» Show All     «Prev «1 ... 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Next»     » Slide Show

The Faversham Explosions

Newspaper accounts of the several explosions at the gun-cotton works in Faversham that occurred during 1847.

The Times, 1847 (Queen's Adelaides 55th birthday, Friday last)

Explosion of Gunpowder - Faversham, Kent - Another explosion took place at Mr. Hall's powder mills, on Thursday night at 12 o'clock; it was one of the green-charge houses, where the powder is kept before it is ground. The building being purposely built of slight materials, the accident was not attended with serious consequences. The building is very much shattered, but fortunately all the workmen escaped without injury. This makes the third explosion with about three months.

The Times, 1847
Explosion of Gun Cotton at Faversham - A few days ago, Ball, one of Mr. Hall's foremen, with a labourer of the name of Cheeseman, were employed in removing a small portion of gun cotton, the remnants of the last fatal explosion, with a view to destroy it. Cheeseman was in the act of pulling some to pieces in order to make a long train to prevent any accident arising from its combustion, when the whole suddenly ignited, and as he and Ball were but a short distance from the bulk (only a few pounds), they were both much burnt. Cheeseman was immediately put to bed on the premises, where he now lies, and it is feared he will lose his eyesight. He was one of those who were engaged in the gun cotton works at the time of the last explosion, and by which he lost his wife. He then escaped, although with serious injuries.

The Northern Star, 1847
The Explosion at Faversham

[In our last impression we were merely enabled briefly to notice the above shocking catastrophe. We now present our readers with the fullest particulars, which have been gleaned from various sources, and may be relied upon as accurate.]

The buildings the scene of the explosion immediately abut upon the Ham marsh, being only separated from it by a narrow canal. And here it may be well to describe their structure as when standing. Before the introduction of gun-cotton they were used for the purpose of drying gunpowder, and were called stoves; they were four in number, and stood in a row one before the other, with a mound of earth of a pyramidical form, of about 20 feet base, between each "to cut off communication in the event of an accident" but the sequel will show of how little service this precaution was in reference to the gun-cotton, for no sooner had the explosion of the contents of the stove No. 4 taken place than the flames immediately communicated to No. 3, and it, with its contents, as well as those of No. 4, was blown into the air, leaving literally not one stone upon another. The immense bars of iron forming the machinery were bent and broken as if they had been but mere twigs, and the massive beams of timber were rent asunder and lay scattered about in small pieces in every direction. Indeed language is incapable of depicting the scene of desolation.

A few minutes after the explosion, men, women and children were seen hurrying to the scene of destruction, anxious for the safety of some relative engaged in the works, and the alarm of all was still heightened by a report that another explosion was momentarily expected as a building, stove No. 2, containing upwards of 200 barrels of gunpowder which was only separated from stove No. 3 by a mound of earth.

The scene now was scarcely to be depicted, hundreds who had been hurrying to the spot were now retracing their steps, fearful every moment of being sacrificed themselves. As, however, the engines began to arrive, confidence was somewhat restored, and many ventured to go close to the burning ruins. The engines now began pouring in volumes of water, but it was a considerable time before any visible effect was made on the flames, of so combustible a nature were the materials used in the manufacture.

All hands were directed as soon as the fire became somewhat subdued to the rescue of the sufferers beneath the ruins, whose cries for help were heart-rending in the extreme. One by one, however, as the bricks and timber were cleared away they were extricated; many of them although much burnt and bruised, were yet alive; they were immediately conveyed to an adjacent building, where every attention was paid to them by Messrs. Giruad and Snape, surgeons; and as soon as conveyance could be obtained, they were carried to their respective homes.

The exertions of the men assisting at the engines and clearing away the rubbish were praiseworthy in the extreme, and to those exertions are to be attributed the saving of many lives. Search was now made in the marshes and fields adjoining, and here the mutilated remains of several were found, many yards from the scene of destruction. They were immediately gathered up and removed, nd, though some few bodies were recognised, the limbs of course could not be, and they were put together in baskets to await the inquest. One poor fellow, named Ransom, who was haymaking in an adjoining field, was knocked down by the report, but as soon as he recovered himself he hastened to the spot to render every assistance in his power, and succeeded in rescuing three or four of the sufferers; but one poor little fellow, whose brother also fell a victim, died in his arms.

After rendering all the assistance in his power, towards evening he complained of a severe pain in his chest, during the night he was much worse; and on Thursday morning, though every means was employed to relieve him death relieved him from his sufferings - thus falling a victim to his exertions in the cause of humanity. He had been married but a few months. 

RANSOM George Howland TAYLOR Sarah Ann M 18 Apr 1847 he bachelor, of full age, labourer, residing Quay, father John Ransom, labourer and she spinster, of full age, no occupation, residing Partridge Lane, father John Taylor, labourer. Wit: John Taylor, Rebecca Brown (Source:  Faversham PR BT}

Workmen were engaged the whole of Wednesday (the day of the explosion) and Thursday in clearing the ruins, and up to Friday. The following are the names of the persons killed, whose remains can be identified, and on whose bodies an inquest has been held, viz: - Henry Topping, the managing chymist, Jonathan Hammond, R. Knowler, Austin Wyles, Edward Irish, James Tilley, John Petley, Sarah Hinds, Mercy Clark, and the body of a boy of about 16, which was too much disfigured to be recognized.

The following, as well as others, were known to have been working at the factory, but their bodies have not been found: - Mary Cheeseman, Thomas Stringer, Harriot Hall and several others. [Husband of Mary Cheeseman was subsequently injured in another explosion at the same place a few months later.]

The following were severely injured: - Thomas Smith, William Smith, George Wraight, Henry Sparkes - Cullen, John Videon, John Denne, Henry Aylett, Thomas Stringer, John Kempsall, William Rogers, Thomas Smith, John Chambers, John Woolley, John M'Kewen, Mary M'Kewen, and Robert Cheeseman.

All of the above, with the exception of one or two, are going on well, and are expected to recover, but in the confusion that even now exists it is impossible with certainty to define the number of those injured, and the extent of the injuries.

Inquest on the sufferers.

On Friday an inquest on the sufferers was held before Mr. J. Hinde, the coroner for the district, in a storehouse adjacent to the scene of the disaster, and after the jury had inspected the bodies, which presented a most appalling sight, the following evidence was adduce: -

Mr. William Hall, the proprietor of the works, examined. - I reside in the parish of Ospringe, and have extensive works, called the "Marsh Works", in the parish of Preston where I carry on the manufacture of gun-cotton. The partners in the concern are, myself, my brother and Professor Schoenbein, the inventor. The superintendence of the works devolved upon myself and Mr. Henry Topping a chymist. I used to spend a great portion of my time in the factory with him, assisted by Henry Day. On Wednesday morning I went to the factory about eleven o'clock. There were about forty persons in the two buildings, Nos. 3 and 4. On that morning I was also at the works from six o'clock until eight, I paid particular attention to the boys then at work, and showed them how to fill the tubes with gun cotton, as they were not doing it quite to my satisfaction. I gave directions where I thought it necessary to insure perfect safety. One of the manufacturing managing-assistants, of the name of Day, was at my elbow all the time, so as to be able to act during my absence. I considered the buildings fully efficient and safe for the purpose of manufacturing gun-cotton. I left the buildings about eight o'clock, and all was then perfectly safe. I returned about eleven o'clock and was within half a minutes walk of the stove - probably from fifty to eighty yards when No. 4 exploded. The buildings fell about me. I was going towards the buildings at the time, and I met Mr. Day returning from them. He told me Mr. Topping was there. My. Day was returning towards the works with me when the explosion took place. I saw the materials of the building ascend into the air and fall in al directions. I paced to and fro for a minutes or a minute and a half, until I thought it safe to venture. I then went up to the buildings, and heard cries under both of them. I then called all my people immediately to assist in getting out the sufferers from the ruins, and every possible exertion was used to extricate them. Several hundred persons soon came to assist. We used our utmost endeavours until the fire drove us away. The fire commenced at No. 3 about three or four minutes after the explosion. I ordered out my engines, and sent to Faversham for the town engines. We got out fourteen persons alive from the ruins and several dead. The only person I identified was Mr. Topping. I always examined the thermometer in the store myself to ascertain the heat, and regulate it accordingly. I gave the stove the longest possible period so as to lessen the heat as much as possible. I have not been able to ascertain the cause of the explosion. My orders were that the seat was never to exceed 110 degrees in No. 4, and 120 in No. 3, which heats I considered perfectly safe. I had there a self-registering thermometer used in both stoves to show the heat when I was absent, and which I never allowed any one but myself to interfere with. I have tried the heats at different degrees to ascertain its safety. Professor Schonbein has told me that gun-cotton will not explode at 284 degrees; I myself have tried it up to 350 with the thermometer, and there has been no explosion. All the fourteen persons but one were got out of No. 3, and out of the part which formed the packing-room. The gun-cotton is manufactured by the French government and also by merchants in America. I have had three applications from the English government for gun-cotton, and have executed several hundred orders in all parts of the kingdom.

This closed Mr. Hall's examination, during the whole of which he was much affected.

John Day, of Faversham, examined. - I reside at Faversham, and am employed by Mr. Hall at the gun-cotton works. I have been so employed bout five weeks, and came from London for that purpose. I consider myself competent to manage the gun-cotton works. I received my instructions from Mr. Hall and Topping. I was daily employed in the works, and went there that morning about 6 o'clock. I went to breakfast, and on my return remained there until about a minute before the explosion took place. I went out to se if Mr. Hall had come, and met him within half a minute's walk from the building I had left. We were returning towards it when an explosion too place in No. 4. I felt a chock, and ran into the willow trees. I immediately heard a great noise, more as of a tumbling than a report. I was immediately covered with dust. I went to the place, and found the premises all in ruins and on fire. A great many persons soon came up and assisted in extricating the sufferers. I considered myself quite safe in the manufactory of the gun-cotton. Mr. Hall gave directions that one stove should never be higher than 120 and I believe those orders were always attended to. I believe a greater heat might be used with safety. I cannot account at all for the explosion. I think there were two explosions, but cannot speak positively to the fact. Mr. Hall and myself did everything possible to save and rescue the sufferers. Every precaution was always taken for the safety of the work-people. Mr. Topping has always expressed himself as feeling perfectly safe. A man of the name of Cheesman had the charge of the fires in drying the cotton; he is very much injured by the explosion. I examined the thermometer about 10 minutes before the explosion; in No 4 it was 108, and in No. 3 between 119 and 120. From the time I saw the thermometer to the time of the explosion it was impossible for the heat to have altered, even with a large fire, beyond 10 degrees.

John Burney, of Faversham, examined. - I am foreman of the carpenters at Mr. Hall's, and was on the works at the time of the explosion, and immediately went to the spot. I saw the bodies of most of the sufferers taken out, and can identify those on which the inquest is now holding.

Frederick Bunting, of Faversham, examined. - I was employed at the gun-cotton works at the time of the explosion. I heard a great noise and became insensible, and when I came to my senses found myself in the ruins. I cannot in any way account for the accident. I got away from the place as soon as I could. I saw Topping about ten minutes before the blow. I saw Mr. Hall about 7 o'clock in the morning. I cannot tell how I got out. I was not hurt or burnt at all. I can't say whether the explosion commenced in No. 3 or No. 4.

Alfred White, of Islington, chemist, examined. - I have been employed by Mr. Hall to examine and superintend his works, with a view to their extension and improvement, particularly in the manufacture of the acid?. I was there on Wednesday morning about 9 o'clock. All was then quite safe. I am well acquainted with the materials used for the purpose of making the gun-cotton and the ingredients; there is no danger in them. I am certain that every precaution was used in the buildings to prevent accident by Mr. Hall and every one about. I have known Mr. Topping some time; he was a very careful and intelligent person and a proper person to be intrusted with the care of the works. The temperature of the stove was by no means likely to cause an explosion. Toping would have like to have had it up to 180, but Mr. hall would not consent to it. I cannot account for the accident in any other way than from some incautious act of the workmen in doing their work.

This closed all the evidence that could be adduced, and after a short consultation the coroner announced that the inquest was adjourned until the 9th of August, in order that the evidence of those injured might be taken, as by that time it was thought some would be sufficiently recovered to be examined.

Inquest on George Ransom.

An inquest on the body of George Ransom, whose death we have above adverted to, was held on Friday evening, at half-past six, at the Guildhall in the borough of Faversham, before Mr. Shepherd, the coroner for the borough, where a most respectable jury had been empannelled. After the preliminary matter of swearing the jury had been gone through, they at once proceeded to the house of the deceased to view the body, and on their return to the hall the coroner briefly addressed the, and explained the object of the inquiry. He (the coroner), however, thought they would have no difficulty in coming to a conclusion as to the cause of death; and although at first he thought their inquiries would have extended to the cause of the accident, yet on consideration he had come to the conclusion that it would be unnecessary, and, therefore, the simple fact they had to deal with was the cause of the death, and not of the explosion.

Messrs. Hall were present at the inquiry, nd seemed much affected.

The following witnesses were then called: -

John Batt, of the parish of Preston, in the county of Kent, examined. - I work for Messrs. Hall, and reside in their Marsh Works, in the parish of Preston. On Wednesday morning last I was haymaking near to Nos. 3 and 4 stoves there, about 100 yards off; they have been used in the manufacture of gun-cotton. The deceased, Geo. Ransom, was at work with me, and close to me. About a quarter past eleven o'clock an explosion [occurred] at No. 4 stove. We both fell down with the concussion. On recovering, I went towards the stove on the south side and told Ransom to follow me. He, however, went on the ther side of the mound (the north-west side), the mound between us and the explosion. The wind was then blowing in the direction towards where Ransom was, and I lost sight of him, in consequence of the smoke. I never saw him after this.

Frederick Francis Giraud, of Faversham, surgeon, said, - I am a surgeon, and reside at Faversham. In consequence of an explosion at the Marsh Works on Wednesday last, I attended to render any assistance in my power, in company with Mr. Snape. The deceased came up to me whilst we were attending the wounded, and said he felt great inconvenience from the acid he had inhaled, and asked if I could do anything for him. I told him to get as much fresh air as he could, and if after that he was not any better, to come to me at my surgery, and I would see if I could not relieve him. I inquired on my return if he had been, but he had not. I heard nothing more of him till about four o'clock the next morning, when his wife called me up and said deceased had had very little sleep all night, and had suffered very much sickness and coughing. I gave him medicine, such as I thought most calculated to relive him, and visited him very soon after seven o'clock. I found him no better, and from that time until the time of his death, about half-past eleven or twelve o'clock, Mr. Snape and I used all the means in our power for his recovery, but without success, and he expired about twelve o'clock. I have since made a post mortem examination, the result of which is, that I found the internal texture of the lungs showing the marks of a high degree of irritation pervading the air cells and air tubes throughout, and such as would be produced by the contact of an acid mephitic gas, and filled with an exudation resulting from that irritation, and thereby causing suffocation, which was the immediate cause of death. The bad effect of inhaling gas, as above stated, would have been increased by the subsequent taking of stimulating drink; I am, therefore, decidedly of opinion that the inhaling of the gas was the immediate cause o death. Nitric acid, and more especially if combined with sulphuric acid, and coming in contact with straw or other similar combustible materials, would be sure to generate mephide gas in large quantities; and any person working in the midst of those premises, must of necessity inhale it in large quantities.

Mr. Alfred White, of Islington, chemist, examined. - I am a chemist and reside at Islington. I have been superintending the manufacture of gun-cotton in the Marsh Works of Messrs. Hall. In the process sulphuric acid and nitric acid are used in large quantities, and it is therefore necessary to have a considerable quantity of these articles in stock. On Wednesday morning last there was a quantity of sulphuric acid and a quantity of nitric acid each separately, and also a quantity of the two combined, ready for immediate use, and also some that had been used, to the north of No. 3 stove. I had seen them on the morning of the explosion about 9 o'clock; they were then properly put away, the greater part in carboys, and quite safe. On the Thursday morning, after the explosion, I again saw that the majority of them had been broken by the falling of the walls of No. 3 stove, and the effects of the explosion. The first effect with reference to the nitric acid would be a large quantity of vapour of nitric acid. When the straw with which the carboys are encased becomes dry, the nitrous gas would be evolved. The nitrous gas would be converted into nitrous acid, and that would produce very injurious effects upon any abnomal tissue with which it might come in contact. If combined with sulphuric acid, this action would certainly be more energetic, Sulphuric acid, when coming in contact with straw, would also produce sulphurous acid, which would be equally injurious and fatal if in contact with animal tissue. I have had many opportunities of witnessing the effects of the gases thus produced, and had personal experience of it myself. I have heard the evidence of Mr. Giraud, the surgeon, and concur with him in his opinion as to the cause of the death of the deceased, and in his evidence as to the effects of stimulating drink from his description of the appearance on the post mortem examination.

At the conclusion of this witness's evidence the coroner briefly summed up, and after a minute's consultation the jury returned a verdict "That the deceased died from suffocation produced by the inhalation of the fumes of mephitic gas."

Mr. Bathurst, solicitor, appeared in behalf of Messrs. Hall.

On Saturday morning the remains of 19 of the unfortunate sufferers were buried in the churchyard of the village of Davington, which closely adjoins Messrs. Hall's works.

The melancholy scene was attended by many hundred persons from the town and neighbourhood of Faversham. The remains of those deceased identified had been coffined on the previous day, by Messrs. Hall's direction; and this morning, at 10 o'clock, a numerous cavalcade of sorrowing mourners assembled at the works to pay the last tribute of respect and affection to their unfortunate relatives.

The number of whole bodies buried was nine only, the remains of Mr. Topping and George Ransom not being interred with the rest. The mutilated remains of those who were blown to pieces had been collected as far as possible with great care, and these were enclosed in separate coffins.

The mournful procession moved from the works at a few minutes after 10 o'clock, the coffins being chiefly borne by the fellow-labourers of the deceased.

Mr. William Hall, Mr. White, the chemist, Mr. Day, Mr. Skinner, and several other gentlemen employed on the works, followed as mourners.

The procession was met at the entrance of the churchyard by the officiating minister, who read the solemn service for the burial of the dead in a very impressive manner, tears being drawn from nearly every one present. Mr. Hall specially was very much affected.

At the close of the mournful ceremony the several relations returned to their respective homes, where such worldly [sic] comforts as their necessities required had been liberally provided for, by order of Messrs. Hall.

It should here be stated that nothing can possibly exceed the kindness of these gentlemen to the unfortunate sufferers. Mr. W. Hall has during the last two or three days frequently personally visited them at their homes, and his instructions are that nothing which can possibly alleviate their sufferings in any way shall be omitted. Messrs. Giraud and Snape, the medical gentlemen, are in close attendance on them. The latest accounts of Cheeseman and Alliott are, it is regretted, very unfavourable.

The extraordinary effect of the explosion on the buildings in the neighbourhood, and on the corn fields in the vicinity, cannot possibly be realised except by an eye witness. The roofs of all the buildings within a quarter of a mile of the explosion are completely stripped of their tiles, and the walls are much shaken. Even in the town of Faversham, fully a mile distant from the scene of the disaster, windows were broken and the houses otherwise damaged in some instances. On the opposite side of the stream which forms the northern boundary of the Marsh Works is a field of wheat of some extent. The explosion has completely blasted this over a space of about two acres, and the ears, drooping and discoloured, present a scene of desolation in perfect character with the adjoining ruins. The willow trees which skirt the bank of the stream referred to, and indeed all the trees within about fifty yards of the buildings No. 3 and 4, are torn up by the roots and scattered about in all directions. Those more distant are less seriously injured, but the foliage of all within a very large circle is wholly destroyed. One of the most remarkable effects of the explosion is the removal, as it appears almost bodily, of the enormous mound of earth skirting the No. 4 stove. Another instance of its power was shown in the forcible ejection from a deep well of two massive pumps, the leaden pipes of which, nearly twenty feet long, were drawn up and thrown to a very considerable distance.

The explosion was heard at an enormous distance from Faversham. At Deal and Maidstone, and even at some places more than thirty miles from the scene of the accident, parties are described to have heard it distinctly.

It may be interesting to state that the strength of gun-cotton is just six times that of gunpowder; in other words, ten drams of the cotton are equal to two ounces of powder.

Owner of originalSusan D. Young

» Show All     «Prev «1 ... 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Next»     » Slide Show