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Pleasington, the site of the fatality, is a few miles East of Blackburn. Pleasington and Accrington, the home of the author, were both on the Lancashire and Yorkshire line. The towns are only 12 miles apart so it is likely that victim and poet knew of each other. The poem is a re-working of a poem called Only One Killed published in the Railway Review of 7th January 1887 without preamble or comment.

As I scanned my morning paper
Noting what its columns said,
One brief item caught my notice,
And its few short words I read.
'Twas an accident there mentioned
Happened to a railroad train -
Thus the morning paper told it
“Only one poor brakesman slain”

Then I flung aside the paper-
Sad thoughts came into my head;
While alone I sat and pondered
Of that one poor brakesman dead.
Only one among the hundreds,
He the only one to die;
He was nothing but a brakesman-
Hardly worth a tear or sigh

Then my thoughts in sadness wandered
To the luckless brakeman's home,
Where a wife and prattling baby
Wait in vain for him to come.
God have pity on that infant!
Heaven help the shrieking wife!
Two hearts are crushed with anguish
By the loss of that one life!

Hearts are rushed and hopes are blighted
Joy from one bright home has fled;
Tears are flowing, sobs are welling
For the one poor brakesman dead!
Though the world may feel no sorrow,
Show no sign of grief or pain,
Some poor hearts are wrung with anguish
For that one poor brakesman slain.

Only one ! 'tis soon forgotten
Scarce remembered through the day;
Other themes our thoughts engaging,
Drive it from our minds away;
But our hearts would break with anguish
We would weep and sob and moan
We would feel the bitterest sorrow
If the dead one were our own.

The use of the words “railroad” and “brakesman” suggest that this is American in origin. It seems to have been influenced by “Only One Killed”, written in 1864 or soon after by Julia L Keyes, in which the victim is a soldier of the American Civil War. [ref:]


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