Huskisson was a politician, who encouraged railway building, and was killed when he fell under the wheels of Stevenson’s Rocket.
William Huskisson began his career as a political clerk, in which profession, his talent was so manifest that in 1795 he was appointed undersecretary for war. He became was a member of Parliament in 1796 and served as secretary to the Treasury under William Pitt the Younger from 1804 to1805.
Huskisson became president of the Board of Trade in 1823 and attempted to modify the Corn Laws, which were causing acute economic distress among agricultural workers. From 1827 Huskisson became Secretary for the Colonies and leader of the House of Commons, but he resigned in 1828.
Huskisson was a railway enthusiast; fascinated by the developing British railway system and in 1830 he attended the opening ceremony of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The ceremony consisted of a procession of Stephenson’s Rockets each drawing carriages full of dignitaries including the Duke of Wellington. In his excitement, Huskisson strayed on to the railway track and was mowed down by one of Stevenson’s locomotives, thereby not only ruining the dignity of the ceremony, but also making him the first railway fatality in British history.
One of the other spectators, Lady Wilton described the accident as follows: ‘The engine had stopped to take a supply of water, and several of the gentlemen in the directors’ carriage had jumped out to look about them. Lord Wilton, Count Bathany, Count Matuscenitz and Mr. Huskisson among the rest were standing talking in the middle of the road, when and engine on the other line, which was parading up and down merely to show its speed, was seen coming down upon them like lightening. The most active of those in peril sprang back into their seats; Lord Wilton saved his life only by rushing behind the Duke’s carriage, and Count Matuscenitz had but just leaped into it, with the engine all but touching his heels as he did so; while poor Mr. Huskisson, less active from the effects of age and ill-health, bewildered, too, by the frantic cries of “Stop the engine! Clear the track!” that resounded on all sides, completely lost his head, looked helplessly to the right and left, and was instantaneously prostrated by the fatal machine, which dashed down like a thunderbolt upon him, and passed over his leg, smashing and mangling it in the most horrible way.’
Immediately, George Stephenson personally took the wounded gentleman to a safe place for treatment, in one of his locomotives, a distance of about 15 miles in 25 minutes, at the incredible speed of 36 miles an hour. At the home of the Revd Thomas Blackburne, Huskisson received what help was available, signed a codicil to his will and expired within an hour. A memorial now stands by the track with a marble tablet eulogising the lamented gentleman and poignantly quoting ‘In the midst of life, we are in death.’ Huskisson was buried in St James Church, Liverpool. [Now Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, St. James Road, Liverpool L1 7AZ] A statue of Huskisson, dressed in a Roman toga, by the sculptor John Gibson, stands in a London park. [Pimlico Gardens, St. Georges Square, London SW1V 2HP]