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One of the saddest stories I learnt about many years ago, when studying my family history, was the tragic death of my great-uncle Patrick MULVENNA. In 1913 he left the family farm in Gowkstown, Glenarm, Co. Antrim to emigrate to Canada. On Wednesday 25 June 1913 the train carrying Patrick and hundreds of other immigrants across Canada derailed near Ottawa. Two of the nine carriages plunged into the Ottawa River – unfortunately Patrick must have been on-board one of these coaches and didn’t survive the accident.
I recently documented this train disaster on gendisasters.com and the Wikipedia page on train disasters. At that time my knowledge of the accident was based on limited coverage in the Irish News and a small article in the New York Times. Since most of the immigrants on train were Scottish, while in Edinburgh I recently checked out the coverage of the accident in the Scottish national newspapers: the Glasgow Herald and the Scotsman. Credit to the Glasgow Herald, they somehow managed to have a correspondent on the scene by the Thursday with detailed coverage in the Friday edition. The Scotsman on the other hand seemed to be relying on second hand reports coming from Reuters.
I note with interest that the Glasgow newspaper struggles with the spelling of MULVENNA – quoting variants MULVANEY and MULVEENA. It always puzzles me why people struggle to pronounce or spell my surname – okay it is slightly unusual outside of Belfast and Co. Antrim, but if you see it written down, it is pronounced as it is written, but invariably in my experience people all over Ireland and the UK are keen either to add a “Y” to the end or lengthen the “E” vowel sound. Indeed each of my three children have suffered the MULVEENA corruption quite recently: Aidan got it printed on his FAI Summer Soccer schools shirt, Eoghan had it printed in the Edinburgh Guitar School Ensemble programme and Maria had her name announced thus at a recent Gymnastics competition.
I don’t mind when people use the McILVENNA variant as that was traditionally interchangeable with MULVENNA and represents some sort of collective linguistic memory as McILVENNA means Mac Giolla Mheana – son of a follower of Meana and O’MULVENNA means Ó Maoil Mheana – descended from a devotee of Meana.
Curiously I noticed that the broadsheets of that time featured lots of classified adverts on the front pages, no photographs anywere – market news, local news and national news were kept well to the inside pages with world news appearing on page 9. Adverts for passage by boat for prospective emigrants featured in great number throughout.
Below I have transcribed three days of Glasgow Herald coverage in full. It would be great to hear from any Canadian local historians or railway historians or others whose family history is touched by this tragedy.
The Glasgow Herald – Thursday, June 26, 1913
SCOTTISH EMIGRANTS IN A COLLISION
RAILWAY DISASTER IN CANADA
15 KILLED AND 20 INJURED
EIGHT BODIES RECOVERED
Disaster overtook an immigrant train near Ottawa this afternoon, where according to a late
message from the capital, 15 persons lost their lives as a result of four coaches
being derailed. Details are as yet meagre, but it is stated that the coaches left the rails while the train was approaching Ottawa, and crashed over an embankment. The coaches were well filled, as the train was a special conveying immigrants, who only landed from the Allan Liner Pretorian yesterday. The Pretorian brought many Scottish immigrants from the Clyde and it is feared that some of them are among the victims. At present 15 bodies have been recovered, and a score of passengers received injuries of a more or less serious nature. None of the bodies have been identified at the time of cabling. -Special Telegram.
RECOVERING THE BODIES
NEW YORK, Wednesday
A telegram from Ottawa says that 15 persons are stated to have been killed in an accident to the Western express of the Canadian Pacific Railway. four carriages fell down an embankment into the Ottawa river. The train was heavily laden with immigrants, mainly Scottish, who had recently arrived in this country to take up farming. The bodies of four men, three women and a baby were taken from one car which was in the river. -Reuter
The west-bound Imperial Limited Canadian Pacific express was derailed four miles from here this evening. Eight persons were killed and 50 injured, the casualties mostly being among labourers who were repairing the track at the place of the accident. -Reuter
GLASGOW MAN KILLED
A “Daily Mail” telegram says that the identified dead include James Moody, of Glasgow.
THE PRETORIAN’S PASSENGERS
The Allan liner Pretorian sailed from Glasgow on Saturday, June 14, carrying 195 second and 153 third-class passengers and she embarked at Moville 30 second-class and 259 third-class. The vessel arrived at Quebec on Tuesday of this week, and after discharging her Quebec passengers proceeded to Montreal.
The Glasgow Herald – Friday, June 27, 1913
CANADIAN TRAIN DISASTER
EIGHT KILLED, FIFTY INJURED
CARRIAGES IN THE RIVER
From our correspondent, OTTAWA, Thursday
I have just returned from the scene of the fatal railway accident near Lake Dechenes (?) about three miles west of this city. The first reports as to the number of dead proved to have been rather exaggerated, but the casualty toll as now completed is sufficiently appalling. eight people lost their lives and 50 were injured, though fortunately the majority of the latter cases were not of a serious character. Among the dead are three former residents of Glasgow, while nearly a dozen Glaswegians received injuries.
The following is a list of Glasgow casualties:-
- Mr John HOGG, who arrived by the Hesperian en route for Calgary, age about 30. Mr HOGG is believed to be a Derry man by birth
- Mrs Jane McNEILLS, aged 40
- John PEASE (? PEACE), age 21
- Among the wounded is Mr James McNEILLS, husband of the above-mentioned woman, whose injuries are so serious that he is not expected to recover.
- Miss Christina McKEEVER received serous injuries and of the others
- Robert and Maggie McNEELY (? McNEILLS) are badly bruised
- Mr George STEWART is suffering from scalp wounds.
- Mr Alex MUNROE, injuries to the head.
- Mr Robert ALLAN, injuries to the legs.
- Mr Edward SHARP, burised arm and head.
Other Scottish casualties are:-
- Mr John WORDIE (? MOODIE), of Sanday Island, Orkney
- John RANDALL, of Kirkwall, Orkney who is suffering from a broken leg and serious bodily injuries.
There were several Irish casualties of whom Mr Patrick MULVANEY (? MULVEENA) aged about 30, of Ballymena, County Antrim, is among the dead, and Thomas PHILLIPS and Annie WOODS are so seriously injured that little hopes are entertained for their recovery. The two last mentioned are stated to have come from Ireland although they embarked on the Pretorian on the Clyde. Thomas FITZPATRICK, Michael CORAN, Patrick O’REILLEY, and George CLANCY, all from Ireland, were also among the injured, although their hurts are not of a serious nature.
STORY OF THE ACCIDENT
The uninjured passengers are being sent on to their destination by special train tonight, but I was able to have a chat with several of them and to obtain details of the disaster. All are greatly shocked as it was a heavy party that started for the West, full of plans and hopes for the future – plans and hopes which were to be dissipated in the case of the victims before they had covered a fourth of their journey. The train, which is known as the “Western Limited,” was crowded with immigrants, and consisted of a locomotive and nine coaches. All went well until approaching Ottawa the train had to cross the six-foot embankment running alongside the Ottawa River. Suddenly and without warning the rails warped owing to the excessive heat, and five cars plunged down the embankment. The locomotive and the three leading cars passed safely over the spot, but the fourth and fifth cars were hurled into the river, while the sixth and seventh hung over the side of the embankment, being stopped by the preceding cars. Only the parlour car of the rear carriages remained on the line. The train contained many Galician, Russian and Polish immigrants and these people became panic-stricken the moment the shock occurred and made a wild scramble for safety. The British immigrants, however, never lost their heads, and immediately proceeded to restore order and organise rescue work. From these sturdy travellers I learned that seven of the dead must have been killed outright, while one had evidently been drowned before he could make his escape. All were in the fourth coach, which was the first to plunge down the embankment and which turned completely round twice in its descent. The next coach turned round once, but neither of the them was completely submerged, otherwise the death-toll must have been far heavier.
I was fortunate enough to find Mr Angus GORDON, of Castlehill, Lanarkshire, who had been travelling in the fourth coach and who had a miraculous escape. He told me:-
“I was crossing from the fourth to the fifth car at the moment we left the rails, and as the coaches plunged down the embankment I was thrown head first into the river, but fortunately clear of the falling coaches. I must have been thrown quite 60 feet, but I swam and waded my way to the bank, amazed and thankful to find myself absolutely uninjured. Of course I turned in with the others and did what I could to extricate my less fortunate companions. It was a marvellous escape, for had I not suddenly made up my mind to go into the next car to speak to a friend I should probably have perished with the others.”
Mr Thomas WALLIS, a Glasgow man, who was bound for Edmonton, Alberta, was another who had a remarkable escape. Less fortunate than Mr GORDON, he was still in the fourth coach when it left the rails and he says that the next thing that he knew was that he was up to his waist in water and that injured travelling companions were shouting for help. He was near several of the dead men, but seeing that he could do nothing for them he made his escape by breaking one of the carriage windows and diving into the river. He swam clear of the wreck, and was able to get to land only a few bruises the worse for his exciting experience.
Mr GORDON and Mr WALLIS modestly disclaim any leading part in the relief work, declaring that they merely did their share, but I learned from other passengers and helpers that the Scottish immigrants displayed splendid courage and resource, and that but for them the casualties would have been heavier. Three Scotsmen, whom unfortunately I have been unable to identify, quickly restored order among the terrified aliens and drove them down the embankment, where they set them to work extricating the stunned and injured passengers. I am told that they worked like heroes and that their efforts undoubtedly saved many lives and prevented further cases of injury. Fully a dozen passengers in the two coaches that went into the river were stunned by the shock and but for the ready-witted Scotsmen would have been in great danger of drowning. The place where the accident occurred is quite near a popular summer suburb of Ottawa and the line is partly under repair. Several workmen who had stepped aside to allow the train to pass immediately ran to the assistance of the victims and sent messages to Ottawa for help. Doctors and nurses were quickly obtained, and were rushed to the scene, while a number of wealthy residents of the locality, learning of the disaster, hastened up in their motor cars, which they turned into temporary ambulances, and carried the worst cases to the hospitals. When medical assistance arrived most of the injured were treated on the spot. Those with minor hurts were given first aid and carried or guided to hospitals or temporary rest-houses by the residents. The rescued passengers speak in high praise of the railway officials, who displayed commendable promptitude and activity. Government railway experts immediately made an inspection of the track, and will testify at the inquest, which will be held tomorrow, but I understand that they are satisfied that the “spreading” of the rails was due to the extreme heat.
Inquiries late this afternoon show that a woman and a boy and a six months old baby who are among the dead have not yet been identified, though from articles in the boy’s pocket it is believed that he also hailed from Glasgow. Those patients now in hospital are progressing as favourably as can be expected, with the exceptions of the more serious cases, which show no change. -Special Message.
The Allan Line received at their Glasgow office yesterday a cablegram from their representative at Ottawa giving the following list of killed and injured:-
- Patrick MULVANEY
- John HOGG
- Mrs J. McNEILLS
- Mrs BUNTING and infant
- John PEARCE
The four first-named embarked on the Pretorian at Londonderry.
- Thomas PHILLIPS
- James McNEILLS
- Mrs Annie WOODS
- Alexander GRAY
The three first-named also embarked at Londonderry. James McNEILLS is 14 years of age. It is believed that Alexander GRAY is one of the passengers who embarked on the Pretorian at Glasgow.
The cablegram adds that 40 others received minor injuries.
On inquiry at the Allan Line office last night it was ascertained that the name of PEARCE, which is in the list of killed, does not appear among the Pretorian’s passengers. A young man name PEACE, who resided at Temple, left Glasgow by the vessel. It is pointed out, however, that the train carried passengers other than those landed from the Pretorian, and it is regarded as possible that among these there may have been a person named PEARCE.
AN OFFICIAL REPORT
The London office of the Canadian Pacific Railway has received a cable from the head office of the company in Montreal stating that in the accident which occurred to the West-bound express on Wednesday afternoon 3 miles west of Ottawa, John HOGG, ex s.s.Hesperian, passenger from Scotland to Calgary; Patrick MULVENNA, of Ballymena, Ireland, ex s.s. Pretorian; and John MOODIE, passenger from Scotland to Winnipeg, ex s.s. Pretorian, were killed, while John RANDALL, of Kirkwall, sustained a broken leg.
OVER THE EMBANKMENT
The train was heavily loaded with immigrants proceeding to Winnipeg and other Western points. Four miles from Ottawa the rails spread as the train was crossing an embankment close to the Ottawa River. The locomotive and three cars passed safely but the five succeeding cars left the track, two being completely overturned into the river. The parlour car in the rear, however, remained on the rails.
Relief was promptly afforded by the passengers in the latter and by the residents in the neighbourhood, which is a suburban summer resort. Doctors hurried to the scene in motor cars, and the wounded were received in the city hospitals.
The casualties were mostly in the two cars which were partly submerged. Some of the passengers were released by the employees on the train through the uppermost windows, and others were taken from the water. The number of injured is probably 50, not more than 10 of whom are seriously hurt. The uninjured passengers will be sent on to their destination tonight by special train. -Reuter
The Glasgow Herald – Saturday, June 28, 1913
THE TRAIN DISASTER IN CANADA
INQUEST AT OTTAWA
FURTHER LIST OF INJURED
An inquest was opened here today on the eight victims of Wednesday’s Canadian Pacific Railway disaster near here, and the evidence showed that the derailment of the carriages was due to the expansion of the rails through the extreme heat. The engine-driver and the railway officials were exonerated from neglect or carelessness. The wrecked cars have now been raised from the river and no more bodies have been found, so that yesterday’s total of eight dead may be regarded as accurate. All the injured who were detained in the hospitals here are progressing favourably with the exception of Robert McNEILY, a Glasgow man, who was badly bruised and shaken. -Special Telegram.
THE CASUALTY LIST
Reuter’s Agency has received the following cable from the European manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Montreal, giving the list of injured in the Canadian Pacific Railway accident, which occurred on Wednesday afternoon three miles west of Ottawa.
The following were from Scotland:-
- Mrs Mable CROMBIE and child, Brora, Montrose.
- Elizabeth and Florence STRACHAN, Montrose.
- Mrs Robert McCALLUM and children, Greenock.
- Edward SHARP, Glasgow.
- George STEWART, Glasgow.
- Alex. MUNRO, Glasgow.
- William PRINGLE, Edinburgh.
- Angus GUNS, Castleton.
- James CALDER, Caithness.
- Alexander GRAY, Cambuslang.
- Corstella SMITH, Aberdeen.
- Thomas WALLACE, Wishaw.
- David DONALDSON (no address), Scotland.
- Henry Gardiner (no address), Scotland.
- John RANDALL, Orkney Islands.
The following are only slightly injured (all from Ireland):-
- Christina McKEEVER
- Jemima PORTER
- Mrs Annie WOODS
- Head QUINLAN
- John FRIEL
- Arthur BRADY
- Mary WOODS
- James WALLRUGHI
- John Scott MARTIN
- Henry SMITH (all of Ireland)
- John DONNELLY, Glenarm
- Pat RILEY, Cavan
- Thos. FITZPATRICK, Cavan
- Fred McBRIDE, Donegal
- Pat DEVINE, Donegal
- Robert ALLAN, Antrim
- George FRANCEY, Antrim
- Lizzie DUNBAR, Belfast
- Robert McMURTREY, Londonderry
- Robert KAYES, Tyrone
Most passengers continued the journey. Others doing well.
The persons who were injured in the wreck of the Canadian Pacific express on Wednesday are progressing favourably. The woman who was reported among the killed as being Mrs Fred Bunting of Winnipeg, has been identified as Mrs McLURE of Antrim, whose grandchildren, John, aged five years and Matilda and infant, were also killed. -Reuter
A cablegram has been received at the Allan Line office in Glasgow stating that the name of Mrs BUNTING and infant have been erroneously included in the list of Pretorian passengers who were killed. It is further reported that Mrs McCLURE, Londonderry, and two grandchildren are among the dead.