We hold some incredible tales within the collection at QSA. Some offer insight into our shared history, other’s offer stories of heroism and adventure, or of incarceration and subjugation.
And some shed light on moments of disaster.
The E91 train was chartered by the Customs and Excise department’s social club for an excursion on Monday 5 May 1947. It was to take passengers to Closeburn, north-west of Brisbane, for a picnic, a dance and a game of cricket. Tragically, the day did not go as planned.
That morning 230 men, women and children boarded the six wooden carriages of Train E91 at three Brisbane stations. Passenger accounts record an atmosphere of excitement as the train left the station and began travelling north-west. It pulled into Ferny Grove station at 9.40am, eight minutes behind time, before beginning the slow incline uphill, topping the range at 9.53am. Passenger Ivy Pitman later stated that the train ‘was going very slowly and some remarks were made jokingly about the speed of the Queensland trains as compared with those in Melbourne.’
As we were coming to the top, my wife was playing with the children. […] You know that you can hear the train rattling over every sleeper when it is going slowly, and she was singing to the children that old refrain that goes like this: “I can do it, I can do it, I can do it”, and that is how we went to the top. When we were running along the top she was singing “I did it, I did it, I did it”. Then as we got over the top she stopped and looked towards me. That may give you an idea of the speed of the train when we were coming up to the top and over the top.Passenger Hector Nickols commenting on the speed of the train
Just after starting to go around the curve where the accident happened we were all swayed to the right and then back to the left and it was that stage that I heard something jump the rails and rip through the sleepers. Just at about the same time I felt our carriage leave the rails and almost simultaneously our carriage smashed and threw the lot of us into the right-hand corner of the carriage. I was dazed for a few minutes and then realised that our carriage was turned on its right side on the bank of the cutting at a dangerous angle and I had difficulty climbing out.Albert McCormick’s account of the crash; ITM18930
The train had left the rails, rolled onto its right side and ploughed into the embankment. The leading carriage had struck the water tank and the impact ‘telescoped the carriages directly through the centre of the water tank, ripping bogeys and wheels and massing them on the front undercarriages.’ Passengers’ bodies were jammed in the wreckage. Passenger Edward Hart climbed from the rubble with blood streaming from a gash over his eye and ran down the line towards Samford to telephone Central Station for help. The trains clerk, Mr Fenwick, received telephone advice at 10.14am that a serious accident had occurred on the Brisbane side of Camp Mountain and there were a number of fatalities. There were, in fact, 16 people killed in the crash, with a further 38 injured. Breakdown workers arrived on the scene after midday and continued their efforts to free trapped passengers well into the night.
A Court of Inquiry was established following the accident. Driver Howard Hind and Fireman Charles Knight were found guilty of breach of duty for causing the train to travel at least 15 miles (24 kilometres) an hour too fast on the downhill slopes of the Samford Range. Knight was killed in the accident and Hind died the following day from his injuries. Guard George Essex Evans was also found guilty of breach of duty for failing to apply the brake.
The crash at Camp Mountain would be known from then on as the deadliest railway accident in Queensland’s history.