Transport through the times …

South Africa’s first-ever automobile accident, Cape Town 1903

Back in the good old days, motorcar drivers had a remarkably casual attitude toward level crossings. In fact this nonchalant approach was applied to most areas of road safety … It is unfortunately, how Charles Garlick ended up in a bit of a pickle, making history as the first-ever South African to have an automobile accident.


Driving his father’s brand new 18 kW Darracq on October 1, 1903, with his pal Harry Markham and chauffeur Shellgrove as passengers, Garlick entered the Maitland level crossing from an open gate, only to find the opposite gate was closed. Panic set in! And, before the group had the opportunity to open the gate or reverse out of the crossing, the Johannesburg Express hit at full speed.

Shellgrove came out scotch free, Garlick suffered minor injuries but unfortunately Markham, with his arm already in splints from a previous engine-cranking mishap (was the man accident prone or what?), had a badly broken thigh.  

The worse-for-wear Darracq had to undergo repairs and a new chassis was ordered from Paris. The final result, however, showed fine testimony to Cape Town’s first-ever motor repairmen!

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Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publication in southern Africa.
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