Tay Bridge Disaster 5: Public Inquiry

The collapse of the bridge stunned the whole country and sent shock waves through the Victorian engineering community, and a Court of Inquiry was quickly established. A great deal of very disturbing evidence came to light during the Inquiry. It seemed very likely that trains did indeed exceed the permitted speed limit of 25 mph, and evidence was presented suggesting that not enough account had been taken of the effects of wind speed and pressure during the planning and building of the bridge. Workers at the Wormit Foundry gave evidence about the low grade iron that had been used for the column construction, and about unsatisfactory practices carried out there. In addition, it appeared that Henry Noble, the maintenance inspector on the bridge, a most diligent man by all accounts, was actually qualified in brickwork rather than iron-work. He appears to have been given little guidance or instruction on work to be carried out.

Thomas Bouch

Finally it was the turn of Sir Thomas Bouch himself to give evidence. It appeared that throughout the whole procedure of planning, building and maintaining the bridge he had relied and depended too heavily on information and advice from others. The conclusion of the report found that the bridge had been “badly built, badly constructed and badly maintained”; furthermore, it laid the blame for the disaster almost entirely on Thomas Bouch. The conclusion found that:

            For faults in design – he was entirely responsible.

            For faults in construction – he was principally responsible.

            For faults in maintenance – he was principally, if not entirely, responsible.

This was a harsh verdict on a man who had simply built his dream. With nothing more to live for, Sir Thomas Bouch died just three months later, aged 58. He had been destroyed by the destruction of his bridge and, indeed, as John Prebble has suggested, he was perhaps the last casualty of the Tay Bridge Disaster.

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