Most books I referred to mention that the dead were ‘convicted’ and sentenced (under summary martial law rules though) political prisoners being transported for internment to the Podanur Jail. ‘New Outlook’ By Alfred Emanuel Smith mentions in page 698 that the wagon was freshly painted and hence even the small ventilation holes were blocked!! (In fact the British faced a previous disaster where a number of English soldiers were killed while transportation in a similar way in a Karachi troop train!!). The book MP Narayana Menon by MPS Menon provides partial information of the 61 dead as follows - 32 were coolies, 19 agricultural laborers, 4 mukri’s, 2 tea shop keepers, 2 mosque attendants & 2 preachers. This was the # 77 Calicut - Madras Passenger train. If I read right, the Hindu Correspondent filed the first report from Coimbatore. It was early in the morning of Nov 22nd that the tragedy came to light. That particular report stated that the prisoners were actually bound for Bellary.
Madhavan Nair’s book Malabar Kalapam provides the following information – The jails were over crowded and it was virtually impossible to house the convicted in Tirur. The personnel tasked with the transportation to Podanur were Col Humphreys, Mr Hitchcock (Police Supdt) & Mr Evans. The train was to be escorted by police, but no policemen were available. In the past open wagons were used, but Mr. Hitchcock in his hearing explains that he thought this not a good idea. He was of the opinion that they would be seen by the public who may rise to their rescue. The first wagons used were those meant for transporting cattle. Then came the goods wagon which was more secure from Hitchcock’s point of view. Such methods were regularly used in transporting all kinds of prisoners from Calicut to Cannnore (Stated by K Kelappan - Fortunately when he and others were transported, the door was kept open and a policeman kept as guard). In total 2600 prisoners were transported on 32 trips in such a fashion. On this fateful day the doors were sealed, the sergeant & constable moved on to relax in another compartment. The doors remained closed until the train reached Coimbatore. During a subsequent inquisition, the sergeant stated that at Cheruvannur, he had heard prisoners screaming for water. But as there was no time, none were given. A number of witnesses stated to having heard screams at Olavakkot & other stations. The prisoners went crazy & berserk in their quest for air and water. Brahmadattan Namudiri in his book adds that every two prisoners were handcuffed together in this wagon. They scratched, bit and clawed each other in their death throes, and the wounds were evident on the dead bodies.
The Coimbatore medical officer confirmed death by suffocation even though authorities wanted to pass it off as due to other causes. The news reached the press and public only because Coimbatore was not under martial law. Hitchcock was found not guilty in the later commission investigation. The wagon manufacturer, the traffic inspector and the poor sergeant were stated as the guilty parties. The compensation to the family of each of the dead was Rs 300/-.