for the Duke’s carriage in order to kiss and make up.

What Huskisson failed to notice was an oncoming train – none other than George Stephenson’s famous Rocket engine driven by the man himself. Huskisson noticed at the last minute and tried to scramble aboard Wellington’s train but the door swung open, preventing him climbing aboard. The train ran straight over his leg and dragged the MP all the way to Eccles. He was taken to hospital but died hours later.

Huskisson, then, is widely accepted as the first victim of the advent of the railways. A plaque, now at the National Railway Museum in York, says that the accident:

“DEPRIVED ENGLAND OF A ILLUSTRIOUS STATESMAN AND LIVERPOOL OF ITS MOST HONORED REPRESENTATIVE WHICH CHANGED A MOMENT OF THE NOBLEST EXULTATION AND TRIUMPH THAT SCIENCE AND GENIUS HAD EVER ACHIEVED INTO ONE OF DESOLATION AND MOURNING”

Huskisson’s widow, Emily, commissioned the statue for Custom House in Liverpool, but somehow it has ended up in SW1. With no plaque to explain his fate, it seems the story of this victim of science and progress will remain largely untold.

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