Skip to main content
Hide Articles List

2 articles on this Page



FEARFUL EXPLOSION AND FIRE. On Wednesday, the 9th inst., an explosion, resulting in s'serious fire, and attended with melancholy loss of life, occurred in the Cannonsate of Edinburgh. Shortly before one o'clock the neighbourhood was startled and shocked with the sound of an explosion resembling the simultaneous discharge of several pieces of artillery, the reverberation being heard even in the suburbs of the town. Immediately a great volume of flame was seen to Epont forth from the door and windows of the premises cf Mr? Hammond, general dealer and fireworks maker, situated a little above Chessels-conrt, in a building front- ing the street. The inmates of the populous tenement, -who were dreadfully alarmed, found to their horror that the staircase was barred by a fierce volume of flame issuing from Hammond's back door. Being daytime most. of the husbands of the women and fathers of the children were away at work, but it is estimated that there must have been between seventy and eighty per- sons hemmed in by the fire. Many made a frantic rush at the staircase, but the heat was so intense as to force them back. The fire engines were speedily on the spot, but at first it was not possible to obtain a sufficient supply of -water. When that was obtained the flames were speedily mastered, but dense volumes of sroove continued to ascend and penetrated every room of the vast building, stifling the inmates. These rushed to the windows and cried frantically for assistance to those b^Iow. Some of the scenes witnessed have scarcely ever been paralleled. The following are some of the incidents as described in the Scotsman, Two of t io most active in rescuing the imprisoned people were Police-sergeant Auld and a chimneysweep, named George Riddle. Auld was on the epot very soon after tbe fire broke out. The first of the terrible sights that met his eye was that of a woman, named Henderson, throwing a girl over a third-storey window into a court. This woman's husband, Walter Henderson, was the owner of the whole half-flat on the third storey, and a portion of it he had let off in furnished apartments. Mrs Henderson was in her own house when the fire broke out, with her four chidren, one a girl of eleven years, and the others aged respectively seven, five, and three. To remain longer in the room was impossible; to attempt to escape by the stair would, in all probability, have been equally fatal. There was ao alternative but to risk the fall; at the worst it was merely another way of dying. And yet, on looking out irom the window afterwards the distance down into the court seemed frightful. The window could only be leached by clambering on the top of a table. Standing there with such a yawning outlook, the mother must have been filled with a mad despair before she could have dropped her children one by one from her arms to whllt to any sane person must. have seemed certain death, and only with the prospect of falling herself after them, The poor children, as they were raised, screamed and clung back with all their power, but the mother proved the stronger, and one by one they were dropped. Ser- geant Au]d arrived under the window just in time to catch the first of the children-the girl of eleven-and as she struggled very much to save herself from the fal!, she came down partly doubled, and when set on her feet, poor creature, she was unable to walk. It was painful TO look upon her pale terror-stricken face, and she was trembling violently from fear. She was safely caught in her descent in Auld's arms, as were al-o the other three children. One of them a boy, struck the sergeant a severe blow on the chest in his fall. The officer was stunned, and fainted, but he had no sooner recovered than he was again foremost among the foremost of the workers. He was George Riddle's chief assistant in afterwards rescuing Mrs Henderson and a woman who was with her in the house. Riddle ascended a ladder, and tying a rope round each of the women, swung them gently down the ladder. The brave men who bad eaved them had no time to receive thanks—from many windows there were still loud and bitter cries for help. A poor woman, Mrs Ferguson, leaping from a fourth storey window in the west wing of the building, fell on the hard pavement and died almost immediately. One of the most exciting incidents in connection with the calamity was the rescue of two women from a win- dow on the fourth floor of the building, in the west wing, immediately adjoining Pirrie's close. One of the women' 'Was Mrs Rae, mother of Mrs Ferguson, the poor woman "who flung herself into the court, as stated above; and the other was a Mrs Johnson, who resided on the fourth floor. Mrs Rae appeared first at the window, from which the smoke was issuing in dense volumes, and cried out piteously for help. Mr John Watson, a baker, a young man who had been assisting some others to escape, ran tip the staircase in Pirrie's close, nearest to where the woman was standing, and made his way into a house on the top flat. Looking out of the window, he found that there was one window between him and the poor woman, and that he was separated from her by eight or nine feet. -He took a blanket off the bed, tore away the under sash of the window, and flung one end of the blanket across to the woman, who seized hold of it, crying out, as she did PO, 'Thank Heaven, some one has come to save me.' The excited crowd =below cried Hold fast,' and others Jump;' but Watson urged her to keep hold of the blan- ket, and promised to do his best to save her. A journey- man butcher named Greig had by this time gone up to Watson's assistance; and Sergeant Auld and Constable M'lntyre, who had been exerting themselves to the utmost to save life, had also rushed to the spot, and they took up a position at an open window in Pirrie's-cloee, on the floor beneath Watson, out of which they held a ladder with the view of getting hold of the woman if she should be lowered down. A rope was got and thrown to the woman, who had by this time got outside of the window, and was in at evidently dangerous position. The rope which was thrown to the woman somehow got round her neck, and Watson called out to her, Remove the rope and put it round your waist, or you will hang yourself;' and she replied, 4 I'll try my best, but I am choking with smoke.' She got the rope over her shoul- ders, and when it was under her arms she was told to let go. She did so, clutching by the blanket, and held pp by the rope. The excitement of the crowd below was intense, as for a moment the woman swung in the air, and struck against the wall; but Sergeant Auld and those who were with him in the flat below in Pirrie's- close, succeeded in catching hold of her as she swung to the side, and rescued her amidst the cheers of the spectators below. No sooner was this rescue effected than Mrs Johnstone appeared at the same window, and cried out, 'For heaven's sake, save me alsol' A rope was flung to her, and after she had fastened it round her waist, she was speedily and safely swung across to Pirrie's-close, and taken in at the third storey window by Sergeant Auld. One little boy bad a narrow escape. He bad been playing on the staircase when the explosion took place, and the stair filling with smoke, he had managed to get out of the stair window on the second storey, and hung by his hands on the outside for some time, afraid to drop to the ground, and waiting for some one to come to his rescue. The ladders, however, were all engaged at the time at the other windows, and some of the people below, seeing that the boy's strength was failing, called to him to drop. Mr M'Kenzie, builder, was among those below, and as the boy fell, his feet struck Mr M'Kenzie; but the boy, so far as we can learn, was not seriously injured. Two women were rescued from a first storey window by George Riddle; and from another room the same individual carried out three other women and an old man. The poor people when found by their deliverer were quite lively and sensible, but totally unable to help themselves in their dangerous position. In each case the people were rescued by being lowered by ropes. A sailor, whose name did not trans- pire, was seen to leap from one of the high windows upon some mattresses with a young child under his arms, which he happily preserved from all danger, and he himself escaped with only a bruised head. A poor basket-maker, Luke Duffy-who occupied the underground premises beneath Mr Hammond—was sorely to be pitied. At the time of the explosion there were with him in his premises three workmen, two young women, and his two children. He had not the slightest warning of the danger, for the first thing to befal him was the fall of his ceiling, and the debris darkened the place, and almost blinded all who were in it. After making his escape, in the fear and alarm of the moment, Duffy broke open a window and crept back into the room and brought out his youngest child which was lying in the cradle. And even then he believed that the house was not empty. His daughter Mary, aged four and a half, and a young woman named Bella Horriaon, were still missing, and he-was confident that they were buried in the burning debrzs. The poor man was sorely troubled, and again crept through the win- dow to look for the missing ones. They were not -in the room, and it was evident to him that they must have perished in the passage in making their way round to the front door. To settle all doubt, he attempted to ex- plore the passage, and groped his way amid the fire and emoke, until bit burning hair compelled him to return. { He gave the two p.fe&Vilrea lib for lost-no Attedpt could afterwards be made to expire the cellar, fetei poor Duffy lingered about among tte crowd in hioat distracted state of mind. Later in the aNVnoon, however, he learned to his infinite relief and tomfott that the two persons whom be believed to have perished were both safe. The young woman, Vno was slightly injured on the head, apparently by apiece of a rocket, bad managed to scramble over the Vubbish and baskets with the child clinging to her go'ifin, and so found the door. When the Bremen bad been somewhat successful in quenching the flames, it was determined to explore the rooms, as) although all the persons who had appeared at the windows had been rescued, it was still believed that there were okher persons who might be so overcome by fright or by the suffocating power of the smoke, as to be unable to make any effort to escape, A Mr Slater, Mr M'Pherson, an inspector of streets and buildings, and Mr Ballantvne resolved to ascend the stairs for exploring purposes. Mr M'Pherson was compelled by the smoke to return in a few minutes, but Mr Slater and Mr Bal. lantyne, keeping their heads as'low as possible, succeeded in making their way up to the fourth storey. Some idea of the difficulty and Sanger of this search may be formed from the fact that Mr Ballantyne had to go four times to the windows 'to get a little air while en- gaged in the search. In one of the houses Mr Slater and Mr Ballantyne found a young girl lying on the floor not far from the door. Mr Slater took the poor girl in his arms and carried her swiftly downstairs to the court, and through the pend into the front street, where his appearance, bearing in his arms the motionless child, caused intense excitement in the vast crowd which had gathered round the building. As be crossed the vacant space in the street left immediately in hunt of the building, a thrill of anxiety and excitement seemed to run through every one. Mr Slater carried the child into the shop of Mr Davidson, followed by one or two medical men, who did all that could be done to restore anima- tion but in a little while the body was carried out muffled up and motionless—the child was, dead. Mr Slater rushed back to the building to resume his search and scarcely had the excitement among the crowd in the Canongate caused by the removal of the little girl passed away, when he was seen putting his head out of one of the windows in the top storey, and calling out to those below that theie were still some inmates. Thereupon their anxiety grew feverish. At length Mr Slater reappeared on the streets, but this time without any burden. Two women were yet in the building, he said, and he required help to rescue them. The help was obtained, and in a short time the bodies of the poor women were carried downstairs into the court. They were laid on mattresses at the west side of the court and covered with blankets, and every effort was made to restore animation. A hard and hopeless struggle it proved to be in the case of one of the poor women, Helen Milne, or Wilson, who died in the court. With the other woman, a Mrs Taylor, the labours of the medi- cal men were more successful; for in a short time she showed signs of recovery. She was removed, under the care of Dr. Arthur Wright, to the infirmary, where, we believe, her recovery was speedily com- pleted. There was something almost horrible in the way in which the crowd swayed about with excitement as body after body of the dead or injured was carried from the building or through the close. Among the first of the sufferers brought into the back court was a poor woman who had been confined to bed, and had been carried out on bedding by a man and two policemen. She was not in any way burned, but was suffering from suffo- cation. An exploration of the premises was made as soon as the subjugation of the fire would permit—between four and five o'clock. At every step, and at each fresh ascent, grievous and destructive scenes met the ex- plorers. The body of Mary Ann Emslie, twelve years of age, a message-girl in the service of Mr Hammond, was dug out of the ruins about eight o'clock in the evening. When the explosion took place, she attempted to leave by the passage leading to the back door. The floor gave way, and she was precipitated into a cellar beneath. Ber body was sadly mutilated. This dis- covery caused great consternation, In all live were killed at the time, and about twelve others were very Meriously injured. A FACT WORTH RECORDING.- While travelling on the Great Western Railway from Bristol to London, a member of the British Service Club lost his purse con- taining £ 17 10s. All he knew was that he had been asleep, and that there were other persons in the car- riage. On applying at the Lost Property office next morning, and describing the purse, it was at once handed to him, and a charge of 2d only made. MUNIFICENT GIFT.—Mr R. H. Morris, who has re- cently passed a highly successful competitive examina- tion for the Civil Service of India, has addressed a letter to Mr Alfred Eames, the Secretary of the Royal Naval School, in which he enclosed a cheque for £500, in re- cognition of the advantages received by himself and his brothers, and in gratitude for the way in which his old school meets the wants of professions themselves contributing to the just glory of England.' This muni- ficent donation constitutes Mr Morris a vice-president and life-governor of his old school, and gives him the privilege of nominating a gratuitous pupil during his life. DESPERATE FIGHT WITH A ROBBER.—Considerable excitement was created on Friday in the quiet village of Loudwater, a few miles from Wycombe, by the report of a desperate struggle between a constable and a man whom he 'wanted' for a robbery which had been com- I mitted at a public house at Wycombe. It appears that I a constable named Deacon, who keeps the lock-up at Wycombe, obtained information of the where-abouts of the supposed robber, and took train at eight o'clock in the morning to Taplow, in pursuit. When the train reached Loudwater Station the constable chanced to look out of the carriage window, and saw the man he was after walking on the platform. The constable, who was dressed in private clothes, at once left the train, with the intention of taking the man into custody. Only a minute or two before that the station-master had issued a ticket for Victoria Station to the man on the platform, and he was rather astonished to see him hur- riedly deliver the same ticket to his son, who stood at the gate, and make his way rapidly from the station. He was followed by the constable. When he reached the station yard the man started running, as if he recognised Deacon, who, of course, at once gave chase. lie ran his man down as he reached a low wall near the village post-office. The postman, who was just then at break- fast with bis wife, chancing to look out, saw the two men close as if they were having a wrestling bout, and was rather horrified as he saw the robber draw a knife from his pocket and then stab the constable with it re- peatedly on the arm and on other parts of the body. He went to the door, intending to give what assistance he could to the stabbed man, but both the wrestlers, as he thought them, ran past him as he stood on the thres- hold. He saw that the hindmost man was getting faint; and that as he approached the Happy Man' public house he was forced to give up the chase. The landlord of the public house, and some men who chanced to be lounging about there, saw the constable fall, and went to lum. They learned who he was, and upon what errand he had been. They put him into a cart, and had him driven to Wycombe, where medical attendance was obtained, and where the constable now lies in a very dangerous state. Whilst this was being done a bov, the son of the landlord of the Happy Man,' and who was only fifteen years old, mounted a pony, and went after the man who had stabbed the constable. He missed the man in some way, but went on and informed the police at Wooburn-green and Beaconsfield. He then returned towards home, and was astonished to meet the man whom he thought he had followed. The man looked at him rather curiously, and then passed on, whilst the lad at once rode on to the police, who ran the robber down in the evening. He was taken to Wycombe, when the charges of robbery and of woundiDg the constable were entered against him.