Birr in County Offaly, Leinster, Ireland — Mid-East (and Dublin)
The world's ﬁrst automobile fatality
happened here on 31 August 1869
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:
DEATH OF THE HON. MRS. WARD
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 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
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 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, 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.
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.
Location. 53° 5.873′ N, 7° 54.586′ W. Marker is in Birr, Leinster, 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. Touch for map. Marker is near the SE corner of Saint Brendan's Church of Ireland church, c.1815.
Related marker. Click here for another marker that is related to this marker.
Also see . . .
1. Wikipedia entry for Mary Ward (Submitted on July 19, 2010.)
2. Saint Brendan's Church of Ireland (National Inventory of Architectural Heritage). (Submitted on July 18, 2010.)
Categories. • Man-Made Features • Notable Events • Roads & Vehicles • Science & Medicine •
Credits. This page was last revised on July 24, 2018. This page originally submitted on July 18, 2010. This page has been viewed 1,895 times since then and 42 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on July 19, 2010.