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Harper's Round Table, September 17, 1895

Produced by Annie McGuire

[Illustration: HARPER'S ROUND TABLE]

Copyright, 1895, by HARPER & BROTHERS. All Rights Reserved.

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PUBLISHED WEEKLY. NEW YORK, TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 1895. FIVE CENTS A COPY.

VOL. XVI.--NO. 829. TWO DOLLARS A YEAR.

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[Illustration]

A CARGO OF BURNING COAL.

BY AN OLD SHIPMASTER.

The reader may think that while coal must be a dirty cargo it is in other respects an innocent one; but there is no shipmaster who does not dread a long voyage with this kind of freight, for many a fine vessel has been lost owing to the coal taking fire through spontaneous combustion; therefore the greatest care is exercised in carrying it, and whenever the weather will permit, the hatches are opened in order to give the gases in the hold an opportunity to escape. The regular coal-carriers are fitted with ventilators set in different parts of the deck, and the holds of the vessels are kept pure and wholesome by turning the gaping mouths of a number of the huge funnels so that the wind will pour into and down them to the interior of the ship, and keep up a circulation by escaping through other ventilators that are turned in a contrary direction.

A good many years back, when I was an able young sea-man on board the bark _Raleigh_, I had an experience that was both exciting and strange. Our vessel was loaded with coal, and bound from Philadelphia to Australia. The run down to the equator had been a slow but pleasant one, owing not only to the mild, beautiful weather that we had held right along since sailing, but because the _Raleigh_ had what was something of a novelty in those days, in the way of an excellent and kindly set of officers. We were what is called a "happy ship."

After reaching about the parallel of twenty degrees south we got a stress of weather for over a week, in which several of our sails were blown away and a number of our light spars were wrecked. All our live-stock of pigs and chickens were drowned, owing to the flooding of our decks, for we sat very low in the water.

On the day that we ran into pleasant weather again we started to take off the hatches, when a gassy, choking smell poured out of the opening. The cargo was on fire. There was only one thing to do--to replace the hatches, bore holes through them, and pump streams of water into the hold, endeavoring to drown the fire before it gained additional headway. All hands were called to the task, and for twenty-four hours we worked for our lives, the crew being divided into relief gangs so that the deck-pumps might be kept constantly going.

Before another morning came, however, we knew that the ship was doomed, for the decks grew hot under our feet, and through various crevices the weakening, nauseating fumes of coal-gas poured, overpowering us at times as we plied the pump-handles. The wind died away, leaving the ship becalmed, and over and around her hung a sickly blue pall of vapor. Then the order was given to provision the boats and desert the _Raleigh_. We pulled a little way from the vessel and rested on our oars, watching the noble ship. As long as she floated there we seemed to have something to cling to on the wide desolate reach of waters.


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