Eyewitness account of Abergele rail accident

“The Fenians were supposed to have the secret of a mysterious combustible known as “Greek Fire” which was unquenchable by water. I think that “Greek Fire” was nothing more or less than ordinary petroleum, which was practically unknown in Europe in 1866, though from personal experience I can say that it was well known in 1868, in which year my mother, three sisters, two brothers and myself narrowly escaped being burnt to death, when the Irish mail, in which we were travelling, collided with a goods train loaded with petroleum at Abergele, North Wales, an accident which resulted in thirty-four deaths.

“Terrible as were the results of the Abergele accident, they might have been more disastrous still, for both lines were torn up, and the up Irish mail from Holyhead, which would be travelling at a great pace down the steep bank from Llandulas, was due at any moment. The front guard of our train had been killed by the collision, and the rear guard was seriously hurt, so there was no one to give orders. It occurred at once to my eldest brother, the late Duke, that as the train was standing on a sharp incline, the uninjured carriages would, if uncoupled, roll down the hill of their own accord. He and some other passengers accordingly managed to undo the couplings, and the uninjured coaches, detached from the burning ones, glided down the incline into safety. From the half-stunned guard my brother learned that the nearest signal-box was at Llandulas, a mile away. He ran there at the top of his speed, and arrived in time to get the up Irish mail and all other traffic stopped. On his return my brother had a prolonged fainting fit, as the strain on his heart had been very great. It took the doctors over an hour to bring him round, and we all thought that he had died.

“I was eleven years old at the time, and the shock of the collision, the sight of the burning coaches, the screams of the women, the wreckage, and my brother’s narrow escape from death, affected me for some little while afterwards.”

– Lord Frederick Hamilton, The Days Before Yesterday.

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