DOVER KENT ARCHIVES

Kentish Chronicle, Saturday 8 October 1864.

DREADFUL EXPLOSION OF GUNPOWDER AT ERITH.

Explosion

Above engraving showing the view of the explosion, as seen from Burrage Road, Plumstead, by Captain Pasley, R.E.

On Saturday morning, at twenty minutes before seven, the inhabitants of the whole metropolis, with scarcely an exception, were startled by a singular, sadden, and inexplicable phenomenon. Those who were asleep were brusquely awakened by a strange rattling of their windows, as if the sashes had been struck by a violent gust of wind, which threatened to blow them in. To spring out of bed and run to see what was the matter was almost a matter of instinct, and it may be confidently affirmed that so many people were never before looking out of their chamber windows at a given moment. As it appeared, however, that there was no wind at all to speak of, the conviction at once settled down on the public mind that there had been an earthquake, and that one of by no means a trifling character. The earthquake theory however, was not left long without question; for those who were up and in the open air say that they had heard the shaking of the houses preceded by three or four distinct reports; and a favourite suggestion, therefore, was that the gasometers at one or other of the great companies’ works had exploded. After a short time a new hypothesis was started, namely, that an accident had happened to some powder magazine at Woolwich. This was getting very near the truth, and at lost the real fact became known. There had really been an earthquake, but it was one that had been caused by the blowing up of two great stores at a place on the Erith marshes called Low Wood, situated between Plumstead and Erith, on the banks of the Thames. At this spot, about a mile or a mile and a quarter from the Belvedere Station of the North Kent Railway, and between the latter and Erith Church, and closely abutting on the banks of the river, at the end of Erith Reach, were two large magazines, the property of Messrs. Hall and Son, of the Dartford Powder Mills, and of Lombard-street, and the Low Moor Company, of Tranmere, Lancashire, for which Messrs. Filbey and Co., of 63, Fenchurch-street, are the agents. The plot of land on which those magazines stood, and which is surrounded by ditches, to render them isolated, is possibly in extent about twenty-five acres. The magazine belonging to Messrs. Hall and Son was the more easterly one of the two, that belonging to the company standing on the north-western side of it, close up to the embankment of the river, the distance between the two magazines possibly being between fifty and sixty yards. The only other buildings in anything like close proximity were the residences of the foremen or managers of the works and their families, and one or two cottages for employees. Those belonging to Messrs. Hall and Son were to the south-east of their magazine, and here in the larger house resided Mr. Silver, the manager, whilst on the extreme west was the house of Mr. Raynor, the foreman, and his family.

It appears that two barges left the powder mills of Messrs. Hall and Son, at Dartford, on Friday night, and proceeded up the river, both completely laden with casks of gunpowder, for the purpose of depositing them in the magazine, at first supposed. They were then known to have each two men and a boy on board, but whether there were any others, as it is feared there were, has not been ascertained, although several who were known to be associated with the bargemen are missing.

It is believed that the explosion first took place on board one of the barges; and it is suggested—though there is not the smallest particle of proof of it—that it might have been caused by a spark falling from a pipe, which one of the bargemen might have been smoking. It is, however, said that Mrs. Raynor, who was extricated from the ruins of her house alive, on being asked where her husband was, answered faintly, "Oh, I know he must be killed. He came to my bedside and told me to get up, and I saw him blown through the wall of the house when the explosion took place." If this is true, it would appear that the origin of the disaster was not on board the barges, but both they and the two magazines were blown to pieces. The quantity of powder which exploded has been immensely exaggerated by public rumour. It was stated that there were not less than 30,000 barrels in the magazines, each barrel containing from 80lb. to 100lb.; but Messrs. Hall write to say that they had only 700 barrels in their stock, besides 200 which were in the barge. The quantity in the other magazine has not been stated.

Whatever the quantity might have been, the results of the explosion were terrible. Not only were the magazines, strongly built as they were, razed to the ground—nothing whatever being left but their foundations—but the very earth itself, for the space of hundreds of yards, was turned up in huge masses or blocks of a ton weight and upwards in all directions. Mr. Silver was writing in his little office, and was nearly buried amid the falling walls, floors, and ceiling of the house, but he extricated himself, and was comparatively unhurt. A nephew and niece, who lived with him, were both in the house; they were much injured, and the niece was not expected to recover, having been partly disembowelled. The debris lay scattered for many hundred yards in every direction, and there were to be seen heavy beams of timber, some weighing over half a ton, in the adjoining fields. A large portion of the Belvedere station, upwards of a mile distant, was carried away; and at the moment of the explosion, the bricks of a new building in course of erection at the station were scattered over the line. In the districts of Erith, Belvedere, and Plumstead, not only were the windows, but the sashes, and even the shutters blown out; and there was scarcely a house that had not suffered more or less. Woolwich also suffered immensely; the Barrack windows on the common were smashed in every direction. So great was the shock that it was at first thought that some dreadful disaster had happened at the Arsenal, and the greatest alarm was felt in the town and the greatest alarm was felt in the town in consequence, It was not until portions of Messrs. Hall's books and papers were seen floating in the air that the exact truth was ascertained. A man named James Girnes, who was at work just off the spot where the explosion took place, ballast heaving, states that he happened to look towards the magazine, and at the moment he saw something bright on board one of the barges. He said to his mate, "Why there's a flash of lightning," and almost before he got the words out of his mouth, there was an explosion. He was blown up into the air out of the lighter at least thirty yards (according to his own words), and fell down on the dock, from which he rolled into the river and swam ashore. As he was doing so a large piece of timber struck him on the hip and injured him so severely that he could scarcely reach the shore and crawl on to the bank, where he lay for some time in great agony until he was fortunately discovered and removed.

The shock is thus described by a watchman at Gravesend:- "I was on the pier," he said, "when I suddenly lost my balance, and almost instantaneously I heard an awful explosion. On turning round I saw, as it were a pillar of fire rising to the clouds, which it appeared to strike, and then spread out like a huge fan, presenting a most beautiful and grand spectacle."

Sergeant Cox, of the police division stationed at Erith gives the following narrative of the circumstances:- He was getting up about a quarter to seven when he heard the explosion. He ran out and found all the back windows were broken, the sashes as well as the glasses. He looked in the direction from whence the sound proceeded, and imagining from the smoke that one of the magazines had exploded, he proceeded to the scene of the disaster, procuring assistance by the way, Mr. Churton, and Mr. Tipple, two medical gentlemen of the vicinity, were on the spot almost as soon as the police, and, with Mr. Matthewson and other surgeons, did all that was possible for the sufferers. On arriving at the scene of the disaster, having literally picked his way through the heaps of rubbish and masses of stones and brick that had been strewn about by the explosion, Sergeant Cox went to the place which, alas! had been occupied by Mr. George Raynor's cottage, the manager of Messrs. Hall and Son’s magazine, and there in the garden found the body of the unfortunate man lying on the ground. He was dressed, but had not got on the usual slippers that are worn in the magazine. He was much cut about the face, as if by splinters, and the back part of the head, over the left ear, was cut open, the brain protruding. He was quite dead. Sergeant Cox next saw Mrs. Rebecca Wright, who was removed as noon as possible, under the care of the medical men. A son of Raynor, named Oliver, was next discovered. His head was smashed in a fearful manner, and death must have been quite instantaneous. There was no indication, either upon father or son, that concussion had caused death; it must have been from the splinters or brinks hurled in all directions by the fearful explosion. Elizabeth Wright, aged thirteen, a daughter of the poor woman previously mentioned, was next found, and she was carefully removed to Guy's Hospital in the train, but died a few minutes after her admission. She had sustained a compound fracture of the skull, a fracture of the left thigh, and was severely burnt on the chest and upper extremity of the body. The bodies of Raynor and his son were removed to the "Belvedere Hotel," and placed in a shed to await the coroner’s inquest, and shortly after, the body of a man, apparently about sixty years of age, not known, was found in the mud of the river, and he was also conveyed to the same place. Among the others found, those whose names we append were conveyed to Guy's Hospital, and it is needless to say they received every attention from Mr. Sidney Turner and the other officials:- Mary Yorke, thirty-eight, fracture of thigh; Lennie Yorke, seven, contused arm and leg, with burns; Dinah York, six, wounds on face, back, and legs; Elizabeth Osbourne, seven, wounds on face and hands; Edward Singleton, twenty-four, fracture of arm and burns; Jane Eves, thirty-eight, fracture of skull—very dangerous (since dead).

In addition to this list we have to give a further number, comprising George Smith, William Mildred, William Edwards (who was thrown a distance of upwards of thirty yards from where he was standing); William Johnson, who was much hurt about the head and shoulders; and George Hubbard, who was found lying outside at the back of one of the cottages. Two children, named Alfred Raynor, aged 12, and William Yorke, aged 11, were taken charge of by Captain M'Killop, who resides at Belvedere. The first named was found on the first floor of the cottage, part of which yet remains standing. The poor little fellow was covered with plaster and dust from the ceiling, but irrespective of the fright did not sustain any injury. Two younger children belonging to Mrs. Wright are in the care of Mrs. Price, of Lessness-heath, and that completes the list of those who have been found. It is most lamentable to have to record that the bodies of two of the men who worked with Raynor have not yet been recovered. Their names are Yorke and Wright.

A very short time elapsed after the catastrophe before an important discovery was made. It was found that the embankment of the river had been broken to the extent of between 170 and 180 feet, and although fortunately at the time it was low tide, it was felt that unless most energetic exertions were used, the river would overflow and cause the most serious destruction. Some three or four hundred men from the main drainage works at Crossness Point were speedily on the spot with shovel and pick, and by great exertion, aided by relays of the Engineers, Marines, and Artillery, to the number in the aggregate of nearly 2,000 men, and the use of sandbags supplied from the military stores, they succeeded in keeping out the water, although about one o'clock, when the tide was at its height, the water was found to be making its way through the bank, and the greatest apprehensions were excited. Fresh detachments of troops, however, arrived, and Mr. Webster’s navvies, by redoubled exertions, succeeded in making the bank temporarily secure. By this time, the locality of the disaster having become generally known, the South Eastern Company brought down by every train during the afternoon hundreds—one might almost say thousands—of people.

On Sunday it was found that the precautions which had been taken to prevent the inundation of Erith would prove ineffectual. It was found the new embankment had begun to give way. Five hundred of the Royal Horse Artillery and a body of sappers and miners were sent from tho Arsenal, and sandbags and entrenching tools, picks, rammers, shovels, &c., were forwarded by rail and artillery wagons by Captain Gordon, of the Royal Horse Artillery, and principal engineer of the arsenal. Upon arriving at the scene of the threatened inundation it was found that not a moment was to be lost. The 150 navvies had been hard at work during the night, and they were completely worn out. They were immediately dismissed from their labours, and the troops took their place. The artillerymen stripped to their work, and went at it with a will. Numbers were told off to fill the sand bags, of which several thousands had been brought down from the arsenal, which was fortunately so near, and the rest, with the sappers, began the labour of constructing a new embankment. The whole area occupied until Saturday morning by the powder mills and other buildings of Messrs. Hall at once assumed the aspect of a camp.

By slow degrees the tide rose, and its progress was regarded with no little anxiety by the officers in command of the works, but owing to the unwearied exertions of the men under them the barrier advanced in proportion. It steadily increased it height and width, and when at three o’clock the water rose to its greatest height, the pressure, though rendered immense by the wind, which blew with extraordinary force right up the river, was met with a resistance that proved effectual, and the danger was pronounced to be over. To show how real and imminent the danger had been, it is only necessary to state that all the efforts of the military had only been efficient to raise the barrier twelve inches above the level to which the river reached at the hour in question. At half-past four the trumpet sounded, and the troops, amidst loud cheers, threw by their tools, having triumphantly accomplished their work.

The number of excursionists to the spot was extraordinary. Some 30,000 went down during the day from London-bridge station alone, and it may safely be estimated that from other stations and by other routes at least four times that number found their way to the spot. The roadway on one part was so completely blocked up that the military, on their return at five o'clock in the evening, were brought to a dead stop, which was only put end to by their charging forward and tumbling the luckless civilians into the fields and ditches at either side—an operation which was, strange to say, provocative of much merriment to all concerned.

Latest Particulars.

Terrible and destructive as true the explosion the accounts which bare been published, obtained in the confusion and excitement, are, fortunately, much exaggerated, both as to the amount of property destroyed and the number of persona killed and injured. Instead of million pounds-worth of property being destroyed, as at first supposed, a quarter of a million is more near the truth, while the deaths may be set down at about twelve in number, instead of forty, as at first stated, and the persons more or lees injured are about twenty the most serious cases, nine in number, having been taken to Guy’s Hospital, those suffering from bruises only having been accommodated in the neighbourhood. The town of Erith, at first reported to have been almost destroyed, has escaped any serious injury, which may be accounted for by a strong wind blowing towards the metropolis, and it was, no doubt, owing to this circumstance that the shock of the explosion was felt so severely throughout London and its suburbs. The works destroyed were not manufacturing powder mills, but simply a powder store or depot, and the number of persons employed there were but few. It is owing to this that the loss of life has been comparatively small.

There can be no exaggeration, however, as to the scene of destination and desolation presented on the spot where the magazines once stood. With the exceptica or a portion of the side wall of the manager's house, not a vestige of the numerous buildings is left standing. For at least a mile around the marshes are covered with bricks and timber, a great portion of the latter being much charred, as if by fire.

The number of persons who visited the scene of destruction on Sunday was enormous, and the police estimate that at least 100,000 persons were present during the day.

Upon inquiry at Guy’s Hospital on Sunday night at nine o'clock, it appears that of the nine persons brought in there two are dead; one, Elizabeth Wright, aged thirteen, who died almost immediately after admission on Saturday morning; and James Eves, who died on Sunday afternoon at three o'clock. A third sufferer, named Eliza Osborne, aged eight years, presents a pitiable spectacle, her face, head, and hands being frightfully lacerated. She was not expected to survive the night. The other six are all going on favourably, and no fatal result is apprehended in those cases.

The scene presented on Sunday at the London-bridge station of the North Kent line was one that almost baffles description. The railway authorities, in anticipating there would be large extra traffic consequent upon the desire of the public to witness the scene of the explosion, had made arrangements for the running of several trains, in addition to those usually running on the Sunday, but their arrangements; fell far short of what was required, and the result was, especially in the after-part of the day, considerable confusion and disappointment. On the re-opening of the station at one o'clock the rush of people into the booking offices was tremendous, and the platforms, both on the high and low level, speedily became filled with a dense multitude of people impatient for conveyance either to Belvedere or Erith stations. From one o'clock until three the trains departed in rapid succession, no less than ten trains besides the two ordinary ones having been despatched between those hours, but still there was no perceptible diminution in the crowds on the platform. Soon after three o'clock a telegraph arrived at London-bridge requesting that no more trains should be despatched until the ordinary train at four o'clock. As the line was completely blocked up, telegraphs were at once sent down the line to the effect that on no account was a train to leave a station before the station master had received a telegram that the trains in front had left the station in advance. At four o'clock there could not have been less than 5,000 persons crowded together on the London platform of the low level station, and at this moment an up-train ran into the station on the off side. It had hardly stopped to enable the passengers to alight, when a terrible rush was made from the opposite platform and across the line, carriages were scaled in all directions, and the people made their way in through the windows before the up passengers had vacated their seats. As may be supposed, the greatest possible confusion ensued, as not one-tenth part of the people could obtain admission into the carriages although as many as eighteen and twenty crowded into one compartment-intended to accommodate only ten persons. Similar scenes were also taking place at Charing-cross station, though not to so great an extent.

Great praise is due to the railway guards, porters, and others on duty for the manner in which they performed the arduous duties falling upon them so unexpectedly. Up to ten o'clock but two accidents had been reported; one being the catching fire of one of the carriages of the train leaving London-bridge at three o'clock, from the friction on the wheels, compelling the train to return to the station for the carriage to be taken off, during which time a lady had her foot severely burnt, and the other that of a lady having her leg broken in the struggle to get into a carriage at the Plumstead station.

At eleven o'clock the trains were coming in rapidly to London-bridge, the passengers by which reported that a large number of persons were still waiting down the line.

A large number of persona were taken down to Erith per steamboat, and the road from Woolwich to Belvedere was crowded with vehicles and pedestrians.

A Woolwich correspondent writes:— "Sunday, 9 p.m.— The streets of Woolwich are at this hour crowded by thousands of persons who have visited Belvedere, and have been totally unable to obtain railway accommodation for their return. Throughout the day the entire line of route from London to Erith had presented a spectacle resembling that of the road to Epsom on a 'Derby day.' Carriages of every description, from the barouche to the costermonger's barrow, have passed through Woolwich in a continuous stream, and the pressure on the locomotive department of the South Eastern Railway has been such that it was impossible to accommodate the traffic, although numerous extra trains were in requisition. The rush this evening at the Belvedere, Erith, and Plumstead stations of the North Kent line by passengers anxious to return home baffles description, and several accidents have occurred.

At the time of the explosion a complete shower of papers, consisting of accounts and documents relating to the powder factories, fell over the area of Woolwich, Plumstead, and Charlton, and an oil portrait of Lord Nelson, partially blackened by powder, was picked up at Plumstead railway bridge. The whole of the available police force from the A, R, and M divisions were on duty at the scene of the catastrophe during the day. And from the exertions made by the military, and the labourers employed by Messrs. Webster, the contractors for the outfall sewage works, the river wall is believed to be perfectly secure, and the whole of the military returned to barracks on Sunday night.

An immense number of details, illustrating the damage which was done by the explosion, have been collected by the industry of the reporters. The following will serve as a few specimens:— In the neighbourhood of Newington, Camberwell, Dulwich, Peckham, Sydenham, &c., the shock was felt with tremendous violence. In the Walworth-road, at Sutherland Chapel, a large number of the windows were shivered, and at a shop in the same thoroughfare the shutters were hurled into the roadway, the plate-glass front at the same time splitting in all directions. At a large building in the Walworth-road the brickwork was found to be split up, and some men going to work describe the shock as something terrible, lasting several minutes, as though the ground upheaved. In Francis-street, Newington, a gentleman describes the effect as truly alarming, the doors of his house being dashed open, locks and bolts being torn away. At other dwellings the result was the same.

The effect of the explosion was felt at the Crystal Palace and surrounding neighbourhoods indeed, at the Crystal Palace the oficials rushed out in great terror, firmly believing that the great towers had fallen, and they could scarcely credit their senses when they found that the building stood intact. Even at Notting-hill the shock was so severely felt that it is stated the two stained-glass windows in one of the churches were blown out and smashed. At the house of Mr. Simkins, tailor, of New Church-road, Southampton-street, Camberwell, two young children belonging to a lodger were literally tilted out of bed, and the building itself was much shaken. Mr. D. Smith, bootmaker, of Edward-street, New Church-road. states that he was standing in his passage, when he was seized with a sensation as if he was about to be suffocated, and believed at the moment that the house was about to fall. In the same neighbourhood, at the wood yard of Mr. H. Fielder, a large stack of timber was thrown down, and a portion fell upon the roof of a small house adjoining it and dashed it in. Fortunately, although several persons were in the house, no one was injured, with the exception of a little boy who was asleep in the top room, and was somewhat severely bruised about the head and face.

At Blackheath the front of the premises of Mr. Tripp present a picture such as would have been caused by a fire, or some violent explosion within the building. Most of the houses from this part to Dartford are also more or less injured. A solicitor, named Russell, was shaving in his dressing-room, and at the moment of the shock he suddenly found himself on the floor. His wife was so frightened at the terrible shaking of the house that she jumped out of bed and ran into into the garden in her night-dress. The house was in so dangerous a condition that Mr. Russell removed his family as soon as possible.

The shock of the explosion was distinctly felt at Guildford, a distance of forty miles, as the crow flies, from Erith. There, as elsewhere, it was at first attributed to an earthquake. It was also felt distinctly at Cambridge and in the Isles of Ely, at a distance of sixty miles.

On Monday the scene of the calamity was visited by some 18,000 or 20,000 persons, who expressed their disappointment that there was so little to be seen. But the explosion made too clean a sweep to leave anything as a spectacle. From two little facts readers who have not seen the ruins may gather some notion of the force of the explosion. In a field some 300 yards from the site of the stores lies a heavy beam, perhaps, twelve feet in length by one and a half square. This has evidently pitched upon its end, ploughed up a considerable space of ground, made a deep hole, and then jerked itself four or five yards further. Again, the chain cable of one of the barges, torn away from the anchor, and still attached to the ring of the anchor-stock, is lying in the middle of a ploughed field, at least 500 yards away. And such facts might be multiplied by any one who takes the trouble.

It is to be feared that the list of victims mortally stricken is not yet complete. One poor fellow named Grimes lies in dire strait at Erith, with the lower portion of his back smashed in, and the accident happened in this wise. He was on an empty barge belonging to the Trinity House, midway in the channel, when the explosion took place. He was thrown clear up from the deck, the tiller catching him and literally staving in the base of the spine. Falling into the water he was seized by the hair by one of his mates, who having been below escaped the force of the shock, and who supported him until a waterman named Williams, plying a few yards off, came alongside. This poor boatman had himself a portion of his cheek cat away by some of the falling wreck, but though suffering much he gallantly said he was not so bad but what he could help another, and he managed to convey Grimes to the shore, where he lies in a perfectly helpless condition.

Up to Monday the police continued to find portions of human frames about the locality, and these have been put together as well as possible so as to give some chance of identification. York and Wright were the names of the men employed inside the magazines, and of these there is hardly a chance of identification. The two barges were the Good Design, William Jemmett, master, and Luke Barber; mate; and the Harriet, John Dadson, master, and Daniel Wise, mate. A son of Dodson had come up from Faversham on a short trip, and it is suggested—though in the absence of any evidence the suggestion is almost a libel upon the poor lad’s memory—that the boy was lighting a fire and so caused the explosion. At any rate, a portion of a foot has been found, and pronounced by the surgeons to be that of a child; so that there does not seem any reason to doubt that the boy was killed at the same instant as his father. The Harriet is said to have had 170 barrels on board, and one of the barges, it is now asserted, was loading while the other was being unladen.

A public meeting was held on Monday evening at the "Pier Hotel," Erith, for the purpose of taking into consideration the serious amount of damage done to the property in the district, and to adopt such resolutions as might be considered necessary with reference thereto. The Rev. Archdeacon Smith, vicar of the parish, was called to the chair, and was supported by the Rev. J. G. Wood, M.A.; Captain M'Killop, R.N.; Captain Morell, R.N.; Dr. Hatton, and the churchwardens. A resolution was put and carried, to the effect "That the disaster which has recently occurred in the neighbourhood proves clearly the impropriety of large quantities of gun powder and explosive matter being allowed to be manufactured or stored in the vicinity of populous places, and that communications be made to the Home Office and to the local magistrates, pointing out the danger attending the establishment of gunpowder magazines and warehouses in such places, and urging the discontinuation of existing licenses, and the refusal to grant new licences for the came purpose in future.”

A committee was formed with instructions to consider the mode of carrying powder in barges, and proper representations would be made to government on the subject. It was next decided to adjourn the meeting until after the inquest, in order to obtain some idea of the amount of claims for compensation. Votes of thanks were unanimously accorded to the military and the medical gentlemen who so promptly attended the sufferers. A vote of thanks to the rev. chairman concluded the proceedings.

The Inquest.

The inquest was opened on Tuesday morning, at the "Belvedere Hotel," about a mile and a half from the scene of the disaster, by Mr. Carttar, coroner for West Kent, and a jury of 17 of the most influential inhabitants of the district. The room in which the inquiry was held had almost every window smashed, and the weather being excessively stormy, the task of conducting the inquiry was by no means a pleasant one. The inquest was held upon the dead bodies of three persons which lay comparatively entire on the ground in the coach-house in the hotel yard. The remains of Mr. George Rayner, aged 40 years, the foreman to Messrs, Hall, lay on a mattress, covered up with his own coat. Next him lay those of Thomas Hubbard, aged 52, and John Yorke, a boy of only 13. Numbers of ghastly parcels were deposited on the floor of the outhouse, and their blood-stained appearance gave a sickening indication of there contents. In them were collected different portions of human bodies, supposed to be the sole remains of the men Wright and Yorke, who were known to have been at work in the magazine at the time of the explosion. In addition to the men whose lives are thus known to be lost, we may state that, on board the barge Harriott, belonging to Messrs. Monk and Co., were known to have been John Dadson, captain, Daniel Wise, mate, and William Dadson, son of the captain. On board the barge Good Design, belonging to Messrs. Hall, were William Jemmett, captain, and Lake Barber, mate. All these human beings completely disappeared along with the barges, and not a trace of them has as yet been found. The scene of the explosion can be viewed from the "Belvedere." 300 marines are still actively at work strengthening the temporary embankment, for the wind from the north-east was high, and threatening. All apprehension of the giving way of the barrier is now, however, laid, and the measures still in progress are designed to render assurance doubly sure.

The jury having been sworn, the Coroner opened the proceedings with a short address. He said that the jury would find their duty an anxious and onerous one, but he was sure that so respectable a body of jurymen could not fail to give satisfaction to all parties interested in the proceedings and to the world at large. There was no tribunal so well qualified as the coroner’s court to investigate, not only the fact of the deaths of persona killed by great calamities, but; for the inquiry into the circumstances attending the occurrence. It was not necessary for a person to be charged at the bar as in other courts, and they were not therefore restrained from going into evidence that did not strictly bear upon the one point of the guilt or innocence of that parson. His own knowledge of such calamities was, he was sorry to say, not limited. He had too frequently been called upon to inquire into the causes which resulted in fatal explosions, but this was the first instance in which he was concerned in the case of an explosion of a powder magazine or store-house. He would not prejudge the present case by a word. He knew nothing of it but by the general reports which was known to all. But he was confident that from Messrs. Hall and the other proprietors the court would obtain every facility for arriving at a satisfactory conclusion, and it was for the jury to see what recommendations they might deem it useful to submit to the consideration of Government for the regulation of such establishments. It was deemed necessary to prohibit the storage of more than a certain quantity of petroleum and fireworks, and it was hard to say why no limit should be placed upon the amount of gunpowder, which was the most dangerous compound of all. That was, however, merely his own suggestion. Without doubt it was true that even the explosion of a very small quantity of powder would as effectually destroy the lives of all on the spot as would the explosion of an enormous quantity. But there could be no comparison of the results in respect to the destruction to property and life and limb in the surrounding districts. In all the districts bordering upon the metropolis houses were springing up, and the population was becoming denser year by year, end therefore the question of the storage of highly dangerous compounds was of the utmost importance and whatever time the court might bestow upon the matter would not be thrown away. He proposed, in the first instances to take evidence as to the identification of the deceased persons as far as it could now be obtained. He would then take the evidence of two or three witnesses: but (said the learned gentlemen, referring to the fearful state of the room in which the jury were assembled, and through the apertures of which the wind roared and bawled) I do not wish after the loss of life that has already taken place, to jeopardise your lives or your heath by going on with the proceedings here. If you think it requisite, we can walk to the site of the powder magazines, and inspect the place, but I believe not much information is to be gained by doing so.

Several of the jurors stated that they had nearly all visited the scene of the explosion, and it would only be a waste of time to proceed there now.

Mr. Poland then rose, and addressing the court said that he appeared on behalf of Messrs, Hall and Son, the proprietors of one of the powder stores, and he wished to state that it was the desire of those gentlemen to give every facility and requisite information to the court. If the result of the inquiry should show to them any improved method of conducting their business, so as to conduce to the safety of all concerned, they should feel deeply thankful.

The jury having viewed the bodies and returned to the inquest room, Walter Silver, who appeared at the table with his head bound, having been injured by the explosion, was called to identify the bodies. He stated that he formerly resided close to the magazine but his dwelling-house had been razed to the ground by the explosion. He was a storekeeper in the employ of the Low-wood, Liverpool, Gunpowder Mill Company, Limited. The establishment was formerly known as Day, Barker, and Co., and their offices were 63, Fenchurch street. He then identified the bodies lying in the neighbourhood of the inquest-room as those of George Hubbard, a labourer engaged in buildings erected near the magazines, and as one not at all conversant with the works. He also identified the body of G. Rayner, who was the foreman of the magazine and that of John Yorke as the son of William Yorke, under storekeeper, who is missing.

Mr. Sydney Turner, house-surgeon of Guy's Hospital, was next sworn and said:- I have under my care some of the persons injured by the explosion. With the exception of Eliza Osborne, who is in a dangerous state, all the rest are doing well. The youngest is six and the next is a girl of nine years of who is sufficiently well to be examined, and indeed could be examined today. Edward Singleton has a fractured humorous, and cannot be examined for a month, Emma Wright a woman of forty, has a fractured collar-bone, and will not he able to be examine for three weeks. Mary Yorke, who has a fractured thigh, is not likely to be able to be examined for six or seven weeks. Another under my charge is Harriet Rayner, the widow of the man who was killed, and she is suffering from a severely contused shoulder, and cannot be examined for a week or two.

Thomas Churton, of Erith, sworn, stated that he was a surgeon, and described the condition of some of the mutilated portions of bodes, part of which, he believed, belonged to one of the unfortunate man named Wright. He also described the condition of two children, one six years of age named Sims, and another named Yorke, twelve years of age, very seriously injured.

The Coroner then stated that his object in taking this evidence was to ascertain when it would be possible to proceed with the inquiry, and obtain a narrative of the occurrence from the mouths of those who actually experienced its effect.

Police-sergeant 15 R stated that seven persons were yet missing, of whom no tidings could be obtained, five of them being from the barge, but, subsequently, one of the legal gentlemen present in the room said that one of the missing parties had since turned up and was safe at home.

This being all the progress that could be at present made, the inquiry was adjourned till next Tuesday, at the Avenue School-room, Erith.

 

Ramains of George Rayner's house

Above engraving showing remains of George Rayner's House.

Maidstone Telegraph, Saturday 8 October 1864.

THE EXPLOSION AT ERITH. LATER PARTICULARS.

Another death, indirectly attributable to the catastrophe, occurred on Sunday night at the Erith station of the North Kent Railway. A young Italian, named Luigi Lorandi, or Marandi, in attempting to enter a carnage in a general rush which was made for places on the arrival of an up train, was dragged among the wheels, and sustained mortal injuries. He was brought by the same train to London, and taken to Guy's Hospital, arriving there at half-past twelve o'clock. He had received a compound fracture of the right thigh just above the knee joint, and the whole of the leg below was much lacerated and contused, he was in a state of collapse and almset pulseless. Mr. Sidney Turner, the house surgeon, decided that amputation was necessary to afford even a chance of recovery, small though it would have been; but the unfortunate man could not be prevailed upon to submit to the operation. He died three-quarters of an hour after his admission to the hospital. His own account was that he was pushed under a carriage while the train was starting, and that the wheels went over his leg. He was a young man of gentlemanly appearance and gave an address at 54, Goswell road.

For hours on Sunday night fearful scenes of tumult and violence occurred at the Erith and Belvedere stations on the North Kent Railway. Throughout the whole day thousands of people went by the line from London and the intermediate stations to the scene of the catastrophe, and a great number of them lingered there until dark. The result was that until far towards midnight they congregated in dense masses on the station platforms at Erith and Belvedere, and besieged every train that stopped to take up passengers on the up journey. The railway authorities at the London bridge station dispatched extra trains one after another, as fast as they couid do so with safety, to bring up the people, but in spite of that there was great delay, and the last up train did not leave the Belvedere station until 3 o'clock yesterday morning. At intervals during the whole evening whenever a train stopped, either there or at Erith, a frightful rush was made at it, and the people crowded the carriages almost to suffocation, in spite of the efforts of the police and the railway company's servants to restrain them. Many clambered upon the tops of the carriages, others took possession of the engine tender, and some even bestrode the buffers until they were pulled off by main force by the police. At Woolwich Arsenal station several of the trains were stopped, and people who were suffering from the overcrowding taken out of them.

On Sunday and Monday pieces of the mangled and mutilated remains of persons who perished in the explosion were found here and there in the neighbourhood and taken to a shed at the back of the "Belvedere Hotel," where the bodies of Rayner, the storekeeper, a man named Hubbard, and a boy (at first supposed, but erroneously, to have been the son of Rayner) awaited an inquest. Among these ghastly relies are a right and a left foot, portions of a skull, and part of a jaw with a whisker, all apparently beyond identity.

From the accounts rendered by the proprietors of the magazines, who are best able to speak upon the subject, it appears that the whole quantity of gunpowder which was exploded amounted to about 1,040 barrels, or 104,000lb., there being 100lb. to a barrel. Of this, 75,000lb. were stored in the magazine of Messrs. Hall, 20,000lb. in their barges which were being unloaded at the time of the explosion, and 9,000lb. in the depot of the Lowood Gunpowder Company, or which is commonly known as that of Messrs. Daye-Barker and Co., the previous owners. The Lowood Company were expecting a large supply of powder from their mills at Newton-in-Cartmel, Lancashire, which had been delayed through export and other orders deliverable at their other depots. Their magazine at Belvedere was about 40ft long by 30ft. in width, and consisted of two floors. It was erected about four years ago, and stood at a distance of 60 or 70 yards from that of Messrs. Hall. Like that, too, it had a wooden jetty projecting into the river for the loading and unloading of gunpowder. No one had entered it on the morning of the explosion.

On Tuesday the number of persons killed and wounded by the explosion had been ascertained with tolerable accuracy. Fire had died, and there were five more missing—namely, a man named Wright, who was employed as under-storekeeper at the magazine of Messrs. Hall, and four men who navigated the two barges that blew up. The names of the latter are William Jemmett, master, and Luke Barker, mate, of the barge Good Design; and John Dodson, captain, and Daniel Wise, mate, of the barge Harriet. The dead are George Raynor, storekeeper at the magazine of Messrs. Hall; John Yorke, a boy of 13, employed there; Elizabeth Wright, about the same age, daughter of the missing under-storekeeper; and John Hubbard and James Eaves. The two last named were labouring men unconnected with the magazines, but who were engaged in constructing a river wall in their immediate vicinity. At the time of the explosion they were collecting their tools in an outhouse attached to the cottage of Walter Silver, the storekeeper at the Lowood magazine, preparatory to beginning work for the day. Seven of the sufferers were at Guy’s Hospital, and all doing well, with one exception. There are also a few others in and about Erith, who are more or less injured. One of these John Simms, a boy of 11, was gathering mushrooms, with an elder brother, at the time of the explosion about 100 yards from the principal magazine. He sustained serious injuries, but his brother escaped unhurt. He was struck on the head with what he thought was a brick, and which tore off the scalp at the back and depressed a portion of the skull partly upon the brain. He was under treatment by Dr. Tipple, of Erith, and hopes were entertained that he may recover. William Yorke, aged six years, a younger brother of the boy John Tarke, who was killed, was picked up among the ruins just after the explosion, badly injured. Two pieces of wood about two inches and a half long, and one a quarter and the other half an inch thick, have since been extracted from his head, where they were completely buried, and one of which pressed upon the brain. Captain M'Killop kindly took the poor little sufferer into his house, where he remained in a somewhat precarious state. Three children, between eight and eleven years of sge, were staying with Walter Silver at the time of the explosion. One of the three, Samuel Fletcher, his nephew, he had sent to post a letter. The boy had just left the cottage when the explosion was heard, and he was thrown down and had two of his ribs broken. He was at the moment passing the man Hubbard, who was killed on the spot. Another of the children escaped with a few scratches, while a third, Elizabeth Osborn, with whom it was playing, received injuries from which she is not expected to recover. The escape of Silver himself was little less than miraculous. He wase straining milk through a sieve just within the back door of his cottage when he was startled and thrown down by the first explosion in the barge, while the second and still more appalling one in the magazine shattered the house about his ears. He was afterwards dug out of the ruins with a few bruises about the head and body, and has since been going about.

A public meeting has been held in Erith with the view to obtain compensation for the serious damage occasioned to property in the town and neighbourhood by the explosion, or, at all events, protection from any similar catastrophe in future. It was attended by the principal inhabitants of the place, and also of Belvedere. Archdeacon Smith, the vicar, who acted as chairman, commented upon the vast and almost overwhelming calamity which had suddenly befallen that district. There were, he said, some points connected with the catastrophe which were not unworthy of remark. Among these were the seal and alacrity displayed by the entire population to render every aid under the direful circumstances, and the singular sobriety and praiseworthy demeanour manifested by the thousands of persons, from remote places, whose curiosity led them to visit the spot. They had indeed, reason to be thankful for that ready aid, which doubtless prevented a mighty river from asserting its dominion, and again flowing over the broad acres where it no doubt at one time found its original bed. The great sacrifice of property was, after all, as nothing when compared to the sacrifice of human life; and he hoped it would go forth to the world that the sympathy of that meeting with their fallen brethren was paramount. He conceived that the meeting had assembled for two objects. First, it desired to make a well-considered and temperate expression of regret, or he might indeed say remonstrance, against the re-erection of powder factories so near populous localities; and they wished also to consider the question of loss and compensation, and to come to some decision as to who was responsible. Resolutions were afterwards passed to the effect that the disaster clearly proved the impropriety of large quantities of gunpowder and other explosive materials being allowed to be manufactured or stored in the vicinity of populous places, and that communications be made to the Home-office and to the licensing magistrates pointing out the dangers attending the establishment of gunpowder manufactories and warehouses in such places, and urging the discontinuance of existing licences and the refusal to grant new ones for such places in future. A committee composed of 17 of the chief inhabitants, with the Archdeacon at their head, was appointed to carry out the objects of the meeting. The committee was also instructed to consider the mode of carrying gunpowder in barges and the dangers attending it, as pointed out by Capt. M'Killop, with a view to make a proper representation to the Government on the subject. before separating the meeting passed a unanimous resolution marking their high sense of the services rendered by Mr. Moore, civil engineer, Mr. Webster, the contractor at Crossness Point, and his men, and of the military authorities at Woolwich, on the sad occasion,—services which, by the speedy restoration of the embankment of the river, tended to preserve a large district of country from inundation. It was stated that Messrs. Hall had undertaken to provide for the widows and orphans of the man who perished by the catastrophe.

On Tuesday Mr. C. J. Carttar, one of the coroners for the county of Kent, opened an inquest at the "Belvedere Hotel," Belvedere, on three of the bodies which lie there. The jury was composed of about 17 of the principal inhabitants of the neighbourhood, and Captain M’Killop, of Erith, was chosen foreman.

The Coroner, addressing the jury, said their duty would be a very anxious one, and one which he was sure, from the respectability of the gentlemen composing the jury, would be conducted in a way to afford satisfaction to every one concerned in the inquiry and to the world at large. The Coroner's Court was so well constituted, and so peculiarly adapted for inquiries into life and death and into the surrounding circumstances, that no better tribunal could in the first instance be reported to for the investigation of any deplorable calamity. It was not necessary in that, as it was in a criminal court, that persons should stand at the bar for an offence. On the contrary, that was a court purely for inquiry, in which none could be charged with a criminal offence, unless, indeed, evidence came out tending to implicate them. They would, therefore, be enabled to hear a vast deal of evidence which in other courts would not be considered legally admissible, and thereby to arrive at some conclusion which would duly account for the death of the poor unfortunate men in question, and be the means, he should hope, of averting in future so sad and deplorable a catastrophe as that which had occurred on this occasion. He would not anticipate the evidence that might be adduced before them. His own experience had unfortunately much too often led him to investigate calamities of this description. He had had to inquire, as coroner over a jurisdiction including a great arsenal, into the deaths of many persons by the explosion of gunpowder, but in those cases he and the jury assisting him had never been able to get at the cause, and for this reason—that all those immediately surrounding the spot at the time of the occurrence were killed instantaneously. He had not before had to inquire into the explosion of a magazine for the storage of gunpowder. His experience had reference to explosions of factories where gunpowder was in course of fabrication, but not in a state of completion, and in all those cases they had never got at the cause of the explosion. In this case they must do all in their power to hear everything and everybody in reference to the matter, and if they could not discover the exact cause of the catastrophe they might still know with what precautions to surround the manufacture and storage of gunpowder, its loading and unloading, and its transit, and consider whether there ought not to be some limit to the quantity stored in one place and to the distance of a magazine from human habitations. He should express no opinion on the subject of quantity at present, but after they had performed their duty of attempting to inquire into the first cause of the explosion they might then see whether there were any and what additional precautions that might be adopted in the care and management of powder magazines, and which it might be desirable for the government of the country to enforce. It was quite manifest, whether the quantity of powder stored in a particular place was moderate in proportion or enormously large, that death would occur in either case from an explosion; but if the quantity was moderately small there would probably be fewer persons living about the magazine than otherwise, and, on the other hand, the result of the explosion of a magazine enormously filled with gunpowder was that it effected the surrounding locality for eight or ten miles round. If therefore, for that purpose only, some check or limit were placed to the quantity stored in one spot, the consequence of explosion might be lessened in the immediate neighbourhood, and a vast protection be secured to populations in the vicinity of London, which was being extended in every direction. A limit was placed on the quantity of petroleum and of fireworks deposited in one place, and he thought, seeing that the most dangerous of all was gunpowder, there ought to be some limit in regard to the quantity stored in a given spot.

The jury, accompanied by the Coroner, then proceeded to view the bodies, which lay in a shed at the back of the hotel. The bodies were those of two men and a boy. They all appeared to have died from the injuries in the head principally. The face of the poor boy was much swollen and blackened, and the skull of one of the men was severely fractured. The countenance in each case was placid, notwithstanding, and the probability is that the unfortunate creatures were killed instantaneously. There were also in the same shed detached portions of the mangled and mutilated remains of persons who had perished in the catastrophe.

On the return of the jury the first witness called was Walter Silver, an elderly man, whose head was in bandages. He said:- I resided near the magazines, in a cottage which is now annihilated. I was storekeeper at the magazine adjoining that of Messrs. Hall, and belonging to the Lowood Gunpowder Company, who have an office at 63, Fenchurch street. The magazine formerly belonged to Bay-Barker and Co. I have just seen the bodies, in the presence of the jury. The first is that of George Rayner. He was about 39 years of age, and was storekeeper to Messrs. Hall. I last saw him alive on Friday evening, between six and seven. The second is the body of Thomas Hubbard. He was about 50 years of age, and a labourer, in the service of Mr. Cavey, a contractor. The deceased, with others, had been engaged in making a river wall near the magazines, and was not connected with the magazines. I saw him last alive on Saturday morning in a shed in which they kept their tools, close to my house. The third body is that of John Yorke. He was about 13 years of age, and the son of a man now missing, and who was under storekeeper to Messrs. Hall. I last saw the boy and his father on Friday evening.

Mr. Sidney Turner, house-surgeon at Guy's Hospital, said he had now under his care there seven persons who had been injured by the explosion, all of whom were doing well, except a little girl named Osborn. Nine were at first received into the hospital, but two had since died.

Mr. Thomas Churton, a surgeon at Erith, said he had seen the human remains which had been found. Among them were three feet, two of which appeared to be a pair, and some whisker, which he thought he recognized as that of the misting man Wright, whom he knew. He had now two children under his care at Erith, one six years of age, and the other 12 or 13. They were suffering from fractured skulls.

This being all the progress that could be at present made, the inquiry was adjourned till October 11 in order that in the meantime the evidence might be procured and marshalled.

 

Erith explosion 1864

Above engraving showing aftermath of explosion 1864.

Erith explosion 1864

Above engraving showing the sightseers viewing the explosion.

Walter Silver's house 1864

Above engraving showing the remains of Walter Silver's house.

Kentish Chronicle, Saturday 15 October 1864.

Gravesend Reporter, North Kent and South Essex Advertiser, Saturday 15 October 1864.

THE EXPLOSION AT ERITH.

We regret to state that another death has resulted from the recent explosion at Belvedere. On Monday, the girl Elizabeth Osborn expired at Guy’s Hospital, from serious wounds on the head and arms which she received from the falling debris after the explosion. Her case was almost hopeless from the first. The death of this sufferer makes the total number of lives lost by the late calamity amount to twelve. The rest of the wounded in Guy's Hospital are reported to be in a fair way towards ultimate recovery.

The adjourned inquiry at Erith was resumed on Tuesday, before the Coroner for West Kent, Mr. C. J. Carttar. The inquiry took place in the Avenue-hall, Erith, which had been fitted up for the occasion, and placed at the disposal of the coroner and jury.

The first witness called was Mr. F. A. Tipple, of Erith, surgeon, who said:- The first body that I saw was Rayner, who was dead, the second was that of Hubbard, who was lying upon his back away from the ruins of Silver's house, quite insensible. There was a severe fracture on the back part of his skull, and the brain was protruding. He lived about two hours from the time of the accident. I also attended, with Mr. Chappel, upon all the other injured people.

By the jury:- Rayner was nearer Silver’s house than his own. He was, in fact, about midway between the two.

By Mr. Perrin:- The boy Lewis is suffering under fracture of the skull, besides other injuries, and his case is a bad one.

John Silver recalled:- At the time of the explosion I was in the washhouse, pouring out milk. I had been out that morning, but not to the magazine. I belong to the Liverpool company. There was no barge loading or unloading at our magazine that day, but there were two barges at the Messrs. Hall's magazine, but whether they were loading or unloading I cannot say. When the explosion took place I was standing at the washhouse door. I could not say from whence the explosion came, because it was all dark in a moment, and I felt the bricks tumbling on me. I had half a pound of gunpowder in the next room, and my first thought was that that had exploded; but before I had time to think I heard a second explosion, and I felt more bricks tumbling upon me, but whether I was knocked down or not I do not know. When I came to myself I found that I was lying on the ground among the ruins. Our magazine had not been open at all that day. We generally open it every day to give the place an airing. Our windows are lattice windows, and I generally open them a little way, and put a piece of wood in to keep them open. No one is allowed in the magazine when three is no business going on. I know Messrs. Hall’s magazine. It is constructed like ours.

By the Jury: Our magazine was about twenty yards from the wall of the Thames, and that of Messrs. Hall was about the same distance. The distance between the two magazines was about seventy yards.

The Coroner stated that, as far as distance was concerned, it would be all important to have the moat accurate information, which would be forthcoming. At present he proposed to ascertain, if possible, the exact spot where the explosion took place. This witness would be recalled.

Samuel William Fletcher, a boy thirteen years of age, was next called, and said:- I got up about halfpast five o’clock on the morning of the explosion, and had been at the back of the house milking the cow. I was standing at the door, and heard some one say "Oh," and I saw a flash come from the barge towards the magazine. I could not see the barge, but I saw the sails, and saw the flash distinctly. I then felt a blow, and I heard and saw nothing more till I came to myself, when the first words I heard was about somebody (Singleton) breaking his arm. I then noticed Rayner’s magazine flaring. I believe it was the magazine, and not the house. It was towards Rayner's magazine that I saw the flash go from the barge.

By Mr. Perrin:- I had seen the barges the evening before. They were on the lower or Erith side, one of them being alongside the jetty.

By the Jury:- Mr. Hubbord was near me when the explosion tool place, and it was him who cried "Oh!" to me. He was in the shed. I did not see him come from the spot; he was lying on the ground looking like dead. I saw him before the explosion, but did not notice that he had any pipe. Both the barges had sails. We once boiled the kettle for the bargemen in Silver’s house. I have seen barges there before, but have never seen fire on board, or smoke coming from them. I have never seen any of the bargemen smoking.

Thomas Richardson, the older, examined:- I live at 9, Queen-street, Greenwich. I am a fisherman. On the morning of the explosion I was sailing and rowing down tho river in a fishing boat. I was about 150 yards from the shore of the river, and nearly abreast of the upper jetty. There was very little wind. I don’t know whether I saw one or two boats lying at the jetty. My little boy said to me, "Father, there are some men at work, I think it must be getting late." I looked towards the barge and saw men at work. The next instant, quicker than I can talk, I saw a dense cloud of smoke which arose in the direction of the barge. I immediately pushed the boy under the deck, and then I heard another most dreadful explosion, and a large stone passed just over where the boy had been sitting, and another struck me on the side of the head and stunned me for a minute or two. When I came to myself the smoke had cleared away, and I heard cries as of injured and drowning men, and I helped to rescue one. The second shock was the most dreadful, and quite lifted the boat out of the water.

Thomas Matthew Richardson:- I am the son of the last witness, and was with him in the boat on the morning of the explosion. I was looking in the direction of the barge by the powder magazine, and saw men wheeling. I told my father that men were at work, and directly after that I saw a great black smoke and heard a noise. The smoke was from the stern of the barge. I was pushed down into the cabin, and then I heard another shock, and my father and I fell down together. I saw a screw-steamer on the north-side of the river a moment or two after I saw the smoke.

By Mr. Poland:- I saw the smoke before I heard the noise. There there two barges at the jetty, one lying alongside the barge, and the other alongside. I saw the smoke come from the stern of the barge that was lying across the head of the jetty. The noise of the explosion was immediately after I saw the smoke, and the whole thing blew up. I saw the steamer coming down with the tide.

Robert Bruce, a ballast man on board the ballast lighter No, 32, said:- On the morning of the explosion I was on the barge and well over to the south side of the river, that being the set of the tide. The wind was blowing east. Clarke and Grimes were on board with me. What first drew my attention was a great flash of light all round me, and a shower of bricks, and we were all knocked down. I had seen the barges before and noticed that there was a boy on board the barge lying across the jetty, the head lying up the river. It was abreast the jetty at the time of the explosion. I heard the second explosion, which was worse than the first. There was a terrible lot of smoke. Grimes was knocked over the boat, and I caught hold of him by the hair of the head. He was dreadfully injured. We went into Erith to get assistance. I noticed a steamer after the explosion. She was steaming down the river in Harbour-reach, the wind being dead against her, so that any sparks that came from her must have blown away from and not towards the magazine. I expected they would lower a boat down and send assistance, but they did nothing of the sort, but simply passed on.

A number of witnesses deposed to witnessing the explosion, but giving no information as to its cause.

Robert Gray, of Randall-street, Erith, deposed that he was on Erith pier head when the explosion took place. He was striking a light for his pipe when he heard a violent noise, then saw a flame and a vast mass of smoke. It formed itself into a beautiful column, and then flame burst out. This took place before the second explosion, and it was on the water side.

William Eldred, Plumstead, employed by Mr. Cavey in unloading barges at the chalk wharf, deposed:- I arrived at the wharf about twenty minutes or a quarter to seven, across the marshes. There were seven of us in company, two of whom are dead and two injured. Singleton and Eves came about a minute or two before the rest, and unlocked the door. We had no pipes, not one of us was smoking. I just went into the shed to get a drop of beer which was in a bottle when the explosion took place. There were two barges lying at the jetty, one at the side and one at the end. The first explosion blew the roof off the shed, and the second, which was the heaviest, knocked down all the bricks about us. I got up myself. I never smoke; and, though I have known the men to smoke when on their own wharf, I have never seen them smoke when at Silver’s wharf, not even when putting away their tools.

By Mr. Poland:- I have never seen any fire on board any of the barges. Rayner was a very careful man, and generally respected.

Samuel Johnson, another of the seven labourers at the chalk wharf, was called, and confirmed the evidence of the previous witness.

John Smith, another labourer, was called, and declared in the most positive manner that there were none of the men in the party smoking that morning.

The other survivors of the party were then examined, and described the accident, but their evidence was a mere repetition of that already given. One of them (Norris) said that he was blown a distance of thirty feet from the ground by the force of the explosion. None of the men could give the least idea of the precise spot at which the first explosion occurred.

Mr. H. A. Howe examined:- I live at Messrs. Curtis and Harvey's magazine, which is the next one up the river. I was in the magazine at the time of the explosion. I heard nothing but a hissing noise and things falling about, I stepped out to the door, and halfway between one magazine and that of Messrs. Hall, I saw a screw steamer lying almost on her side. At the same moment I saw a dense white smoke at the jetty, and almost instantaneously the powder magazines exploded. I had seen men working there a few minutes before, wheeling trucks. I had seen Mr. Rayner a few minutes before the explosion in his garden. In Rayner's absence it would be the duty of Yorke to see to the men loading or unloading the barges. Yorke is entirely missing. He described the windows of the powder magazines and the fastenings, which he said were ordinary ones, but outside the glass, and the windows had ordinary weighted sashes.

By the Jury:- It sometimes happens that a cask leaks. The casks are passed from hand to hand, and if a leaky one is discovered it is sent back to the factory, and not put with the rest of the powder barrels.

Mr. Perrin:- Is there not a path leading to your magazine, and have you ever had occasion to find fault with persons coming along that path smoking?

Witness: Yes, and shooting too.

You never heard of any persons coming up to the magazine, or very near to it, smoking?

I should like to catch them at it. I never did.

By the Jury:- Did you ever know the men bring the powder on the deck covered with tarpaulin?

Witness:- I have known them bring it out of the batches, and then cover it over with tarpaulin on the deck.

Is it possible for an explosion to take place by dropping a cask?

I think not; it is very seldom that one is dropped.

How far was this steam vessel you speak of from the shore?

It was, perhaps, three fourths of the way from our magazine towards Mr. Hill’s, but not near enough to it for any sparks to come from her; the wind would not allow it.

Mr. Perrin:- What quantity of gunpowder do you store in your magazines generally?

I cannot say; it depends on orders.

By the Coroner:- There might be occasionally from 800 to 900 barrels of 100lb. each. Sometimes the magazine would be three-quarters full.

By Mr. Poland:- Our licence under the Act of Parliament enables us to store an unlimited quantity, and that licence is granted by the magistrates in session. There is a caution board exhibited at the magazine to this effect:—"Gunpowder magazine.—Caution.—All persons trespassing on these premises, or loitering near them, or smoking pipes, or firing firearms, or in any way endangering this property, will be prosecuted."

By the Coroner:- Our works belong to Messrs. Curtis and Harvey, but the barges belong to other persons. They are, however, constructed exclusively for carrying gunpowder. I never allow a fire on board, or smoking when the barge is at the wharf. I am not aware that the regulation has ever been broken. It is only when the barges are at the wharf that fire and smoking are objected to. When the barge is out in the stream, and the hatches are battened down, it is not objectod to, but it is a very different thing when the barges are alongside the wharf, because then the hatches are open. There is nearly always a current of air that takes the sparks away from the barges when there is a fire on them.

After an adjournment of a few minutes, to enable the jury to obtain some refreshment, the Coroner said that he had now gone through all the evidence relating to the first of the two branches into which the inquiry divided itself—namely, the ascertaining the precise spot where the explosion first took place; and he now proposed to enter into the second branch—namely, the mode adopted of conveying and storing the powder, and the precautions adopted to prevent accident in the loading and unloading of the barges.

A number of witnesses were accordingly examined on this subject; after which the coroner said that it was impossible to finish the inquiry that night, and as they had now sat over seven hours, he proposed to adjourn.

After a short conversation as to the most convenient day, it was agreed that the inquest should be further adjourned till that day week, when the whole of the remaining witnesses would be in a condition to be examined.

 

Erith explosion map 1864

Above map 1864.

Kentish Gazette, Tuesday 18 October 1864.

The Recent Explosion at Erith.

As might have been expected, the adjourned inquest held at Erith on the persons killed in the late explosion has not bought to light any direct evidence on the definite cause of the catastrophe. We are still left, as we probably always shall be, to form more or less probable conjectures. Some eyewitnesses are able to tell us something of what was going on up to within two minutes of the explosion, but the fatal second in which it occurred has left none who could tell tales. A boy in a fisherman's boat on the river saw men on the jetty, who, as he thought, were wheeling little casks on a truck. and the storekeeper at a powder magazine a quarter of a mile off had seen a four-wheeled truck laden with powder go into the magazine about two minutes before the explosion. There can be no longer any doubt that the explosion first occurred in one of the barges, and probably in the one which was being unloaded. Two or three independent witnesses describe their having seen a flash of light and smoke from one of the barges immediately before the shock of the explosion reached them. There appear also to have been four distinct explosions—first, of the two barges, in rapid succession, and then of the two magazines. That is about the extent of our information as to the circumstances of the explosion, and such it is likely to remain.

But, whatever may be our ignorance of the actual cause of the catastrophe, there is ample evidence to show not only that such a catastrophe might easily have occurred, but that it is astonishing that it never occurred before. The facts brought to light on Tuesday, as to the dangers to which the barges and magazines are exposed, are most startling and alarming. The admirable precautions obscurely hinted in Messrs. Hall’s letter of Monday week, and detailed to the satisfaction of the public on the inquest at Guy’s Hospital, turn out to be mainly theoretical, and to be grossly neglected in practice. To take first the case of the barges. It is impossible to doubt, from the evidence on Tuesday, that the men do not abstain from using a fire in the cabin when they have powder on board. The men appeared, indeed, to be subjected to no supervision on their journey, so that neither Mr. Hall's manager nor he himself could speak from actual knowledge on this point. But the manager is evidently of opinion that they do use fire when they are out of sight. Moreover, a storekeeper at a magazine a quarter of a mile off, which had as much gunpowder stored in it as Messrs. Hall’s, stated that "he never found fault with bargemen for having fire or smoke on board their barges." They boiled their kettles," he said, when they lie off in the stream laden; if they are prevented doing it under their master’s eye they will do it the moment his back is turned; and "if a man was away from home three or four days he must have something warm." There appeared, indeed, to be a general consent against allowing fires when the barges are off the magazines, yet two independent witnesses deposed that they had seen fires in the barges at such times. Besides the evidence of the storekeeper, which we have referred to, a foreman of the Government magazines at Plumstead stated that about the time when Messrs. Hall's magazine at Crossness Point was about to be handed over to the Government he observed a fire on board a barge lying off the magazine, "and was so frightened that he made off at once." Moreover, the very regulations of the Trinity-house make it necessary for the barges to have at least some lights on board. The barges must have two lights when sailing at night, and three when at anchor. To these sources of danger must be added the sparks of steamers, and we have quite sufficient to make an explosion by no means improbable if any powder should happen to be exposed. This danger it is endeavoured to guard against by keeping the hatches down and spreading three or four tarpaulins over them and when this precaution is taken the Master of the Port of London "saw no harm" even in smoking. The fact, however, that smoking is theoretically forbidden by Messrs. Hall, may be taken to show that such a precaution cannot be relied upon. Barges thus laden with gunpowder and thus exposed to danger are constantly passing up the river. Putting the risk from magazines out of the question, what a peril does not this alone represent! In one of the barges which left Faversham on the 26th of September there were no less than 700 barrels of 100lb. each, or 70,000lb. The whole amount that exploded on Saturday week was about 100,000lb. The explosion in the neighbourhood of a large ship of a barge thus laden might produce even more fatal consequences than those which occurred at Belvedere. After such evidence, it is satisfactory to learn that, in the opinion of the Master of the Port of London, 700 barrels are beyond the quantity that may be in barges; and it is more satisfactory, and very significant, that before this accident the Conservancy Board had it in contemplation to lay down more stringent rules for the carriage of gunpowder on the river.

Bad as this part of the matter is, however, the case of the magazines is worse. We have already referred to the storekeeper of a magazine only a quarter of a mile distant from Messrs. Hall’s. It seems a marvel that this magazine was not also exploded. The storekeeper was in the magazine with four other men at the time of the explosion, and ran out on hearing it, and succeeded in getting out of the magazine before the second explosion. That explosion knocked them all five down, and a piece of iron fell right through the roof of the magazine. The wind appears, happily, to have been in a favourable direction, and, though pieces of wood on fire were carried away from the scene of the explosion, none came near this magazine. If it had been otherwise nothing probably would have saved another explosion as bad as that of the large magazine. If this had been the case the mischief might not have stopped there. Another magazine lay at a distance of a quarter of or half a mile further on, and a Government magazine about a mile off. It would really seem not at all improbable that we might have had a succession of explosions. But let us consider the probability of an explosion in one of those magazines. The same witness deposed to the following facts, the mere enumeration of which is sufficiently alarming. First, it is customary for the windows of the magazine to be opened, and they are closed by sashes with iron weights and fastened in the ordinary way by hasps. Secondly, the gunpowder casks sometimes leak. Thus, if there should be any sparks flying about, there is every opportunity for them to enter the magazine, and there is no improbability in gun-powder being about exposed to ignition. Thirdly, steam-vessels pass within ten yards of the magazines and the storekeeper had seen fire four or five feet out of the funnel of a steamer while passing. Fourthly, there is nothing to prevent a man from putting up any machinery on his own property, however close it may be to a magazine; and there is actually a glue factory, with a steam-engine and chimney, at about 300 yards from this magazine. Lastly, a footpath leads past the magazine, and the storekeeper has had tofind fault with persons for smoking as they passed it "and for shooting near it, too." If this be the case, we can only wonder that Erith has not long ago been blown clean away. If the magazines of Messrs. Hall and of this witness had both been full there would have been about 2,000 barrels in each, or four times the amount which actually exploded. In such an event, as one of the jury said, "probably not a house in Erith would have been left standing." In one particular, indeed, Messrs. Hall were behind hand. Although, from the water bein g deep immediately opposite the magazine vessels were in the habit of coming close in shore, no notice of caution was put up. Such a notice appears to be always put up on the Government magazines. Moreover, the assistant-superintendent at Woolwich stated that on the occasion of the magazine at Crossness Point being given up to the Government a few years ago, "he saw the loading and unloading of powder as then conducted by Messrs. Hall's men, and he was so frightened that he would not enter the place. Everything was iron. He told Rayner he would not go into it. Rayner replied, "Oh, you Government people are too particular!"

Matters may have improved since the date of this occurrence, but such an account does not give us very great confidence in Messrs. Hall’s precautions. This feeling is strangely corroborated by a very curious piece of evidence. Among some papers which were blown three or four miles from the scene of the explosion was found a letter from Rayner, the late fireman, to Mr. Monk, the manager of the Faversham Mills. This letter complained seriously of the bad quality of the casks in which the gunpowder was sent. They leaked "to a very unpleasant degree." Mr. Monk at first said he knew nothing of the letter, but thought it might have been written some few years ago, when the casks were made by contract. On the whole, after reading this evidence, however great our ignorance may be of the particular cause of this explosion, we are so far from wondering at its occurrence that we can only feel astonishment that it has not occurred before. "When a man has been two or three years on board a powder magazine," said one of the most naive of the witnesses on Tuesday, "bethinks no more of cooking his meat there than he does of eating it." We are afraid this is the explanation of the whole matter. In their own interest, if for no other reason, there can be no doubt that Messrs. Hall intend to take all the precautions possible. Their own lives would be constantly jeopardized by carelessness. But the constant familiarity with even the most dangerous instruments soon makes men loose their first caution in handling them; they readily, therefore, come tothink that the rules laid down for their guidance are unnecessarily strict, and unless these rules are enforced, as they are in the army, by sharp punishments, they are too likely to be neglected. It will be a point for subsequent consideration whether some additional precautions might not be enforced by the Legislature. But, at all events, owners of gunpowder will be reminded by this terrible catastrophe of the imperative necessity of enforcing the most stringent revelations. This calamity may act as a terrible punishment, and will, at least we trust, insure us a proper security for a considerable time.

 is all battened down. The Coroner:- Had you any fire on the last passage? Witness:- Not when we were alongside unloading. The Coroner:- But on your passage up? Witness:- Yes; on the passage when we were battened down we did. Are Messrs. Hall aware that you have fires on board when the hatches are battened down? I don’t know whether they are or not. You do as you like, I supposo? We are allowed to have fires then, I believe, but we let them out before we get alongside, when we are allowed to have our victuals cooked on shore. The jetty was always washed down when the tide was up. We wear our ordinary boots when on the voyage, but not when we come to the wharf. All the barrels I brought up were sound, no leakage at all. The head of a cask never comes out, or the hoops come off. Never was such a thing as their coming to pieces in handling. Rayner used to send frequent messages by me. He used to send lettors by me. On last voyage I took no letter from Mr. Raynor to Mr. Monk. By the Jury:- Are you not prohibited from burning a fire on board? Witness:- No, never, not that I ever heard of; but we never have any fire when unloading, only when the hatches are on. There is no regulation I know of prohiberting coasters from having fire, and we are coasters. We never carry barrels of powder on the deck. I have heard that they have done so, but don’t believe it. If they ever have had anything on the top of the hatches it was empty casks. It is impossible for me to say whether either of the barges delivered powder in the river. I never delivered powder to a steamer. Neither I nor my mate smoke. By Mr. Poland:- When the hatches are on and covered with tarpauling, in my opinion there, is no danger, or when unloading. I have seen sparks fly on board of us many a time from steamboats when we are coming up the river. If anything occurs we are on the spot. Mr. W. W. Pocock, of Kniggtsbridge, architect and surveyor, sworn and examined by Mr. Poland:- Made the drawings and specifications for Messrs, Halls' magazines. I remembered the old magazine now belonging to the Government, and rebuilt it by direction of Mr. Hall, and subseqnently it was transferred to the Government. The nails and hinges were entirely of copper. I superintended the building of it, and was not restricted to any expense. There was some little iron about the building. There was some iron braces for the ceiling. It was painted twice over before fixed, and twice after. There is no danger from any iron in such places, as there could be no concussion. The magazine was not built by contract, but by a schedule of prices, and there was no motive for the contractor or builder to scamp the work. I had it particularly examined, and, in my judgment, it was a suitable and safe building for the storing of gunpowder. I prepared the plans for the jetty, and they were approved by the Trinity Board. He then described the construction of the jetty. There was, of course, iron used to fasten the piles. Iron nails were used to drive through the boards, but in such a way that they did not come up to the top at all. In my opinion the jetty was consrtructed on a sound plan, and one that was perfectly safe. The magazine stood on a large space of ground, eighteen acres in extent, in order to prevent the proximity of other buildings. I consulted with the Messrs. Hall several times as to the best mode of providing against danger, and also with Rayner, who was a sound practical man. The magazine cost between 3,000 and 4,000. By the Coroner:- The greatest source of difficulty and danger was the pubiic footpath, the tramway running right across it, so that any person walking along the footpath would step on the tramway and leave dirt. To remedy that we had a piece of wood put up for some distance, in order that people might first tread on it, and I believe that provision was made to stop the gangways while the barges were unloading. Mr. Pocock was recalled, and, in answer to a juryman, said that Mr. Rayner was a very shrewd man, and not likely to write such a letter as had been produced unless he had good grounds for complaint. Mr. John Deacon Harry, assistant storekeeper at Woolwich, was then recalled, and produced a copy of an order made, by the Government authorities consequent apon an examination and report of the state of the magazine transferred from Messrs. Hall to the Government. He was sorry to say that it contradicted almost every word that Mr. Pocock had said. He then read the report, which stated where iron was used and what was to be done in consequence, and he added that the estimate for the necessary alterations took three months to prepare. Mr. Harry said that he had examined the floor yesterday, and to his surprise he found that the nails fastening the flooring were made of iron. Cross-examined by Mr. Poland:- I am aware that three officers inspected the building, and that not a word is said in the report about iron nails in the flooring. My attention was only called to the iron nails in consequence of one sticking up, and I said, "I hope at all events this is copper;" but to my surprise I found it was iron. The Coroner:- Whether iron or copper, the responsibility rests with you now. Witness:- We have had orders for a long time not to place any more ammunition there. Benjamin Peene, a person employed at Messrs. Halls' factory twenty-nine years, explained the process of dusting and removing the barrels, and stated that, to the best of his judgment, all the barrels shipped aboard the Good Design and the Harriot were perfectly sound and in good condition. He stated that he was sent to Erith when the new magazine was built to instruct Rayner in his duty, and he had always found him a most truthful man, and certainly not likely to write such a letter as that produced unless he had good ground for complaint. Mr. W. D, Mason, clerk to Messrs. Robinson, ship-brokers, stated that they had last year shipped about 81,000 packages of Halls' gunpowder by clipper ships, all of which contained most valuable cargo, and it was almost impossible that anything at all defective could be shipped. They were especially careful with respect to gunpowder. He also bore testimony to the excellence of the barrels. The witness Siver was recalled, and, in answer to the Coroner, stated that he remembered, just after the explosion, he did say something about he "expected some day it would come to this;" and "he had many times gone down there with his heart in his mouth." That applied entirely to the steamboats passing so near, but he was so confused after the explosion that he really did not know what he did say. The Coroner:- Have you ever had occasion to complain of the carelessness of the bargemen? Well, I never have complained. I have seen fire in the cabin when the barges were at the wharf, but it has been when the wind was blowing off the magazine. By Mr. Perrin:- I have often seen two barges at the same time, and I have seen the smoke of a fire in the empty barge, and I believe it was to cook their victuals. On the morning of the accident I did not look to see if there were any barges there. I had not been on the bank since the previous Thursday. I did not notice whether there was a fire on one of the barges on the previous night. Mr. Rayner was a very careful man indeed. A Juryman:- You yourself have been in great fear sometimes? Well, I must eay that sometimes my heart has been in my mouth, as the saying is, when I have had a barrel of gunpowder in my hand and I have seen the sparks coming out of a steamer close by. The Coroner stated that he was afraid they could not bring their labours to a close that day. There were some other witnesses it was necessary to examine who were not at present in a condition to appear before tho jury. He had himself visited the hospital to inquire into the state of the sufferers. It was believed that Mrs. Rayner might be in a condition in about a fortnight's time to give some important evidence with respect to the date of the letter which has been so frequently alluded to. At present she was so excitable that the least reference to the event drove her almost mad, and at present it was quite certain that she could not be examined. The Foreman:- And possibly when she is her testimony will not be very valuable. The Coroner:- Perhaps so, though it is likely she will recover, and will be calm enough to answer questions in reference to the sad events in a fortnight's time. We may also have Mrs. Yorke by that time, and an important witness named Singleton. The Foreman:- I think that under the circumstances it would be better that we should adjourn again. The Coroner:- Mrs. Rayner, I believe, professes to have a knowledge of the letter which has been found, of where it was written, and also when it was posted; for there is some reason to believe after all that it may turn out to he a copy of one sent. It is, therefore, proposed, gentlemen, that you should adjourn till this day fortnight (Nov. 1). The jury, having asssented, entered into the ordinary recognisances to be present on that day to which the inquiry was adjourned, and the proceedings were accordingly adjourned. THE EXPLOSION AT ERITH AND THE INSURANCE COMPANIES. At a vestry meeting of the ratepayers of Erith, convened by the churchwardens, it was suggested that steps should be taken for the speedy restoration of the parish church, which was severely damaged by the gunpowder explosion which took place on Saturday, the 1st inst. The chair was occupied by the Rev. Archdeacon Smith, the vicar, who briefly introduced the business. Mr. Churchwarden Parish produced the policy of insurance with the London Insurance Corporation, and stated that, in reply to a claim, the company had flatly denied its liability for any damage caused by the explosion. Several individuals had made claims upon the company with a similar result. On the policy being read, several ratepayers expressed opinions that, by the terms of the document, the insurance company was undoubtedly responsible. Dr. Browne said he was not so certain upon this point. It was true that the remote cause of the catastrophe was fire, but the immediate cause was explosion. If they went into a court of law it was probable that the issue would be determined by the immediate cause. At the same time there was no special exemption in the policy which would do away with the liability of the company. Mr. Parish said he understood that the opinions of counsel had been obtained by various companies, and those opinions were in favour of non-liability. After some conversation, it was resolved, on the motion of Mr. Read, that a deputation, consisting of the vicar and churchwardens, do wait upon the directors of the company to represent the case and obtain a final reply. It was resolved that the vicar and church-wardens be requested to confer with Mr. Hall, the proprietor of the magazines, on the subject. It was stated that the repairs of the church would amount to upwards of 150. asks. It is impossible for me to say whether either of the barges delivered powder in the river. I never delivered powder to a steamer. Neither I nor my mate smoke.

By Mr. Poland:- When the hatches are on and covered with tarpaulin, in my opinion there, is no danger, or when unloading. I have seen sparks fly on board of us many a time from steamboats when we are coming up the river. If anything occurs we are on the spot.

Mr. W. W. Pocock, of Knightsbridge, architect and surveyor, sworn and examined by Mr. Poland:- Made the drawings and specifications for Messrs, Halls' magazines. I remembered the old magazine now belonging to the Government, and rebuilt it by direction of Mr. Hall, and subsequently it was transferred to the Government. The nails and hinges were entirely of copper. I superintended the building of it, and was not restricted to any expense. There was some little iron about the building. There was some iron braces for the ceiling. It was painted twice over before fixed, and twice after. There is no danger from any iron in such places, as there could be no concussion. The magazine was not built by contract, but by a schedule of prices, and there was no motive for the contractor or builder to scamp the work. I had it particularly examined, and, in my judgment, it was a suitable and safe building for the storing of gunpowder. I prepared the plans for the jetty, and they were approved by the Trinity Board. He then described the construction of the jetty. There was, of course, iron used to fasten the piles. Iron nails were used to drive through the boards, but in such a way that they did not come up to the top at all. In my opinion the jetty was constructed on a sound plan, and one that was perfectly safe. The magazine stood on a large space of ground, eighteen acres in extent, in order to prevent the proximity of other buildings. I consulted with the Messrs. Hall several times as to the best mode of providing against danger, and also with Rayner, who was a sound practical man. The magazine cost between 3,000 and 4,000.

By the Coroner:- The greatest source of difficulty and danger was the pubic footpath, the tramway running right across it, so that any person walking along the footpath would step on the tramway and leave dirt. To remedy that we had a piece of wood put up for some distance, in order that people might first tread on it, and I believe that provision was made to stop the gangways while the barges were unloading.

Mr. Pocock was recalled, and, in answer to a juryman, said that Mr. Rayner was a very shrewd man, and not likely to write such a letter as had been produced unless he had good grounds for complaint.

Mr. John Deacon Harry, assistant storekeeper at Woolwich, was then recalled, and produced a copy of an order made, by the Government authorities consequent upon an examination and report of the state of the magazine transferred from Messrs. Hall to the Government. He was sorry to say that it contradicted almost every word that Mr. Pocock had said. He then read the report, which stated where iron was used and what was to be done in consequence, and he added that the estimate for the necessary alterations took three months to prepare. Mr. Harry said that he had examined the floor yesterday, and to his surprise he found that the nails fastening the flooring were made of iron.

Cross-examined by Mr. Poland:- I am aware that three officers inspected the building, and that not a word is said in the report about iron nails in the flooring. My attention was only called to the iron nails in consequence of one sticking up, and I said, "I hope at all events this is copper;" but to my surprise I found it was iron.

The Coroner:- Whether iron or copper, the responsibility rests with you now.

Witness:- We have had orders for a long time not to place any more ammunition there.

Benjamin Peene, a person employed at Messrs. Halls' factory twenty-nine years, explained the process of dusting and removing the barrels, and stated that, to the best of his judgment, all the barrels shipped aboard the Good Design and the Harriot were perfectly sound and in good condition. He stated that he was sent to Erith when the new magazine was built to instruct Rayner in his duty, and he had always found him a most truthful man, and certainly not likely to write such a letter as that produced unless he had good ground for complaint.

Mr. W. D, Mason, clerk to Messrs. Robinson, ship-brokers, stated that they had last year shipped about 81,000 packages of Halls' gunpowder by clipper ships, all of which contained most valuable cargo, and it was almost impossible that anything at all defective could be shipped. They were especially careful with respect to gunpowder. He also bore testimony to the excellence of the barrels.

The witness Silver was recalled, and, in answer to the Coroner, stated that he remembered, just after the explosion, he did say something about he "expected some day it would come to this;" and "he had many times gone down there with his heart in his mouth." That applied entirely to the steamboats passing so near, but he was so confused after the explosion that he really did not know what he did say.

The Coroner:- Have you ever had occasion to complain of the carelessness of the bargemen?

Well, I never have complained. I have seen fire in the cabin when the barges were at the wharf, but it has been when the wind was blowing off the magazine.

By Mr. Perrin:- I have often seen two barges at the same time, and I have seen the smoke of a fire in the empty barge, and I believe it was to cook their victuals. On the morning of the accident I did not look to see if there were any barges there. I had not been on the bank since the previous Thursday. I did not notice whether there was a fire on one of the barges on the previous night. Mr. Rayner was a very careful man indeed.

A Juryman:- You yourself have been in great fear sometimes?

Well, I must say that sometimes my heart has been in my mouth, as the saying is, when I have had a barrel of gunpowder in my hand and I have seen the sparks coming out of a steamer close by.

The Coroner stated that he was afraid they could not bring their labours to a close that day. There were some other witnesses it was necessary to examine who were not at present in a condition to appear before tho jury. He had himself visited the hospital to inquire into the state of the sufferers. It was believed that Mrs. Rayner might be in a condition in about a fortnight's time to give some important evidence with respect to the date of the letter which has been so frequently alluded to. At present she was so excitable that the least reference to the event drove her almost mad, and at present it was quite certain that she could not be examined.

The Foreman:- And possibly when she is her testimony will not be very valuable.

The Coroner:- Perhaps so, though it is likely she will recover, and will be calm enough to answer questions in reference to the sad events in a fortnight's time. We may also have Mrs. Yorke by that time, and an important witness named Singleton.

The Foreman:- I think that under the circumstances it would be better that we should adjourn again.

The Coroner:- Mrs. Rayner, I believe, professes to have a knowledge of the letter which has been found, of where it was written, and also when it was posted; for there is some reason to believe after all that it may turn out to he a copy of one sent. It is, therefore, proposed, gentlemen, that you should adjourn till this day fortnight (Nov. 1).

The jury, having assented, entered into the ordinary recognisances to be present on that day to which the inquiry was adjourned, and the proceedings were accordingly adjourned.

 

THE EXPLOSION AT ERITH AND THE INSURANCE COMPANIES.

At a vestry meeting of the ratepayers of Erith, convened by the churchwardens, it was suggested that steps should be taken for the speedy restoration of the parish church, which was severely damaged by the gunpowder explosion which took place on Saturday, the 1st inst. The chair was occupied by the Rev. Archdeacon Smith, the vicar, who briefly introduced the business. Mr. Churchwarden Parish produced the policy of insurance with the London Insurance Corporation, and stated that, in reply to a claim, the company had flatly denied its liability for any damage caused by the explosion. Several individuals had made claims upon the company with a similar result. On the policy being read, several ratepayers expressed opinions that, by the terms of the document, the insurance company was undoubtedly responsible. Dr. Browne said he was not so certain upon this point. It was true that the remote cause of the catastrophe was fire, but the immediate cause was explosion. If they went into a court of law it was probable that the issue would be determined by the immediate cause. At the same time there was no special exemption in the policy which would do away with the liability of the company. Mr. Parish said he understood that the opinions of counsel had been obtained by various companies, and those opinions were in favour of non-liability. After some conversation, it was resolved, on the motion of Mr. Read, that a deputation, consisting of the vicar and churchwardens, do wait upon the directors of the company to represent the case and obtain a final reply. It was resolved that the vicar and church-wardens be requested to confer with Mr. Hall, the proprietor of the magazines, on the subject. It was stated that the repairs of the church would amount to upwards of 150.