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Newsletter 139 Winter 2022  © Hampshire Mills Group



Fatal Explosion at Southampton Steam Flour Mills



Information transcribed from Hampshire Advertiser, by Andy Fish


It was reported in the Hampshire Advertiser on Wednesday 8 December 1869 that a miller was scalded to death when the boiler exploded.


An inquiry into the circumstances connected with the death of Horace Bishop Hammond, a miller aged 48 years, commenced at the Apollo Inn, Grove Street, on Saturday afternoon by Mr Edward Coxwell, the borough coroner.  The jury having been sworn in, the coroner said he did not propose to go fully into the inquiry that day, but only open it in order that the deceased might be buried, and then adjourn it until a future date when they could enquire at length as to the cause of this lamentable occurrence.  It is probable that it would turn out that it was the result of deceasedís own negligence, or of those by whom he was employed at the time.  The coroner would accompany them to view the body, and he also suggested that they should inspect the place where the accident occurred, as probably they would then be better able to understand what had happened.  The next day the jury proceeded to view the body, which was lying at deceased's residence in Melbourne Street, and afterwards inspected the engine house in the mill.


On the return of the jury the following evidence was given by Henry Small, who deposed that he was a miller, and employed at Mr Hague's Steam Flour Mills in Melbourne Street.  The deceased was the foreman of the mill, and was working there on Wednesday morning.  At half-past 6 o'clock he saw him with the engine driver (John White), and just after Mr Small had left the engine house to go to the top of the mill he heard a loud noise.  On going back down he found the engine house was full of steam and he could not get inside for half an hour, neither did he see the deceased until that time had elapsed, when he saw him get out through a window.  Mr White got out about a quarter of an hour after he heard the report, through the door leading to the gas house.  Both men were badly scalded.  Mr White went through a house at the rear of the mill and Mr Small saw him at the corner of the mill.  Both men walked home, but neither gave any account of how the accident happened.


Mr John Hague, the proprietor of the mill, said the deceasedís general duties were not in the engine room, but as he had been some time in the mill he had a knowledge of the working of the machinery.  The engine driver was only taken on last Monday, and Mr Hague told the deceased to see that he did things properly until he was used to the place.  About 11 o'clock on Wednesday morning he received a telegram from Dr Bencraft, and in consequence of that he came to Southampton as soon as he could in the afternoon.


On going into the engine house of the mill he found the door of the hot water boiler was blown off, and the stay that went through the door and the other side of the cistern had come away with it.  Mr Hague attributed the accident to the boiler being too full of water, and the waste steam acting upon it caused too great a pressure, and the door, being the weakest part, consequently gave way.  If the stopcock had been kept open, which should have been done, the accident could not have occurred.


The engine had been thoroughly overhauled lately and put into good working order.  He was not aware the boiler required any repairs.  Mr Hague was an engineer, and when he engaged Mr White he had good testimonials as to his capacity as an engine driver, as he had been engaged, he believed, in the Marquis of Conyngham's yacht during the past season.  It would be the duty of the engine driver to see that the stopcock was kept open.


The deceased's brother was present, and said that he thought it was rather remarkable that his brother should have remained in the mill for half an hour without any assistance being rendered to him, while he himself knocked down a window partition and got out through a window.


The coroner said he thought it was rather remarkable that no assistance was rendered.  Mr Small said he went for assistance, and two or three men came, one of whom drew out the fire.  They could not get into the room because of the steam.  In answer to a friend of the deceased, Mr Hague said he considered the stopcock was a sufficient safety valve, but it would be better if it was larger. The same stopcock had been in use for several years.  There was nothing to lead him to suppose there was the slightest probability of an accident.  The deceased's friend said he did not think a stopcock was a sufficient safety valve, for any person in passing might shut it, and no one would know.  At the same time he must say, he believed Mr White was a competent man as he had known him for some time.  The coroner told this person and also the deceased's brother that he should be happy to hear any evidence they might wish to bring forward at the adjourned inquiry.  


Dr Bencraft said on Wednesday morning, about 7 o'clock, he was called to see the deceased, and found him at his own house, lying on the bed and partly undressed.  He was suffering from extensive scalds, involving nearly the whole of both arms from the shoulders to the wrists, and also of the left leg, extending from the hip to the ankle.  There were also some slight scalds on the chest, and on some portions of the face and forehead.  He administered appropriate remedies, and was in constant attendance on him at intervals until he died at 5 oíclock on Friday morning.  Dr Wilburn also saw him with him on Thursday, and noted the case was almost hopeless.  He concluded the cause of the accident was the boiler being too full of water and he had no doubt death was due to the shock to the system consequent on the extensive scalds.  The deceased said it was owing to the driver's neglect in allowing the tank to become too full of water that the accident had happened.  There was some evidence of an internal injury, as if caused by a blow, and there were also two cuts on both shins, probably caused by getting through the window.

The inquiry was then adjourned until 4 o'clock tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon.  The other unfortunate man John White, aged 48, having died on Sunday, an inquest was held at the Royal South Hants Infirmary last evening on his body, before the borough coroner, Mr E Coxwell.


Dr Short gave evidence to the effect, that the deceased was brought to the infirmary on Wednesday last.  The poor fellow was suffering from scalds, and had also inhaled a quantity of steam.  He was properly attended to, and notwithstanding the efforts of Dr Short and his staff, he died on Sunday from the effects of the injury received.  The same evidence was given as was given on Saturday at the inquest on the other man Mr Hammond, and a verdict was returned that deceased met his death accidentally, the opinion being also expressed that the accident was caused by the stopcock not being left open, and too much water being in the boiler.



Editor:   I have included this as supplied by Andy, but I suspect that you, like me, will struggle to follow it.



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