Tay Rail Bridge disaster victims to be honoured

The Tay Rail Bridge disaster claimed the lives of at least 59 victims in 1897. Picture: Contributed
The Tay Rail Bridge disaster claimed the lives of at least 59 victims in 1897. Picture: Contributed
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THE victims of one of the worst disasters in Scottish history will be finally honoured at two poignant ceremonies on opposite banks of the River Tay tomorrow.

The unveiling of the matching memorials to the 59 men, women and children known to have perished in the Tay Rail Bridge disaster will finally right a 134-year wrong and mark the culmination of a four year campaign to commemorate those who lost their lives when the storm lashed rail bridge over the Tay collapsed on 28 December 1879.

An estimated 30 descendants of victims of one of the most infamous civilian catastrophes of Victorian times will be among the special guests who will gather at both Wormit and Dundee for the separate unveiling ceremonies.

On each bank of the Tay three identical granite bocks, bearing the names of the 59 known victims, have been erected following a £35,000 fund raising campaign by the Tay Rail Bridge Disaster Memorial Trust.

The commemoration ceremonies will begin tomorrow morning when the Wormit memorial is jointly unveiled by David Leighton, from Edinburgh, the great grandson of David Mitchell, the driver of the doomed train, and John Marshall, from the Crook of Devon, the grand nephew of John Marshall, the train’s fireman.

Following a reception at Dundee’s Discovery Point, the Dundee memorial will be unveiled in the afternoon by Brian Thomson, a St Andrews councillor and great great grandson of Dundee man Robert Watson who was killed in the tragedy together with his two sons, and Clare Nicoll, a genealogy researcher and descendant of another victim, Euphemia Cheape, who played a leading role in the memorial campaign.

Special guests at the ceremonies will include Dundee’s Lord Provost Bob Duncan, Sir Menzies Campbell, the North East Fife Liberal Democrat MP, Joe Fitzpatrick, the Dundee SNP MSP, and Councillor Jim Leishman, the Provost of Fife.

The twin ceremonies will culminate in a spectacular fireworks display on the replacement rail bridge sponsored by Network Rail.

Ian Nimmo White, the secretary of the disaster memorial truist, said: ”This is a 134-year oversight which is finally being righted. The families weren’t treated all that well by the railway companies after they lost their loved ones. And the rail bridge was an injustice in itself because it was an accident waiting to happen.

“But this is an opportunity to give the families some kind of payback.”

Mr Nimmo Smith revealed: “When I first started the campaign I used to get inundated with emails from the public and one cynical person said ‘What do we need all this for? - the stumps of the old bridge are memorial enough.’

“I just couldn’t believe his attitude. Surely their lives are worth more than a few stumps in the Tay.”

He continued: “We are now righting a 134 year-old wrong with memorials that are long overdue. And the support we have had from the public has been remarkable. We obviously touched a nerve in the public psyche. I think many people simply didn’t realise there was no memorial to those who lost their loved ones.”

Mr Nimmo White, a poet from Leslie, has also written a special poem, dedicated to those who died, which has been inscribed on the matching memorials.

It reads: “Deep waters could not douse the enduring flame that burned for those thus blighted. Now let them stand as one, properly remembered and in part righted.”

There have been claims that as many as 85 people were killed when the Tay Bridge - at the time the world’s longest rail bridge - collapsed. The disaster happened when its central spans collapsed as a train, with six carriages, approached Dundee from the south.

Mr Nimmo Smith explained:”The memorials carry the names of those known to have died. There has been a lot of speculation over the last 134 years about the number that may have died. But the Tay Rail Bridge Disaster Memorial Trust, in law, are only at liberty to put the names on the memorials of the people for whom we have death certificates. The official death toll is 59.”

The tragedy happened only 14 months after the two mile bridge, commissioned by the North British Railway Company, had opened. The disaster shocked Victorian Britain and ruined the reputation of the bridge’s designer, Sir Thomas Bouch, who was knighted shortly before the disaster. He died a broken man.

The replacement bridge, still in use today, was completed in 1885.


Memorial sparks Tay Bridge deaths row