The Train, the Explosion, and the Parliamentarian

The Train, the Explosion, and the Parliamentarian

The year was 1890, and …

“a most painful accident, of a character unparalleled in the annals of railway accidents in this colony, if not in Australasia, occurred on the Northern line on Friday evening, Jan. 17. The terrible calamity which befel … was so sudden, and its effects so appalling, that the harrowing details were listened to with bated breath and unconcealed sorrow.”

That’s how the long article about the tragic death of well-known South Australian businessman and parliamentarian, Honorable James Garden Ramsay, M.L.C. begins.

James Ramsay was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1827, did an apprenticeship as an engineer at the St Rollox Ironworks in Glasgow, and then emigrated to South Australia in 1852. He established an agricultural implement and machine manufacturing plant at Mount Barker, which represented the starting point of what later grew into the largest business of its kind in the colony. Apart from his Mount Barker business, he opened up agricultural implement manufacturing businesses in Adelaide, Clare and Laura as there was a huge demand.

Portrait of James Garden Ramsay,[State Library of South Australia, ref: B 5622/16]

Anyway J.G. Ramsay’s interest in politics began in the 1860s, and in 1870 he entered Parliament for Mount Barker, and from then until his death he held various parliamentary positions. The article says …

“Altogether he served over five years as a Minister of the Crown. As leader of the Legislative Council he exhibited considerable tact and ability, and possessing the confidence of his fellow members, he was eminently successful in conducting the business”.

Which then brings us back to Friday evening, 17 January 1890 when James Ramsay is travelling back to Adelaide, from Saddleworth, South Australia by train. Travelling with Mr Rounsvell (a fellow M.P.), who by the time the train reached Riverton left to go to the smoking carriage, after which Mr Ramsay fell asleep while reading the newspaper. The following is the report of what happened …

“The Hon. gentleman was left by himself, and he laid down on the seat, and after reading a newspaper fell asleep. Just before the train reached Stockport he was awakened by a loud report, which proved to be the bursting of the lamp, and in an instant he was all ablaze, the burning oil falling all over him. He tried to open the door of the carriage, but was unsuccessful, and it was not until the train arrived at Stockport that he was enabled to roll on to the ground in a terrible condition. Assistance was at once procured, and he was wrapped in a rug and some bags, the flames in this way being extinguished. It was then seen that Mr. Ramsay was in a very serious condition, and that he was suffering the most acute pain. Telegrams were dispatched to Gawler and Adelaide, and at the former place the sufferer was met by Dr. Popham, who advised his being conveyed on to Adelaide.”

Badly burnt, Mr Ramsay was met at the Adelaide train station by Dr Marten, his brother John Ramsay and a waiting ambulance.

“Dr Marten found him very much collapsed, suffering greatly from the shock. He was lying on the floor of the carriage, partially covered with rags, most of his clothes being burnt off. He was at once removed int he ambulance van the Patients’ Home on South-terrace, where his wounds were dressed by Dr. Marten. He still retained consciousness, notwithstanding the effects of the shock. The extent of the injuries were then ascertained, and the sufferings of the unfortunate gentleman must have been intense. He was burnt from head to foot, the skin being taken off from all parts with the exception of the head. His beard was completely destroyed, and his eyebrows and eyelashes singed. Te skin came off the left hand like a glove, the left having suffered more than the right, the burns extending up to the armpit. The injuries were greatest about the abdomen and the arms, though the whole body was badly burnt.”

His wife who was at Mount Barker at the time, was advised of the accident on Friday evening, and made her way to the city, reaching Adelaide by 5am on Saturday morning. However, sadly due to the severity of the burns, James Garden Ramsay passed away on Saturday 18 January 1890, at about 10.30am.

He was a migrant who certainly left his mark in South Australia in business, politics and the local community where he lived. This shows simply by the number of articles written in newspapers all around Australia about his death (over 8500. Yes, seriously!!).

Thanks to Trove, you can read the FULL article about the accident from the report in the Adelaide Observer, Saturday 25 January 1890, click here, and for further information, click on the links below.

More information:
James Garden Ramsay on Wikipedia
Read the Adelaide Observer article in full here
You can find details of the inquest here
His obituary is printed in the South Australian Register here
And for odles more articles on his death click here

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