Monday, December 29, 2008

Off Topic---News: Bowels of the Ship and Bowels of the Sailors

Mystery Naval Explosion May Have Stinky Solution, The Telegraph, Sarah Knapton, December 26, 2008.

The mysterious explosion which sank a 17th century Royal warship may have been caused by the lavatory habits of its crew, a historian believes. HMS London sank in 1685 after exploding without warning in the Thames Estuary near Chatham Docks in a blast which killed 300 people and was recorded by diarist Samuel Pepys. Naval historians have long argued about the cause, suggesting a build-up of chemicals could have ignited the ship's supply of gunpowder. But now one researcher believes the blast may have been triggered by the noxious accumulation of methane from the scores of sailors who relieved themselves in the bowels of the ship.

The theory suggests that rotting faeces in the bilges led to a build up of gas which was ignited by a candle below deck. Richard Ender, an engineer and naval historian, came across the solution while researching an incident on the 17th century warship Lennox. Records show that a lieutenant accidentally fell into the bottom of the hold and when crew members climbed down to rescue him "they were rendered in a manner dead by the stench". Mr Ender said: "They were unconscious. Of course, it is not the smell that makes you unconscious, it's the methane.

"When you have that concentration of methane, all it would take is someone being send down here with a lantern to set it off. The powder room is in the hold as well." But Charles Trollope, an authority on naval ordnance from the period, believes the explosion was caused by the sloppy practice of reusing old materials for storing gunpowder.

Text Source: Telegraph.UK

Image Source: Brian Levy

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