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The Tay Bridge disaster 1879

The disaster has been well documented and the story will not detain us here. The salient points to bear in mind when looking at the songs and poems are as follows.  The bridge opened for passenger traffic, amid much celebration, in June 1878 (18 months before the disaster). The Scotsman of 1st June called the opening "in all respects the most important event in the history of railways since they were first introduced to Scotland" and it was widely reported across Britain. William McGonagall wrote a poem celebrating the use of the bridge by the Newport Railway in May 1879 (bar716~Newport Railway).
The bridge collapsed during a violent storm while a train was crossing. It is believed that 74 or 75 people (including railway employees) were on the train although initial reports in the Times of the next morning (29th December) estimated the number of passengers at between 150 and 200. There was substantial coverage in newspapers and magazines..

The Dundee Courier of 5th January 1880 carried an article claiming that the Tay Bridge disaster is God's judgment on defective engineering"

The court of enquiry began taking evidence on 3rd January (6 days after the event) and reported at the end of June, thus keeping the event fresh in the public mind. One version of the only Tay Bridge song found in the folk tradition (bar659/Roud 21568) begins "Ye'll all have ye heard about the brig that spanned the river Tay". As with other disasters the music industry was not alone intaking an opportunity to make money. This postcard must have been published after when the locomotive was recovered during April 1880. [Ref Dundee Advertiser 20th April 1880]

Most of the songs and poems feature the standard motifs: travellers setting out with light hearts; parents trying to save their children; mourning friends and relatives; and hope that the souls of the dead are in heaven. The only piece to mark out the railway workers killed for special attention is the song written approximately a century after the event by a railway footplateman, Don Bilston (bar427).

The headblocks of two of the broadsides (bar and bar 600) look as if they were copied from newspaper or magazine illustrations.


3 across Articles in this Category: click a link

Lamentable Lines on the Tay Bridge...

bar210: Dates ----~1880|

First line "Unto my sad heart rending tale" features the usual motifs but gives no substantial detail of the event. It wildly overestimates the numbers killed, stating...

Tay Bridge Disaster

bar427: Dates ----~----|

From Farewell to steam by Don Bilston. The song gives the details of the train and names David Mitchell of Dundee as the driver. The song describes...

Tay Bridge Disaster, In Memory of the

bar175: Dates 1880~1880|

First line "The Bridge, the Bridge, the wondrous Bridge" seems to be the text on which bar659 is based. It starts by admiring the engineering of the...

Tay Bridge Disaster, The

bar428: Dates 1880~1879|

First line "Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay!" Is the only piece that acknowledges the finding of the enquiry.  McGonnagall overestimates the number of lives lost....

Tay Bridge Disaster, The

bar429: Dates 1879~1880|

First line "In this gay and festive season," emphasises that the disaster happened during the Christmas season. It also gives some technical detail about the causes of...

Tay Bridge is Broken and I'm come to...

bar420: Dates ----~----|

A children's game song. 

Tay Bridge Disaster (659)

bar659: Dates 1880~----|

First line "Ye'll all have ye heard about the brig that spanned the river Tay" is a version of 175 ~ In Memory of the Tay Bridge...

Fall of Tay Bridge

bar660: Dates 1880~----|

First line "You people of Scotland I pray give attention" lists 23 victims by name and identifies a further 8 by their relationship to a named victim....

Tay Bridge Disaster (661)

bar661: Dates 1879~1880|

First line "The wintry wind blew loud and chill", was printed in the Dundee Courier of 6th January 1880 [Ref: British Newspaper Archive]. The poem was written...

The Tay Bridge disaster 1879

ns008: Dates ----~----|

The disaster has been well documented and the story will not detain us here. The salient points to bear in mind when looking at the songs and...

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