1909: Blown to Atoms
November 10, 2018
108 Years Ago: 1:20pm, 10 November 1909…
A huge explosion in Auckland Harbour from the gelignite storage ship in Herne Bay.
To manage the risk of exactly this sort of thing, Auckland Harbour Board stored their explosive powder on an old hulk. A hulk is a sort of undead ship that has passed her expiry date and rather than burried at sea/scuttled she is put to such zombified purposes as being surplus prison space or, in this case, storage. In life, this hulk had been the Cloud. At her funeral/cremation Cloud’s spirit claimed her proper send-off!
The custodians (zombie ships don’t get crew) were simply Mr and Mrs John Finch. The couple survived, having evacuated upon realising it was beyond their power to extinguish a fire which had started on their watch. It was just a matter of time, they knew, before kingdom come kingdom came. Finch had been on the job just 10 days.
Window panes came shattering to the ground in St. Heliers, ornaments fell from the shelves, and houses rattled and shook, whilst such was the dense column of smoke that Brown’s Island near by was totally obscured for a time….Eye-witnesses likened the spectacle provided to that of the Tarawera eruption [1886.]- ref. NZ Herald, 11 Nov 1909
Some of the explosive was owned by Briscoes who were most unamused and took Auckland Harbour Board to court.
A workman in St Heliers had his hat blown right off. A passing ship’s passengers though they’d hit a rock! A Constable at Ponsonby Wharf thought it sounded like ship’s guns. Devonport shop windows were broken. Stock on Brown’s Island became frantic. At Tiritiri Lighthouse the shockwave bowled over articles within the workshop. Many in Coromandel thought an earthquake had struck. At Otahuhu they heard the boom and could see the rising smoke on the horizon!
I tried to find out what happened to Mr Finch and his wife (Elizabeth?) to no avail. A Professor at the trial intimated Finch was was not sufficiently intelligent nor trained for his role. I suspect the couple tactfully withdrew to another country to live down their humbling. To get this comfortable job and pretty generous press I also conjecture that Finch had a powerful protector, perhaps his father in-law?
Image ref. Tammy Wells, the modern face of Briscoes; TVNZ