The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), 20 Apr 1905

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Caused The Explosion Of Acetylene Buoy.


At The Coroner's Inquest Last Evening.

The coroner's jury summoned by Coroner Mundell, to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the death of the late Frederick Mullen, who was killed in Tuesday afternoon's explosion, met in James Reid's undertaking rooms last evening. The jurors sworn in were: Ex-Ald. James F. Knapp, forman, Stanley Keyes, D.J. Garbutt, W.J. Crothers, Alex. O'Brien, Harvey Black, G.A. Mackie, J. Laidlaw, W. Tait, J.S. Smith, John Johnson and R.S. McClelland. The remains of the deceased were first viewed, after which evidence was taken as to the occurrence.

Capt. Webster Augustus, the first witness repeated the evidence given in Dr. Mundell's enquiry, the substance of which was published yesterday. He heard only the one explosion. Two red and one black buoys were on the end of the dock and two men were engaged in painting the two red buoys and another man was in the cage at the top of one of the red buoys when he saw them. Frederick Mullen was aboard the boat when he last saw him.

Capt. James F. Fraser, commissioner of lights, who has general charge of all aids to navigation, with special reference to their operation and maintenance, including the different gas buoy services of the dominion, gave scientific evidence of value. He has been in charge of the service since 1893 and has never known of a case where a buoy burst as these apparently did. In reply to questions from the coroner and jury, he stated that there is no objection to filling these buoys on docks and this has been the practice. The pressure of the gas in the buoys when filled, varies from 180 to 225 and it has been the custom to charge to the minimum pressure. The practice has been to accept the maker's test for buoys both in Canada and other countries.

The manufacturers who supply these compressed gas buoys state that they may be used to 150 or 180 pounds working pressure, leaving a further margin of safety, for higher charges. The witness understood that the crew of the Scout had filled the two red buoys to a pressure of 180 pounds and these had been filled for about half an hour before the explosion took place. The accident, he said, did not occur in the compression, manufacture or pumping of the gas. There is a guage near the manhole of each buoy and another at the compressor, both being carefully watched so as to guard against accident from excessive pressure, and to tell when the buoys are filled. He had believed at first that the explosion was due to a defective weld, in one of the red buoys and personal examination served to confirm this view.

He placed on exhibit a piece of cast iron, supposed to be a section of the exploded buoy, which was found on the deck of the Scout shortly after the explosion. The piece was found by H. Youlden, proprietor of the Kingston foundry. The witness drew a diagram explaining to the jurors the dimensions and construction of the buoy. The body of the buoy consists of one sheet of cast iron welded longitudinally. The piece produced in court he claimed to be a section of the welded portion, in which he pointed out a flaw in the welding which, in his opinion, caused the explosion. All of these buoys have been in the service of the marine department since 1901, being used every year and always charged up to 180 pounds or more when in use.

He considered that this explosion had occurred at that pressure. There is no yearly test of these buoys excepting the service test to which they are subjected while in use, as no special test has ever been considered necessary. The buoys are scraped and painted each year and if no external corrosion or dents are found, they are considered all right as the acetylene gas has no chemical or other effect on the metal of which the buoy is constructed. Under the same conditions if the buoys had been charged with oil, gas or compressed air, a similar explosion would have occurred. Lighting the gas in the cage of one of the red buoys could not possibly have caused the explosion as in that case the gas would simply have burned out, as evidenced in the case of the black buoy which was partially charged and the gas in which simply burned out without explosion.

There is, said the witness, no case on record where a cylinder of acetylene gas ever exploded spontaneously. These explosions are caused by defective generators. He did not consider acetylene gas dangerous, and was well acquainted with its properties. He explained the manner in which the gas is manufactured on the boat and led through tubes to the buoys. When the gas is generated by the action of the carbide and water, it is led over a dryer to remove moisture and impurities. It then goes into a compresser where it is gradually compressed through three stages, so as to avoid heating, thence through another dryer and cooler to the buoy, through the receiver at the man-hole, where one of the gauges is kept.

The late Evan Guillard, one of the victims of the accident, was the man who was rated as gas man and was supposed to watch the pressure here. He explained the explosion of the second buoy as the possible result of the vibration caused by the explosion of the first buoy. Capt. Augustus, in his evidence, had said that Frederick Mullen, in conversation with him, had referred to a part of the apparatus on the tug as being subject to a pressure of 300 pounds. Capt. Fraser verified this and stated that the third cooler was tested up to that pressure.

He stated that the plant on the Scout for the manufacture of the gas and the filling and the filling of the buoys was most complete and was in the hands of a most capable captain and crew, who understood perfectly their work.

H. Youlden, proprietor of the Kingston Foundry, was the last witness. He testified as to finding the fragment of the buoy and also gave expert evidence in regard to the quality of metal used in the buoy and also as regards the use of acetylene. He explained to the jury his reasons for the firm believe that the flaw in the weld of the piece he found was responsible for the explosion. He demonstrated the nature of the break and showed the location of the flaw. The thickness of the metal used in the manufacture of the buoy was three-fourths of an inch, while the portion of solid metal where the defective weld had been made, was only three sixteenths of an inch in thickness. He had examined these three buoys several times before the explosion and was perfectly familiar with their construction. In regard to the accident, he had seen two men working on the top of the buoy before the explosion occurred. He considered the manufacture of acetylene gas as safe and stated that this gas mixing with air would not ignite without a naked flame.

At the close of this evidence the jury adjourned until Monday afternoon at four o'clock, by which time it is thought the surviving members of the crew will be sufficiently recovered to testify.


STEAMYACHT MARGARET, owned by the late William Gokey, Brooklyn, 55 feet long, 10 feet beam, 5 feet depth; first class seaboat, used only two months, speed twelve miles an hour; compound engine; well furnished and in excellent condition. For further information apply to Mrs. William Gokey, 669 10th Street, Brooklyn, N.Y., or Capt. John Geoghegan, Box 76, Kingston, Ont.

In Short Form.

The steamer Norseman left Port Colborne, Ont., this morning, for Detroit, being the first departure this season.

Mayor Vigars, Port Arthur, has wired the marine department, asking that the ice breaker Algoma be sent on to Thunder Bay to break the ice there.

Led by the ice cruiser Algoma, the big fleet which had been held up a week below Whitefish Point, forced its way through the ice and into Lake Superior.



The steamer Reindeer has resumed daily trips between Napanee and Picton.

The steamer Ella Ross is scheduled to make her first trip of the season up the Bay of Quinte on May 9th.

The channel in the vicinity of Cressy is filled with ice, being in some parts piled up to a height of fifteen feet.

The steambarges Iona, Resolute and Reliance are lying at Belleville, being unable to proceed further on their way to Oswego.

The schooners Queen of the Lakes, Clara Youell, Tradewind and Metzner were to clear today for Oswego. They were towed out of the harbor.

Capt. James Shapee, of the sloop Peruvian, was the first to enter Belleville harbor with a cargo. He went in on Tuesday evening with lumber.

The steamer New Island Wanderer remained at Cape Vincent after arriving there yesterday afternoon. She returned this afternoon, and was to leave again at two o'clock.

The M.T. company tug Emerson went up to Stoney Passage to see if it is the steamer Advance that is stuck in the ice there. The Advance has not yet reached Oswego, and it is quite probable she is helpless.

Capt. Fagan, Belleville, has his schooner, the Echo, loaded with buckwheat at Corby's elevator for the Richardson company in Kingston. He will start as soon as he gets a favorable wind.

Personal Mention - Rev. Thomas Bone, missionary to the sailors passing through Welland Canal, is dangerously ill with pneumonia at St. Catharines.


Into The Steamer Scout Catastrophe.

The government investigation into the steamer Scout catastrophe may not begin until tomorow morning. Capt. J.F. Fraser stated today that it was first the intention to have it conducted by himself, but as he is directly interested as commissioner of lights, he has thought it better to transfer this duty to Mr. Adams, chairman of the board of steamboat inspectors, who will have associated with him, John Dodds, inspector of boilers, Toronto. Capt. Fraser intends to give expert evidence in connection with the enquiry.

If the investigation is fixed for tomorrow, the evidence of some of the crew will have to be taken at the General Hospital, as they will scarcely be able to attend elsewhere. Capt. Fraser said their evidence would be of a minor nature anyway. The expert evidence will be the most important. It will be given by himself, William Stewart, of the C.P.R., Montreal, H. Youlden, and George Merwin, Montreal, agent for the Safety Car and Heating company, New York, through whom the buoys were purchased. Both Montreal men are here. Inspector Dodds was expected from Toronto this afternoon.

Mr. Merwin Interviewed.

This morning a Whig representative interviewed George T. Merwin, Canadian agent of the Marine department of the Safety Car Heating and Lighting company, which supplies buoys to both the Canadian and United States governments. He is here in connection with the investigation. When asked if he had seen the piece of the buoy in which a flaw had been discovered, Mr. Merwin replied that he had, and was satisfied that it could cause the buoy to burst.

Discussing the question of pressure, he said: "These buoys after being manufactured are all subjected to a pressure of 300 pounds, and are naturally considered proof against accident. No, the company does not guarantee them; it does not think that necessary. This buoy has been in use by the Canadian government since 1898, and in view of that, its bursting now seems very strange, when it has been subjected year after year to higher pressure than on Tuesday."

"Has a similar accident ever occurred before?"

"No, this is the first on record. The company has been manufacturing these buoys for twenty years, and this is the first of their buoys that ever burst. The case is very exceptional. The like might never occur again."

p.8 To Take Evidence - Edward Adams, Ottawa, who will conduct the government investigation into the steamer Scout disaster, will this evening take the evidence of Mr. Merwin and Mr. Stewart, who desire to return to Montreal by the night train. Mr. Merwin will testify as to the condition of the buoys when sold to the government, and Mr. Stewart as to the use of acetylene. Tomorrow Mr. Adams will examine the engineer of the Scout and those directly engaged in handling the buoys.

This question will probably arise: Were the four members of the Scout's crew killed by the buoy with the flaw in the weld? Did that buoy explode first, or was it exploded by the concussion of the other?

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20 Apr 1905
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
Rick Neilson
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
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British Whig (Kingston, ON), 20 Apr 1905