The Dreaded Freak Carriage Accident

The Dreaded Freak Carriage Accident

One of the things I love about writing Regency stories is thinking of ways to dispose of characters, especially characters we all love to hate. A lot of acronyms have sprung up on Jane Austen Fan Fiction forums over the years, and one such acronym is FCA. On occasion a new reader will ask what FCA stands for and this post provides the answer. Freak carriage (or coach) accidents are used often in JAFF tales, and I thought it would be fun to look into one of our favorite plot devises.

As we investigate numerous reasons why these accidents may have happened, I couldn’t help but add my own thoughts in red. Please indulge me.



Drivers were often careless, furious, intoxicated or even ignorant.

Careless driving often resulted because a driver was not paying attention and turned corners too fast, driving up banks or into ditches, or crashing into other vehicles or obstacles. Not too much different from today, what with women wearing the latest skimpy fashions!

Driving while angry or furious was not a frequent cause of accidents, mainly, I suppose, because the coachmen/drivers wished to keep their jobs. There were no penalties for it. It was suggested, however, that if the guilty driver gave a false address, they should be prosecuted for a misdemeanor. So road rage was not a big problem in the Regency era.

Thomas Rowlandson -The Runaway Coach

Driving while intoxicated was deterred by having stiff penalties inflicted upon the employers of known drunkards and then ensuring that full penalties were meted out to the guilty parties. DUIs started with carriages? Unbelievable.

Ignorant driving relates to those who did not know the best way to hold the reins. Tips for doing so included never driving with the reins too slack. In the article I found, there was an explanation of how to loop the reins so that they pulled on the hand, not the fingers. Supposedly, holding the rein in this way levelled the pull on the horse’s mouth. However, I could not make heads or tails (pun intended) of the instructions. Should you be scheduled to drive a team of horses in the near future, you can follow the link listed at the end of this post for more detailed instructions.

Bad road conditions.

The main obstacles in towns were the blocking of streets for the loading and unloading of goods or for performing work on them. As for vehicles outside the town limits, mail coachesCarriage Accident and others had to keep an eye out for dangerous items in the roads. Some of the things regularly encountered by coaches were plows, tree branches and doors and gates, gates being the most common item found in roadways. Sound like the morning rush-hour traffic report to you, too?

As someone of that era said, “It was never clear if these obstacles were placed there to facilitate robbery, or out of sheer wantonness . . . [as the] instances of such acts of wickedness were frequent.”

In addition, cart and wagon owners often used large stones to block a wheel while they loaded or unloaded their carts or wagons. If left in the road, these loose stones were particularly dangerous to horses traveling downhill, and it was a situation easily prevented by a little thoughtfulness. So many road problems could be prevented by a little of that.

Collisions with Other Vehicles.

These occurred primarily because of runaway horses, although it was claimed that a good driver could avoid them. The rule of the road was keep to the left side and to pass vehicles going in the same direction on the right. The advantage to the rule was that everyone knew what to expect, and a driver could use his whip without accidentally lashing pedestrians. Hmm. I wonder if he might not lash someone when he went to the right to pass.

Georgian Carriage AccidentAnother way to avoid collisions mentioned in my research was for a less experienced driver to collide with something that would stun the horse and force it to stop rather than hit another carriage. Can you imagine the poor creature crashing into a tree? Methinks it might stun not only the horse, but the occupants!

Horses presented a myriad of problems.

Relying on horses for transportation presented many problems included bolting, shying or rearing when a horse became frightened or was in pain. A good driver was aware of his horses’ conditions and noted the prick of their ears, so they could be ready to stop before an accident happened. For horses which pulled carriages, jibbing was more common than rearing. Jibbing was stopping and refusing to go, a habit hard to eradicate. Drivers were advised if their horse was a jibber, they should not attempt to have it pull a four-wheeled carriage, except as one of a pair. Moreover, it was suggested that jibbers pull gigs rather than other kinds of carriages. I love horses and prefer to blame all their eccentrics on the inexperience of their handlers.

On occasion a horse might have stomach staggers which made him giddy, stagger sideways, and fall by sinking to the ground on its hind legs first. It was frequently caused by over feeding a horse on dry oats and hay and was remedied by feeding the horse steamed corn or a bran mash. There were also several other reasons for this malady, including excessive driving, a badly fitting collar pressed against the horse’s windpipe, or a tight bearing rein. Poor animal!

 Runaway Horse

Other Causes of Carriage Accidents: Harness and Carriage Issues, Passengers.

Harness issues were too numerous to mention but included breaking bands, straps and bolts. The main advice given to avoid harness accidents was for drivers to double check their harnesses for any defects before driving. Carriage issues involved going too fast downhill or having the carriage lose ground and run backwards when going uphill. Had to smile at that one, for I imagined Lady Catherine in the coach!

As for passengers, women were advised to leave their hands free, even while being helped in or out of a carriage by a gentleman and to watch that their long skirts did not catch onAscending and Descending a Carriage-M-1189 the steps. That puts a damper on all the scenes where Darcy helps Lizzie in or out of a carriage and they look longingly at each other, doesn’t it!

Riders were advised never to jump out of a carriage in motion, which was a risky proposition. You think? However, if a horse bolted and the person needed out, he was advised to jump in the same direction as the horses were going. I cannot see that ending well, either.

When riding in carriages, passengers were advised to be careful to secure themselves so as not to slide off the seat if there is any sudden movement. Sitting in Mr. Darcy’s lap would be my safety suggestion. If not the safest position, at least it would be the most enjoyable.

One important side note about carriages: The choice seat in a carriage was the one on the right hand side facing the animals; this was usually reserved for women or the elderly. Refer to my note above regarding Darcy’s lap.

Now that we have gone over the many causes of FCA, please tell me your thoughts. Do we writers rely on them too often? Or are they to be expected given the times? I have to admit that I love them as a plot point no matter how many times I read them.

Information for this post came from:


25 Responses to The Dreaded Freak Carriage Accident

  1. I do tend to enjoy the good old FCA in the stories when they are used to end the life of one of those we love to hate, i.e., Lady Catherine or Mr. Collins. I have enjoyed, too, the stories where one or the other of ODC have been in one of those FCA’s! Pulls on my heartstrings and pulls me right in! This information was very interesting. I had no idea all the dangers or the many ways one of the FCAs could have occurred! Thank you for your stories Brenda. I have your books and have loved losing myself within your stories.

    • My goodness Donna! You have managed to make my day with your post. It is so sweet of you to tell me that you like my stories. It makes me want to finish the next story I am working on – Darcy and Elizabeth – A Promise Kept. I am happy, too, that you learned something new for I know that I did. Hugs.

    • I wish you well on your aspirations Debbie! I have ridden horses and mules, but I am still uncertain about them. I fear if I ever drove them I would be in a freak carriage accident myself! heh heh

  2. So many marvelous ideas for mayhem!

    When we recently visited an 1800’s farm, we took a wagon ride so that my Dad did not have to walk so much. While the knowledgeable gentleman who was driving told us stories and pointed things out, I admit, I was fascinated watching him put his full body into controlling those Canadian horses. It impressed upon me just how strong a person had to be to drive and control those large animals as it is much harder to control that kind of horsepower than the kind in a car. 🙂

    • I can only imagine Eileen. I had experience with a mule and they are stubborn, so to control a team must have been a task!

  3. Well, just give me Darcy’s lap and a long smoldering kiss and the rest is moot! Not really. Carriage travel or any lengthy travel with where a horse is involved sounds dangerous and uncomfortable in the end. Just look at those wooden wheels ready to split and think of all the dust the horses kicked up. Add a few highway men and Yikes! funny how some of your pics reminded me of the chariot races in Ben Hur. No Thanks! By the way, carriage accidents work well for me. Thanks, Jen

    • I agree entirely Jen, about Darcy’s lap and a kiss! I think we have no idea how dangerous riding in coaches and carriages could be. 🙂

  4. It never bothers me as they were common occurrences…it’s reality. I got the giggles over the not jumping out while in motion because it could be dangerous. Well, what do you know? Thanks for enlightening us. LOL It’s like the sticker that is on the inside door jamb of my husbands truck. “Do not open this door while the vehicle is moving. Injury could occur”.

    • Don’t you just love all the ‘warnings’ we have today Stephanie. I suppose at some point, someone tried that and they decided they had to have a sticker warning against it. I laughed at the warnings of how to jump ‘out’ too.

  5. Carriage/wagon accidents were common and deadly, especially since they didn’t have our modern day medicine to help the injured. I like the use of FCA in stories as it adds something different to the story.. thanks for sharing…..Carmalee

    • Thanks for taking time to comment Carmalee. 🙂 And you are right! The aftermath of the FCA could be deadly and that is why we use it so often. 🙂

  6. Lol. Darcy’s lap. My great-grandmother had a story about a carriage accident she was in as a child. She wrote about it, so I have a copy of her story. Their carriage went into a ditch and rolled. She ended up with some broken bones and some of the other passengers were injured as well. We tend to think of carriages as much safer than cars, and I guess they were, but they weren’t as safe as we think.

    • Oh my, Rebecca. I don’t think I know anyone who was ever in a wagon/carriage accident so that is unique. My grandparents talked about riding in wagons but never about having been in an accident, so hopefully, they were few and far between. Thanks for sharing the story. So sad it was your great-grandmother.

Your thoughts are precious!