1899, Weymouth; The mysterious disappearance of the train driver.

At one time in Weymouth there existed a railway line that ran from Weymouth station, across an iron girder bridge over the large stretch of water known as the Backwater and on to Portland. (Virtually where the new road bridge now sits.)

In the year 1899 came a report in the newspapers of the  rather mysterious dissapearance of a train driver…now this at first doesn’t seem too startling, but if I explain that the chap was supposed to be driving the train at the time… well, you get my drift.


On the 18th December 1899, 33-year old Percy  Frank Nutman was the driver in charge of the Great Western train on it’s way from Weymouth to Portland. It seems that as the train was setting out on its journey, and was slowly crossing the bridge over the Backwater, he just vanished!…

Luckily, also on board was 18-year-old Frank William Willis, he had only recently started working with the Great Western, he in fact, had only a couple of weeks prior, started work as a fire-man (to those not of the ‘steam age’, it’s the man who shovels the coal into the boiler).

As correct railway procedure was to blow the whistle when coming up to the Littlefied crossing once over the lake, when Frank Willias didn’t hear the familiar sound, he realised something was up..turning round , he found he was alone…completely alone…the driver, Percy Nutman had simply vanished!

The young lad, keeping a cool head managed to bring the train to a halt at the Rodwell station, the next on the line.

By now, everone was assuming that Nutman had dropped or fallen into the Backwater. All that was found was his hat which was laying on the ballast track over the railway bridge. A thorough search was made for the missing man along the length of the track, through the surrounding countryside, in case he’d stumbled off somewhere injured. They even went as far as to drag the  lake time and time again over the next month searching for his body. Not a sign to be seen of his carcass.

His wife  offered a £5 reward for the return of his body.

Once all avenues had been explored, it was assumed that he had died, and at some stage that his rotting remains would float to the surface somewhere in the Backwater or harbour.

Mrs Nutman donned her widow’s weeds, relatives gathered to commiserate her loss. She was even in the process of suing the Great Western Railway under the Employer’s Liability Act for the loss of her husbands body.

The widow and her 3 children had been left destitute, what was worse, she was expecting a 4th child before long. They were now all on parish relief, trying to keep house and home together.


It the February of the following year, Percy’s wife, Mary,  had received a letter from an acquaintance who said that they had spotted him in Shepton Mallet. Suspicions aroused, and not totally convinced of his manner of death, the detective department of the GWR, namely Chief Inspector Benton, dug a little deeper…and they finally got their man

Naughty Mr Nutman though was very much alive, hale and hearty!

He had deliberately faked his death to escape his married life at home in Weymouth, he was finally found with living with his sister-in-law (who he had made pregnant while still with his wife!) in Leatherhead, Surrey.

Percy Frank Nutman, aged 33, was brought before the Dorchester Quater session and indicted for “unlawfully and willfully leaving an engine, belonging to the GWR co., whereby the lives and limbs of the persons then passing along the Weymouth and Portland Railway might have been endangered.”

Whe he arrived back by train to  Weymouth for his court case he was met by a ‘lively reception’ a crowd of 300 odd men, women and children were there to greet him, though it probably wasn’t the sort of greeting that one would wish for. The crowd being so hostile towards Nutman, he was soon hustled off to the lock-up.

Appearing in court on the 4th July 1900, for jumping ship (or rather ‘train’) Percy Frank Nutman received a sentance of 6 months hard labour.


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6 Comments Add yours

  1. John Morrison says:

    Thank you very much for the stories. My great-great-grandfather was Joseph Drew (see Wikipedia page on him), a personal friend of Pelly Hooper. I am always looking out for information about him and his friends and family. Would be pleased to make contact and exchange information.
    Kind regards,


  2. Paul Bach says:

    Percy Frank Nutman was my Great grand Father, the child his wife was pregnant with at the time was my Grandfather Fredrick. I have tried over the past 20 years to find what became of the illegitimate child conceived from the relationship between Percy and his sister-in-law, and which sister, but have hit a brick wall. After his release from Prison, Percy and his wife had another 4 children and lived with each in Weymouth until her death in 1938. Thank you, your blog was a true and accurate one.


    1. cannasue says:

      Researching families often throws up mysteries and brick walls…as I know only too well from trying to untangle some of my pesky relatives!

      Often these things weren’t talked about between generations either, instead watered down tales were concocted to try and cover the truth of the matter.

      I guess in those days people were more ashamed of behaviour that differed from the ‘norm.’ Unlike nowadays, when all and sundry is well and truly revealed, warts and all, on ‘Jeremy Kyle’ type programmes.

      Good luck with your search, just sometimes a lightbulb moment happens or a fluke find while trawling…and hey presto, lost relation recovered.


      1. Terry Nutman says:

        Do we know any of the names of those 300 men, women and children? Weymouth football club is lucky to have that attendance!!


  3. Terry Nutman says:

    Interesting story, amusing but has no substance in truth. May I ask where the author sourced the following information? “a ‘lively reception’ a crowd of 300 odd men, women and children were there to greet him, though it probably wasn’t the sort of greeting that one would wish for. The crowd being so hostile towards Nutman, he was soon hustled off to the lock-up”. I respond as follows, the story is a complete fabrication, the people mentioned are my ancestors, but no reason for them to turn in their graves thus far.


    1. cannasue says:

      Hello Terry, I’m really sorry that you have taken offence at the blog post about Percy Nutman, one of your ancestors. Unfortunately we sometimes discover that our past relatives haven’t always been quite so perfect as maybe we’d like them to be. I know that I have certainly uncovered more than a few unsavoury facts about my own family, including a murderer and numerous elopements, unmarried and married and not quite so far removed!
      The information was sourced from numerous newspaper articles from the time, and the quote for the ‘300 odd men, women and children’ comes from one that’s headed, “The Disappearance of the Great Western Engine-Driver; He wished to be Thought Dead; Proceedings in the Police Court; An Extraordinary Case’ Taken from the Western Gazette dated 13th April 1900.
      All my blog posts are based on local newspaper articles that I have researched over time.
      Life and family are a rich tapestry, we have good and bad woven in all aspects of it.


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