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Thursday, 12 May 2011

'At the time of catastrophe’ - Railway Passenger's Accident Insurance - 1849-1914

In the period 1874 to 1878, on average 35 passengers were killed per year on Britain’s railways (against 687 railway employees). High profile accidents such as Abergele in 1868, in which 32 people died, combined with the attendant hysteria, did much to put fear into the heart of the travelling public.[1] How then could the passenger avoid leaving their family destitute if they had the misfortune to be in an accident? The answer – railway passenger’s insurance.

The most prominent company to provide this was the Railway Passengers Assurance Company (now part of AVIVA). Formed in 1849, ‘for the purpose of Insuring Passengers by railway against accidents,’ it started with a capital of £1,000,000 ‘to inspire confidence in its ability to pay £1000 for a threepenny premium.’[2]

After establishment, the company quickly made deals with the railway companies of Britain to sell tickets and policies at stations. Initially the tickets, purchased from booking offices at station, would insure the passenger for the journey that they were about to undertake (irrespective of length). In 1849 passengers could pay threepence on a first class ticket, twopence on a second class ticket and onepence on a third class ticket would, which, in the case of a fatal accident, would entitle their family to £1000, £500 and £200 respectively. In the cases where accidents were non-fatal, but where there had been injury, the company would pay out ‘a sum of compensation that they consider just.’ If the amount paid out was disputed by the claimant, the company would go to arbitration.[3] The company also issued periodical insurance tickets (usually for a month), and, irrespective of class, any fatal accident would permit the family to claim £1000. The original cost of this tickets have not been determined.[4]

Despite much scepticism in the press regarding the viability of the new company, insurance policies and single journey tickets sold well. At the company’s first annual general meeting in March 1850, it was reported that in the period between August 1849 and the end of the third week in February, 65,353 single journey tickets had been sold (15,710 first class, 24,586 second class and 25,047 third class). Additionally, 1,683 periodical passes had also been sold.[5]

As the insurance was sold at stations there had to be some pay-off for the railway company. A London and South Western Railway 1858 guide to Station Agents stated that Booking Clerks that issued and received insurance tickets were to receive a 10 per cent commission from the Assurance Company as remuneration for their trouble. Indeed, they were required to process the tickets also, and clerks were to send a weekly return of the number of tickets issued and received to Waterloo Audit office.[6] However, the selling of tickets wasn’t always looked on favourably by the railway companies themselves, and many Booking Clerks were instructed by management not to invite the selling of insurance as talk of accidents on the railways may have increased anxiety among travellers.[7] Despite this, the company remained successful.

After the formation of the company the types of accident insurance that could be taken out proliferated and some of the old schemes became more standardised. An 1897 guide for Station Agents shows that there was insurance for journeys not more than 35 miles and journeys of any length. The compensation was also dependent on how much the purchaser paid. There was also the option for individuals to purchase accident cover for 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 5 years, 10 years or the entire length of their person’s life. Furthermore, the subjective assessment of how much individuals should receive if they were maimed or injured had been replaced with formalised payments for those who suffered ‘death or loss of two eyes or limbs,’ ‘total disablement’ and ‘partial disablement.’[8] (see image for more details)

While the Railway Passengers Assurance Company held sway over 19th century passenger insurance, the scheme of the periodical Tit-Bits should be noted. Tit-Bits was launched by the innovative publisher George Newnes in 1881. In May 1885 Tit-Bits announced in bold and capitals ‘A NEW SYSTEM OF LIFE ASSURANCE.’ The scheme was as follows: ‘ONE HUNDRED POUNDS WILL BE PAID BY THE PROPRIETOR OF"TIT-BITS" TO THE NEXT-OF-KIN OF ANY PERSON WHO IS KILLED IN A RAILWAY ACCIDENT, PROVIDED A COPY OF THE CURRENT ISSUE OF "TIT-BITS" IS FOUND UPON THE DECEASED AT THE TIME OF THE CATASTROPHE.’

This had been suggested to Newnes by the wife of a dedicated reader who had been killed in an accident. Seeing the potential to increase the periodical’s circulation and his profits, Newnes used the idea. The first successful claimants were the family of a 40 year old coachbuilder who had fallen between the train and the platform at Hatfield station and had been run over. The coroner proclaimed ‘accidental death.’ However, crucially, four witnesses testified that the man had Tit-Bits in his pocket. Subsequently, two claims a month on average were made and by September 1891 Newnes had paid out to 36 families. How far this scheme increased the circulation of the Tit-Bits is unknown. However, it provided the publication with gripping stories for individuals reading it on the commute.[9]

[1] Simmons, Jack, ‘Accidents’, The Oxford Companion to British Railway History, (Oxford, 1997), p.2-4

[2] Author’s Collection, Instructions to Station Agents – Railway Passenger’s Assurance Company, 1897

[3] The Era, Sunday, March 4, 1849; Issue 545

[4] Trewman's Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser, Thursday, November 22, 1849; Issue 4381

[5] The Morning Post, Thursday, March 07, 1850; pg. 3; Issue 23788

[6] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 1035/269, 1858 - RAIL 1035- Abstract of instructions which have from time to time been issued to the Station agents &c Previous to 1st May 1858, p.14

[7] Harrington, Ralph, ‘The railway accident: trains, trauma and technological crisis in nineteenth-

[8] Author’s Collection, Instructions to Station Agents – Railway Passenger’s Assurance Company, 1897 century Britain,’

[9] Jackson, Kate, ‘The Tit-Bits Phenomenon: George Newnes, New Journalism and the Periodical Texts,’ Victorian Periodicals Review, Vol.30, No.3, (Fall, 1997), p.217-218

1 comment:

  1. Hmm!! This blog is really cool, I’m so lucky that I have reached here and got this awesome insurance in maryland


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