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

London Revisited

So, what can you really achieve in a few days in this great city? By way of a disclaimer, firstly we had already been here several times, we were suffering from a little bit of travel fatigue after more than six weeks away from home and lastly with one very sore foot our normal enthusiasm for sightseeing (requiring walking) was somewhat diminished.

London celebrates
London celebrates the Queen’s 90th birthday
Tower Bridge from the Greenwich ferry
Tower Bridge from the Greenwich ferry






Our hotel, not far from Paddington station, was well situated for both our arrival from Oxford and our intended departure to Heathrow. Armed with 48-hour hop on – hop off bus passes and an Oyster cards for the tube we were ready see a few sights but at a slower relaxed pace.

Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace

london kensington palace2


As we all know timing is often very important in life. We managed to time our visit to arrive in London on the Friday of a long weekend along with the thousands of other visitors. There were people everywhere and I couldn’t remember such crowds but, London is geared to cope with tourists and it is amazing how everything functions so well. Did I mention timing? This particular weekend also saw the London 10k fun run on the Sunday with many inner city roads closed resulting in diversions to the ho-ho bus routes.

So in a way the crowds and the road diversions contributed to our being able to sit back on the bus and relax while taking in the sights. Taking full advantage of our 48-hour tickets, on the Sunday we spent a couple of very pleasant hours travelling up and down the Thames to visit Greenwich. All in all, we certainly got full value from the ho-ho bus passes.

At the National Gallery
At the National Gallery
A Streeton
A Streeton








But what else did we do? We spent a couple of hours relaxing among masterpieces in the National Gallery, including one Streeton. We had a ride on the London Eye enjoying the view, which when we last took the ride was limited to about 50 metres. We spent some time savouring the historic journey that Westminster Abbey provides, topped off by a visit to Kensington Palace and an exterior inspection of Buckingham Palace.

Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station
Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station


There was a little shopping, a very little, and a visit to Kings Cross station and Platform 9¾ on behalf of grandchildren. Evenings saw us retiring early mostly but we did see a couple of shows in the West End, namely The Book of Mormon and the Carole King story of Beautiful, both extremely professional and enjoyable experiences.

These few days were punctuated by light lunches and dinners mostly at local pubs where we love the wholesome meals (and for me, the local ales). For our last night we were tossing up between a nearby Greek taverna or an Italian restaurant, either of which would remind us of our recent enjoyable cruise.

We probably have not done London justice on this occasion, if that is ever possible, but we have reacquainted ourselves with the wonderful variety that this great city has to offer.

PS      The Greeks won last night, taking us back a month or so to our visit to that favourite part of the world with a quite memorable meal.



Lacock, Wiltshire

I can’t remember where the recommendation to stay at Lacock in Wiltshire came from but we certainly owe that person a vote of thanks.

Travelling can be quite tiring so having an opportunity to slow down for a time is greatly appreciated, and Lacock provided that opportunity.

The Old Rectory B&B
The Old Rectory B&B

What does one want from a B&B? Friendly hosts, a comfortable bed, a good shower, a simple continental breakfast (so one is not tempted to over-eat), ample parking and pleasant surroundings. The Old Rectory at Lacock has those. Location is also important and this B&B is only a five minutes’ walk from the centre of the delightful historic village with its pubs and restaurants.

Arriving on Sunday was not the best timing as the day was fine and the crowds were out in force. Luckily we were staying for two days and these were much more relaxing. Although the temperatures are not always as high as we would like them in the UK in May, holidaying at this time of year is a little less congested.

Lacock Abbey
Lacock Abbey

Apart from the houses in the village that apparently have not changed much in the last two hundred years, the 13th century Lacock Abbey was a really pleasant surprise. It survived Henry VIII’s Dissolution and the English Civil War, and became a family home for many years before being given to the National Trust and becoming a film set for Harry Potter. Another discovery was that the last private owner, William Henry Fox Talbot, was an important pioneer in photography.

Castle Combe village
Castle Combe village

Finally, Lacock is a convenient base for taking day trips to any of the numerous nearby sights, and sites, such as Castle Combe, Bath, Bradford-on-Avon, Avebury and Stonehenge to name just a few. It is well worth a visit.


Did I say the Orkney weather forecast was for fine weather – wrong! For our two days stay it was windy with rain squalls and cold (although there was brilliant sunshine the morning we flew back to Edinburgh). Having said that this did not deter us from having an enjoyable stay.

Skara Brae
Skara Brae

Let me start from a roads engineering perspective. The roads on Orkney were overall the best we’ve experienced so far anywhere on our trip. This is probably because of the smooth driving surface and also for not being subjected to heavy traffic volumes. It certainly made for pleasant driving on almost deserted roads which we did from one end of the mainland to the other. We also liked the stone pavements in the centres of the towns of Kirkwall and Stromness. These were narrow single lane thoroughfares used as much by pedestrians as vehicles. Our little hired Ford Focus was a pleasure to drive (a smooth manual gearbox) through the completely treeless countryside where there is water everywhere, either lochs, the coasts of the North Sea and the North Atlantic, or the vast maritime sanctuary of Scarpa Flow. To the south, a number of causeways link the Mainland with smaller islands and eventually South Ronaldsay. Some of these causeways are known as Churchill barriers intended to prevent the entry of German shipping, particularly U-boats, into Scarpa Flow. Nearby is the Italian Chapel, constructed by prisoners of war and another reminder, together with the remains of numerous ship wrecks, of other aspects of that period of Orkney history.

Stones of Stenness
Stones of Stenness

But what else did we experience in Orkney? The two basic aims were to see some of the world’s most ancient historic sites and, on Jenny’s bucket list, to see some puffins. We succeeded nicely in the first but failed to catch a glimpse of those cute little birds. It was probably a little early in the season.

On Orkney some wonderful history has been revealed not only in standing stones and circles but also at the village of Skara Brae and at Maeshowe where neolithic civilisations left their marks from some 5000 years ago. The chambered cairn at Maeshowe under its large earth mound was particularly impressive. This site like many others across the Orkneys also have Norse (Viking) connections. At this site there was Viking runic “graffiti”. The tidal island of the Brough of Birsay has Pictish as well as Viking ruins, but unfortunately we missed another major site at the Broch of Gurness because of the bad weather.

More recent history is on display in St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall – it is only 850 years old. This is a church on a grand scale which was quite surprising in this remote part of the world. Nearby are the ruins of the Earl’s and Bishop’s Palaces.

St Magnus Cathedral
St Magnus Cathedral

st magnus 2







The weather was not our friend during our stay and “forced” us the take refuge for a couple of delightful and refreshing interludes at lunchtimes with delicious bowls of soup. Firstly, at the Brough of Birsay and then a most memorable break at the southern end of South Ronaldsay where we were able to look across the water to John O’Groats on the Scottish mainland.

Next it is back to the Scottish mainland and then south.