Eventful day on railways

By Benalla Ensign

Saturday, August 8, 1898, was busy on the railway at Benalla.

As the express train to Sydney pulled into the station that evening, staff noticed flames licking beneath a passenger carriage.

In the run from Melbourne, an axle had badly overheated.

By the time the train had reached Benalla, the axle had set the underpart of the carriage on fire.

Passengers were disembarked from the train.

Then railway staff set to work extinguishing the fire.

Inspection after the fire was put out revealed that the carriage could not be used without repairs.

Benalla’s head porter, Robert Borthwick, and the engine driver, shunted the train to remove the burnt carriage and to replace it with another that was available in the railyards.

Perhaps Borthwick was not experienced in shunting.

Perhaps the driver was careless.

As the new carriage was being attached to the train, Borthwick found himself caught between two moving carriages.

Desperately, he threw himself to safety.

Borthwick escaped with only abrasions to both sides of his face.

It had been a near miss.

At exactly the same time, Thomas Skelton, the licensee of the Racecourse Hotel and several of his friends were crossing the rail line in a jinker or similar vehicle.

It may have been the movement of the train’s carriages or Borthwick’s yelling to warn the shunting engine driver.

Whatever it was, the horse pulling Skelton’s vehicle took fright.

Plunging and kicking, the horse collided with a fence near the rail crossing.

In its flight, a boy was thrown out of the jinker and suffered serious injuries.

Unfortunately, nothing more is known.

On a February evening of that same year, Andrew Patterson, an engine driver of the express to Melbourne, had toppled from the engine cab just as the train was pulling into Benalla.

He had fallen head first out of the cab hitting the railline.

When station staff reached him, Patterson was still unconscious.

He could not be roused.

So a new driver was found and Patterson was taken on the express, still unconscious, to Melbourne Hospital.

There he was diagnosed as suffering sunstroke, complicated by concussion suffered when he fell head-first onto the track.

Late that night, Patterson recovered consciousness.

He eventually made a full recovery.

The Licenses Reduction Board, which operated for 10 years from May 1907, later removed the licence of the Racecourse Hotel.

Of the 25 hotels operating in Benalla at the time, most had their licences removed.

The board paid compensation to those who had their licences cancelled.

It only removed as many licences as could be compensated from its annually appropriated funds.

No appeal was possible.

It could not remove the licences of hotels in a district below a stated limit.

When removing licences, the board was required to examine first those hotels whose licensees had been convicted of licensing offences.

Between 1907 and 1916 the board closed 1054 hotels and paid out more than a million dollars by way of compensation.

— John Barry, Coo-ee