Punch,  33 (1857), 154.

Who's to Blame? or, Passages from the Life Locomotive



Short Fiction, Spoof


Railways, Engineering, Commerce, Accidents, Charlatanry

    Narrates the story of 'The Blazer', an old locomotive which had been 'a first-rate piece of engine building in her day' and which George Stephenson had praised and christened. After years of 'honest, regular, steady work' on the Stockton and Darlington Railway, the locomotive's boiler was 'all sound' and 'she' continued to work 'till railways had grown, and stretched their iron arms over the whole island'. However, the locomotive's fortunes declined when, on being transferred to 'one of the dashing, new Midland lines, got up on the Hudson high-pressure system of, "a short life and a merry one"', it was overworked and like railway staff and officials, its health was 'risked recklessly for the purpose of swelling dividends'. Shortly afterwards, damage to the locomotive's boiler necessitated an overhaul of the engine, but the railway directors made the fatal decision of using the train to 'race the express of a rival line'. The results were catastrophic, with the engine's boiler breaking, railway carriages being 'jammed up into the air', and 'scores of people' being killed. Reflects on the guilty party in this disaster, defending the 'poor old Blazer', but blaming the engineer, the 'superintendent of the rolling stock', and the directors (who blamed the locomotive).

    The story ends with an account of a 'similar catastrophe' befalling 'another Company—on a much larger scale', which is a thinly veiled account of events during the Indian Mutiny. Relates that an 'old locomotive, called the General Lloyd, part of the stock of the East India Company, has lately broken down near the Dinapore Station' causing an 'awful smash', as a result of which the 'Directors talk of trying the poor, old locomotive—which it was their duty to have had overhauled every journey'.

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