Paul Frecker
Fine Photographs


The wreck of the Rob Roy, 1868
Richard H. Barrett of Gloucester

A large format albumen print showing the derailed Rob Roy, a Great Western Railway locomotive. On 5 November 1868 it crashed into the back of a cattle truck at Awse Junction near Newnham in Gloucestershire. Three men were killed – a farmer, a cattle drover and a railway guard – and six were injured in the collision.

According to a report on the investigation into the accident, ‘The Rob Roy is the largest broad-gauge engine ever built, weighing 40 tons. It was constructed by Stephenson, and to the great strength of is material and build the engine-driver and fireman, and very probably the passengers, owe their lives. The comparatively little damage sustained by the engine is truly remarkable, considering that it was going at something like 45 miles an hour when it encountered the opposing body. […] The scene that immediately followed the collision is said to have been something dreadful, occasioned by the cries and struggles of the poor cattle, the larger number of which died from suffocation. Many, however, were found so crushed that their carcases were held together only by their skins.’

The Rob Roy, on the other hand, emerged relatively unscathed. ‘The forcing in of the smoke-box, the bending of the buffers, and the splitting of the 3 inch steal tire on the fore near wheel is all the damage done to the Rob Roy, the whole of which it is said can be repaired for a fifty-pound note. This, however, is not the case with the cattle trucks. They were built in the usual way, covered with sheet iron roofs. These, however, were no more than sheets of paper under the pressure of the Rob Roy, so that they fell in upon the cattle, smothering and crushing them to atoms. As soon as practicable the live beasts were extricated from their plunging positions, but before this could be done many of them half kicked each other to death’ (Gloucester Journal, 14 November 1868).

The bearded man in a top hat standing with legs akimbo on the buffer beam is William George Owen (1811-1885), the GWR's Chief Engineer for Construction. His son, William Lancaster Owen (1843-1911), who succeeded as Chief Engineer on his father's death in 1885, is among the men standing on the right (he's the younger of the two men in top hats). 

Photographed by Richard H. Barrett of Gloucester.

Condition: the print is in excellent condition, with good tonal range. It is mounted on a piece of cream-coloured card, which is clean, crisp and firm. A blindstamp at the lower right-hand corner identifies the photographer. The word ‘Copyright’ has been inked in the lower margin in an elegant copperplate script, although Barrett in fact never entered the image at Stationers’ Hall.

Dimensions: the print measures 7.8” by 9.7” (19.8 cm by 24.4 cm); the mount measures 9.5” by 12” (24.1 cm by 30.5 cm).

price:  £200
code: cat002
William George Owen, William Lancaster Owen, Great Western Railway, Rob Roy, train wreck, train accident, railway accident, railway, railways, locomotive, locomotive