hidden europe 51

Beware of Assassins: Life and Death in the Railway Carriage

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: image © Jim808080 / dreamstime.com

Summary

The fear of being murdered on a train was once so great that affluent country squires donned old clothes to travel with the crowds in third class. It was, they judged, safer than travelling in splendid isolation in first class. We take a look at how the railway carriage changed through time.

Public opinion is a fickle thing. Worried about the risk of falling victim to an attack, thousands of travellers cancel or postpone journeys. We write not of today, but of 150 years ago when a great wave of apprehension caused the chattering classes to think twice about travelling by train. The chance of being murdered on a train journey was mercifully low. But statistics were not on the side of Monsieur Poinsot who was attacked and killed while on a train travelling through eastern France. Only when the train arrived at the Gare de l’Est in Paris was the body discovered, and by then the murderer had long fled, presumably alighting from the train at one of the stations along the way.

The fate of Monsieur Poinsot made French travellers think twice about buying a train ticket. The satirical weekly Le Figaro, precursor of the Paris daily newspaper of the same name, gently mocked the public mood. It suggested that, just as there were compartments reserved for smokers, and yet others set aside for lady travellers, could there not be a specially designated compartment for assassins?

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