The imposing Remutaka range between Wellington the Wairarapa was the scene of a terrifying train crash in 1880 when a severe gust of wind blew two passenger carriages off the tracks, plummeted one down a steep ravine and left the other dangling precariously over the edge. The accident claimed the lives of four children.
On Saturday, September 11, the Wairarapa to Wellington train left Greytown at 8.30am. Aboard and seated in the second carriage were John Quin, proprietor of the Greytown Hotel, his wife and five-year-old son William, and four other children.
In Featherston, twins Ida Jessica and Ella Grace Pharazyn, aged 11 years and three months and their friends six-year-old Francis John Nicholas and his brother Stanley George Nicholas, aged five, boarded the front carriage. All four were travelling to Wellington to stay with the Pharazyn girls’ aunt. With a compliment of about 30 passengers, the train left Featherston and continued on its journey to Wellington.
At Cross Creek station, at the foot of the Remutaka range, the regular engine was replaced with a Fell Engine - specially designed to negotiate the steep incline on the Wairarapa side of the hill, which rises 265 metres in four kilometres. The Fell Engine was placed behind the two passenger cars and the guard’s van and in front of two goods wagons loaded with timber and finally the brake van.
As the little train travelled up the incline the wind gusts strengthened. About 1200 metres from the summit, at a point known as Siberia, a massive north-westerly gust blew the two passenger carriages and the guard’s van off the tracks. The passenger compartment of the first carriage plummeted into the ravine, while the second carriage was left hanging over the edge. (The location of the accident is depicted in a diorama [pictured] which can be found at the Fell Engine Museum in Featherston - a great little museum to visit if you are passing through the town.)
Injured and dead passengers from the front carriage were scattered about the ravine lying amongst the shattered debris, while in the second carriage, survivors were forced to clamber up the almost vertical car to escape. The only thing preventing the second carriage from plunging into the ravine and crushing those below was the coupling to the guard’s van.
Attempts to help the injured were hindered by the extreme winds, which at times forced rescuers to crawl up the tracks holding onto the rails.
From the first carriage, both Pharazyn girls survived the crash, but were badly injured, however, Ida died as she was being carried up the ravine by fellow passenger Peter Hickson. Francis Nicholas was killed instantly in the crash suffering fatal head injuries. His younger brother Stanley died on October 2 from his injuries.
In the second carriage, young William Quin was crushed when the upended carriage threw the other passengers forward and on top of him.
The inquest into the accident found no fault on anyone’s part, but recommended that wind shields be constructed on the line.
Ida Pharazyn and the two Nicholas boys are buried in Featherston Cemetery, while William Quin lies in an unmarked grave in Greytown Cemetery.
Ebenezer Bishop, carpenter, Greytown
Alfred Blakesley, farm manager, Taratahi
James Crouch, labourer, Featherston
William Donald, settler, Featherston
Walter Dunn, Tauherenikau
Henry Dunn, Tauherenikau
Rev. C H Gossett, Masterton
Robert Hare, farmer of Masterton
Peter Hickson, farmer, Masterton
Margaret Hodge, hotel keeper’s wife, Morrison’s Bush
Miss Hodge, Morrison’s Bush
Alfred Jackson, saddler, Greytown
Michael Madden, retired blacksmith, Wellington
William McKenzie, shepherd
Mr Montgomery, settler, Greytown
Ella Pharazyn, Featherston
Mr Phillips, navvy, Greytown
Mrs Phillips, Greytown
Mrs Pye, widow, Greytown
Ellen Quin, Greytown
John Quin, Greytown
Robert Riddick, carpenter, Featherston