George Smith’s coachcrash

George Smith was William’s coachman in France. After William’s death in 1835, George returned to England with his wife Jane and their children. They took up farming in Devon, at Starcross near Powderham. In 1850 George and Jane with several of their children emigrated to Australia on board the Pestonjee Bomanjee. They settled in the Adelaide Hills at Gumeracha, where George ran a coach service between that small but growing town and Adelaide. Their eldest child, also named George, remained in Devon with his wife Martha and their children, becoming a miller in Dawlish, a resort to the south of Starcross on the coast. Jane Smith died in 1859, and her husband George retired in 1861 soon after a coachcrash in which one of the passengers died. George himself died at Gumeracha in 1871.

This report from the inquest appeared in the South Australian Weekly Chronicle of Saturday 2 March 1861, where it was immediately followed by the obituary for Thomas Irvine.



On Monday evening a fatal accident occurred on the North-Eastern-road, near Houghton, by the upsetting of Mr. Smith’s conveyance, travelling between Adelaide and Mount Pleasant, by which, a man named Thomas Irvine, living in Grote-street, met his death, and five other persons were more or less injured. It appears from the evidence, and the information we have received, that Mr. Smith’s omnibus left Adelaide on Monday, February 25, containing the following passengers, as near as we can ascertain :— Thomas Irvine (the deceased), Mr. Tyrrell, Daniel Le Page, James Barrett, Henry Ash, Mr. Back (auctioneer), Miss Holden, and another female; the three last named being inside the ‘bus, and the remainder outside. All proceeded well until they reached within a mile of Houghton, where the horses, in descending a hill, became restive and quickened their pace. The driver, Mr. Smith, sen., was in the act of applying his foot to the break for the purpose of easing the pace, when from some cause his foot, slipped from the break and the consequence was that he fell from his seat. and the horses started off at full gallop. They proceeded about 100 yards, when the bus capsized by running into a small rut on the side of the road. The whole of the passengers on the outside were pitched on the ground, whilst those inside fell over with the bus. One of the men (Tyrrell), who jumped off when he found the horses had their own way came up, and picked up his fellow-passengers, and by the assistance of other parties they were removed to the Traveller’s Rest Inn, Houghton. On arriving there, it was found that the deceased had his left leg broken at the hip, his right arm dislocated, his front teeth loosened, and a deep cut under his chin. He was immediately attended by Dr. Bosch of Hope Valley, but unhappily his efforts to revive him failed, and he lingered till the following morning at 7 o’clock, when death put an end to his sufferings. Henry Ash was much injured about the head and face, and is now lying at the Traveller’s Rest Inn, in a very precarious state. Le Page was found to have his shoulder dislocated. Messrs. Barrett and Back happily escaped with but a few slight scratches, whilst Miss Holden escaped without any apparent injury. Mr. Pearce, the landlord of the Traveller’s Rest Inn, immediately on receiving intelligence of the accident, despatched messengers for medical gentlemen, and otherwise did all in his power to alleviate the unfortunate sufferers by kindness and attention. On Tuesday, the 26th February, an inquest was held at the Traveller’s Rest Inn, Houghton, before Mr. G. McEwin, J.P., (Coroner), and the following Jurymen — William Reid (foreman), J. Chapman, Robert Stone, T. J. Mountain, James Evendin, James Pappin, S. Pearce, H. Hunt, John Gollop, S. Needham, Thomas E. Haynes, J. Longbottom, and James Hartly. After viewing the body, the first witness called was William Tyrrell, who stated— On the 25th instant I came out from Adelaide, in Mr. Smith’s omnibus; we stopped on the hill, to let out a female and two children. We came down the hill at a gentle trot. After we had got half a mile on the road, the horses began to go faster. Mr. Smith lost one of the reins out of his hand, and he was trving to put his foot on the break at the same time. I am not certain of this, however. He tried to catch the reins, missed his foot, was over balanced and fell off. I tried to catch the reins, but could not. The horses went off at full gallop. I jumped off previous to the omnibus capsizing. I was stunned with the fall, and was rendered insensible for a little time. On looking up, I saw the omnibus capsized about 100 yards ahead of me. I ran to the omnibus.

By Mr. Pearce, a juror — The deceased sat on the back seat. When I went forward, I found the deceased, Thomas Irvine, lying on his face, about four feet from the back part of the omnibus. Assisted to put him into a spring-cart, which brought him to the Traveller’s Rest Inn, Houghton. about the eighth of a mile distant.

By Mr. Squibb (a Juror)— The original cause of the accident was Mr. Smith losing hold of the reins.

By Mr. Gollop (a Juror) — It was not from any neglect on the part of Mr. Smith. He was perfectly sober, I am convinced.

By Mr. Squibb — Cannot say how he lost hold of the reins. When Mr. Smith lost the reins the horses were going at the rate of eight miles an hour, and when I jumped off the speed, was about ten miles an hour. Am not certain his foot was on the break. He tried to catch the reins, and could not. Do not think that if his foot had been on the break it would have retarded the velocity of the ‘bus. The accident commenced after the descent commenced at Houghton.

Henry Ash — (this witness’s statement was taken whilst he was in bed) — stated he came out in Mr. Smith’s ‘bus from Adelaide on the 25th instant. Was sitting alongside Smith when he lost the reins. Saw him lose one of the reins, and in his attempt to recover them, he fell. I think he was trying to put his foot on the break at the same time, and the ‘bus gave a lurch to the one side, from the wheel having come in contact with a stone or rut. Could not have gone more than 100 yards after Smith fell off. Before the ‘bus capsized the reins got entangled amongst the horses’ legs. I tried to catch them, but failed to do so. It was in consequence of the reins being entangled, and no one to guide the horses, that caused the accident. The pole horses fell the same time the ‘bus capsized. Do not recollect anything after we fell till some person carried me off the road under the shade of a gum tree. I think the horses came down the hill rather fast previous to the accident. Do not think any one was to blame. By Mr. Pearce — Was going about eight or nine miles an hour when Mr. Smith fell off. By Mr. Squibb — Could not say that the pace the ‘bus was going at was the cause of Mr. Smith’s falling off.

By Mr. Gollop, a Juror — The accident occurred near the foot of the descent from the Teatree Gully Hill.

By Mr. Squibb — Mr. Rounsevell’s ‘bus passed us whilst changing the horses at Teatree Gully. Did hear some one ask Mr. Smith to try and pass Rounsevell. He. replied, “Oh no, I know my own pace; I have been on the road too many years to run a race.”

Henry Martin stated — About 4 o’clock on the 25th a man came from the Traveller’s Rest Inn to where I was at work on the road. He called me and another person to render assistance. We went down as fast as we could, and when we came there the shaft horses were down, and the leaders standing. There were two or three others before us, working on the shaft horses, to try and get them up. We got the horses out, and lifted the ‘bus up. Helped to get the deceased in the cart. He had been carried previously across the road, under the shade of a gum-tree. By Mr. Gollop — Mr. Smith, the driver, arrived about half an hour after me in a spring cart. By the Foreman — Mr. Smith was perfectly sober.

Dr. Bosch stated — I arrived about two hours after the accident occurrred. Found the deceased had his left leg broken at the hip, and his light arm was dislocated, his teeth were all loosened in front, and a deep cut under the chin, and some bruises on the face. He was quite sensible the first time I saw him. About an hour after I noticed blood issuing from both ears, and then I noticed that his spine was affected. I think that death was caused by a fracture of the left side of the skull, just behind the ear, and some blood vessel was broken in consequence of the fracture. Saw him this morning about 5 o’clock he was very far gone then.

By the Foreman — I believe death was caused by a concussion of the brain.

The following verdict was returned : — “That the Jury are of opinion that the deceased, Thomas Irvine, was accidentally killed by the upsetting of Mr. Smith’s omnibus.”


THE LATE ACCIDENT AT HOUGHTON. — The funeral of the late Mr. Thomas Irvine, who met his death by the omnibus accident on the Gumeracha-road, took place at 2 o’clock on Wednesday afternoon. A coffin was sent out for the body, which was brought in on Wednesday morning, and laid in the Presbyterian Church, Gouger-street, from whence it was removed to the Cemetery in the afternoon, the funeral services being conducted by the Rev. James Lyall, which gentleman, we understand, will preach a sermon on next Sunday respecting the melancholy occasion. A large number of persons, friends of the deceased, assembled to pay their last tribute to one who was known among them as an industrious and upright man, a good neighbor, and one whose loss they all deeply lamented. Mr. Irvine was a native of the Orkney Isles, 55 years of age, a stone-mason by trade, and had been in the colony for the last nine years. He has left a widow and grown-up daughter. His circumstances were low, his work being his sole support, and at the time of the distressing accident he was on his way to complete an engagement he had made to do some stonework. We hear that the friends of the deceased will interest themselves on behalf of his widow and daughter, and we shall be glad to know that their efforts to obtain additions to what they themselves will give may meet with success.


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  • 2022 March 21: first published online.