This photograph from the Museum’s Tyrrell collection shows the aftermath of one of Australia’s worst rail disasters of the 19th century.
The accident occurred in the early hours of the morning of 25 January 1885 about five kms south of Cootamundra. The train had left from Albury and was fully laden with mail and passengers, many of them travelling to Sydney to attend the Randwick races the following day.
It had been raining heavily for several days throughout southern NSW and the embankment supporting the rail line over Salt Clay Creek had collapsed and washed away, leaving only the unsupported tracks. As the Australian Town and Country Journal reported,
This left a very large gap, about 50yd wide and about 9ft deep, and into it the mail train dashed.
Attempts to warn the driver had proved futile. Eight people died and 20 were seriously injured. The Kerang Times and Swan Hill Gazette reported the gruesome discovery of a head “stuffed under the cushions”.
The North Eastern Ensign described the aftermath:
The spot at which the accident occurred is situated so far in the bush from any road that it was found to be a very arduous task to bring proper aid to the sufferers, or to remove them to Cootamundra and other places, where preparations could be made to receive them. These circumstances rendered an otherwise terrible catastrophe still more heart rending, as the poor victims of the smash were obliged to lie for hours under the pitiless rain which seems to have fallen in abnormal volume.
It is intriguing how a photographer from the Henry King studio in Sydney came to be on the scene at what appears to be a very early stage of the salvage operation. Perhaps he was on the train.
The fate of the locomotive is unknown but was said to have fractured its boiler in the accident. It appears to be No 31 and is one of the G23 Class, a 2-4-0 passenger type engine used by the NSW Government Railways.
Appropriately this photo features on the cover of a new publication from the Powerhouse Museum, All is Not Lost: the Collection Recovery Book, which gives advice on how to salvage treasured items affected by disaster.
Only 10 days after the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, New York City became embroiled in the largest popular insurrections in American history.
The incident began on the morning of July 13, 1863, when hundreds of young men poured into the streets to protest the federal draft lottery.
New York was deeply divided over the Civil War, and many viewed the conscription law—which excluded blacks and allowed wealthy men to buy their way out of serving for $300—as a blatant civil rights violation.
The demonstration quickly turned violent when the mob stormed the draft office and beat the city’s police superintendent to a bloody pulp.
As the protestors’ ranks swelled with armed malcontents, the men marched through Manhattan and began ransacking and burning the homes and offices of prominent draft supporters and other wealthy elites.
The bedlam would continue for four days, as rioters looted businesses, torched buildings and brawled with police and National Guardsmen from behind makeshift barricades.
Convinced that freed blacks were a threat to their livelihood, rioters also beat and lynched several black men, demolished the homes of others and even set a black children’s orphanage ablaze.
Finally, on June 16, some 4,000 federal troops marched into the city and put the uprising down by force.
While the draft would resume only a month later, the riots still left a devastating mark on New York.
All told, the incident claimed the lives of more than 100 people and caused millions of dollars in property damage.
The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers – 123 women and 23 men – who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths.
Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged 16 to 23; of the victims whose ages are known, the oldest victim was Providenza Panno at 43, and the youngest were 14-year-olds Kate Leone and “Sara” Rosaria Maltese.
Because the owners had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits – a then-common practice to prevent workers from taking unauthorized breaks and to reduce theft– many of the workers could not escape and jumped from the high windows.
In 1943, Bethnal Green in East London experienced one of its worst wartime tragedies. Not from bombs or flying shrapnel, but something potentially far deadlier: panic.
Memorial plaque commemorating the victims of an accident on the southeastern staircase of Bethnal Green tube station during an air raid alert in 1943. (Image: Sunil060902)
During a routine air raid siren test, civilians on their way to shelter in the Tube station all happened to converge on the entrance at once.
In their panic to get downstairs, some people tripped… and then the stampede began.
As more and more people fell to their knees and bodies kept piling in the door, the panic became a deadly crush. One hundred and seventy-three people were trampled to death, including at least 41 children.
The disaster was Britain’s worst civilian tragedy in the entire war.
Photo: Underground Tube Stations in London were used regularly as bomb shelters
Over 70 years after the accident, its memory still scars the station. Underground staff and late night passengers have reported hearing women screaming and the sound of children crying.
Do the voices of the dead still linger beneath East London’s streets?
The only way to be sure is to go down there late at night and find out for yourself.
Photo: Workmen repairing the stairs after the tragedy.
Survivors of the USS Indianapolis are taken to medical aid on the island of Guam. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.
The USS Indianapolis had delivered the crucial components of first operational atomic bomb to a naval base on the Pacific island of Tinian. On August 6, 1945, the weapon would level Hiroshima. But now, on July 28, the Indianapolis sailed from Guam, without an escort, to meet the battleship USS Idaho in the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines and prepare for an invasion of Japan.
The next day was quiet, with the Indianapolis making about 17 knots through swells of five or six feet in the seemingly endless Pacific. As the sun set over the ship, the sailors played cards and read books; some spoke with the ship’s priest, Father Thomas Conway.
But shortly after midnight, a Japanese torpedo hit the Indianapolis in the starboard bow, blowing almost 65 feet of the ship’s bow out of the water and igniting a tank containing 3,500 gallons of aviation fuel into a pillar of fire shooting several hundred feet into the sky.
Then another torpedo from the same submarine hit closer to midship, hitting fuel tanks and powder magazines and setting off a chain reaction of explosions that effectively ripped the Indianapolis in two.
Still traveling at 17 knots, the Indianapolis began taking on massive amounts of water; the ship sank in just 12 minutes. Of the 1,196 men aboard, 900 made it into the water alive.
Their ordeal—what is considered the worst shark attack in history—was just beginning.
As the sun rose on July 30, the survivors bobbed in the water. Life rafts were scarce. The living searched for the dead floating in the water and appropriated their lifejackets for survivors who had none. Hoping to keep some semblance of order, survivors began forming groups—some small, some over 300—in the open water.
Soon enough they would be staving off exposure, thirst—and sharks.
The animals were drawn by the sound of the explosions, the sinking of the ship and the thrashing and blood in the water. Though many species of shark live in the open water, none is considered as aggressive as the oceanic whitetip.
Reports from the Indianapolis survivors indicate that the sharks tended to attack live victims close to the surface, leading historians to believe that most of the shark-related casualities came from oceanic whitetips.
The first night, the sharks focused on the floating dead. But the survivors’ struggles in the water only attracted more and more sharks, which could feel their motions through a biological feature known as a lateral line: receptors along their bodies that pick up changes in pressure and movement from hundreds of yards away.
As the sharks turned their attentions toward the living, especially the injured and the bleeding, sailors tried to quarantine themselves away from anyone with an open wound, and when someone died, they would push the body away, hoping to sacrifice the corpse in return for a reprieve from a shark’s jaw.
Many survivors were paralyzed with fear, unable even to eat or drink from the meager rations they had salvaged from their ship. One group of survivors made the mistake of opening a can of Spam—but before they could taste it, the scent of the meat drew a swarm of sharks around them. They got rid of their meat rations rather than risk a second swarming.
The sharks fed for days, with no sign of rescue for the men.
Navy intelligence had intercepted a message from the Japanese submarine that had torpedoed the Indianapolis describing how it had sunk an American battleship along the Indianapolis’ route, but the message was disregarded as a trick to lure American rescue boats into an ambush.
In the meantime, the Indianapolis survivors learned that they had the best odds in a group, and ideally in the center of the group. The men on the margins or, worse, alone, were the most susceptible to the sharks.