Chapter 20: The Boiler Explosion
In July 1835, a great calamity befell us by a Boiler Explosion. My employers had been making extensive alterations in our Works and had ordered a New Boiler, which was now started. Well, on this day we heard three Shocks. Three Girders on which the Boiler had been fixed appear to have given way.
About one o'clock, after hearing the last shock, I went to the Boiler door to get a light for my Pipe, and, looking into the Flue hole, I saw streams of Water and Steam coming out of the rivets. Bill Young, Tom Colley, and Mr Bennett, who had come from London to superintend the New Work, were all lying on the Coals before the Fire - most probably discussing the merits of the New Boiler - it being a fine warm Day.
As I was turning my back, after getting my light, addressing myself to Bill Young, I said; "Bill, is not this Boiler dangerous?" "Oh no", says he, she is only expanding!" Having turned and gone into my own place sitting upon a Scum box, there was Whizz and a clatter of Bricks against the Door, which I had just shut. There were two other men with me. We all rushed to the door: but the Bricks were piled up against it. So we rushed back, and got through the cellar flap into the street and came round down the gateway to see what had happened. There, behold, the whole Yard was filled with Bricks, and the steam hissing through the Bricks and rafters.
For the Explosion had brought down the five-storey Warehouse which had been added for the contemplated improvements for which Mr Bennett had been brought down from London. Now we scurried up and down the Old Part of the Building which remained. This was covered with Lead forming a Cistern for Water. That was also broken, so that the water was flowing down into the Sugarhouse, and as we were running up and down the Stairs for this and that we were like drowned rats. But what was to be done immediately was to clear away the Bricks, to get at the Bodies of the Men that were underneath. When that was done the three Men that I have named were lying beside each other as I had left them before the Boiler Fires, a dismal sight to behold! Their heads were swollen to a great size by the Steam having played on them for so long.
But they were not the only ones, for, along with the general wreck, two Houses in Magure Street adjoining our Premises were knocked down. In one of them a Mr Acton lived, who had a friend that had called on him at that time. While in conversation together this thing happened. Mr Acton's Niece was dressing in her Bedroom: the Roof had been taken away over her head, and she was standing on the Floor, in the sight of these two, in a very dangerous position. Mr Acton being Lame, his friend thought he might be of some Assistance to Mr Acton. He rushed forward, as he thought, to Assist her. In doing so, he came into contact with something which brought down a wall on himself. This killed him, but left Mr Acton untouched: so there were four in all for the Coroner's Jury.
Now I must say something about the others, who had a marvellous escape, wherein we see the Scripture Account of how God deals with us when "One is taken and others left". As I was saying, we had a new Addition addded to our Old House. The Plasterer was just point the upper Part of the Roof, when our Upstairs Man, having done his Work, took the keys to the Plasterer, who was just finishing under the Easing, and told him when he had done to Shut the Sugarhouse after him. While he was in the act of giving the Keys the explosion took place and both were brought down. The Plasterer, being above all, came down over the debris and lighted on his feet running up the Gateway and went home, saying nothing to anybody. But not so Henry Halday, who was a floor below the Plasterer. He came down on a Beam amidst Brick and mortar, his eyes blinded with Mortar and Steam. He was thought to be done for and was carried home, not expecting he would survive until Morning.
This poor man affected me much, so I went immediately into the Stable to pray for him. I remember the fervour in which I prayed. I said: "O Lord, save that poor Man, for he has a Wife and three small children, and what will become of them if thou takest him away now?" This was about the Substance of my Prayer; and when I had done the Lord as good as said:- "I have heard thy Prayer. The Man shall not die." With this assurement I was relieved, and went immediately and bought a bottle of the best Port Wine, and took it to his house saying that he would not die for I had Prayed the Lord to spare his life, and would believe that it was even so. The next morning I was anxious to hear of him, and was told that Henry had brought up a deal of Blood and was easier. From that time he improved fast and was restored in a short time to Health and Strength and able to follow his employment.
Poor Bill Young, one of the four that was killed, I had much solicited before the explosion. Being but lately delivered from the Wrath to come, through the Knowledge of Jesus Christ, I was anxious to impart that Knowledge to my fellow Workmen, and to Bill Young in particular. He could neither read nor write and I was puzzled (how) I could convey to him my Meaning, for he seemed to be so dull in comprehending what I said. A thought struck me:- "If Bill could only read the Bible, he would learn there more than I could tell him" So, one day I says to him: "Bill, would you like to learn to read?" "Yes, says he, "I would". "Well", says I, "if that is so, I will buy a Spelling Book and teach you". With that he seemed to be pleased, so I bought the book and was just beginning to give him lessons when the explosion took place to my sorrow.
I must say something about Tom Colley, Bill Young's Mate. He had no Business to be there, for he was on the Night Shift. He occupied a House close to where Bill Young lived, so, after having his Morning Sleep, having worked the night before, he says to Mrs Young: "I am going round to the Sugarhouse to see how the New Boiler is getting on, and, if you like, I will take Bill's Dinner" So that is how he came to be numbered among the slain.
He left a wife and two children. Mr Vickers, one of the Masters, took their Son into his own house and put him as an Apprentice to the Engineering Trade, and he became a Respectable Man.