Reported Accidents, Incidents, Tragedies, and Disasters

When we think of the day to day lives of people we may think of a consistent schedule that only changes when major events happen. However, from first hand experience I know the largest disruption to daily life are accidents. So when looking at the lives of people living halfway across the world over a hundred years ago I wanted to see how they handled these accidents and in what ways they were affected by them. In this analysis I will be finding the various accidents that made it into the Egyptian Gazette between the years of 1905-1906 and will compile the data based on what they were called, what type of accidents were likely to be deemed newsworthy, and to see what sort of long term impact (if any) they might have had on the city of Alexandria.

The first thing that I need to do however is to define what I am searching for. This is where the source came in handy, as even though it was more recent than the time period I will be analyzing it still laid out a format on analyzing accidents. According to the study, in a group of 500 young Egyptian men around 4.6% of the group experienced an accident within sometime in their lives. This is helpful in analyzing what types of accidents were most likely to make the headlines as well since the study was also able to gather the percentage of people who experienced various accidents such as motor or fights or even an electrical problem. When I say the word accident, I will be referring to both accident and any other word that was used to describe such an event. Another term I looked for when studying accidents was the word “incident,” which it turned out gave a lot of results but not the same kind of news. While articles with the title accident they focused on an event that was caused by something random or unexpected whereas incidents seemed to be used more for intentional conflicts such as on the frontiers.

By taking all the times that the word accident was used in just the headline for an article I was able to gather 103 results. Many of these headlines were duplicates in the Local and General section such as “Terrible Accident” or “Motor Accident.” I thus divided these titles by certain features with accidents related to vehicles categorized under “vehicles” and more general headlines like “tragic accident” under the “general section (please see the graph for Accident Reappearance for a visualization). The most interesting ones were ones that had a specific title next to them, such as those that mention the specific individual by name such as an article from the June 12th, 1905 that had the headline “Mr. Clowes in a Railway Accident” or the “Kafr Zayat Railway Accident” on June 23, 1905.

Speaking of the year 1905, the month of June saw a large spike in railway accidents with headlines such as the two I mentioned in the previous paragraph as well as those with the title “Cairo Express Derailed” and “Another Railway Accident.” This indicates a massive problem with the Egyptian rail system if it was a frequent enough disaster to be a cause for discussion repeatedly in the Egyptian Gazette. Another accident that got multiple articles was when the King of England ending up tearing a tendon in his leg. According to the articles (one was published on the 17th of November and another on the 18th in the year 1905) King Edward VII had ended up tearing a tendon above his ankle. The articles focused on separate issues, with the preliminary one giving the details about where the King had his accident, what he was doing, and tried to downplay what exactly happened to him while the follow-up that was issued the following day gave the specific details such as where the injury was, who was surrounding and greeting the King during his rough time, and what he plans to do since he was issued to be in no danger anymore.

These two articles help illustrate who was reading the Egyptian Gazette, cause while the railway accidents and other disasters that frequently made the news were never issued a follow-up (including one of the specific headlines that had a government agent named) the only one to receive one was based on a foreign king. This points the disparity between using the Egyptian Gazette as a source for the common Alexandrian people as this paper was written for an international audience in mind and focused on English events whenever they had any impact on its citizens.

Another term I was expecting to yield results was any headline pertaining to tragedy, however to my surprise I was only able to pull up 17 headlines containing the word. The title seemed to indicate that when it was used it was during an act that was either indefensible or an incident that had personal information on the victims. One such example was on January 4, 1905 when two men were killed by a third when they all wished to marry the sister to one of the victims. This seems to indicate that the news did not try to stir emotions as tragedy is usually implied to an act that was meant to stir up emotions. Even when I tried to broaden the search by then going to tragic it came up with even less results with a measly 4. Most of these events could not even be labeled as accidents as the previous article I highlighted and another titled “M. Cronier’s Tragic Suicide” were intentional and thus do not fit into the scope of the search.

The last term I decided to hunt for in my topic was the term “disaster.” This also pulled a surprisingly low number of results with just 16 in the headline. These events seem to correlate to stories that have no good things about them, such as one from the July 10th edition from 1905 that had a headline for “French Submarine Disaster: Crew Reported Dead” when a submarine was almost saved by a crane only to be dropped back after fresh air was brought in to prolong their suffering. Most of these headlines also seem to happen to either international areas or to ship accidents with three headlines for Submarine disasters being the most used stories.

The other term that pulled popular reports was the term incidents, that came up with 43 headlines. Most of these incidents as I mentioned before were based more on international incidents such as frontier skirmishes that happened in areas such as Morocco and the North Sea or happened in international waters such as the “Andromeda Incident” that happened on the 10th of January in 1905. This language indicates how the term accidents and incidents were used, as while they could be mean events that were caused by something tragic or unintentional they were events that involved only one party and an event that happened on an international level respectively.

All these results were gathered by using Xpath’s results features using the find and replace function. This turned out to be a great way to find what I was looking for, as since my topic was dealing mostly with headlines and the diction that was used in it. It also helped that the Xpath queries had specifications that I could use. These involved searching in just the headlines as well as using the \w+ feature to find which words were most likely to follow accident. These turned out to generate the most results than other methods of searching as this limited this to just articles meant to grab attention with the word accident rather than being used in the middle of a sentence.

Other ways this search could be improved upon would be by doing both more research as well as using more data. This could be done by digging deeper into the articles themselves to compare the similarities between articles in terms of the words in the passage. Perhaps these articles have a certain area in which to occupy and this could be analyzed by comparing the number of words or the similarities in language to see if they all have a connecting theme.

Text visualization

By using Tableau I was able to make the data visible. The charts indicate the various patterns and occurrences of the term accident itself and when it appeared in the Egyptian Gazette. The first graph “Accident Occurrence” was used to show the general trend of accidents from the years 1905 to 1906. The Table for the reappearance for headlines containing the word accident was used, and the last graph is showing the different categories of accidents and when they appeared in the headlines during these two years.

These headlines help to paint what this world was like to live in, either through learning about the individual stories that people would have gossiped about in the streets or by even detailing some of the day to day events that impacted the people. These events are themselves tricky to define as I am sure there were more accidents in the city that did not make it into the Egyptian Gazette and thus lost to us, but this is a good starting point to gather information on the most exciting and mundane act in an average citizen’s day.


  • Afifi, Raouf M., Sameh Sh. Zaytou, Ahmed A. El Raggal, Amani Qulali, and Hesham A. K. Ayoub. 2015. “Involvement of Male Youth into Accidents in Upper Egypt: Pattern and Risk Analysis.” Health (1949-4998) 7, no. 8: 965-975.


Jonathan Cannon
Jonathan Cannon

The author, a student at Florida State University, was enrolled in the digital microhistory lab in spring 2018.