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1839: Inquests into tragic Balcombe navvy deaths

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

Sussex Advertiser - Monday 17 June 1839

CUCKFIELD. Fatal Accident.

—An inquest was held at the Half Moon Inn, Balcombe, on Wednesday last, before F. H. Gell, Esq., Coroner, on view of the body of William Hanbury, a labourer on the Brighton and London Railway works, aged 26 years.


—George Baxter, sub contractor, deposed that on Monday the deceased was at work in excavating the earth in a field called the Earthquake, upon an open cutting. At about 9 o'clock he was standing beneath the face of a bank which was being removed, when a portion of the earth, about a yard in quantity, fell on his head. After groaning three times he died.


There was no carelessness or negligence on the part of those employed to throw down the earth, They observed that it parted, and gave the usual signal to the deceased, and as he did not appear notice this, they called to him twice by name. The second time he looked up, but seemed unable to move. had been drinking on the previous day, and seemed to be in a kind of stupor. Verdict Accidental death."


Irish navvies c1850

On the same day another inquest was held at the office of the Railway company, on view of the body of James Bristow who was also killed accident on the railway.—


Thomas Jenner, a labourer, deposed that the deceased was employed as carpenter the railroad works, and was at work with him, that morning, at shaft No. 2. At about hall-past seven, the deceased came with some oil in a can, to oil the gin*; and as he was getting up to do so, his head was jammed between the gin and the cross beam. He died immediately. The gin was in motion at the time. It is usual to stop it whilst it is being oiled. Deceased was quite sober. He did not call out for the horse to be stopped; there was not time stop the horse after witness saw him get up.—


Daniel Briton, inspector of the works at Balcombe, deposed that he saw the deceased get up to oil the gin, and described the accident precisely in the same manner as the previous witness did.


— Verdict; accidental death.


*NOTE: A gin is a pulley system used to hoist excavated soil up a slope and typically uses horse power. The word is a contraction of 'engine'. They were also widely used in open cast mining.

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