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Peter Cassimatis - survivor of the 1914 Exeter train disaster

Updated: May 19, 2023

Not a lot is known about Peter Cassimatis, but what is known is that he was lucky to survive his first few days in Australia.


It is unclear which Panagiotis Kasimatis this man is. According to our research it could be Panagiotis born 2 April 1884 to Emmanouil Kasimatis and Maria Simitekolou or Panagiotis Kasimatis born 2 November 1886 to Manouil Kasimatis (Kaloulas) and Aneta Kalokernou.


Panagiotis spent a few years in Sacramento, California, USA before being called to fight for Greece in the Balkan War in 1912 or 1913.


On 12 March 1914, Panagiotis arrived in Sydney on the Orama and was now known as Peter Cassimatis. The next day, at about 8:10pm, he caught the mail train to Temora, then hopefully on to Harden.


It was a dark and foggy night. Shortly before midnight as it was approaching Exeter station, the train crashed into the engine of a goods train bound for Sydney from Junee. It is believed the fog obscured the signals. The front carriage of the mail train lifted from the rails and crashed through the carriage behind. Nearly all the people in these two carriages were killed. The survivors did what they could for the dying an injured. They lit a bonfire from the train debris so rescuers could find them.


On board the train were Arthur Heaver and his family. They were escorting the body of his mother for burial at Cootamundra. Arthur’s father and sister were killed instantly while his wife’s injuries were so severe, she died in his arms. His other sister was also injured. Arthur himself suffered fractured arm and ribs, possible internal injuries and severe shock.


In total, 14 people were killed, nine people seriously injured, and nine people were slightly hurt. At the time, it was the second worst train accident in Australia’s history. It is still the seventh worse railway accident in Australia.


Two Kytherians were aboard the train. Peter Cassimatis and Stratee Notara. Stratee was uninjured and will be feature in a blog in the future.


Peter was one of the injured passengers. The newspapers interviewed Peter, “a good-looking foreigner”, from his hospital bed. He described how he went to sleep, and then he thought there was an earthquake as he heard the crashing and splintering of the carriage he was sitting in.


Peter escaped with only a hurt knee, a few bruises to the head and severe shock. He could hear women screaming but was pinned down by the wreckage and was unable to help. Two men in them same carriage were killed instantly and he could not believe he had escaped. He was taken to Berrima Hospital. He was in hospital for about a week.


Photos of the Exeter railway disaster - S R Beer Exeter Railway Disaster, Exeter NSW, Berrima District Historical & Family History Society

There is not much known about Peter in Australia after the accident. He was a restaurant keeper in Harden in 1916, aged 29. He also registered as an alien in 1920, also in Harden. Then Peter disappears from the records. Peter Cassimatis is a fairly common Kytherian name. There were a few Peter Cassimatis’ living in Australia at this time. It is possible one of them is this Peter, but there is no proof. It is also possible he returned to Greece. No death record has been found in Australia.


The trouble with identifying the correct Panagiotis comes from the lack of information and we what do have is conflicting. According to the passenger records a P. E. Cassimatis and two children under 12 with the surname Cassimatis were on the same ship. This would indicate the correct Panagiotis would be the Panagiotis born 1884. There is nothing in the newspaper reports about the train accident that Panagiotis was travelling with anybody. In fact, it makes it clear he was travelling alone. This and the fact that Peter disappears in records in Australia indicate that it would be the 1886 Panagiotis as he married in Kythera in in 1923. for reasons such as this researching Kytherians once they leave the island can be very difficult and often family knowledge is needed.


An excellent newspaper article about the disaster can be found here on Trove.


If anybody knows which Panagiotis Kasimatis this is you can leave a comment or contact us at info@kytheriangenealogy.com.


Bibliography

Trove - National Library of Australia

family search.org, Church of Latter Day Saints



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