Killed by a Train

After experiencing the untimely death of his mother who was drowned in the Pelorus River, ( Herbert Wilmor Eyes almost certainly hoped that the rest of his life would be uneventful. This, however, was not to be the case…

Born in Picton, New Zealand, in 1888, the eldest son of Septimus Eyes and Emily Cecelia Jones, Herbert Wilmor Eyes started to put the tragedy of his mother’s death behind him when, the following year, in 1912, he married Dorothy Thorpe of Rai Valley at St. Mark’s Church. The ceremony was reported in the Marlborough Express on 11th May 1912.

The church had been tastefully decorated by friends of the young couple. The bride, who was given away by her mother, wore a dainty white silk dress, trimmed with a silk fringe and lace, and wore a wreath and veil, and carried a shower bouquet… After the ceremony a small reception was held at the residence of the bride’s mother, to a few relatives of the bride and bridegroom. The happy couple left during the afternoon to spend their honeymoon in Blenheim and Picton.

Spending a number of years as a farmer, at some point during the 1920s, Herbert began working as a baker, establishing a bread making and delivery business in the centre of the town of Levin. Due to deliveries being made both in the town and the country, the business proved to be quite profitable.

Level Crossing at Palmerston North where the accident took place.

Level Crossing at Palmerston North where the accident took place.

On February 17th 1928, Herbert set off to make a bread delivery, his wife Dorothy accompanying him in the passenger seat of his van. On attempting to  pass over the railway line at Palmerston North, it would seem that he did not notice the oncoming north-bound New Plymouth express nor heard the sound of the whistle. It was noted, at the time, that the level crossing was a particularly dangerous one, the road running parallel with the train line for over 500 feet before turning sharply across it.

A few seconds before the collision, Dorothy, who was nearest the train, did notice it and grasped her husband. It was too late, however, and the train hit the van in the middle, wrecking it instantly and carrying the engine over 250 feet past the crossing. Dorothy received severe head injuries and died instantaneously; Herbert, however, was carried along with the van wreckage before being thrown clear.

The grave of Herbert Wilmor Eyes and his wife, Dorothy, at Levin Old Cemetery.

The grave of Herbert Wilmor Eyes and his wife, Dorothy, at Levin Old Cemetery.

The first people to reach the scene of the accident were passengers on the train – Hon J. A. Young (Minister of Health), Dr. T. H. A. Valintine (Director-General of Health) and Constable Tocker. They provided medical assistance until the arrival of L. J. Hunter, a doctor from Levin. Herbert was suffering from serious head and shoulder injuries so Hunter, under Valintine’s supervision, placed him in the guard’s van and took him to Palmerston North Hospital.

Sadly, Herbert Wilmor Eyes would never recover from his injuries and, the following day, passed away at the hospital he was taken to after the accident. Herbert and Dorothy left behind three small children and were buried together at Levin Old Cemetery.

Drowned in the River

Septimus Eyes, 1859 - 1947, husband of the dead woman.

Septimus Eyes, 1859 – 1947, husband of the dead woman.

On September 17th, 1911, Septimus Eyes, proprieter of the Rai Falls Accomodation House in the Rai Valley, New Zealand, retired to bed as normal. Waking at approximately 4.20am, he struck a match to ascertain the time then went back to sleep, noting that his wife was also still awake. At 7.20am, he woke for a second time and realised that his wife, Emily Cecelia Eyes (nee Jones), was no longer there.

He woke up his family and started to search the house and the surrounding vicinity but there was no sign of her. They even searched further afield into the nearby bush areas to no avail; Emily was missing. Septimus immediately became concerned for his wife’s wellbeing as, in addition to her complaining of headaches and noticing a decline in her health over the past three months, the area had been inundated with flood waters from the Pelorus River and the water had become too deep for coaches to pass through.

Search parties were deployed led by Constable O’Grady and the local newspapers reported the details of the missing woman but, by September 21st, still no trace could be found. By now, it was assumed that she had fallen into the swollen river but, due to the increasing water levels, the authorties had been unable to conduct any dragging operations.

The Pelorus River, where Mrs Eyes died, was a location used in 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit' films.

The Pelorus River, where Mrs Eyes died, was a location used in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ films.

On October 5th, William Twidle, a farmer from the Pelorus, had just started to milk his cows when one of his boys noticed an object floating on the far side of the river. He got into a dinghy and went to investigate. On pulling the object into the dinghy, he found that it was the body of a woman, so travelled to Havelock to make contact with the local police.

The family was summoned and Septimus identified the body as his wife by a ring she was wearing. Their son, Harry Dean Eyes, viewed the body and also confirmed it was his mother. He told the following inquest that, on the night before her disappearance, he had spoken to his mother at about 10pm but had not noticed anything strange about her manner. The body was also identified by Herbert Spencer Jones, Emily’s brother, who corroborated statements regarding the declining health of the dead woman.

The jury at the inquest did not take any time to conclude that Emily had lately been troubled by her health, resulting in bouts of insomnia. The verdict was recorded as ‘death by misadventure.’ She was buried at Havelock Cemetery on October 6th, 1911.