Members of the Goulburn Roundhouse Preservation Society are preparing to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of two local railwaymen in a horrific rail accident near Binalong.
Retired engine driver David Stevenson said members were funding bronze plaques for the graves of Lancelot Hermann and Samuel Hermann who died in what he described as a "one in a million" type accident between Binalong and Galong. The plaques will be laid on their gravestones at Goulburn Lawn Cemetery next month. There are no known descendants.
Rail author, Trevor Edmonds, wrote the following account of that fateful day based on historical records.
One hundred years ago a pick-up goods train left Goulburn at 1:30pm every day except Sunday and travelled to Harden. Pick-ups were slow trains that were required to pick-up and drop-off wagons and parcels at each station. Despite covering only 100 miles (160km), the train was not scheduled to reach Harden until 10:56pm.
On Saturday, September 25, 1920 the train was crewed by driver Lancelot Herrmann, fireman Albert Taylor and guard Samuel Derbyshire. The trip was uneventful until the train arrived at Goondah at 7:04pm.
Guard Derbyshire noticed the driver and fireman seemed to have a problem and went to investigate. He found Herrmann and Taylor trying to fix the coupling between the locomotive and its tender. A tender is coupled to a steam locomotive and carries the water and coal supply.
Derbyshire held the lamp to assist the repairs. The timetable allowed 20 minutes for shunting at Goondah. There was no shunting required at the time, so the train was able to depart a few minutes early despite the repairs.
The train was more then 10 minutes ahead of the timetable when it reached Binalong where 54 minutes was allowed for shunting and filling the tender with water. Herrmann and Taylor still had problems with the tender coupling and made further repairs.
While there, Herrmann sent a message to the depot at Harden advising that the locomotive would require attention at the end of the trip, but he was confident that the temporary repairs would get the train to Harden. With no shunting again required, the train was still well ahead of the timetable when it left Binalong.
After crossing Binalong Creek, the train began to climb the hill between Binalong and Galong. About half way up the climb the train came to a sudden halt. In his van at the rear of the train, Guard Derbyshire noted the gauge showing the pressure in the brake line that ran the length of the train had dropped to zero. The drop in pressure had caused the brakes to come on. The sound of the locomotive surging forward confirmed to Derbyshire that the loss of air pressure was due to a breakaway.
Derbyshire applied the handbrake on the guard's van. He climbed down to the ground and applied the handbrakes on the next two wagons.
He then noticed something in the moonlight on the tracks about 10 yards behind the guard's van. It was the badly mutilated body of Fireman Taylor. The coupling between the locomotive and tender had failed, with the fireman probably directly above. Taylor had fallen and had been run over by the train.
Securing the train was now essential. Derbyshire returned to the train and put on the remaining handbrakes and applied other safety measures. No-one was home at the nearby gatekeeper's cottage, so he set off towards Binalong Station. He then found Driver Herrmann, apparently dead, beside the line. By the time Derbyshire reached Binalong, the locomotive had reached Galong.
Guard Samuel Derbyshire had done all that was expected of him following the accident, but soon broke down...Trevor Edmonds
Albert Drinkwater, who had arrived at Galong as the guard of the Boorowa mixed train, noticed a locomotive slowly approaching Galong without either a driver or a tender. As it passed him, he stepped onto the footplate and bought it under control.
Meanwhile, a doctor had arrived at the accident site and determined that Taylor had died immediately. Herrmann still had a flicker of life but died before he could be evacuated.
Young lives lost to families
Lancelot Jacob Herrmann was born in 1891 and joined the railways in 1910. He was appointed a fireman in 1912 and to driver in 1918. Herrmann was married with two children aged six and four.
Albert Edward Taylor was born in 1888. He joined the railways in 1909 and was appointed as a fireman in 1912. Taylor was married with children aged seven and five.
Their funerals were held on September 27, with the processions joining on the way to the Goulburn General Cemetery where Herrmann and Taylor were buried in adjoining graves. The local community organised social events to raise money for the families. The railway's workers compensation scheme made payments of £500 to both families, which was about two years' wages at the time.
Guard Samuel Derbyshire had done all that was expected of him following the accident, but soon broke down and could not give an account of the accident prior to appearing at the coronial inquest on September 28. He was still badly affected. The railways placed him on paid leave. Derbyshire continued his railway career, retiring as a special class guard in 1948.
- With thanks to Stephen Halgren for his story Strange Railway Accident in Byways of Steam 19 (Eveleigh Press 2002).
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