FATAL EXPLOSION IN HMS MERCURY in 1893 WHILST SERVING ON THE CHINA STATION VISITING SINGAPORE
A correspondent, writing from Singapore, under date September 26th, says:_ “A singular accident, resulting in the death of a first class petty officer and injuries to six other men, occurred on board the Mercury, cruiser, on the 21st inst.
The spirit room, which opens into a narrow and ill-ventilated space on the starboard side of the main magazine, was being opened by the captain of the hold, in the presence of the ship’s steward and several other men who were close by. One cask had been lifted out, and Charles Over, a first class petty officer, was in the act of lifting another cask out of the hatch, when a violent explosion occurred, throwing the men down in all directions, and harming seven of them, two severely . The paint-work was scorched, and some screens covering the paint-work as well as the woodwork of the hatch were set on fire. The gangway leading to the upper deck being in flames, escape in that direction was completely cut off, and the men were obliged to make their way down a hatch to a lower deck. At the same time they raised the alarm, and the whole crew were at once summoned. Captain Balfour, seeing that the woodwork around the magazine was on fire, gave orders for the magazine to be flooded, and this was immediately done, so that in a very few minutes all danger from that cause was removed.
The precaution, however, was taken to signal to the Plover, which was just then returning to harbour from firing practice, and the vessel steamed alongside ready to render any assistance in extinguishing the flames.
Charles Over, the petty officer, and another man were both severely burnt, and after they had been attended to on board the ship they were sent ashore to the Singapore Civil Hospital. Over died there on the same evening, and was buried on the following day with naval honours. All the other cases are doing well. The explosion formed the subject of an enquiry by the captains of the Egeria and the Plover, and the conclusion came to was that the spirituous vapour or gas had come in contact with the flame of a lamp with which the spirit-room was lighted and thus caused the explosion.”
Moral of the story….. Naval neat rum is a volatile flammable substance and such substances should never come into contact with a naked flame. Surely, a boy scout, indeed a girl guide, nay, cubs and brownies, know that? Add an infusion of oxygen by opening hatches, and pop goes the weasel.