Graham Trust describes the death of William Huskisson

Resource Type: Audio | Posted on 5th August 2011 by Liam Physick

Graham Trust describes, in considerable detail, the death of William Huskisson on the opening day of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Huskisson was born in 1770, and from 1790 to 1792 served at the British Embassy in Paris, becoming a protege of the the Ambassador, the Marquess of Stafford. He was an MP from 1795 to 1801, and again from 1804 until his death. He held a number of government posts (including First Commissioner of Woods and Forests), but did not enter the Cabinet until 1823, when he was appointed President of the Board of Trade in Lord Liverpool’s government: later that year, he became a LIverpool MP. At the Board of Trade, Huskisson introduced many important reforms leading towards free trade, and also legalised trade unions (though he also forbade them to “obstruct” or “intimidate”, thus in effect banning strikes). When Lord Liverpool resigned through ill health in 1827, Huskisson was one of those Tories who joined the government of his successor, George Canning (many others, including the Duke of Wellington, refused to serve as Canning supported Catholic Emancipation) in a coalition with some Whigs. Canning died after only four months in office, and his successor, Lord Goderich, appointed Huskisson Secretary for the Colonies and Leader of the House of Commons (an important position when the Prime Minister was a peer). However, Goderich resigned in January 1828, having never appeared in Parliament as Prime Minister, and Wellington succeeded him. The Canningites, including Huskisson, remained in government, Huskisson retaining his Colonial Secretaryship (but not the Leadership of the Commons, which went to Sir Robert Peel), but resigned four months later in a dispute over parliamentary reform (hence Huskisson’s fatal attempt at reconciliation with Wellington on the day of his death). The Canningites (who included Lord Palmerston and Lord Melbourne) later joined the Whigs, and Huskisson would have probably done the same if he had lived

Interviewee: Graham Trust

Interviewee Gender: Male

Date of Interview: 16th November 2010

Interview Transcript

Graham: the name of Huskisson will forever be associated with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway . . .

Jenny: Yeah.

Graham: . . . he, unfortunately, was killed on, on that opening day and, some of the histories, I, I, I’ve, I read portray Huskisson as a doddering old fool . . .

Jenny: Clumsy, yeah.

Graham . . . and he certainly, yeah, he certainly wasn’t that. He, he was one of the, he was acknowledged as one of the finest politicians of his day, and he was, he was, he was a [sic] economist and financial wiz, what happened . . .

Jenny: Was he, did he, did he gain the respect of Liverpool people?

Graham: He, he certainly had the respect of Moss. I, I don’t really, I don’t know the answer to that question . . .

Jenny: Yeah, yeah.

Graham: But he . . .  you see, the Liverpool people didn’t vote . . .

Jenny: Yeah.

Graham: . . . very few people were eligible to vote, so he, he would certainly have gained respect of the few people who were, who were eligible to vote, and, and if he was to do anything it would be for them, not for all of his constituency, he was doing it for . . .  sorry, he would be doing it for his constituents, but those constituents wouldn’t be the general populace of Liverpool . . .

Jenny: Yes.

Graham: . . those were, those were very different times to what we have now, but . . .

Jenny: So what was, you say . . . Moss, well what was Moss and Huskisson’s relationship like?

Graham: I, well, I don’t think it was particularly close, there were several times in the correspondence where Moss says slightly disparaging things about Huskisson and when he, when he was succeeded by Lord . . . Sandford I think his name was, Lord Sandon succeeded Huskisson, he, Moss, expressed the opinion that, he far preferred . . .

Jenny: Sandon.

Graham: . . . Sandon’s politics to Huskisson’s, having said that he did, a few months before the opening of the Railway, he did visit Huskisson in hospital, and . . .

Jenny: Unrelated, obviously, yeah?

Graham: . . . it was unrelated, yeah . . . Huskisson was unwell, he had, in fairness he, he was in frail health, and he made even frailer by the doctors at the time bleeding him . . .

Jenny: Oh, right.

Graham: . . . thinking as, as they did in those days, that there was bad blood, and this needed to be drained out of him, it was, it was absolute nonsense in medical terms, as we know now, but, yeah, Huskisson, Huskisson’s demise was caused in . . . to a large degree by the poor design of the Railway, and what, what happened was that the, the, the engines set off from Edge Hill on the way to Manchester, and it was agreed that halfway down the Railway, they would stop at a place called Parkside, where there were great reservoirs of water – the engines would take on water – the reservoirs were situated if, if we’re travelling from here to Manchester, they were situated on the left-hand side of the track, but very close to the track, so that people couldn’t have got out of, of that side, you know, the, the reservoir side cos they would fall into water, they only way they could get out, which they were told not to, in no uncertain terms by the directors, verbally and in writing, was to alight from the, the train in between the tracks, the two tracks . . .

Jenny: Right, yeah.

Graham: . . . Unfortunately, there was only a four foot eight inch gap between the two tracks and (coughs) what happened is, a number of people got out of the Northumbrian’s carriage, amongst them . . .

Jenny: Huskisson.

Graham: . . . Huskisson, and Huskisson, on seeing the Duke of Wellington went up, up to his carriage to try and talk to him . . . or he was on his way to talk to him, when the Rocket locomotive, driven by a gentleman, a great engineer, not too many people know of, Joseph Locke, and the people scattered and they dived back onto the Northumbrian. Huskisson, who was in, in ill health and somewhat frail, made a grab for the open door of the Northumbrian . . . or one of the carriages of the Northumbrian, and it swung into the path of the Rocket, Huskisson lost his footing and fell on to the railway track, and I can quote . .  . which has never been quoted for, before, from a letter from Robertson Gladstone, who was the son of John Gladstone, and John Gladstone was the father of William Ewart Gladstone, but . . .

Jenny: He was on the Northumbrian?

Graham: He was on the Northumbrian, he witnessed this and he, he says (coughs) . . . so, Robertson saw Huskisson walking along to the coach in which his wife sat, and when the Duke of Wellington, observing him, put out his arm to shake hands with him, at this moment, the Rocket engine, driven by Joseph Locke, approached on the opposite rail to go to the reservoir, “the sides of the Duke’s car projected very much over the sides of the Railway, leaving but little room for the engine to pass without touching Mr. Huskisson. Several voices called out to him to get out of the way, but he was either nervous or from weakness, in trying to get into the car again, the door opened the wrong way, he fell and, seeing the engine running, he tried to throw himself before it, so as to allow it to pass over him (coughs), and in doing this, his leg, the only part of his body not clear of the Railway, was run over by one or two wheels, either more than enough to cause such a fracture, which literally fractured the bone from the arch with the thigh to the knee, where it joins the body. He was immediately raised by one of the constables standing near him, but he uttered, ‘God forgive me, I’m a dead man, I can never outlive this.’ ” Well. . .

Jenny: Terrible accident . . .

Graham: . . . it was horrendous. I know from somebody I, I knew from school, who committed suicide by . . . well, anyway . . . (cough)

Jenny: (inaudible)

Graham: There’s a perception that, if you were to throw yourself under a train it will cut you in half, and it’s all and it’s all neat, but it’s not, you just get all mangled, and that is what happened to poor Huskisson . . .

Jenny: . . . happened to him . . .

Graham:. . . and he, he actually died at nine o’clock that night, and he was spent. . .

Jenny: But he got back on the train, which it . . . always it, you know, surprises me that, you know, they didn’t, sort of, treat him there, you know, I thought, I though he got back on the train and was willing to go to Manchester but, no . . .

Graham: He was placed on the, on that train and, and, the, Stephenson sped away to Eccles, which is somewhere nearer Manchester and Huskisson was deposited at the house of the Reverend Blackburn in Eccles, Stephenson then dashed at speeds exceeding 30 miles an hour, which was incredible for the time, to Manchester, picked up a, a team of surgeons, and flogged back to . . .

Jenny: On the railway?

Graham: On the railway, and, well, it caused a lot of confusion at Manchester, cos the Mancunians thought this is the . . .

Jenny: Yeah.

Graham: . . . the first of the trains, you know (simulates cheering), but it wasn’t, he sped in, picked up the team of surgeons, and sped back to . . .

Jenny: . . . the Reverend Black . . .

Graham: Eccles . . .

Jenny: Yeah, yeah.

Graham: The surgeons decided that they wouldn’t operate on Huskisson, they, they administered opium, or laudanum, and essentially told . . . well, they did, they told Huskisson, he was gonna die, and he asked, “How long have I got?”, and they said, “Five, six hours”, and when I, when I . . . this is from the Liverpool Times . . . and I, I remember when I first read it, I, I actually wept (Jenny laughs), I’ve only, I’ve only got a very small quote from that article here . . .

Jenny: Yeah.

Graham: . . . but I, because I thought I, I need to keep . . .

Jenny: Yeah.

Graham: . . . to keep it down, but with, at the most, six hours to live, Huskisson began preparation for meeting his maker. Then, after warmly thanking the surgeons, and this is the quote from, from the, from the Liverpool Times . . .

Jenny: . . . from the article . . .

Graham: “He took an affectionate leave of the sorrowing, sorrowing friends who surrounded (struggles) . . .” I’ll start again, “He took an affectionate leave of the sorrowing friends who surrounded his bedside, and a most tender farewell of his devoted wife, and, precisely at nine o’clock, expired.” Yeah, so, yeah . . .

Jenny: Yeah . . .

Graham: . . . and (coughs) . . . but . . . yeah.

Jenny: I think it’s, it’s a legacy that the railways did as successfully as they did to, to this man, you know, he was, he was one of the principal, you know, he was a member of the board, he really helped it, sort if . . .

Graham: (quietly) Yeah.

Jenny: . . . come off the ground, and it was a huge success.

Tagged under: edge hill station, liverpool and manchester railway, rocket, george stephenson, william huskisson, northumbrian, train, parkside station, john moss, duke of wellington

Categorised under: The Station & Railway Pioneers

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