The Hunter Family
An historical and photographic perspective

William Robert Hunter
February 3, 1855 - January 8, 1891

The Waugh Family Library

The Scottish Railway Strike, 1891, A History and Criticism by James Mavor (1.7 Mb pdf)

The Glasgow Herald, Thursday, January 8, 1891

Disastrous Collision on Caledonian Railway
Man Killed - Blocking of Buchanan Street Tunnel

 "A disastrous collision, attended by circumstances of a peculiarly distressing charter, occurred last night in the St. Rollex tunnel of the Caledonian Railway between a goods and a mineral train, whereby one man was very seriously injured and large damage was done to plant and property.  The train in which the accident occurred was the 5:45 pm from Edinburgh, which contained 39 wagons and a van of mixed goods, and a mineral train made up of 40 wagons of coal, which had come from Ross Junction in the Monkland District. The mineral train was in charge of Andrew Agnew, the engine driver; T. Tommer, fireman; and William Hunter, stationmaster at Bishopton, formerly a relieving signalman in the service of the company, who was acting as conductor of the train, the fireman and driver being new men.  There was also a brakeman.  The goods train had also a full staff.  The cause of the disaster has not yet been clearly ascertained, but it is said that the mineral train, which was destined for Sighthill Station, was "belled" down the line as a passenger train, and, therefore, instead of being turned off at Milton Junction, about a mile beyond St. Rollex Station, it was continued on the main line to Buchanan Street Station.  The line from Milton Junction to Sighthill is on a slightly rising, and the main line on a falling, gradient, and the driver, understanding that he was proceeding to Sighthill, had kept up sufficient speed to carry him to his destination.  The result was that going down hill he lost control of the engine and dashed past St. Rollex Station at a high speed.  At the moment the goods train was starting from the goods shed in Buchanan Street and the signal at the eastern end of the tunnel was standing at danger.  The brakes on the engine and guard's van were hard up, and the wheels were skidding the rails as the train rushed through St. Rollex Station.  But every effort to bring up the train was unavailing.  It dashed through the tunnel and came into collision with the fourth wagon in the goods train at the crossing point at the west end of the tunnel.  The engine was traveling tender first, and by the force of the collision it was overturned, a number of the wagons were completely smashed and their contents strewn across the line.  The crash of the collision was heard in the station and all over the neighbourhood, and a large staff of officials were quickly on the spot.  On an examination of the wreckage Mr. Hunter was discovered lying on his back under the engine of the mineral train.  To add to the distressing character of the situation, the embers from the engine had set on fire the signal box by the side of which the unfortunate man lay.  The engine had leaped from the train while it was passing through the tunnel; but the fireman who with Hunter had stuck to his post, escaped unhurt.  Measures were at once taken to extinguish the fire in the signal box, for which purpose the fire brigade were summoned, but their services were not required.

Taking place as it did after dark, the accident, unfortunately, occurred at a point of the line which is unlighted.  A hundred yards nearer Buchanan Street great bursts of gas shoot into the air and light up a considerable area underneath, but at the mouth of the tunnel, where work cannot be carried on, illumination after dark is unnecessary.  Making the best of the situation, torches were got, and oil lamps and railway lanterns were freely relinquished, and darkness thus being partially banished by shifting and stationary lights, it was possible to see what fell to be done.  The first and most obvious duty, of course, was to get at William Hunter, the conductor of the train, who lay under the mineral engine.  But a great deal required to be done in the way of clearing the line before the work of relief could be entered upon. A breakdown squad was hastily summoned from the adjoining goods yard, and the requisite appliances for dealing with such as accident as had occurred were brought together.  These appliances did not appear to be readily got at, so far as one was able to judge.  The first thing to be done was the removal of the rear van of the goods train, which had not been seriously damaged, and which partially prevented access to the mineral engine, beneath which poor Hunter lay. Its removal was effected by means of a powerful locomotive in the yard. A still more serious difficulty had now to be faced, that of removing the tender of the mineral train, which lay overturned on its side between the two tracks.  A couple of engines were brought forward on parallel lines, and by connecting ropes the tender was removed. Free access to the mineral engine was not yet secured, but a sufficient clearance had been effected to proceed the work of rescue.

How fared it meanwhile with the imprisoned conductor?  There were two medical men on the ground, Drs. Grieve and Kennedy.  Dr. Grieve's consulting room is near the Buchanan Street Station, and immediately on the occurrence of the accident, a message was sent requesting his attendance.  Dr. Kennedy happened to call about this time, and the two gentlemen hurried to the scene of the accident.  The investigation they were able to make, showed, as we have already indicated, that Mr. Hunter lay under the train.  One leg protruded and was caught in the spoke of the wheel.  It was seen at once that the limb had been nearly as possible amputated at the power part.  The other leg which lay under, was believed to be unfractured.  Hunter lay free both at the head and chest, and he was quite conscious and capable of speech.  This was before 8 o'clock.  Brandy was got, and a little spirits and water which were handed to him he was able to swallow.  It was seen to be impossible to effect a rescue without slightly raising the engine.  The undergear of the train presented entanglements which rendered it hopeless to seek to get him out without doing so.  When this could be accomplished it was hoped that the poor imprisoned limb would be released by slipping out of the spoke of the wheel, and the man himself lifted.  But this was a work of difficulty and of time.  The night was bitterly cold, and if the work of rescue should occupy a couple of hours (unfortunately longer time was found to be required) it appeared to be unlikely that the poor sufferer could survive.  He had however, many willing workers and sympathizers.  The leading officials of the Caledonian Company were on the ground and the operations in connection with the rescue party were conducted by practical men.  Overhead in streets adjoining the railway, crowds of spectators hung on the high wall and looked down on the work proceeding amid flickering lights, and with, for the most part, silent energy.. Jack-screws, with which to left the engine, were brought forward and laid by ready for use.  That a basis might be paid for them, timbers were laid across and secured to the rails.  Then the jack-screws were laid on the timbers, one at each end of the front of the engine.  Jack-screws are of variable extension, and some time appeared to be lost, which probably could not be avoided, in getting forward those of requisite length.  When all was ready to apply the screws, it was found necessary to remove an overturned tender which still lay across the rails, and this was speedily done by means of a locomotive.  It was now half-past nine o'clock, and Mr. Hunter had been stretched on the cold ground for more than two hours.  He was still quite able to make himself heard, and was doubtless conscious of all that passed around.  From time to time his piteous cries were heard, and when neat ten o'clock the impediment in front had all been removed, came an anguished cry, "Oh, let me out!" twice or thrice repeated.  Then the screws were applied and slowly the engine was seen to move upward.  It was a tedious, and remembering that a life depended on it, a painful process, both to the men at work and the spectators.  At length, the engine was raised about four or five inches, and blocks of woods were placed under the wheels.  Next jack-screws were employed at the side of the engine by way of tilting it slightly over, and still further relieving the imprisoned man.  In this way poor Hunter was got at and extricated from his terrible position.  Am ambulance stretcher being at hand, he was carefully paid on it and a hasty examined by the medical men in attendance showed that he had sustained a compound fracture of the lower part of the left leg, which hung by a mere thread, and will require to be removed.  Two of the fingers of the right hand were also torn away.  He was found to be in a very feeble state, partly from his injuries and partly from the lengthened exposure.  His pulse was very low.  Indeed the marvel is that life has been so long  sustained.  His relief was affected about half-past ten o'clock, fully three hours from the occurrence of the accident.  Being carried out of the station he was removed by a cab to the Royal infirmary.

The occurrence of the accident was telegraphed along the lines, and the 4.4 pm express from Perth was stopped at St. Rollex, and the passengers conveyed into the city in cabs. The inbound trains were sent into St. Rollex Station, the outbound trains being also dispatched from St. Rollex.  The trains from Coatbridge were continued as far as Stepps Road for local traffic, returning from Stepps Road again to the central.

The work of clearing the line occupied the whole night, but it was expected that one of the lines would be open for traffic this morning.  Altogether seven or eight of the wagons were seriously damaged.  The collision will be made the subject of investigation.

At 2:15 this morning, Mr. Hunter succumbed to his injuries.  Dr. Brown, who attended to the man, states that he was too weak to undergo an operation.  The left leg was almost severed, both hands were injured, and there were also injuries on other parts of the body.  Mr. Hunter has left a widow and five young children."

Glasgow Evening News, Thursday, January 8, 1891
Transcription of article - right edge of page unreadable

The Railway Strike
Collision at Buchanan Street Station
Bishopton Stationmaster (Killed)
Line Blocked All Night ----

A serious collision, unhappily attended-------- of life to one of the Caledonian Company ---- occurred shortly after seven o'clock---within sight of Buchanan Street Station ----passenger traffic was being conducted as ---- a goods train, timed to leave for Edinburgh ---- 5.45 pm, which had been delayed for ---an hour, left the goods station, and proceeded --- the direction of St. Rollox. The train - fully passed into the tunnel, when a mining---was observed rushing down the gradient - great speed. Before the goods train --- the crossing the engine of the mineral train-the hindmost wagons of the goods train - opposite the signal box. The tender was-and the engine was knocked right across - and the wheels jerked off by the force-shock. The permanent way was also to---. All this was apparent at a glance, but tho--- at once ran to the spot were horrified to find

In a frightfully injured condition. He was --- to the ground by the heavy locomotive, and-at once seen that the engine would have-raised before be could be extricated. E-immediately elicited the fact that the unfortunate man, who early this morning succumbed to his injuries, was Mr. William Hunter, stationmaster of Bishopton. The details of the accident show that the mineral train was driven by Andrew Agnew, an Englishman, who entered the Caledonian Company's service on New Year's Day. Agnew, who belongs to Warrington, had previously been an engine driver with Mr. T. A. W. Manchester Ship Canal contractor. He --- unhurt, as did the fireman, John Johnner, resided at Motherwell, and who, like the--- entered the company's service since the---began. The mineral train left Moss Junction in the afternoon for St. Rollox, Mr. William Hunter, station master, Bishopton, being-engine as conductor, neither the driver nor fireman being acquainted with the route.---stated that:

About two miles from St. Rollox, and the --- came to a standstill. A pilot engine was sent-but as the north train came up behind-long after the mineral train was pushed in -till St. Rollox was reached. The passenger-stopped there, while the momentum the mineral train had received caused it to rush past the signals, though they stood at danger, and ---dash with rapidly increasing speed into the tunnel, with the result already stated. ---soon as the driver and fireman saw that a collision was imminent, they both jumped from the engine, but Mr. Hunter stuck to his post. The force of the shock threw him from his post, --- before he could rise

He lay entirely under the engine, having --- caught across the body by the axle, of one of ---wheels. His legs were also entangled in --- mechanism. Medical aid was promptly summoned and Drs. Grieve and Kennedy, Holmshead Street, were shortly afterwards in attendance. The railway officials present at the scene of the accident directing the operations were Mr. Smellie, locomotive superintendent; Mr. Keipp, the general superintendent; Mr. Cook, mineral superintendent; Mr. R. Currer, district superintendent, and others. A breakdown gang of fifty men was set to work. --- every attention possible under the circumstances was paid to Mr. Hunter, in order to relieve the frightful agony he was experiencing.

and was able to ask for a mouthful of water to say that he thought he would survive it - right. Fully three hours elapsed before he was extricated, and it was then found that he sustained most serious injuries. The left leg had been fractured and almost severed, --- two of his fingers of his right hand had been severed. Mr. Hugh Brown, a director of the company who happened to be at the head office at the time of the collision, had made arrangements for his removal to the Royal Infirmary, and on the arrival of the ambulance wagon he waited for some time by the bedside of the injured man. From the first little hope was held out of Mr. Hunter's recovery, and at about three o'clock

Both the driver and the fireman of the mineral train received a shaking, but no other person, with the exception of Mr. Hunter reported injuries. Comparatively little damage was done to the permanent way and rolling stock, the goods train being able to proceed on its journey without the four damaged wagons with no great delay. The lines, however, were

the spot where the collision occurred being the very worst possible for an accident, owing to the straightened entrance to the tunnel. The trains due to arrive at Buchanan Street after seven o'clock were sent round to the Central Station. The passengers by the mail train which had pushed the mineral train to St. Rollox were driven to the city in cabs. The up line was cleared this morning between five and six, and the passenger traffic was resumed as usual, and both lines were cleared an hour later.

Andrew Agnew, the driver of the mineral train, says he belongs to Warrington, where he had been employed driving an engine for Mr. T.A. Walker Ship Canal contractor. At present he is stationed at the locomotive sheds at Motherwell, and he had been employed driving mineral trains every day since he was engaged. He had a different conductor each day. He drove no passenger trains. The fireman, he thought, had been a steamship stoker. He went off duty on Tuesday night at 8.45, and was booked to start at 6.15 next morning. At about half-past four yesterday afternoon, he proceeded to Moss Junction, and thence to Mossend Loop, and from Mossend to just outside St. Rollox Junction, where they had to stop owing to having run short of coal. The mail train from the North due at Buchanan Street at 5.50 pm campe up there behind them and shoved them out of the way. He thought it would be about two miles from St. Rollox where the mail train caught them up. There was no steam on their engine. He did not know where St. Rollox was. The mail train continued to push them till they could run themselves. There were two brakesmen on their train, and one of them went back whent hey stopped outside St. Rollox in order to get a pilot engine. The express train shoved them so far that they could not pull up. He saw the signals were at danger, but they went flying past them. As they passed the signals he got on to the side to see if there was anything in front of them. At this time, they had their brake on, and he had reversed the engine. When they got well through the tunnel, he could see there was a train in front of them coming out, and he crossed over to the other side of the engine and told the other men to look up. At that time he was on the inside road, but when he saw the train he went to the outside and jumped off just as the smash occurred. He jumped off a few yards beyond the mouth of the tunnel. He did not know whatt he fireman did. The conductor stuck to the engine. They were running the tender first. The conductor knew St. Rollox. He said that were entering the tunnel that they were going into the passenger station. He had been told that there was a gradient, but after they had passed St. Rollox by mistake, he did not know that the gradient came after that. The conductor said nothing after they had passed the signals at St. Rollox. They knew a mistake had been made, but they could not stop with one engine a train of thirty wagons loaded with minerals after it had started on such a gradient.

Mr. Hunter, who leaves a widow and five children to mourn his loss, joined the service of the Caledonian Railway in January, 1871 and has gone through the various grades from boy-porter to stationmaster. He was for some time in the Parcels Department, and subsequently a relief signalman, and in that capacity his duty was sometimes to act as guard, so that he was well acquainted with the road and all the signals. He was also a man full of courage. At the time of the riots at Motherwell on Monday, he was on the spot. When the signal-cabin at Clyde Bridge was smashed to atoms as the bridge, no one could be got to enter it for some time. Hunter volunteered to go, and worked the handles till the place was boarded up, in the face of a hail of whipstones. He was also the first to enter the Muir Street wrecked signal station after it had been  smashed by the rioters.

See the article from the Dumfries and Galloway Saturday Standard, January 10, 1891 (pdf).

Learn more from An Illustrated Beginner's Guide to the British Trade Union and Working Class Movements

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William Robert Hunter with family c 1886




















Leading Dates of the 1890 Railway Strike





          Scottish Railway Strike 1890-1891





The death of William Hunter