New York City, NY Ferryboat WESTFIELD Explosion, July 1871
A FRIGHTFUL DISASTER.
EXPLOSION OF A NEW YORK FERRY BOAT -- MANY LIVES LOST, AND MORE THAN ONE HUNDRED INJURED.
The Staten Island ferryboat Westfield exploded her boiler at Whitehall ferry New York at twenty minutes past one o'clock Sunday afternoon. Between 300 and 400 persons were on board at the time of the sad affair. The front of the boiler was suddenly blown out, lodging in the bow, thirty feet distant. The forward part of the boat, upper cabin and all, was instantly shivered and split into a thousand pieces. As an eye witness expressed it, "the forward part of the boat was lifted fifty feet in the air, the smoke stack fell, and everything was buried in the hold. Many persons were blown overboard."
A father and a mother had their children blown from their arms. The water in an instant was alive with men, women, and children struggling for life. A number of persons, it is not known how many, were drowned. The debris in the fore part of the hold was first removed. The cries of the poor half boiled victims were heartrending. Stimulants were given them as they struggled beneath the beams, and oil was poured upon their burns. As fast as the wounded were recovered they were borne to the deck of another ferry boat moored alongside, where they were tenderly cared for. As fast as it could be done, they were removed to the various hospitals of the city.
The Westfield is a very old boat, and belonged to the Staten Island Ferry Company. Her deck, as could be seen after the explosion, was rotten, her boilers passed inspection two weeks ago.
The engineer of the boat says: "I have been employed by the Company for 16 years; I was in the fire-room five minutes before the explosion; asked the fireman, PATRICK FINNEGAN, about the water, and he said it was 'all right'; went to the boiler myself, and found the water above the third cock; went up through the engine room and noticed that the gauge indicated 27 pounds of pressure of steam; then I went on deck; in two minutes I came back, and just as I was going down the stairs to the engine room the explosion took place; I cannot say what caused the explosion; the boiler had a patch on the part where the break was; I examined it three days ago and found it in good condition."
The fragment of the boiler which was thrown out upon the Barge Office platform was pronounced to be so plainly an unsound piece of iron, upon examination by several persons who were presumed to be good judges, that Inspector Jameson caused it to be removed to Police Headquarters for safe keeping. It was stated that some of the deck hands asserted that the engineer had been absent from his post for about 15 minutes instead of five, as stated by himself. There was also much comment upon the fact that while the Inspector's certificate gave 25 pounds of pressure of steam as the limit of the allowance, the engineer admitted that the boilers were subjected to 27 pounds pressure five minutes previous to the explosion.
Fully 20,000 people assembled at the dock as soon as the accident was known and the scene as described must have been heartrending.
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