Explosion on the Mauretania, 1914

Jan 27th 1914

Explosion on the Mauretania

Gas cylinder bursts during repairs

3 killed, 8 injured

3 men were killed and 7 or 8 were injured in an explosion which took place on the Mauretania last night. A cylinder full of gas exploded with terrific force and the bodies of the three men were dismembered in a most frightful fashion. Two of the injured are not expected to live, the accident occurred during the carrying out of repairs on the ship's turbines.

The engine-room of the liner was the scene of the explosion which occurred about 9.30pm. A squad of workmen were engaged in repair operations when, with terrific force a cylinder of compressed gas exploded in the confined space of the engine-room. It worked deadly havoc not only were three men killed but their bodies were frightfully dismembered. The shock of the explosion causes consternation among the rest of the people on board and the work of rendering aid to the injured men was carried out with difficulty in the lower regions of the vessel.

The Mauretania has been off the active list for weeks, during which time she has been in the Canada Dry Dock undergoing engine repairs, consisting in part of a general overhauling of the immense turbine equipment, and thousands of the turbine blades have been renewed or refitted. Work has been going on day and night and it was in the compartment of the high-pressure turbines that the calamity took place. The blades were being fastened to the turbine by a brazing process, the heat for which was being supplied from huge cylinders filled with compressed gas. One of the cylinders it is thought must have had a flaw in the metal, as without the slightest warning it exploded with a terrific noise that shook the vessel's entire frame from end to end. The cylinder, reduced to fragments, was flung with the utmost violence to all parts of the room.

Removing the bodies

The men, of whom only one escaped serious injury, were laid out unconscious, most with broken limbs. A large number of the crew and engineering staff were on board at the time, including Mr GOLDSBERG, the officer in charge and Mr GALBRAITH, the chief engineer. They at once and a number of men hurried to the high-pressure turbine chamber, but for some time were unable to enter owing to the suffocating smoke which filled the chamber and poured from the doorway in dense volumes. Flames were seen, and fearing that a serious conflagration might ensue, the fire brigade were summoned. It turned out that their services were not required and on the flames subsiding they were extinguished by the ship's hose. The first man to enter the chamber was the ship's master-at-arms, George HENNESSEY, who put on a smoke helmet and forced his way in. When the atmosphere cleared other helpers entered, and the gruesome task of collecting the remains and removing the injured was commenced. It was slow work as long twisting alleyways had to be traversed and the stretchers bearing the living and the dead had to be carried slowly down a narrow gangway and hoisted out of the dry dock on to the quay. Thence they were removed to the Northern, Stanley and Bootle Hospitals, where local doctors especially summoned attended to the injured, who were either unconscious or dazed. Two of them are in a critical condition, their chances of recovery regarded as slight, and the others are very badly hurt.

HENNESSEY in an interview stated that there were 12 men in the chamber when the explosion occurred. When he got there the spectacle was a horrible one. The amazing part of the affair was that the vessel and machinery were comparatively little damaged. The force of the explosion seemed to have been expended in mangling the bodies of the unfortunate men. The explosion occurred on the starboard side of the ship and so far as could be seen the outside plate of the hull was unharmed.

The killed and injured

The dead

George COVENTRY, fitter, aged 30, of Wallsend, lodging at Bedford Rd, Bootle

Samuel James GIDMAN, aged 27, of Charlotte Rd, Egremont

Geoffrey THOMAS, as 25, address not known

The injured

Percy HARRIS, of Litherland, burnt face, severe injury to back

John BOWEN, of Bootle, head injury

William FERBER, Egremont, shock and severe burns

John COGHILL, of Bootle, and Edward CASS, McGEE and BURNS

Jan 28th 1914

Explosion on the Mauretania

A fourth death

The death toll on the Mauretania explosion now numbers 4, one of the injured men in the Stanley Hospital, named MAGEEE succumbed to his injuries yesterday. Three of the injured men remain in hospital Edward CASE, of Breamer St, Liverpool and Robert BURNS of Seacombe are both reported to be in a serious condition, but, the third man William FERBER of Seacombe although seriously injured is said to be progressing favourably. Three other workmen were allowed to return home after receiving treatment at the Stanley Hospital.

It will be recalled that while workmen were engaged in repairing the turbine equipment of the liner, which is in the Canada Dry Dock at Liverpool, one of the huge cylinders, about 7ft long and 4 inches in diameter, containing compressed gas exploded. The Cunard Company, in a statement issued yesterday, declare their desire publicly to express sympathy with the relatives of the men who have unfortunately lost their lives or suffered injury while performing their duties. The statement adds that the damage to the Mauretania is confined to the blading in the starboard high-pressure turbine and is not serious.

The liner is due to leave Liverpool on February 14th.

Inquest opened

Two inquests will be necessary one on the men whose bodies lie in the city area and another on those at the Bootle Hospital.

The Deputy City Coroner opens his inquest today. Last night Mr BRIGHOUSE opened at Bootle the inquest on George COVENTRY, fitter, aged 30, lodging at Bedford Rd, Bootle and Samuel James GIDMAN, aged 27, of Charlotte Rd, Egremont, two victims of the explosion.

The Coroner said the disaster was due to the explosion of a steel cylinder containing coal gas. The bodies of the two men killed were lying in the city of Liverpool and the Liverpool inquiry would be opened today [Wednesday]. He had consulted with the Liverpool Coroner, and considered it would be better in the first instance for the inquiry to be held in Liverpool and he would attend it. It would probably not be necessary for the Bootle jury, after the Liverpool inquiry, to investigate the accident further.

The accident on the Mauretania [writes a correspondent] draws attention to the risks to which all are exposed who have to work with compressed gas cylinders. Although these cylinders are all made of the best mild steel manufactured under special Board of Trade conditions, it is, perhaps little wonder that occasionally one is found to give way under the pressure of 120 atmospheres [or 1,800lb] to the square inch. It is at that pressure that all cylinders are sent out, and the gauge which fails to show that figure indicates that the cylinder is not full. Before being filled they are tested hydraulically at the colossal pressure of a ton and a half to the square inch, and the old question arises as to whether it happens now and again that, although the test is actually withstood, the metal is so strained as to give way under considerably less stress.

Jan 29th 1914

Another explosion on a liner at Liverpool

An alarming accident occurred on board the C.P.R, liner Empress of Ireland on Tuesday evening. The liner was lying at the time in the Brocklebank graving dock and work was proceeding as usual, when a pipe attached to a gas bottle cylinder similar to that which exploded on the Mauretania, broke. There was a loud report, and some excitement followed. Those in the neighbourhood of the engine-room ran off at top speed to various places of security not knowing what had happened. During the rush Harry TOMLINSON, of Lambeth Rd, Liverpool, fell down the bunker hatch, breaking his collar-bone and also receiving injuries to his head.

Feb 14th 1914

The explosion on the Mauretania in which four men lost their lives was found by a coroner's jury yesterday to be due to the fact that a gas cylinder had been supplied from Manchester containing a mixture of coal gas and oxygen, and that the Cunard Company's workmen had disregarded an indication on the cylinder of some irregularity.

To distinguish between compressed air and compressed coal-gas cylinders they are painted in different colours and have different threads. The gas company's representatives theory was that owing to some error or accident while it was out of the company's hands a black cylinder for compressed air became coated with red paint, and was consequently filled, when returned to them with coal-gas, but also contained a residue of oxygen not released owing to a stoppage in the stop-cock. The Cunard workmen had noticed that the cylinder was not that of a coal-gas cylinder.

After an inquiry lasting nearly 6 hours the Coroner's inquest concerning the explosion on the Mauretania on January 28th was completed at Liverpool yesterday with reference to the two men who died within the jurisdiction of the Liverpool City Coroner, their names being James Jeffrey THOMAS, ship's engineer and John MAGEE, engine fitter.

At the time of the explosion a small portable brazing plant was being used consisting of a bottle of compressed coal gas and a bottle of compressed air. The compressed air bottles, it was explained by William Francis NEILSON, foreman engineer in the employ of the Cunard Company, are painted black and have a right-hand thread, while the compressed coal gas bottles are painted red and are fitted with a left-hand thread. Each bottle is fitted with a stop-cock, controlled by a key, and the usual thing was for the foreman to use a burner and for another man to stand by the key to adjust it as the foreman might require, and so regulate the intensity of the gas flame.

When a new bottle of coal gas was required on the day of the accident it was discovered that it had a right-hand instead of a left-hand thread, which indicated there was something wrong in the fitting. A connection was eventually made and there appeared to be no indication of any other gas present inside the bottle but the coal gas. The explosion happened while the witness was not on duty, and the witness thought it likely that the explosion took place while the connection was off through a light being placed by the stop-cock.

A ship's joiner stated that the man acting as brazier endeavoured to light the jet with a common match and used his spanner to adjust the regulator. The witness heard the jet "spitting" and smelt gas, he warned the brazier to be careful.

Andrew HENDERSON, a brazier, said that when an attempt was made to light the nozzles a proper flame did not result, but instead there was a small bluish flame which seemed to go back into the rubber piping.

Hector McNEIL, fitter's labourer, said he saw a man light a match and try to light the burner, a blue flame was produced and another fitter's labourer exclaimed, "I am going to get out of this, there is danger." and suddenly the explosion occurred.

Mr GALBRAITH, superintendent engineer to the Cunard Company expressed the view that the cylinder which burst had originally been black, and had afterwards been painted red, so that when his men got it they would be right in assuming that it contained only coal-gas. The presence of the blue flame which had been spoken of would indicate that there was oxygen in the pipe. Engineers were accustomed to adapt themselves to circumstances and upon finding a right-hand thread on a cylinder would use an adapter instead of returning the cylinder to the Manchester branch of the British Oxygen Company.

Conclusion between two types of cylinders

William Lawton JACKSON manager of the Manchester establishment of the company named, described the care with which the cylinder had been made and regularly tested. He thought the red paint on the remains of the burst cylinder had been spilled or spread over it in error and had misled his Company's workmen, who would fill it with coal-gas. The cylinder had left their works last December painted black and must have been returned red.

The Coroner Does not that reduce the margin of safety ?

Witness, Yes but the additional safe guard of the right and left hand thread comes in. The firm had been established since 1896, and had never previously had an accident attributed to them Cross-examined the witness said there was every reason for the Cunard men, like the men at the Oxygen Company's works, assuming it was a gas cylinder, "but" he added, "it seems like flying in the face of providence to use a cylinder after so many indications of danger had been given." When cylinders were returned for refilling it was customary to empty them first, but there must have been a stoppage in the stop-cock of the cylinder and the oxygen remained.

The jury found that death was accidentally caused by the explosion of the cylinder owing to being sent out of the works of the British Oxygen Company, Ltd, Manchester, filled with a mixture of coal-gas and oxygen, and the explosion was contributed to by the servants of the Cunard Company disregarding the right-hand thread of the cylinder.

Feb 18th 1914

At the adjourned inquiry concerning the death of George COVENTRY, aged 30 of Bedford Rd, Bootle and Samuel James GIDMAN, aged 27, of Egremont, before Mr BRIGHOUSE the Bootle jury returned the same verdict as the jury at Liverpool inquest.

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