Charles Dickens and the Staplehurst Rail Crash.

 

The Staplehurst rail crash was a derailment at Staplehurst, Kent on 9 June 1865 at 3:13 pm. The South Eastern Railway Folkestone to London boat train derailed while crossing a viaduct where a length of track had been removed during engineering works, killing ten passengers and injuring forty. In the Board of Trade report it was found that a man had been placed with a red flag 554 yards (507 m) away but the regulations required him to be 1,000 yards (910 m) away and the train had insufficient time to stop.

The writer Charles Dickens was travelling with Ellen Ternan and her mother on the train; they all survived the derailment. He tended the victims, some of whom died while he was with them. The experience affected Dickens greatly; he lost his voice for two weeks and afterwards was nervous when travelling by train, using alternative means when available. Dickens died five years to the day after the accident; his son said that he had never fully recovered.

 

Charles Dickens involvement

Charles Dickens was travelling with Ellen Ternan and her mother in the first class carriage, which did not completely fall into the river bed and survived the derailment. He climbed out of the compartment through the window, rescued the Ternans and, with his flask of brandy and his hat full of water, tended to the victims, some of whom died while he was with them. Before he left with other survivors in an emergency train to London, he retrieved the manuscript of the episode of Our Mutual Friend that he was working on.

The experience affected Dickens greatly; he lost his voice for two weeks and he was two and a half pages short for the sixteenth episode, published in August 1865. Dickens acknowledged the incident in the novel’s postscript:

On Friday the Ninth of June in the present year, Mr and Mrs Boffin (in their manuscript dress of receiving Mr and Mrs Lammle at breakfast) were on the South-Eastern Railway with me, in a terribly destructive accident. When I had done what I could to help others, I climbed back into my carriage — nearly turned over a viaduct, and caught aslant upon the turn — to extricate the worthy couple. They were much soiled, but otherwise unhurt. […] I remember with devout thankfulness that I can never be much nearer parting company with my readers for ever than I was then, until there shall be written against my life, the two words with which I have this day closed this book: — THE END.

After the crash, Charles Dickens was nervous when travelling by train, using alternative means when available. He died five years to the day after the accident; his son said that ‘he had never fully recovered’.

 

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