Chapter 37: A Dramatic Conclusion
My Son now had the whole Management of the Refinery and under God's Blessing made a good deal of Money. I took Occasion of this and made a Voyage to America to see the Centennial Exhibition in 1876, and went over my old Scenes in Philadelphia from 1839 and 40. I observed a great Change in that Time and stayed there about two Months. I could not but contrast the Difference. When first I went it was in the steerage and seven Weeks in going. This time it was in the 'Celtic', a White Star Liner - first Class with every Accommodation nine or ten days. I could not but Adore the Goodness of God in making such a Difference in my condition - from a Workhouse Boy to a Gentleman, at least in outward Circumstances. I got back, as I said, in about two Months, and was truly grateful to find my Family and Business all well, through the Goodness of God.
We went on for a Time all Well; but a time came when we were to be roused up. We were contemplating to make a Change in our Work, and to this end we had Ordered four New Steam Boilers, to put in another Part of the Premises and remove the Old Boilers to make room for an Extension. We had all the New Boilers fixed ready for Work the coming Monday. On the Saturday previous to this we intended to finish our Work about twelve O'Clock. Then some hitch in the Work took place, and, by some unaccountable thing, the Valve of one of the boilers was shut down and caused an explosion. My son and myself were in the Yard, waiting for the Finishing up, when our Salesman came from the Town Office with a Cheque to sign. We were all standing in a Group, four of us, my nephew being one of the four. So I said "Don't let us stand here; but come into the Office and see what it is all about." So us four went up to the Office, and we must needs go over the Boilers, for there was no other Way. We had scarce got into the Office, to look at the Cheque, when a sudden Whift came along, with Darkness, Slates, Bricks and Steam overwhelmed us, bringing us to a Sudden Stop. Not Knowing what we should do, at last I said "Let us get out of this." and made way for the Door leading into Burlington St. There we encountered Bricks and Slates scattered about the Street. Then we knew what was up, and turned up the Street and into Vauxhall Road and came down Black Diamond St. There we saw a sight not Pleasant but Unique; for there we saw Boilers, tumbled out of their Place in all sorts of Positions, and the Sheds, that had been, assuming all Kinds of Shape - a fair Picture of Pandemonium crossed and recrost a fair bewilderment of things.
After seeing these things, we had time to think of the Wonderful Providence which shielded us from Harm; for, if we had remained in the Place where Mr Roinson had found us, and not first gone where we did, or were one minute later in crossing the Boilers, we had been overwhelmed in the Catastrophe. And, if it had been half an hour later, being pay day, when it was usual for our men to congregate and stand over the Boilers, waiting for their pay, it would have been too Awful to think of the destruction of Life.
As it was, we did not escape without the destruction of one Life, and that Man had no Business there, for his work was outside, getting Sugar out of Bond. But, having done his Work, and being near the Time for getting Paid, he had wandered about the Place and so was caught. One of our Men was much Injured and was in Hospital a considerable time; but he eventually recovered and was able to go to Work again. But the Annoyance and trouble through this bad time was great: for we did not know for some time when demands for Damages would cease. All we could do was to settle up as fast as we could. And, after all, when we thought we were pretty Clear, fresh demands would be made from some unexpected Quarter. A time like this gives you an Opportunity of Judging about the Unreasonableness or selfishness of Men. But all things End at last, and we were permitted, by the goodness of God to reconstruct our Place and get to work again.
The Explosion made a Rough and ready Clearance of things that were wanted out of the Way, and so far helped us as to save time in making our Alterations. For otherwise we should have gone much more leisurely to work in removing the Obstructions that were in the way. The explosion had made a free course for us. We went on Building up again, first of all with the Warehouse which we had contemplated Building. We got in new Pans and Pumps, making the Place capable of turning out four hundred Tons of Sugar a Week. That was about the full extent we could go to in Black Diamond St; but my Son was Ambitious to do more. So he went to Edinburgh and bought a Sugar Refinery that was for Sale there. We paid £16,000 for this and entered into possession thereof in 1880, which brought me to live in Edinburgh, where I am now.