Train Wreck at Ongarue 6 July 1923 :: Genealogy
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Train Wreck at Ongarue 6 July 1923

Journal by ngairedith

The Train Wreck at Ongarue
On 6 July 1923, at 05:52, 17 people died in a train crash at Ōngarue near Taumarunui. This stands today as the country’s third most deadly rail disaster. The worst in terms of loss of life was the 1953 Tangiwai Disaster which killed 151 people. Ten years before 21 people died in a crash at Hyde.

Eleven passengers were killed outright, and another two died either en route to Taumarunui Hospital or shortly after arrival there. Four others subsequently died.

The southbound Auckland to Wellington train, containing approx 200 passengers, was actually travelling very slowly when it ploughed into a slip on a blind corner one early morning at Ōngarue. The impact was such that some passengers didn’t even get a fright. Those in three wooden carriages which telescoped into one another were not so fortunate. Detective John Walsh who was travelling in one of the unharmed carriages did not think there was a problem until a call went out for doctors, and even then he alighted expecting to find people with minor wounds. Instead he found a scene of carnage with some carriages completely derailed, and gas seeping into those that had telescoped.

The rescuers later found themselves under attack for irreverent treatment of the dead. There were also reports of civilians roaming round freely searching the bodies. Police and doctors hotly denied these charges. They said their immediate focus was on the living not the dead, so some bodies weren’t attended to immediately. They categorically denied the charge regarding civilians.

The story can be read in these links:
A TRAGIC STORY what daylight revealed




Manawatu Times, 7 July 1923
* Thomas John BILLING[/color], aged 75, retired farmer living in Hine St., New Plymouth. Left one dependent daughter. Identified by his son Francis Henry Billings, who last saw him at Christmas. Thomas married Emma Jane McKay (1861-1914) in 1880 and had 7 children (6 sons)
* James Joseph BRADY, Woodville aged 27. Born 1896 at Oroua Downs, 1 of 8 children of Patrick Brady & Catherine Tonner. He served for 4 years, twice wounded at Messines and returned to the front with the 17th. He was on his way to Woodville to visit his sister and parents. His sister, not knowing of the disaster waited at Palmerston North station for him
* Maurice John CONNOR, aged 37, well-known footballer, store-keeper of Rakaumui, from Pahiatua. Originally thought to be named Cameron, he was identified by a cheque book on his body. He was a married man. He had been visiting his relatives in Rotorua and told his wife he would be back on Friday. His wife identified the body
* Laurence Watson 'Poll' CURRIE, aged 17, Union Street, Auckland, died on rescue train. Well known amateur boxer and brass finisher by occupation. He and Tommy Collins (on injured list) were on there way to take part in a boxing bout at Taumarunui. Identified by his brother Herbert Garfield Currie (1890-1961). They were 2 of 13 children of Edward Currie & Mary Elizabeth Pratt
* Andrew McGregor GRANT, Police Constable & Maori linguist aged 56. Owned a store at Te Whaiti, Rotorua, both legs broken. He was the only white man at Te Whaiti and was well known by visitors because it was at his place that anyone there for trout fishing would stay. He was a son of Donald Grant & Helen McGregor. He married Te Wehi Paerangi Hikanui in 1900. He was highly esteemed by many high Government officials from the time of Mr Seddon on, who had gladly accepted his service as guide and philosopher on matters pertaining to the 'wild country' between Te Whaiti and Waikaremoana. He had considerable 'mana' among the Maori of the Urewera. Andrew was on his way south to visit his dying father, Donald (1837-1923) in Wakouaiti, near Dunedin, who, unknowns to Andrew had died a few hours previously
* Horace Greenwood HUNT, Te Kauwhata, aged 37, died on the rescue train from a fractured skull
* William LEAR, married man aged 27. He was a recent arrival in New Zealand and was staying at Northcote with his brother-in-law, Mr J. White, Waimana Ave., Northcote, Auckland. William was a ship's cook and during the war he was torpedoed three times. He was a cook on the Richardson steamer Putiki. He was on his way to Wellington to meet his wife who was returning at daybreak the next day by the Athenic from England. He had a week's leave from his ship for that reason. He married Bertha Harriet Jones in 1900
* Charles Campbell MAYNE, aged 21, a farmer employed by Mr W. G. Stead of Morrinsville. He was 1 of 3 sons of Thomas Mayne (1854-1951) of Riccarton, a retired police constable, well known in all parts of NZ and of Catherine 'Kate' Rabbett (1870-1946)
* David McCOMBS, had been in business as a tailor in Rotorua. He was about 52, a married man with a family of six aged 10 to 25
* Ursula May McDONALD, aged 39, of 25 Arcadia Road, Epsom, Auckland. She was born in Auckland, 1 of 13 children of Antonio Francis O'Buglien (1838-1898, from Croatia) & Mary Dore (1850-1932) who at the time lived at Commercial road, Archhill. She married William Alexander Samuel George Donald (1879-1950) in 1920, tramway conductor of Arcadia road, Epsom. She was on her way to Taumarunui to see her brother-in-law, who was seriously ill. She had no children
* Benjamin MEARS, Mahirakau, badly burned by the flames from the gas-container under the carriage he was in, died in the hospital. He was a married man with a family and a was sawmiller living at Mahirakau, on the Ohura branch railway line
* George MORGAN, saddler, aged 36 of Palmerston North. Born in Gisborne, the 7th of 9 children of the late Hon. William Morgan & Louisa Rhoda Brown. He was a single man returning from a business trip in Auckland and had been living in Palmerston North with his sister Mrs Kathleen Henry at Carow street for many years. He was well-known in Shannon having been in charge of Mr Wallace John Bruce Jolly's saddlery business in Ballance street. He had 4 sisters, Kathleen (Mrs James Norman Henry, Palmerston North), Elizabeth, (Mrs Thomas Alexander Nicoll, Napier), Misses Louisa and Norah Morgan (Wellington) and 2 brothers, Andrew Morgan (Tokomaru) and Henry Morgan (Wanganui). He is buried Plot 19, Block 34 at Terrace End Cemetery
* Charles Howard PAYNTER, aged 56. Originally a carpenter, he had been farming at Waihou, near Te Aroha and had been working on the electrical extension scheme at Horahora. He was on his way to New Plymouth where he was to start work with the New Plymouth Harbour Board. He was 1 of 10 children of William Paynter (1840-1924), a Maori war veteran and a retired farmer living in Courtenay Street, New Plymouth & of Elizabeth Ann Matthews (1843-1926). Charles married Margaret Moolehouse (1872-1937) in 1893 and had 2 sons and a daughter
* William George PETSCHUKET, a native of Auckland, aged 22, an orphan, single, no relatives. Educated at the Dilworth Institute. He was a son of Henry George Petschuket (1853-1914) & Elizabeth Rudd (1871-1910). He had a sister who lived for only 4 hours in 1910, his mother dying 3 months later. He was a young man of great promise and was held in high esteem by his employer and many friends. He was identified by Arthur William Hall who worked with him on the farm, at Papatoetoe, of Mr William Arthur Hall. He was on his way south for a holiday with Norman Waters, another victim
* Allan Gordon SAXBY, surveyor of Clyde Road, aged 47, Napier. Born in Hawkes Bay, 1 of 6 sons of Gordon Harding Saxby (), manager of the St Laurence station at Patangata and of Katherine Greenwood, he was educated at Napier Boys High and at Wanganui College. He was employed for some time at Williams and Kettle, leaving that firm to learn surveying with Kennedy Bros. He then entered into partnership with Mr W. E. Griffin as land and estate agents and surveyors. On Mr Griffins death he continued the business on his own account as a surveyor. He was keenly interested in football, rowing and all sport. He married Agnes Christina MacFarlane in 1908 and had 4 children
* Henry Thomas WARD, well-known accountant of Christchurch, was in the employ of the Union Steam Ship Company for several years in Dunedin. Later he held the position of secretary to Messrs McClatchie and Co., coal merchants of Christchurch. He had just relinquished that position and was contemplating going into business for himself in Christchurch. He had just been on a holiday to Australia and returned by the 'Manuka; that week. He stayed for a couple of days with friends at Lawrence St., Ponsonby and left to return to Christchurch by this train. Married man, aged 44, with 4 children aged 5 to 17. Body identified by Thomas Burtenshaw. Henry married Isabella Rutherford Lean (1883-1965) in 1905 and had 1 son & 3 daughters
* Norman Leslie WATERS, aged 24, returned soldier, No.77946. A single man, worked on his father's farm at Papatoetoe. Identified by Frederick Burnside. Norman was the only son, of 4 children, of Frank McIntyre Waters & Emily Teresa Hewetson. He was on his way south for a holiday with William Petschuket, another victim

The injured in Taumarunui Hospital are:-
* L. Brownlee, Te Puke, contusions and abrasions to face and right eye
* W. Campbell, fireman on the locomotive, East Tamaki, Auckland, extensive burns. Condition serious
* W. 'Tommy' Collins, Beresford Street, Newton Auckland, injuries to back and chest and fractured ribs
* Charles Dignan, Pokapo, fractured ribs and haemorrhage
* Miss Christina Gordon, Ohakune, scalded left arm, injuries to both legs
* Mrs Doris Henderson, Te Kuiti, fractured ankle. Described as the most painfully injured
* Sam Hughes, seaman, contusion to right leg and lacerated wound on forehead
* Miss Blanche Kelly, Spotswodd, Cheviot, North Canterbury, injuries to head and legs
* Harry Loake, Huntly, slight abrasions to head and hand
* G. McFarlane, Milford, Takapuna, fractured forearm and collapse
* John Morgan, fractured upper and lower jaw, contusions to face and both eyes
* John Neil, Manawaru, Te Aroha, abrasions and contusion to face and scalp and compound fracture of the left leg
* Mrs Myra Smith, Toko, Stratford, injuries to head
* A. Tyler, Martinborough, crushed hips
* William George Walker, Dannevirke, cut in head and broken ribs
* Sydney Wheeler, Palmerston North, abrasions to face, head and thighs
* A boy named ACE, fractured leg

Others injured:-
* Lawrence Billing, Rahotu, New Plymouth
* Harry Fley, Te Aroha
* Harold Shepherd, Wellington

Minor injuries were suffered by the following:-
* Howard Ashmore, Palmerston North
* G. George, Willis street, Wellington
* A. Kennedy, Palmerston North
Herbert Leach, Matiere. Was travelling with his wife in carriage C, the carriage which was telescoped at both ends. The pressman was surprised that Mr Kennedy had been classified as 'minor injuries'. He was taken to Taumarunui Hospital but gave up his bed to make room for others
* J. Macauley, Palmerston North
* P. Newdick, Palmerston North
* Niate Nizich, Thames

NOTE Louis Wilfred Hollis Hill (1869-1923), a Railwayman Fitter in charge of the gang, from the Newmarket workshops, Gladstone Road, Parnell, Auckland, dropped dead at the scene. The cause of death was due to a cerebral haemorrhage. His body was taken to Taumarunui

Ōngarue Rail Disaster (1923)

Archives New Zealand

Also see The wrecked engine, still steaming embedded in the slip

by ngairedith Profile | Research | Contact | Subscribe | Block this user
on 2018-01-12 11:27:41

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