Scotland's History: The Tay Bridge Disaster

Detail of Register of Corrected Entry for David Neish

At approximately 7.15pm on 28 December 1879 the first Tay Rail Bridge collapsed. The weather that evening saw violent storms with gale force winds. Moments before the bridge fell, a train travelling from Wormit in Fife to Dundee began to cross it. As the wind hammered into the bridge, a horrified signalman watched as he saw sparks fly from the train, a sudden flash of bright light and then complete darkness suddenly descend. All communication with the signal cabin at the north end of the bridge had been lost.

A poignant telegram was sent by the Station Master at Dundee to the North British Railway Company’s Engineer at Portobello, near Edinburgh:

‘Terrible accident on Bridge one or more of high girders blown down – am not sure as to the safety of last train down from Edinr [Edinburgh] will advise further as soon as can be obtained.’
National Records of Scotland, GD1/556/8

The train, high girders, and much of the iron work supporting the piers were found in the water. There were no survivors: only 46 bodies were recovered out of the 59 known victims aboard. It was estimated by the Board of the Inquiry into the disaster, however, that taking into account employees and season holders, that it was likely that 74 or 75 individuals had been on board.

One of the 46 bodies recovered was that of David Neish. David was a school master and registrar of births, deaths and marriages. He was 37 years old, married to Ann Law and lived at 51 Coupar Street, Lochee, Dundee.

Death entry of David Neish

Death entry for David Neish

National Records of Scotland, Statutory Register of Deaths, 282/2/84

An entry in the Register of Corrected Entries (RCE), is also attached to the register entry for David’s death. RCEs include additional information about a person’s death, often as the result of inquiry into the circumstances of an accidental or sudden death.

The register of corrected entry for David Neish

Register of Corrected Entries for death of David Neish

National Records of Scotland, Register of Corrected Entries, 282/2/006/84

For more information about RCEs and statutory death records, please see our guide on statutory register of deaths.

On 28 January 1880 The 'Dundee Courier' reported that three weeks after the discovery of David’s body, the body of a young girl, aged around five years old was discovered on Wormit beach. She was identified as Bella Neish. Bella (Isabella) was David’s daughter, who had travelled to Kirkcaldy with her father on the Saturday before the accident, against her mother’s wishes. In her pockets was found a penny and a gold plated brooch.

Death entry for Isabella Neish

Death entry of Isabella Neish

National Records of Scotland, Statutory Register of Deaths, 282/2/87

Statutory Register of Corrected Entries for Bella Neish

Register of Corrected Entries for death of Bella Neish

National Records of Scotland, 282/02/006/85

A Court of Inquiry was established to try to discover the reason for the collapse of the bridge; it acknowledged that the cross bracings and fastenings were not strong enough to resist the force of the wind, leading to the failure of the supporting columns.

For further information about railway records held by the National Records of Scotland (NRS), please see the NRS guide on railway records.

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