Tuesday, January 28, 2014

28 January 1914 : Thoughts On The Richter Scale Of Slaughter

Continuing my trawl through the newspapers of 1914 I spot a story which makes me think of our maritime nation during a time of war. The article, which comes from the Newcastle Journal of the 28th January 1914, is headed "The Mauretania Explosion", but the cause of the explosion was an accident rather than enemy action.


The following statement was issued yesterday by the Cunard Company in reference to the explosion on board the Mauretania, reported in yesterday's Daily Journal -

"It is with deep regret that the Cunard Company confirm the news contained in this morning's papers to the effect that the bursting of a gas cylinder, which was being used in connection with the overhaul and repair of the turbines of the Mauretania, has resulted in the death of four men and injuries to six others.
The Cunard Company wish to publicly express their deep sympathy with the relatives of the men who have unfortunately lost their lives or suffered injury, while performing their duties.
The damage to the Mauretania is confined to the blading in the starboard high-pressure turbine, and is not serious.
Possible causes of explosion in these cylinders are:
(1) An inherent and undiscovered flaw in the cylinder at the time of manufacture.
(2) A severe blow at some time developing a fracture.
(3) In the course of time the cylinder developing fracture by reason of crystallisation.
The Mauretania (which was built at Wallsend) arrived in port fives week ago. The steamer has been undergoing her annual overhaul, and was due to sail for New York a fortnight hence".

I realise that, compared to the enormous loss of life that was just around the corner during the Great War, the loss of four workers' lives is low on the Richter Scale of Slaughter, but the sense of despair felt by the families of those four men must have been just as great. And whilst we rightly remember the sacrifice of generations of young people during war, we should also pause occasionally to recall the pointless sacrifice of generation after generation of people to industrial injuries and diseases. Perhaps then, we might not be so ready to pour scorn on the "health and safety culture" which protects people today.

The Mauretania - unlike its' workers - was repaired and returned to service in the early months of 1914. During the war it saw service as an armed merchant cruiser and later as a hospital ship. After the war the ship returned to the transatlantic route and for a time it held the record for the fastest crossing. But by the early 1930s it was getting slow and expensive to run and in 1934 it was scrapped. On its way to the scrap yards it called in at Newcastle for the day where a massive crown, led by the Lord Mayor, gathered to say farewell.


  1. Ah, the age of the elegant Ocean Greyhound. The first ships I sailed on were built in the 40s, having acres of Sapele veneer and teak. However, the plumbing and aircon were rudimentary, so say the least - seawater flushed WCs and blown air punkah louvres.

  2. I can't resist the massive crown that gathered to say farewell to the Mauretania!

    Of course we know the name Mauretania very well now. I wonder if it seemed an odd name when the ship was new?

  3. Your point is well taken that even one life needlessly lost is a tragedy.
    The ship was certainly a much different technology than today.

  4. I agree with you about the Workplace Health and Safety being necessary. A grand old ship but sad for those who lost loved ones.

  5. Yes,I Fully Agree Alan.Health & Safety Regulations Are Essentially & its a shame so much Tory/UKIPness considers it mere "red tape".One suspects that modern opposition to it is penny-pinching,but as The Mauretania illustrates,it would also save money in the long run.
    Wildly of-topic(unless you consider alcohol a Health&Safety Issue?),let me know when/where might be best for us meeting for a Pint.I,m OK most days except Mondays&Tuesdays.

  6. Our health warnings all come from Mrs. Obama with don't s about too much soda, too much french fries, and stop eating so much meat. And sign up for health care, it will be good for you.

  7. I don't know about safety standards over there but here everything comes with a label and warnings...like don't dry your hair in the bath tub.
    It must have been very sad for those families to lose their wage earners, I wonder what the Shipping Company compensated them with?


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