Hongkong and China Gas Company gasometer explosion – expert evidence given at enquiry, newspaper article 1934
IDJ has sent the following newspaper article. This adds further information to our article The Hongkong and China Gas Company Ltd – explosion 14th May 1934, from which the photograph below is taken. This article can found linked below.
HF: I have retyped the article. Where I am not certain of the printed script I have indicated this uncertainty by following the word/s with [?]. The script contains a number of grammatical errors which I have not corrected but indicated by [?/sic].
Thanks to SCT for proofreading the retyped version.
Expert evidence in regard to the gasometer at West Point in connection with the tragic gas explosion disaster on May 16, was given by Mr. W.A.Butterfield, chief engineer of the Asiatic Petroleum Co (S.C.) Ltd., at Central Magistracy yesterday when the enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the catastrophe was continued.
Mr. H.E. Stone, the general manager and chief engineer of the Hongkong and China Gas Company Ltd, the owners of the holder, in reply to a question by Mr. W.M. Brown, solicitor for certain property owners whose property was damaged by the disaster, said he was definitely of the opinion that Chung Shing Street caught fire before the gasometer.
Mr. E.W. Hamilton, senior magistrate, conducted the enquiry, assisted by a jury comprising Messrs. P. Tester (foreman), L. Dunbar and D. Drummond.
Mr. W.A. Mackinlay of Messrs. Deacons, represented the Hongkong and China Gas Co., Ltd., and Mr. W.M. Brown, of Messrs. Hastings and Co. watched the proceedings on behalf of certain property owners whose property was damaged by the disaster.
No Gasworks Regulations
Mr. H.E. Stone, the general manager and chief engineer of the Hongkong and China Gas Co., Ltd. who had concluded his evidence in chief at the previous hearing, on being asked by the Coroner, said that the gas explosion at Bedford Road, Manchester in 1927, was assumed to be due to corrosion in the frame. The holder was 46 years old and therefore it had become weak to a considerable extent by internal corrosion.
Coroner: Are you in a position to say that the internal corrosion there was similar to the internal corrosion in the West Point disaster?
Mr. Stone: I cannot say.
Is it quite reasonably easy to make an internal examination by using a steam hose and ventilating fans? It is very difficult for gas in the water. You will have to take the water out as well. It is expensive.
Are you prepared to say that the plates were in a dreadful condition? No I have seen holders in a worse condition.
In reply to further questions, Mr. Stone said that the holes of the gasometer that were patched up were due to corrosion which took place unevenly for if one plate was corrosive the other might not show signs of corrosion for years. A general inspection had been held about six weeks ago. That was only about painting. A detailed inspection was made about 12 or 18 months ago.
You do not suggest that the bulbs and things found in the tank came through the holders? They probably dropped down between the holder and the tank.
Is it possible that anyone throwing a thing hard enough will perforate the Holder? Yes.
When you found these things, did you make any report to the Police? No.
You still adhere that there was no explosion in the watchman’s hut? With all my experience in coal tar gas explosions I do not consider there was any explosion in the hut, as the results would have been different. I do not think that the paint inside the hut would have been scorched by the flames.
Have you had any correspondence with the head office as to the renewal of this holder? No. Not before the explosion.
Your head office always backed you up in your suggestions or recommendations? On engineering matter yes. It always takes full notice of any recommendation for renewal of plant or manufacture of plant or expenditure of money. Nothing has ever been refused.
Mr. Mackinlay: Yesterday you told us that in England you generally have a street between the wall of the gasworks and the houses, can you say whether that is due to public health regulations or town planning? Maybe, I am not certain about that. But there is no gasworks regulations to that effect.
Practice in England
Mr. Mackinlay (to the Coroner): I mentioned that point, your Worship, because I know of one gasworks with similar surroundings as the one in West Point.
Mr. Mackinlay (to Mr Stone): How often is it a practice to paint gas holders in England? Not more than once every two years in my experience.
The pressure gauges were watched by the attendant on duty, were they watched by anybody else? Yes. The Chinese foreman and the superintendent of works. At least every hour.
What pressure of gas have you to put on to cause it to blow out of the water seal? About .86 [?] of a pound as per sq. inch.
When you get a leak which is produced by corrosion , what type of leak is it? Usually a small crack.
In your opinion, if you get a leak like that, would the volume of gas escape be sufficient to reach Chung Shing Street and get blown back before it dissipated? No. If you get a corrosion, pure and simple, the volume of gas is so small that it cannot be blown back against the wind.
And the fact that you have had in the past, corrosion leaks which did not result in any fire, it would seem to support that theory? Yes.
In your experience as a practical gas engineer have you ever seen or heard of a leak due to corrosion which had been of sufficient size to allow a volume of gas escaped, to be blown to Chung Shing Street, ignited there and blown back again? No.
In answer to the Coroner, Mr. Stone said that the gas holder was made to with stand wind pressure.
Mr. Brown: Is the plate in the gasometer the same sort as is used in England?
Mr. Stone: Yes. But the plate is not stronger than the structure which is used to protect strong wind from outside.
How often has the holder been painted? The last occasion was in 1933 and previous to that it was on May 1932. It is painted about every year.
is there any different [sic] in the life of a gasometer according to the heat and cold of the climate? Not to my experience.
An Exceptional Quantity
Is [sic] the corrosive action of gas vary according to the gas used? No
Have you got the piece of iron pipe here which was found in the gasometer? No. It was about two feet long.
Do you think it possible for someone to throw it up to the holder? I think it is quite possible that it might have dropped by some of our workmen.
Do you think it is quite possible for someone to throw things on to the top of the gasometer from Chung Shing Street and Clarence Terrace? Yes.
You are definitely of the opinion that Chung Shing Street caught fire before the gasometer? Yes.
If Chung Shing Street was on fire, it would be quite improbable that someone would be able to thrown [sic] things to the gasometer from there? Something may have hit the holder at the same time.
Is it just possible that objects ejected from Chung Shing Street may have struck the gasometer? Yes.
Coroner: What is all this corrosive matter taken out of the tank?
Mr Stone: Deposits during the last twenty years. An exceptional quantity.
Mr W.A. Butterfield, chief engineer of the Asiatic Petroleum Co. (S.C.) Ltd., then gave expert evidence. He said that he examined the holder on the request of the Government. He had no experience in gas holders but had very considerable knowledge of tanks, which were constructed in much the same way as the gasometer, but the latter were much stronger as they contained gas. His report dealt with the material from the gasometer and not with the origin of the fire.
Mr. Butterfield then gave a technical description of the construction of the gasometer. He examined 17 plates in all and found many of these were wasted by corrosion, particularly in the way of plate landing. At this position, the plates were in many places of only paper thickness and in some instances through cracks were obtained. Three of the plates examined showed a number of small perforated holes caused by corrosion through which daylight could be seen. He thought there was the possibility that the holes were sealed with corrosion and with shock of an explosion, rust would be shaken away and gas escaped from there. But he thought it probable that they were sealed with corrosion, prior to the accident. The casual observer, looking at the tank would think it in good order as it was well painted. If he were asked to examine a holder he would use a test hammer to ascertain the conditions if the plates.
Coroner: If it were your job to examine this tank and you know its condition that it had previous perforations and also its age, what would you do? If I knew the conditions and that I had put patches on it, I would have put it out of action as quickly as possible.
Cause of Failure
Dealing with the cause of the failure of the plates, Mr. Butterfield said that it was particularly due to the rivets pulling through owing to the insufficient size of the rivet heads and/or the wastage of rivet heads. He could not trace any of the rivets or rivet heads having been sheared.
Coroner: The plates fell off the gasometer without any other cause? Oh no. They fell off because they failed to resist some unusual shock which caused them to be displaced.
Do you consider they were in good condition or not? They were in very bad condition.
The enquiry was then adjourned until Monday afternoon when Mr. Butterfield will continue his evidence.
Source: Hong Kong Daily Press 16th June 1934
This article was first posted on 6th January 2021.
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