News from 1900: CYMRIC ON FIRE AT SEA

Mark Baber

New-York Tribune, 14 August 1900
Original article digitized by the Library of Congress
Retrieved from the Library of Congress' Chronicling America web site,
Historic American Newspapers - Chronicling America (The Library of Congress)


The White Star steamship Cymric, which came to her pier in this city early
yesterday morning, caught fire when nineteen hours out from Liverpool. At
noon on Sunday, August 5, just as the call for boat drill had been sounded,
some one told Captain H. St. G. Lindsay, who was on the bridge ready to
direct the men, that there was smoke coming out of hold No. 1, forward.
"Then," he said, "we'll change it to fire drill." The men were all ready,
and they were sent to take up the hatch.

Below the promenade deck, where the passengers soon gathered, are decks in
this order: The shelter, the upper or cattle, the main or between, and the
orlop, which is the lowest. The fire was in the lower hold, No. 1, below the
orlop deck. It started in the straw of some large crates of pottery. Around
the crates were hogsheads of chlorate of sodium, used for bleaching powder,
and hogsheads of soda ash.

The men approached the hatch from the cattle deck. As soon as they opened it
to the hold fumes of chlorine gas, which the heat had made by fusing the
bleaching powder with the soda ash, came up and overpowered many of the
crew. They had to be pulled away from the hatchway and lifted to the upper
deck, where Dr. W. J. Fleetwood, the ship's surgeon, attended them. But the
task of reviving them was too great for one physician, for as soon as one
squad of men left the hatchway unconscious from the effects of the gas
others took their places, only to follow the same course.


The officers themselves were among those most seriously affected by the
fumes. The captain, Chief Officer Joseph Evans, First Officer Frank Howarth,
Second Officer Fletcher, Third Officer Smith, Boatswain Robert Jones and
Keating, a lamp trimmer, and many of the crew lost consciousness. The
captain was overcome three times on Sunday before the afternoon was far
advanced. Once he stopped breathing, and it was thought the action of his
heart had ceased. By artificial respiration he was finally brought back to
consciousness. Chief Officer Evans was then directing the crew.

The passengers had been looking on from the promenade deck. At first they
thought it was nothing but the routine fire drill. It was not until the men
became prostrated that they realized that the ship was on fire. They were
then kept quiet by the officers, and the sight of the suffering of those who
were trying to put out the flames made them forget themselves for the
moment. Dr. Craig, one of the passengers, was asked to help the worn out
surgeon, and they both after that kept at the tiring work of bringing
successive details of officers and men back to consciousness.

Meanwhile the men were turning the hose down the hatchway, and steam was let
into all the forward holds. It was to no purpose, however, for the flames
could not be located.


Under these conditions the passengers went to bed.on Sunday night. They went
quietly, most of them, after the Captain told them that the fire was between
steel walls and could not possibly do any harm. Still, there were some who
in fright sat up all night.

Before morning the engineers had bored holes through the main deck, so as to
get to the hatch on the orlop deck. But the fire burned fiercely on, until,
on Monday afternoon, the sea cocks in the hold were opened and eight or nine
feet of water let in. After that there was no further trouble.

Looking down the hatchway from the upper deck as the ship lies at her pier,
there can be seen a space about ten feet square burned out by the fire. In
the centre of this space can be seen the remains of the earthenware. In the
lower hold, where the fire occurred, were about six hundred tons of cargo.

Captain Lindsay told the story of the discovery and fight of the fire last
evening on the White Star pier. He said:

The fire was discovered at 12:05 o'clock on Sunday. We were about to have
our boat drill, and I was on the bridge looking forward when I noticed smoke
pouring out of one of the ventilators. At the same time one of the officers
came and reported that there was a fire in hold No. 1. Word was passed among
the passengers that instead of having a boat drill we had decided to have a
fire drill forward. It is true that some of them thought the drill was
rather realistic, but I do not believe that any of them knew me real
condition of things until later in the day, when we began to draw the
unconscious men on deck. Then it began to be known by some that the ship was
on fire. There was no excitement, and every one seemed to realize that there
was no danger. Some of them never knew that there was a fire. There were
only one hundred and twenty-five saloon passengers and we carried two
hundred and forty-eight in the steerage, but they were aft, and never knew
that there was a fire on the ship. The great danger in fighting the fire was
from the chlorine gas. Dr. Fleetwood's assistance was needed to resuscitate
the men who, as they dropped, were hauled on deck. The fire was in the lower
hold, and the damage done cannot be estimated at the present time. Besides
the damage by the flames, there was much damage done by water. Holes were
cut in the steel deck and water poured into the orlop hold. In here were a
quantity of drygoods and bales of wool. The fire, so far as I can
understand, was caused by spontaneous combustion of some hay, which was
packed about some fancy flower pots.


Dr. Fleetwood, who attended the stricken men, and who, according to some of
them, worked as hard as they did, is not the regular physician of the
Cymric. He is a practising physician in England, who makes a yearly trip on
the White Star Line. He said:

The chlorine gas is deadly, and it is necessary when a man is overcome by it
to bring him into the fresh air and to have plenty of cold water to throw
over him. Some of the men were not suffering badly from its effects, while
others were unconscious some time, and, indeed, in some cases I was forced
to use artificial respiration.

Captain Lindsay was overcome four times. Of course he says that there was
not much the matter with him, but he really does not know what happened to
him. Ones he was so far gone that breathing had stopped, but we were able to
bring him about. There was no loss of life, and the men are all right now.

The insurance agencies held a survey on the ship yesterday afternoon, and
the damages will be estimated later.

While the Cymric was on fire on Sunday at sea, the Bovic, another freight
carrying ship of the White Star Line, was on fire at her pier in the North