The Great Train Wreck of 1842

The Versailles train accident in 1842 is still one of the worst rail accidents ever. A loco with 17 carriages left for Paris and derailed at Meudon when an axle broke. Reports of the deaths ranged between 50 and 200 hundred people.

Of importance for this story is that one of Colonel Thorn’s sons escaped having seemingly missed the train, although it was initally reported that he was aboard. I have not been able to identify which son, but am guessing that it might have been his son-in-law Camille de Varaigne, as he and Mary lived in Versailles.

Versailles rail disaster

Here is an account of the day from a French newspaper:

Scarcely had the train quitted the Bellevue station, than the axle-tree of the first locomotive, the MathieuI Murray, broke. The shock drove it off the rails, and it was instantly stopped. The second locomotive, which had all its power on, rose over the first, breaking it to pieces, and crushing the conductor and stokers. In the concussion, it was also broken, and the fire and grease boxes fell upon the ground. At the same moment the three first wagons were dragged upon the locomotives, and were broke nto pieces. Most of the persons in these wagons were enabled to escape by throwing themselves out of the windows; but about 40, who were too much injured to follow the example, were burned to death by the fire which communicated itself to the wagons from the locomotives. The fourth wagon and those which followed did not share the same fate, but the passengers received severe wounds or contusions; and as soon as it was possible to ascertain the extent of the disaster, it was found that more than 50 persons were so severely injured that it was impossible to remove them on the instant…

Many persons of distinction escaped this calamity by being a moment too late, or by finding the train full. The King’s youngest son, the Duke de Montpensier, came a short distance from Versailles, and then got out. M Chambolles (a deputy editor-in-chlief of the Siecle) was on the point of entering with his three sons, when a friend offered him seats in his carriage, which he accepted. Henry Bulwer arrived at the station before the trains started, but could not obtain a place.  A son of Colonel Thorne, a wealthy American gentleman resident in Paris, who was yesterday said to be one of the victims, had attempted to obtain a place in the train, but failed.

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