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Tay Bridge disaster
Tay Bridge disaster

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5 Board of Trade enquiry into the Tay Bridge disaster

5.1 Overview

The enquiry team set up by the Board of Trade, and sitting in Dundee Court House, held an initial session lasting several days starting on Saturday 3 January 1880. There were three members chaired by Mr Rothery, Commissioner of Wrecks. The others were Colonel Yolland, the Inspector of Railways, and Mr W H Barlow, president of the Institute of Civil Engineers, and a distinguished practising civil engineer.

Henry Rothery was a mathematics graduate but trained as a barrister. He had been appointed in 1876 as wrecks commissioner. Cases he gave judgment on included fires at sea on colliers, and ways of stowing grain on ships to maximise stability. Colonel Yolland was a royal engineer who also had mathematics training, and had worked at the Ordnance Survey in the Tower of London. He had become chief railways inspector in 1877.

They were assisted by counsel for the enquiry and the North British Railway and other parties involved with construction of the bridge.

In all, they heard 121 witnesses and the final reports were delivered in the remarkably fast time of six months. The magnitude of the disaster and the shock to the railway system may explain the speed of the enquiry, but it was also essential to learn the design lessons for future bridges.