August 31, 1869 – The first automobile death

On this day in 1869 Mary Ward unfortunately made her way into the history books, as she is believed to be the first person killed in an automobile accident. While riding in an experimental steam car in Ireland that was built by her cousins, the sons of famous astronomer William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse, she was thrown from the car on a bend and was killed when the car then rolled over her. Ward was an amature scientist who wrote several books. Believing nobody would publish her first book, “Sketches with the microscope” because she was a woman she self published 250 copies and distributed hand bills to advertise them. They sold within a few weeks, which led to a London publisher producing more books. She wrote two more books, which included a beginner’s guide to astronomy.
Mary, her husband Henry, the Parson boys who built the vehicle – Richard Clare Parsons and the steam turbine pioneer Charles Algernon Parsons – and their tutor, Richard Biggs, were traveling together in the experimental vehicle. They were traveling through the countryside near present day Birr, County Offaly in Ireland, which had a speed limit of 4 miles per hour, when Mary Ward was tossed from the car and ran over, being killed almost instantly. A doctor near the scene found her cut and bleeding from the ears. It was found she had suffered a broken neck.

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