Baptiste Creek, ON Terrible Railroad Collision, Oct 1854


The details of the Great Western Railroad accident, in Canada, equal the horrors of the many accidents which have signalized the last few years by sea and land.
First the head of the cylinder burst, and then, after a two hours' detention, the train, running at the rate of twenty miles an hour, in a dense fog, and out of time, came in collision with a gravel train. The painful statement of the telegraphic reporter gives a total of forty-eight persons instantly killed. Others have since died. The horrors of the scene are represented to be beyond description.

Daily Globe Washington DC 1854-10-30

The following from an article by Jim and Lisa Gilbert


"The scene presented after the collision was a horrible one. Intermixed with the fragments of the broken cars, dead bodies lay in profusion, many of them mangled in the most dreadful manner while from out of the heap of ruins issued the groans and shrieks of the wounded." (Detroit Free Press, Oct. 28, 1854)
The above quote described in a rather graphic manner "one of the most dreadful railroad accidents that ever occurred." It had added impact of being described, in an eye-witness fashion, by a man from Detroit (Mr. R. P. Toms) who had been a passenger on the train and who had been interviewed by the Detroit newspaper.
The passenger train involved left, on time, the suspension bridge near Niagara Falls on Thursday afternoon. The train consisted of four first-class, two-second class and two baggage cars and had a rather full passenger load.
As this was in the early days of railway travel, delays were the rule rather than the exception and this particular train had a multitude of incidents that slowed its progress greatly. It suffered delays on this particular run due to a derailed gravel train, a slow freight train, a burst cylinder head and dense fog. By the time it left London headed for Windsor (1 a.m.), the passenger train was at least four hours behind schedule.
Meanwhile at Baptiste Creek (near present day Jeannette's Creek) a gravel train consisting of 15 heavily loaded wet gravel cars was out on the track repairing the railroad bed. The engineer of the gravel train had been told by the night watchman at Baptiste Creek Station that the passenger train had already passed and that it was safe to venture out onto the main line.
The passenger train, after having passed through Chatham, was proceeding along at approximately 20 miles per hour while the gravel train was backing up on the mainline at 10 to 12 miles per hour.
At a few minutes after 5 a.m., the passenger train emerged from thick fog to see directly ahead the 15-car gravel train. Unable to stop or take any type of diversionary action, the two trains collided with an impact that was described as
"tremendous" and "absolutely dreadful."
The second-class cars were "smashed into bits and pieces" with "nearly every person of them killed or dreadfully injured."
The first of the first-class cars was also "badly smashed" and most of the passengers in the front part of this car "met the same fate as the passengers in the second-class cars."
According to the Detroit Free Press, the passengers who were fortunate enough to escape injury immediately set to work drawing out the wounded and the dead from "the heap of ruins in which they lay."
By 11 a.m. the bodies of 25 men, 11 women and 10 children had been recovered and it was estimated, at this time, that from "10 to 20 others yet remained to be discovered." Several of the dead discovered were described, by witnesses, as
"crushed out of all human shape, presenting a heart-sickening sight."
The two second-class cars, which bore the main brunt of the collision, contained a number of emigrants from Germany who were on their way to various places in the United States. They were on their way to start a new life in what they had been told was an exciting New World full of hope, promise and prosperity.
Eventually, the wounded were transported for care in Chatham at the old town hall on King Street. According to reports of the day, as the cattle cars pulled into the Chatham Station with blood literally dripping from their floors, the moans and cries of the severely injured could be heard throughout the town.
Many of the dead were buried in unmarked graves in local Chatham cemeteries and some of the wounded stayed on in Chatham and lived productive lives. Others, when healed enough, took a chance on another train and boldly ventured to the area in North America where they had originally decided to emigrate.
The final gruesome totals for this train wreck resulted in 52 persons being killed and for many years it ranked as Canada's worst train wreck. Even in today's world, the train wreck near Jeannette's Creek is still ranked as one of Canada's worst disasters.