Remarkable Smash – Car Sandwiched between Trams

It has been a while since I wrote anything for this blog. Unfortunately, life, work, a global pandemic, and other responsibilities have got in the way. However, today, while doing some research, I came across this interesting image at the State Library of Queensland.

The photo shows a motor car sandwiched between two trams at the intersection of McLachlan Street and Brunswick Street in Fortitude Valley. The image summary reads:

First vehicle registered in 1935 was Q195-315 and the first in 1936 was Q216-215. This vehicle was new in the year 1935. Roadster was probably European, possibly a F.I.A.T. or a Citroen, the trams were the first electric trams in Brisbane known as match box design.

The image itself forms part of a collection known as ‘The Garage,’ a photographic album of Queensland motoring. ‘The Garage’ contains approximately 500 images of vehicles used in Queensland, covering the period from 1900.

However, what do we know about this accident? Thankfully, due to reporting in Brisbane newspapers, quite a lot. First, we know the name of the driver of the motor car, A.P. Wynne and where he lived – Grey Street, New Farm. If we wanted, we could look for more information about Wynne by using various sources, such as post office directories, to work out more about him. We also know that there was a passenger in the motor car, E. Rockett of Brown Street, New Farm. Additionally, we know that miraculously, neither the driver nor the passenger was hurt in the accident. We do know, however, that two passengers in one of the trams were treated for shock.

Importantly, we know the general timeline of events as they happened. As The Telegraph recorded in both its late and final editions on 4 June 1935:

A remarkable accident occurred at McLachlan and Brunswick Street intersection, Valley, at 8:40 a.m. to-day. A motorist travelling up McLachlan Street swerved to the right to avoid a collision with a tram travelling from New Farm, but met another tram going in the opposite direction.

To avoid colliding with this one he swerved to the left again and was sandwiched between the two. His car was completely wrecked; he escaped injury, but two passengers on one of the trams, a woman and a child, suffered from shock.

The trams were held up for a few minutes until the debris was cleared from the line.[1]

While these general details are impressive, there is more to the accident. Notably, a few days after the accident, a ‘traffic policeman’ was being stationed at the intersection of McLachlan Street and Brunswick Street. This was important because, as the Truth reflected, this intersection was ‘[f]it to qualify with honors as chief of [Brisbane’s] traffic “death traps”.’[2] Over the proceeding months, there had been at least three serious accidents at this junction. Therefore, there was a need to react to the problem of traffic accidents on Brisbane’s streets.

That accidents between trams and motor cars were common should not come as a shock, especially in this period. As Robert Lee reflected:

No form of transport is more dangerous than road motor transport and the annual ‘road toll’ has been a miserable feature of Australian life since the first New South Wales fatality in 1905.[3]

Combining cars with Brisbane’s relatively busy streets that were full of other forms of transport was, therefore, bound to lead to accidents. Indeed, within a few days of the 4 June accident, on 10 June, another collision between a tram and motor car led to the four passengers of the latter being seriously injured. One of the injured, a Roman Catholic priest, Father McDermott, was even administered last rites at the roadside though he eventually recovered.[4]

In the aftermath of these accidents, on 20 June 1935, the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland argued that trams should be equipped with ‘some device by means of which the driver can signal his intention to turn for the benefit of following vehicles.’[5] More prosaically, however, in 1936, this accident, and others like it appeared to have led Brisbane City Council to agree to erect traffic stop signs at numerous intersections in Brisbane at the request of the Queensland Main Roads Commission.

While all of the above is an interesting vignette, it does lead to a few larger questions that I will need to consider as I move forward with my research, such as how did people react when two modern forms of transport came together in such a manner? What do governmental responses to traffic accidents tell us about the cultural history of transportation and mobility?

[1] ‘Remarkable Smash – Car Sandwiched between Trams,’ The Telegraph, City Final Edition, 4 June 1935, p. 1.

[2] ‘Tighten Up City’s Traffic Control,’ Truth, 9 June 1935, p. 26.

[3] Robert Lee, Transport: An Australian History (Sydney, NSW: UNSW Press, 2010), p. 231.

[4] ‘Crash into Tram,’ The Northern Miner, 11 June 1935, p. 3; ‘Four Hurt in Crash,’ The Courier Mail, 11 June 1935, p. 14.

[5] ‘Traffic Signals for Trams,’ The Courier Mail, 25 June 1935, p. 6.

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