Alfred Charles Bray – Exeter Train Crash

On this day, 16 March in 1914 my great-grandfather Alfred Charles Bray died in the Exeter Train Disaster.

A Young Alfred Charles Bray

Alfred was the son of Harry Cornelius Bray who had arrived in Australia on 26 September 1853 at the age of 6 years with his family from Portsmouth on the barque St. George. Alfred’s mother, Mary Bannatyne (Armitage) also from England arriving with her family as assisted immigrants. Mary was named after the ship Mary Bannatyne on which she was born in the English Channel shortly after leaving Plymouth in 1949. Harry and Mary both grew up in Sydney and were married at St. Lilas Church, Waterloo on 22 Dec 1870.

Harry and Mary lived in the south Sydney area while Harry made a living firstly driving a baker’s cart and later as a van proprietor of carrier. Alfred Charles was the eldest of their eight children and born at the family home at 32 Bullinaminga Street, Redfern on 24 May 1871.

By the time Alfred married in 1894, he was employed as a sorter at the General Post Office and his family had moved to Hurstville where they owned adjoining properties at Woids Avenue and Bellevue Avenue. His bride was Ellen Louisa Cole who was born at Bungendore in the Monaro District of NSW on 22 January 1874. Her parents Frederick William and Ellen (McFarlane) Cole were both born in NSW, at Gundaroo and Raymond Terrace respectively. Frederick worked at several of the larger properties or estates in the Bungendore area including Foxlow, Carwoola and Gidleigh. Here the Coles raised their seventeen children.

Little is known of Ellen Louisa’s early life but it is not difficult to imagine that in such a large family that everyone would be kept busy with the daily family chores as well as contributing to work on the estates where they lived. It is likely that she received a basic education at the school at Gidleigh, establish on the property by the owner Mr. Rutledge for the benefit of his family and the resident staff.

It is not known how Alfred met Ellen but before her twentieth birthday she was in Sydney and they married at St. Thomas’ church, Balmain South on 15 February 1894. The couple initially lived at Hurstville with the Alfred’s family and their first daughter, Levena Mary, was born six months after their wedding on 29 August. In 1897 their second child, my grandfather Alfred Ernest Cornelius, was also born at Hurstville.

By the time their next child, Marjorie Elizabeth Martha was born in 1899, Alfred was working as a mail guard based in Orange. They then spent a number of years in Cootamundra where Daisey Fredrita and Dorothy Grace were born in 1901 and 1903 respectively. Finally the family moved back to Hurstville and the Woids Avenue/Bellevue Avenue property. Here they had three more children with Pearl Louisa born in 1906, Charles Cole in 1908 and Ruby Esther in 1910 but she died after two days.

The Crash Scene

On that fateful night in 1914, Alfred was at work, as normal in the mail van of the Temora Mail train with 134 passengers on board that left Sydney at 8:10pm. It was a foggy night and the train was running late. As the train approached the station at Exeter shortly before midnight it was thought that the heavy fog obscured the signal. The driver was proceeding at only 13 miles per hour but he was not aware of a goods train shunting onto the loop line, until he was only about 65 yards away and although he applied the emergency brakes it was too late to avoid a disaster. The crash occurred 200 yards north of the Exeter station and although the impact speed was about 7mph in the carnage that followed 14 people were killed and another 26 injured.

In an article compiled by Philip Morton, sourced from the archives of Berrima District Historical & Family History Society, he explains in part that:

“Postal guard Alfred Bray was at the open door preparing to throw mailbags onto the platform – with his head crushed, he died. The second car, caught between the weight of mail van and engine, and the cars behind, leaped from the rails and drove through the front of the third.”

Alfred Charles Bray was buried on 17 Mar 1914 at Woronora Cemetery, Section J, 0001. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on 18 March that Alfred’s funeral was “one of the largest funerals ever seen at Woronora Cemetery”. He was just short of 43 years old. Alfred’s death left Ellen a widow at 40 years of age with one married daughter and the six other children at home aged between 17 and 6 years. Ellen’s father had died 15 years earlier and her widowed mother was seventy and living in Balmain. Luckily she had the support Alfred’s family who were still living at the Hurstville properties.

Philip Morton further tells us that:

“The verdict of the Coroner’s Inquest held at Bowral on March 24, 1914 was that [the Temora Mail driver, Peter] Irwin caused the accident by over-running the home signal. A rider was added that loops should be lengthened or refuge sidings placed at both ends, and further precautions taken during fogs to ensure safety of the public by calling out fog signalmen earlier than was the case. Irwin was committed for trial on a charge of manslaughter.”

At the Goulburn Courthouse in April the jury considered there was sufficient doubt, and Irwin was acquitted.

Ellen Louisa Bray

Alfred’s estate was probated on 17 April 1914 and letters of administration granted to the Public trustee. He died intestate and his estate was assessed at under £700. A claim was subsequently made, on behalf of Ellen Louisa Bray, to recover compensation from the Railway Commissioners for alleged negligence in connection with the death of her husband in the collision. The matter was settled for £1200. The deceased left seven children. The jury allocated compensation of £400 to Ellen, £50 to the married Levena Mary (Hebblewhite) and £125 to the other six children.

Ellen was known as a strong independent woman and she successfully continued to raise her children at Hurstville as well as watching her older son, my grandfather Alfred Ernest Cornelius, go off to WW1 when he was 18 Years old in 1915. In 1923 she was remarried to a widower Walter Clark at 103 Baptist Street, Redfern. She died on 27 September 1943 and was buried on 28 September 1943 at Woronora Cemetery next to Alfred.

Woronora Cemetery

In March 2014 a solemn memorial service was held at Exeter station commemorating the centenary of the train crash and a memorial plaque was unveiled, which included the names of people who died in the 1914 disaster.

Memorial Plaque
Exeter Memorial

Ann Eloisa French (1787-1835)

On this day, October 13 in 1835, Ann Eloisa (or later Eliza) French, who is believed to be my 3rd great-grandmother died in Spanish Town, Jamaica.

Eliza Thomasina’s Baptism, St. Catherine’s Parish Church, Spanish Town

I say ‘believed’ because although it can not (yet) be proven conclusively all indications, including the advice from a professional Jamaican genealogist, are that this is the right person who was the mother of my 2nd great-grandmother Eliza Thomasina Walsh. This Eliza was born in Spanish Town on March 3, 1808 and her mother was A.E. French.

Ethnically, Ann Eloisa was a quadroon, being of mixed race, the grand daughter of an African who was undoubtedly a slave. Her parents were Jane Charlotte Beckford, a free mulatto and George French, one time Crown Solicitor/Clerk of the Jamaica Assembly and later the High Court, Assistant Judge, Solicitor for the Crown and Clerk of the Peace in Spanish Town. Jane was George’s mistress and they had six children together.

White Church and Ellis Streets, Spanish Town

Eliza Thomasina’s father was Thomas Walsh, an Irish officer in the 56th Regiment of the British army serving in Jamaica and who acknowledged Eliza as his daughter in his 1809 will. In that will Thomas had requested that Eliza Thomasina should be returned to Ireland when four years of age. Thomas had returned to England by 1809 and he died in an accident the following year but his wishes regarding Eliza were carried out and she eventually married Henry Harrison Briscoe in Ireland in 1830. It is not known what part, if any, Ann Eloisa had in this decision or in Eliza Thomasina’s life before her return to Ireland.

The old Lodging House is now the Freemason’s Hamilton Lodge Meeting House

Jane Charlotte ran a lodging house on the corner of White Church and Ellis Streets in Spanish Town. This was later known as Miss French’s Lodgings presumably after Ann took over running of the establishment when Jane Charlotte died in 1825. The building that stands on that corner today I likely to be the same

Excerpt from Lady Nugent’s Diary, wife of Gen. George Nugent, Governor of Jamaica

Ann Eliza French (as she was then known) was the administratrix of her mother’s will and presumably also the beneficiary.

Currently no more is known about Ann’s life except that she died in 1835 and was buried in St. Catherine’s churchyard in Spanish Town.

Elizabeth (Warren) Briscoe (1859-1917)

On this day, October 7 in 1917, Elizabeth Briscoe died at her home in Leonard Street, Bankstown, New South Wales.

She was born Elizabeth Warren on January 5, 1859 at Huntly, Victoria, to parents Richard Robins and Annie (Livingstone) Warren. Richard was a native of Bristol in England while Annie was born in Argyllshire, Scotland. Both the Warren and Livingstone families arrived in Australia during the Victorian gold rush days and were miners in the Sandhurst (Bendigo) area.

Elizabeth Briscoe (c1894)

At the age of 24, Elizabeth was working as a domestic servant at nearby Lake Leaghur where she presumably met the 45 years old Henry Harrison Briscoe. The couple were married in the registry office in Hoddle Street, Collingwood in February 1883 while both were living at Smith Street, Fitzroy. In August of that year Elizabeth gave birth to their first child, Elizabeth Caroline Thomasina Marion Briscoe at Elgin Street, Hawthorne. The family lived there for a couple of years during which time another daughter, Emily Alice Isabella Livingstone Briscoe was born. However by the time a third child arrived the family had moved to Cobar in New South Wales where Henry had taken up the position of caretaker of the Government’s 64 Mile Tank on South Road..

Over the next 16 years Henry took Elizabeth and the growing family to other Government water tanks at Mulya near Bourke, The Rock near Wagga Wagga and Tooloora Bore near Walgett. During this period Elizabeth had five more children, so that the Briscoe family was:

  • Elizabeth Caroline Thomasina Marion

  • Emily Alice Isabella Livingstone

  • Alfred Edward Henry Harrison

  • George Albert Ernest Sidney

  • Arthur William Boultbee Torrance

  • John Robins Warren Low

  • Livingstone Eugene James Alexander

  • Doris Daisy Mary Devereux

Of her children, only Alfred did not reach adulthood, dying as an infant at The Rock (see a previous post).

In 1901 at the age of 42, Elizabeth was also named (on the birth certificate) as the mother of Ethel Josephine Dorothy Agnes at Tooloora Bore, however it is understood the the baby’s mother was Elizabeth Caroline (mentioned as “present at the birth”). The baby was brought up as a little sister to Elizabeth’s other children and the truth remained a secret from many family members for many years. In 1905, Ethel (known as Sister) also had an illegitimate daughter and a similar secrecy arrangements prevailed.

Emily’s baby was born in Sydney and may have been part of the reason the family had moved to Sydney. Henry had retired and in late 1905 the family lived at Waverley and then Belmore, but by 1908 they had settled on a 13 acre property, Beaconsfield, at Tower Street East Hills, near the Georges River and Bankstown some 25 kilometres south-west of central Sydney.

Henry died at Tower Street in 1912 at the age of 74 years and shortly after Elizabeth sold the property and moved to Leonard Street, Bankstown and named the house Mulya. Elizabeth Caroline and George had already been married but the family remained very closely knit.

World War I saw several of the boys serving, and Elizabeth received the news that her eldest son, Alfred had died in Cairo in December 1915 after being evacuated from Gallipoli.

St. Saviour’s Church Cemetery, Canterbury Road Punchbowl

Elizabeth lived in Leonard Street until her death in 1917 at the age of 58 years. She had undoubtedly had a hard life moving often throughout country NSW while raising her large family. Her legacy was the close bond her children retained through the next generation. She was buried near to Henry, and a memorial stone to Alfred, in the small cemetery at St. Saviour’s Church of England in Canterbury Road, Punchbowl.