Damaging A Locomotive Engine

William Steevens was charged, on the complaint of William Thomas Mosley, of West Monkton, with having on the 7th of September contracted with John Logan to serve him as an engine-cleaner, and also that, having entered into such service, he was guilty of misdemeanour and ill-behaviour, to wit, that he did by negligence and misconduct damage a locomotive engine, thereby doing injury to the amount of £100. Mr H. Trenchard appeared for the complainant, and Mr Taunton for the defendant.
Mr Trenchard having explained the circumstances of the case, called Mr Mosley, who said that he lived at Bathpool and was the superintendent engineer and manager of the Taunton and Chard Railway. The defendant was in his employ, and was paid by the week. His duty was to clean the engine at night, and to light the fire in the engine in the morning, about two hours before it commenced work. The defendant had no right to put the engine in motion. In consequence of some information witness saw the engine which was under the care of the defendant, on Thursday morning, near Thorn Water. It was very much damaged, which was caused through water not having been pumped into the boiler. This arose through the engine having been used by some one who could not put on the feed-pipe to convey the water from the tank into the boiler. Supposing a fire were lighted and the water were exhausted, an explosion of the boiler‘ would take place. He found the tubes and boiler of the engine bursted; they were safe the night before. It was the duty of the engine-driver to leave sufficient water and coal in the engine at night for it to be fit for work the following morning. It was the driver’s duty to leave water both in the tank and the boiler. The defendant had been in his employ about two months. It was no part of the duty of the defendant to supply the engine with water.
James Needs said he was the driver of the engine named BUSY BEE, of which the defendant was the cleaner. He (defendant) had been engaged in that occupation about nine nights before Wednesday last. The duty of the defendant was to clean the engine at night, and to light the fire at half-past three in the morning, so as to get the steam up by the usual time. He had no right to move the engine after witness left it at night. He (witness) provided coal and water, and he left the engine in a proper state on Wednesday night for the fire to be lighted the next morning. Just as witness left his lodgings, about five o’clock on Thursday morning, he heard an explosion. He went to the spot where he left the engine and found all the water gone and the tubes bursted. There was plenty of water in the feeder to the boiler, which could have been put into the engine by a person who understood it. Moving the engine would consume the water much faster than if it were allowed to stand still. He left sufficient water in the engine to prevent any explosion taking place before he got to it if it had not been moved. Witness provided the usual amount of coal on the previous night. When he first saw the defendant he was lying in a dyke, near to the engine, with his hair standing up, as if he‘ were much frightened. The feed-pipes in the morning were shut off, as witness had left them on the previous evening. Some water was in the tank which he had not left there on the previous evening.
By the Bench: When he saw the defendant in the morning he said to him (witness) that he had been down to look for coals.
By Mr. Trenchard: He first saw the defendant about one hundred yards from the engine, in a field. Supposing coals were wanted, it was the duty of the defendant to go to witness and tell him of it. The defendant would have to go to Thorn Water for coal, and if he had burnt all the coal left by witness and fetched more he mast have lighted the fire two hours earlier than he was ordered to do.
John Bicker, stoker on the BUSY BEE, said that the night before the explosion there was plenty of water in the boiler, and the usual amount of coal left. If the engine had been lighted at the proper time, and was not moved, there was ample water in the boiler to prevent an explosion. It was not the duty of the defendant to drive the engine. He did not hear the last witness give the defendant any orders as to what was his duty.
John Godfrey, watchman on the line, said he heard an engine whistle on the line about two o’clock on Thursday morning. About a quarter to three o‘clock the BUSY BEE passed him with only one man on it. At a quarter past four o’clock the engine returned, and the steam at that time was blowing off freely. Witness could not tell who was on the engine.
For the defendant Mr Taunton contended that there was no more pretence for this charge than there would be if a servant of one of the magistrates, who was instructed to lead a horse into Taunton, rode it instead, and thereby an accident occurred. The fact was, that the defendant, acting as an energetic servant in his masters’ interest, rose up early In the morning in question, and, manifesting his energy and zeal without skill, went to get a sufficient supply of coal, which the engine-driver had not provided. There was no pretence for saying that there was any negligence in the case, the only thing against the defendant being over-zeal in the discharge of his duty.
Mr. Badcock said the magistrates thought the case had been proved, and the act of the defendant was fraught with immense danger, inasmuch as if he had driven on to the main line and come in contact with the mail train, the lives of many persons might have been sacrificed. They thought it necessary to make an example of the defendant, and should sentence him to one month’s imprisonment, with hard labour.

This most illuminating account was extracted from the “Somerset County Gazette”, issue dated 9th September 1863. One can but wonder how present-day vandals would have been punished by the Courts.

(Industrial Railway Society Records)