Explosion on the steamship HAVERFORD, 1906

Jun 15th 1906

Explosion on the steamship HAVERFORD

In the hold of the steamship Haverford, belonging to the American line, there occurred yesterday, while she was unloading in the Liverpool docks, a remarkable explosion which unhappily caused the deaths, so far as it is ascertained, of eight men who were at work in the vessel and severely injured 40 others, some of whom will be maimed for life, even if they recover. Many rumours were current in Liverpool as to the cause of the explosion, one being that a bomb had by some means been conveyed on board and placed among her cargo at Philadelphia, the port from which she sailed, this, with further inquiry showed to be most unlikely.

The Haverford arrived in the Mersey from Philadelphia on Wednesday afternoon, bringing, passengers, cattle and a general cargo. Having landed her passengers at Liverpool she was taken over to Birkenhead where her cattle were put on shore. She then recrossed to the Huskisson Dock at Liverpool to discharge her inward and load her outward cargo. The crew signed off in the evening and the stevedore's men arrived early yesterday morning and began unloading about 7am. Half an hour later the noise of the explosion was heard. In the words of one man not far away, "It seemed to shake the very air and earth around" it was heard quite loudly a mile away and across the river. The hold of the ship is divided into compartments, each of which is numbered starting from amidships. Where the explosion spent its force was in No 2 and No 3 holds. There much of the cargo consisted of Fels-naphtha soap and paraffin wax or paraffin scale. This highly inflammable cargo took fire and burnt fiercely. The fire brigade were summoned and within a few minutes the engines were at work pouring water in copious volume upon the burning cargo, while the dead and injured men were being brought by firemen and others from the holds. The force of the explosion will be understood by those who know the stoutness of the build of a liner when it is mentioned that the substantial iron bulkheads were blown away and the metal stanchions, 5 inches thick, used as supports for the cattle pens close by, were wrecked.

The rescue work

Two of the unfortunate men who had just begun work were thrown out of the hold, and the gear in the neighbourhood of the hatches was scattered in all directions. One of those men was R. HUGHES, dock worker, whose lifeless body fell on a fairly broad ledge outside the second story of the warehouse on the quay, a height of at least 40 feet from the hold where he had been working. The plank on which he had been standing was detached and blown in an upward slanting direction through the entrance to the shed and out through the wooden roof. Another man, who was blown up into the air presented a terrible sight when his body was recovered and removed, his head and an arm had been severed. Yet another man, Peter M'CORNEY of Gwendoline St, Toxteth, who was in the shed on the ledge which contain the levers which control the derricks used in the loading and discharging of the vessel, was blown on to the ledge from the shed, the sides of which were destroyed. Fortunately M'CORNEY was not seriously injured but suffered considerable shock, and he was able to proceed home. There were about 40 men in the hatch when the explosion occurred, few were unharmed, 6 were killed outright.

A multitude was drawn to the dock by the noise and there was no lack of ready helpers. The Liverpool Fire Brigade under Chief Superintendent THOMAS, the Salvage Corps under Chief Officer MUIR and the Bootle Fire Brigade directed by Superintendent COLLINS, and the Dock Board fire engine Neptune in charge of the officers of the Harbour Master's Department, came speedily, and doctors and ambulances from the Stanley, Bootle Borough and Northern Hospitals were fetched, together with the ambulance corps from the London and North Western and Liverpool Overhead Railways, and the difficult and combined work under such trying circumstances of fire extinction, rescue and succour proceeded rapidly. The turnout and services of rescuers and helpers were remarkably prompt. No other word than heroic describes adequately the work of the firemen, who searched amongst the flaming cargo for the dead and injured bodies of the men. These firemen wore smoke helmets, attached to which were tubes. One of the latter was from a pumping machine, which supplied the men with air and kept the fumes at a distance from their faces, while the other provided an electric light. When a man was found in the hatchway a shout was raised, and a thick box of wood, 7ft by 3ft, was lowered into the hatch and the recovered body placed in it, hoisted onto the deck then over the side of the vessel into a waiting ambulance and conveyed to one of the hospitals. Particularly gallant work was done by a fireman named CURTIS, who went down into the burning hold repeatedly although in a very exhausted condition himself. As a result of his persistence that there were more men below two additional dead bodies were found in No 2 hold, some two hours after the explosion.

Explosion on the steamship HAVERFORD

The idea is not given much credence in the well-informed that the explosion was a result of an infernal machine which had been placed on board at Philadelphia, at the same time believers in such a theory seemed to have some grounds on which to base it, as in an examination later in the morning a box was found with the top and a portion of the sides blown away and a piece of machinery inside, in the nature of a clutch. The box was consigned to an address in Manchester, but looked harmless enough, and inquires showed that machinery similarly packed formed no inconsiderable portion of the Haverford's cargo, and had been placed near the cases containing fels-naptha soap. Another theory was that the explosion was the work of anarchists, who had timed the bomb to go off a few days before the completion of the voyager, but that their reckoning was out, since the vessel having the current behind her, did the trip in 10 instead of 14 days. Experts, however, have come to the conclusion that the fels-naptha soap was the cause and the underwriters report in particular being that the calamity occurred as the result of a barrel of soap exploding. Supported by a statement that at the time of the explosion a case was being hoisted, one of the men had put his hook into the box to pull it over towards him. This particular commodity an expert said, " has given off vapour, Naptha, when mingled with air becomes a powerful explosive, and probably one of the workmen engaged in the unloading had struck a match in the vicinity of the cases, hence the explosion."

The killed

Patrick BENNETT, Robert HUGHES, Patrick HENNESSEY, John BROWN, Joseph MAGEE, William WALL, Matthew FORRERES and J. MAHON [or MATHER]. Three men are still missing.

Mr J. E. WILLETT, head of the American line in Liverpool, states that experts were making investigations, but had come to no conclusion as to the cause of the explosion. The Liverpool representative of the Fels-Naptha Soap Company strongly repudiates the idea that his firm's goods could possibly have caused the explosion.

Jun 16th 1906

Further deaths

Two more men injured by the explosion on the steamship Haverford died yesterday morning. They are William SHIELDS, Lambeth Rd, Kirkdale and John ALLAN. Sherwood St, Liverpool. This makes 10 deaths known, and there are 3 more in a precarious condition. One of the victims previously reported as John BROWN has now been unquestionably identified by the widow as James Henry PERRY, aged 23, of Everton Liverpool.

July 13th, 1906

Inquiry into the explosion on the steamship Haverford in which 12 men were killed on June 14th, concluded at Liverpool before the City Coroner, Mr T. E. SAMPSON. After a long summing up by the Coroner the jury after an absence of 18 minutes returned, the foreman stating that they were unanimously of the opinion that the deaths were accidental and caused by the explosion of inflammable vapour from naphtha soap in Hold No 3 of the steamship Haverford and that there is no evidence to show how it became ignited.

The Coroner said he thought care should be taken by all persons who had to do with soap to see that it was properly stored.

The jury desired strongly to recommend to steamship companies that the ventilation of boats carrying doubtful cargoes should receive more attention

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