The wind it blew with all its might,
And the rain came pouring down,
December 1879 was a bad month all over Europe, with storms and frosts prevailing. By about six o’clock on the evening of 28 December, the rain was torrential and an 80-mile-an-hour gale was blowing down the river. Three railway wagons loaded with coal were blown 400 yards along the track at Tay Bridge Station before the wheels were chocked to prevent them from moving any further.
So the train mov’d slowly along the Bridge of Tay,
Until it was about midway,
Very few trains ran on Sundays in Scotland at that time, but one that did was the mail train between Dundee and Burntisland in Fife.
At 5.20 pm on that Sunday evening the mail train picked up ferry passengers from Edinburgh and set off on its journey north, stopping at Ladybank, Cupar and Leuchars to pick up additional passengers. At 7.05 pm, the train arrived at St Fort, the final station before the bridge. As was the custom, the station staff collected the tickets of all the passengers intending to get off the train at Dundee. When they sorted the tickets, they had collected 57. There had been two season-ticket holders, and the 10 or 11 passengers travelling on beyond Dundee still had their tickets. There were five railway staff on the train. Five minutes later, the engine reached Wormit signal box and the men on the footplate were given the baton or staff which was the driver’s authority to proceed along the track across the bridge