About LEMA | Find | Projects | Documents | Research | Gallery

Death of a Child: Charles Thomas

At midday, on 6 October 1814, Joseph Bigg (1768-1833), the Macquaries' coachman, accidentally ran over and killed a small child, named Charles Thomas, in George Street, Sydney while Elizabeth Macquarie was a passenger in the coach. Biggs had observed a group of children playing in the street and had drawn his curricle to a halt. He then proceeded on again, little realising that one of the children had run under the vehicle.

When it was realised what had happened from the cries of the bystanders, Elizabeth Macquarie called out to Bigg to stop, dismounted immediately, and carried the injured child into the nearby Thomas family home. Dr. William Redfern was immediately sent for, however, he was unable to revive the child, and Charles Thomas died soon afterwards.

Eyewitness testimony at the coronial inquest chaired by J.W. Lewin cleared Joseph Bigg of any charge of negligence or recklessness in his driving. However, it should come as no surprise that as a consequence of the accident Elizabeth Macquarie suffered a severe nervous collapse and was confined to her bed for several weeks thereafter.

"Mrs. Macquarie considers that the poor unfortunate Child, herein alluded to, certainly ran inadvertently under the Horse himself, as she, as well as the Coachman, but the instant before saw all the Children perfectly free of the Curricle, and her and his attention were directed to the Rear of the Carriage at the moment he got under the Horse, which prevented them from seeing him run into that perilous situation. My Coachman is a remarkable good Driver, and whatever could be done to avoid such an accident, I am Confident he did do. He has now served me for Ten years, and was Coachman for several Years in London to Mr. Rolleston of the Foreign Office. I have never known him to shew any disposition to Cruelty to his Fellow Creatures. On this unfortunate occasion, he said 'He would rather have broken his own Neck than have been the Cause of the Death of the poor Boy.' Although it was an accident, he could neither foresee nor prevent, and I really believe he said exactly what he felt. The Parents of this unfortunate Child acted from the first moment to the present time with every possible degree of Reason and propriety. They have been very far from insinuating the inhuman Suggestions, which have been the occasion of my troubling you at such length on this subject. I take the liberty of transmitting herewith for your further information an attested Copy of the Coroner's Inquest held on the Boy, Charles Thomas."

Extract from 'Macquarie to Under Secretary Goulburn' 15 December 1817. Historical Records of Australia 1:9 pp.733-734.


Verdict "Accidental Death."

An Inquisition, taken at Sydney, New South Wales in the County of Cumberland Charles Thomas Aforesaid, the 6th day of October, in the fifty fourth Year of the Reign of George the third Before me, John William Lewin (Gent.), Coroner of our Lord the King for the County aforesaid, upon the View of the Body of Charles Thomas Infant, then and there lying dead, upon the Oaths of the twelve good and Lawful Men of Sydney aforesaid in the said County, in the Margin named,* Who,, being Sworn and Charged to Enquire on the part of our Lord the King When, Where, how,, and after What Manner, the said Charles Thomas Came to his Death, Do say upon their Oath that the Child Charles Thomas's Death was occasioned by its Accidentally running under the Carriage in endeavouring to get out of the Way, Unperceived by the Driver.

W. BENNETT, Foreman.
J.W.LEWIN, Coroner.

MARY BROWN Sworn, Saith that about half past twelve o'Clock at Noon this day the 6th Inst. that the deceased Child was at play in the Road with One of her Children, and a Carriage was Coming along, and the Coachman, Joseph Biggs, Called out to the Children to get out of the Way; at the Same time pulled his Horses up, and, supposing the Children were Clear, drove on again; but that the deceased Child in Some Way Seemed to Stagger, and the Carriage Wheel went over him, that She picked the Child up; it was bruised on the Head, which this Deponent Attributes to its Fall on the Gravel. Being asked whether this Deponent believed, After the Coachman had pulled up his Horses and Drove on again, that he saw the Danger the Child was in, Answers, " I do not suppose he did."
MARY BROWN, her mark X
J.W. LEWIN, Coroner.

ROSE MOORE, Sworn, Saith that about Noon this day She was in George Street passing along, and heard a Carriage Coming, anti heard some person Call out to some Children, that was in the Road, to get out of the Way; the Coachman immediately pulled up his Horses, and the deceased Child, in the Stead of Running the right way, run immediately under the Wheel, which went over him on his driving on again. Being asked if She thought the Coachman knew the Child's Danger, says, "No, She is Certain he did not, as it was on the opposite Side which the Coachman Sat, so that he Could not See it."
ROSE GREEN, her mark X.
J.W. LEWIN, Coroner.

THOMAS SIMMS Sworn, Saith that about twelve o'Clock at Noon this day, as he was standing at his own Gate in George Street, he Saw a Carriage Coming down the Street on a Moderate Trot, he saw two Government Waggons in the Road unloading; he saw a parcel of Children at play; the Coachman Seemed to pull up his Horses, and that the deceased Child was the Lowermost of the Whole, and was endeavouring to Cross the Street; he did not see the Child fall, nor Can say Whether it was knocked down by the Carriage Wheel or not, Nor did hear how, Until it was picked up. Deponent, being asked how far he was from the Carriage at the time, Saith about Seventy or Eighty yards.
J. W. LEWIN, Coroner.

JOSEPH BIGGS Coachman Sworn, Saith that about half after Twelve O'Clock at Noon this day he was passing down George Street with his Carriage, and saw a Number of Children at play in the Road at the left of the Carriage, and that he bore away about two and half Yards from the Children, pulling up his Horses at the Same time; Supposed he was Clear of them, as he observed them to be behind his Horses, as far as he Could See from his Situation, and that he heard no more Until he heard his Mistress say there was a Child under the Wheel; he Immediately pulled up the Horses to a full Stop.
J.W. LEWIN, Coroner.

JOHN WILLIAM LEWIN, Coroner of our Lord the King for the County of Cumberland in the Territory of New South Wales, maketh Oath and Saith that he has carefully compared and examined with the original return of the Inquisition, taken by him on the 6th Octr. in the 54th year of the Reign of George the Third, the within purporting to be a Copy thereof, And that the same is a true and correct Copy thereof in every respect.
J.W. LEWIN, Coroner.

Sworn before me this 15th day of December, 1817, as also to a Duplicate hereof.
JNO. WYLDE, Judge-Adv., N.S.W.

* Mr. Wm. Bennett, Foreman; Mr. Henry Lane; Mr. Joseph Inch; Mr. Charles Dowdle; Mr. Joseph Hunt; Mr. William Deane; Mr. Wllm. McGinnis; Mr. George Woodford; Mr. Laurence Butler; Mr. Willm. Beard; Mr. Isaac Knight; Mr. Chris'r Lander.

Copy of the original Coronial Report, dated 6 October 1814: 'Inquest on the Body of Charles Thomas, an Infant'. Historical Records of Australia. 1:9 pp.737-738.

Top of page

Return to: 1814 | Documents

Copyright © 2011 Macquarie University. All rights reserved.

Macquarie University
NSW State Library
National Library of Scotland
Historic Houses Trust
National Library of Australia
National Museum of Australia
State Records of NSW