“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Birr in County Offaly, Leinster, Ireland — Mid-East (and Dublin)

The world's first automobile fatality

happened here on 31 August 1869

The world's first automobile fatality Marker image. Click for full size.
September 26, 2009
1. The world's first automobile fatality Marker
Shortly after 8:00pm that evening a pioneering steam carriage designed and built by William Parsons, the Third Earl of Rosse, left the castle gates and drove at walking pace along Oxmantown Mall before turning the corner into Cumberland (now Emmet) Street. The Kings County Chronicle of the following day records what then befell:


On yesterday the people of Parsonstown were much excited and grieved at a sad accident which occurred in the town. In the afternoon of yesterday the Hon. Captain Ward, his wife, the Hon. Mrs. Ward, the Hons. Cleare and Charles Parsons, and Mr. Biggs, the tutor to the young gentlemen, were on a stream carriage which had been built by Lord Rosse. The vehicle had steam up, and was going at an easy pace, when on turning the sharpe corner at the church, unfortunately the Hon. Mrs. Ward was thrown from the seat and fearfully injured, causing her almost immediate death. The unfortunate lady was taken into the house of Dr. Woods which is nearly opposite the scene of the unhappy occurrence, and as that gentleman was on the spot everything that could
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be done was done, but it was impossible to save her life. The utmost gloom pervades the town, and on every hand sympathy is expressed with the husband and family of the accomplished and talented lady who has been so prematurely hurried into eternity. The deceased lady was the sister of J.G. King, Esq., Ballylin, and the untoward occurrence will plunge several noble families into grief. The body was last night taken to Birr Castle where it awaited the cornoner's inquest which was held today. The deceased lady and her husband had been for the past week on a visit with the Earl of Rosse. The Hon. Mrs. Ward was a lady of great talent, and accomplished in literary and scientific pursuits. A very interesting book of hers, "Sketches with the Microscope," was published at this office [Shields of Parsonstown] some years ago.

At the inquest it became clear that the tutor, Richard Biggs, was driving the carriage and that he had successfully turned the corner without striking the kerbstones; also that Mrs. Ward died within minutes in Dr. Wood's house. The verdict was accidental death - the world's first such finding in connection with an automobile.

Mary Ward
Mary Ward was born in 1827, the youngest daughter of the Rev. Henry King of Ballylin House, Ferbane; she was a cousin of the 3rd Earl of Ross (above). In 1854 she married the Hon. Henry Ward of Castleward,
The world's first automobile fatality Marker image. Click for full size.
September 26, 2009
2. The world's first automobile fatality Marker
Looking NE along Emmet Street, with Saint Brendan's Church at extreme left.
Co. Down and bore him eight children. She was a remarkable woman who became famous as an artist, naturalist, astronomer and microscopist. She published three science books and numerous scientific articles. Her book on the microscope became a standard work of the day and she was one of only three women privileged to receive the monthly notices of the Royal Astronomers Society (Queen Victoria being one of the other two).

No picture or drawing of the steam carriage survives and it is said that the Earl decreed that it be completely broken up and destroyed on the evening of the accident - harking back to an ancient tradition whereby creatures or inanimate objects involved in human deaths were destroyed.

There is also a tradition that when the Earl telegraphed Mary's brother, John Gilbert King, to discuss the funeral arrangements, he responded: "You killed her - you bury her!". She is the only non-lineal decendant in the Parsons line to lie in the family vault in Birr.
Erected by Birr Historical Society.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Man-Made FeaturesNotable EventsRoads & VehiclesScience & Medicine. A significant historical year for this entry is 1827.
Location. 53° 5.873′ N, 7° 54.586′ W. Marker is in Birr, Leinster,
The world's first automobile fatality Marker image. Click for full size.
September 26, 2009
3. The world's first automobile fatality Marker
Looking NW, with Saint Brendan's Church in background.
in County Offaly. Marker is at the intersection of Emmet Street (National Route 52) and Oxmantown Mall, on the left when traveling north on Emmet Street. Marker is near the SE corner of Saint Brendan's Church of Ireland church, c.1815. Touch for map. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 2 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Site of First All-Ireland Hurling Final (approx. one kilometer away); John Farrell's Field (approx. one kilometer away).
Related marker. Click here for another marker that is related to this marker.
Also see . . .  Wikipedia entry for Mary Ward. (Submitted on July 19, 2010.)
Route of Steam Car Drawing on Marker image. Click for full size.
September 26, 2009
4. Route of Steam Car Drawing on Marker
"Oxmantown Mall, c.1860s" Photo on Marker image. Click for full size.
September 26, 2009
5. "Oxmantown Mall, c.1860s" Photo on Marker
"A Steam Car of the Era" Photo on Marker image. Click for full size.
September 26, 2009
6. "A Steam Car of the Era" Photo on Marker
Credits. This page was last revised on November 6, 2020. It was originally submitted on July 18, 2010, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania. This page has been viewed 2,066 times since then and 37 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on July 19, 2010.

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Nov. 29, 2023