Plymouth, Montserrat – the Pompeii of the Caribbean


Everyone is familiar with Pompeii, the Roman city that was entombed after nearby Mt Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. What is less well-known is that a similar experience happened to a modern-day city just over 20 years ago.

Montserrat is one of the Lesser Antilles Islands, an archipelago in the Caribbean Sea, north of South America. Many of the islands are volcanic, and their location roughly traces the edge of the Caribbean Plate along its boundary with the tectonic plates (North and South American Plates) beneath the Atlantic Ocean. The Caribbean Plate is overriding the North American Plate. As the plates collide, the mantle of the overriding Caribbean Plate melts, generating magma that rises to the surface and feeds many volcanoes in the region.

Map of the Caribbean showing the location of Montserrat.

Aside from a seventeenth-century eruption, Soufrière Hills, a volcano on the southern part of the island, had been mostly quiet during historical times.

All this changed in mid-1995. On the 18th of July 1995, an eruption of ash prompted an evacuation of almost 5,000 residents. The volcano grew a new dome on November 1995. By January 1996, the old dome was rapidly buried and between March and September of the same year, the first pyroclastic flows poured down the Tar river valley. This created a new delta and in April the south of the island was evacuated. The capital city of Plymouth was also abandoned, with government officials and many residents relocating to Brades, on the northwestern tip of the island in 1998, to this day, Brades is the “de facto” capital of the island, although a new capital is being built in the Little Bay area. Legislatively, Brades was never officially made the capital, so Plymouth is still the “de jure” capital, and the only capital city in the world that is officially abandoned.

Map of Montserrat, showing the site of the abandoned capital of Plymouth, the “de facto” capital of Brades and the exclusion zone around the southern part of the island.

By 26 December 1997, when the most extreme explosive event occurred, approximately 90% of the resident population of over 10,000 had had to relocate at least once and over two-thirds had left the island. Virtually all the island’s important infrastructure was destroyed or put out of use. The private sector collapsed and the economy became largely dependent, directly or indirectly, on British aid funding public sector and related activities.

An area around the volcano, containing about two-thirds of the island, is vulnerable to volcanic hazard and is a no-go area. Around 40% of the island is unaffected by volcanic activity but these areas may be prone to ash falls and volcanic gases during any volcanic activity and if the wind is blowing from south to north. These sometimes cause cancellation of flights to and from the island.

Sign showing the beginning of the exclusion zone on the southern part of Montserrat.

In addition there are three areas around the coastline which are designated Maritime Exclusion Zones where no shipping should enter. The largest of these extends for 4km on the eastern side of the island and there are two on the western side of the island. The most southerly of the two extends for 2km off shore and the third for a half kilometre off shore.

An island-wide siren system is installed to warn of volcanic activity. The sirens are tested daily at 12:00 midday. Radio Montserrat (ZJB) also provides regular scientific updates and advice to listeners.

Drone footage showing the abandoned city of Plymouth – the devastation caused by the multiple eruptions can clearly be seen.

The following sites were used for the creation of this blog post:

https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-1995-eruption-of-the-soufriere-hills-volcano-in-montserrat.html

https://www.caribbeanislands.com/montserrat/

The Lake Peigneur sinkhole


Lake Peigneur is a small freshwater lake in Louisiana with a shallow depth of 3 metres (10 feet), which makes it a popular spot for recreational fishermen. All that changed drastically on the 20th of November, 1980.

Located under the lake was the Jefferson Island salt mine, owned by the Diamond Crystal Salt Company. On the surface a Texaco oil rig drilled down searching for petroleum.

Suddenly all work on the oil rig stopped – the drill had become stuck. When the workers heard several pops and felt the rig tilt, they jumped into the barges attached to the rig, cut the safety lines and headed for the shore approximately 275 metres (300 feet) away. 90 minutes later, they couldn’t believe what they were seeing – the $5 million dollar platform and derrick overturned, and disappeared into a lake that was supposed to be shallow.

It seemed that the drill of the rig punctured the roof of the third level of the mine, creating an opening in the bottom of the lake. The lake then drained into the hole, creating a whirlpool similar to the way that water in a bath swirls down the drain hole after the plug is removed. The water quickly started filling the enormous caverns left by the removal of salt over the years, with the force of the falling water quickly expanding the size of the vortex.

A cross-section showing the Jefferson Island salt mine, and how the waters of Lake Peigneur flooded into the abyss, creating a temporary sinkhole.

The tremendous sucking power of the whirlpool was causing violent destruction. It swallowed another nearby drilling platform whole, as well as a barge loading dock, 70 acres of soil from Jefferson Island, trucks, trees, structures, and a parking lot. The sucking force was so strong that it reversed the flow of a 19 kilometre (12-mile) canal which led out to the Gulf of Mexico, and dragged 11 barges from that canal into the swirling vortex, where they disappeared into the flooded mines below.

Lake Peigneur used to drain into Vermilion Bay via the Delcambre Canal, but once the lake had emptied into the mine, the canal changed direction and salt water from the Gulf of Mexico flooded into the muddy lake bed. The backwards flow created a temporary 49 metre (164 feet) waterfall, the tallest in the state, and 122 metre (400-feet) geysers burst periodically from the depths as compressed air was forced out of the flooded mine shafts.

Incredibly were no injuries and no human lives lost. No official blame for the miscalculation was ever decided, because all of the evidence was sucked down the drain.  Days after the disaster, once the water pressure equalised, nine of the eleven sunken barges popped out of the whirlpool and refloated on the lake’s surface. What had been a 3 metre deep freshwater lake was now a 60 metre deep seawater lake.

The source for this blog post was https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2010/11/thirty-years-ago-a-louisiana-lake-turned-into-a-swirling-pit-of-destruction/

Mrs Scott’s Sad Mistake


Elizabeth Scott was the first women to be hanged in Victoria. Like Jean Lee, the last woman to be hanged in Victoria, Scott believed that her gender would save her from the gallows. Like Lee, she was sadly mistaken.

Scott had come to Australia with her parents in 1854, and within a year, aged just 14, she had married 28 year old Robert Scott. Scott was an unprepossessing man, coarse and vulgar and a drunkard. He had however, made some money from the Gold Rush that had enveloped Victoria in the early 1850’s, and Scott’s parents thought he was something of a catch. The couple ran a shanty pub for miners at Devil’s River, north-east of Melbourne, and by the time she was 20, Elizabeth had given birth to five children, of which only two survived.

Robert Scott’s drinking had gotten worse, and after 9 years, Elizabeth began to look for a way out of the marriage and escaping Devil’s River. She found it in a customer at the pub, 19 year old David Gedge, and the two started a passionate affair. Gedge wasn’t the only young man devoted to Elizabeth. Julian Cross, a labourer who worked at the pub, was besotted with Elizabeth as well. On the 13th of April, 1863, Elizabeth put the young men’s devotion to the ultimate test – to be involved in the murder of her husband, Robert Scott.

Gedge and Cross each had conflicting accounts about how Robert Scott died.
Gedge claimed that he was sitting by the kitchen fire in the Scott residence when Cross walked past, carrying a pistol, into Robert Scott’s room. There was a shot, Cross reappeared, pointed the pistol at Gedge and threatened to kill him if he left the residence to report the death.

Cross’s account was different – he said that Gedge had tried to shoot Robert Scott in his bed, but the gun had misfired. Gedge gave Cross the gun, and said it was his turn to shoot Robert Scott. Cross declined, but Elizabeth ordered him to shoot her husband. She poured Cross a large brandy to calm his nerves, and according to Cross, “I took up the gun and went into the bedroom and shot Scott.”

Elizabeth tried to pass the murder off as a suicide, but police quickly realised that it was a murder. Early next morning, they had a confession from Julian Cross implicating both David Genge and Elizabeth Scott. All three were sentenced to death by hanging.

Notification of the hangings of Elizabeth Scott, David Gedge and Julian Cross.

On the 11th of November 1863 at the Melbourne Goal, 17 years before bushranger Ned Kelly would stand on the same spot, all three were hanged simultaneously.

The hanging gallow at Melbourne Gaol.

To the end, Elizabeth Scott believed that she would be reprieved. After all, she had not pulled the trigger, and she was a woman – a beautiful woman.

When she appeared from her cell to be taken to the gallows, the spectators below gasped at her beauty. She was dressed in a long black coat, with her dark hair carefully braided. As she was placed between the two young men who were to die for her love, she carefully adjusted the noose so that it didn’t spoil the folds of her cloak. Then just before the hangman pulled the lever, she asked her lover, “David, will you not clear me?” She never heard his answer.

Paul Taylor’s book “Australian Ripping Yarns – Cannibal Convicts, Macabre Murders, Wanton Women and Living Legends (Five Mile Press, Rowville, 2004, pp. 166-168) was used as the basis for this post.







The 1904 St Louis Olympic Games Marathon


The men’s marathon at the 1904 St Louis Olympic Games ranks high on the list for the most bizarre, unusual and controversial events ever held in Olympic Games history.

To begin with, the organisers of the marathon knew almost nothing about staging such an event. The course, which measured 39.99 kilometres (24.8 miles) in length included seven hills and was run on dusty roads, made dustier by the many cars which the judges, doctors and journalists used to follow the runners. The only water available to the runners was from a well located 19 kilometres (12 miles) from the main stadium where the race began and ended.

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Map of the course, from the front page of the St Louis Despatch newspaper.

The event attracted nearly all of the top American marathon runners, including:

Sam Mellor – winner of the 1902 Boston Marathon

John Lordon – winner of the 1903 Boston Marathon

Michael Spring – winner of the 1904 Boston Marathon

Thomas Hicks – 2nd in the 1904 Boston Marathon

Arthur Newton – 5th in the 1900 Paris Olympics marathon.

There were also some lesser-known and unusual entrants. One was 1.5 metre (5 foot) tall Felix Carvajal, a Cuban mail carrier, who had lost all of his money when playing craps in New Orleans after arriving from Havana. After hitchhiking to St Louis, he arrived on the starting line wearing heavy street shoes, long trousers, a long-sleeved shirt and a beret.

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Felix Carjaval prior to the start of the marathon, after he cut off his pants at the knees.

Also entered were the first two black Africans to participate in the Olympics – Len Taunyane and Jan Mashiani, who were Zulu tribesmen. They were not athletes – they had been brought to the United States as part of the Boer War Exhibition in the St Louis World’s Fair, which was held concurrently with the Olympic Games.

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Mashiani (L)  and Taunyane (R) prior to the start of the race.

 

The race was scheduled for the middle of the afternoon on the 30th of August, when temperatures would hit 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit). It was not surprising when the hot conditions and tough course had an immediate impact on the competitors.

MarathonStart
The runners just before the start of the race.

 

John Lordon started vomiting after only 16 kilometres (10 miles) and had to withdraw. American runner William Garcia was discovered lying in the middle of the road, after collapsing due to inhaling dust kicked up by the cars following the runners. Sam Mellor, the leader at the halfway mark, retired after 25 kilometres (16 miles). Taunyane lost time when he was chased off the course and through a cornfield by two large dogs. The only runner who didn’t appear to be bothered was the Cuban Carvajal, who stopped a number of times to chat with spectators, discuss the progress of the race and practice his English. He also quenched his thirst by snatching a couple of peaches from an official in one of the cars, and by raiding a farmer’s orchard of some green apples, which gave him stomach cramps.

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Competitors during the race – the rough and dusty nature of the course can clearly be seen.

Back in the main stadium, the spectators were unaware of these incidents, although the more knowledgeable fans might have wondered why three hours had passed without any athletes entering the stadium. Finally, after 3 hours and 13 minutes, New York resident Fred Lorz entered the stadium, did the 5 laps required and crossed the finished line. He was declared the winner, and was about to be presented with the gold medal, when it was discovered that he had stopped running after 14 kilometres (9 miles), hitched a ride in a car for 17 kilometres (11 miles) and then started running again.
American Athletic Union officials were not amused, disqualified Lorz and gave him a lifetime ban from competing. The ban was lifted, and Lorz went on to win the 1905 Boston Marathon.

LorzMarathon
Newspaper report of Lorz’s “victory” in the Marathon.

With Lorz’s disqualification, the real winner was Thomas Hicks. If modern-day rules had been in place, Hicks would have also been disqualified. Second at the halfway mark, Hicks found himself in first place when Sam Mellor retired. 16 kilometres (10 miles) from the finish the heat started to get to Hicks, who begged to be allowed down and rest, but his handlers wouldn’t allow it, even though he had a lead of nearly 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles). To keep Hicks going, his handlers gave him a drink of a concoction made up of styrchnine sulfate mixed with raw egg whites. A few kilometres later he was given more strychnine, as well as some brandy, as well as being bathed in warm water.

Hick was forced to slow down to a walk when faced with a final, steep hill just 3.2 kilometres (2 miles) from the stadium, but a couple more doses of strychnine and brandy revived him enough to win by six minutes ahead of French competitor Albert Corey, with Albert Newton finishing third. Carvajal recovered from his stomach cramps to finish fourth. Only 14 of the 32 starters managed to complete the course, including Taunyane, who finished ninth, and Mashiani, who finished twelfth. Needless to say, Hicks was in a stupor after the race had finished. He had lost 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) during the event, and announced his retirement straight after the race had finished.

HicksAfterMarathon
Hicks resting after the finish of the race – he still appears to be suffering from the effects of the heat, course and what his handlers gave him to drink.

After the race had finished, the athletes who had suffered in competing my have received some satisfaction when they learned that two of the race officials in charge of patrolling the course were badly injured as well, when their car swerved to avoid one of the runners and careened down an embankment.

David Wallechinsky’s book “The Complete Book of the Olympics”, Penguin Books, 1984 p. 44-45 was used as the basis for this blog post.

September 3, 1967 – Sweden switches from the left to the right


No, this post isn’t about a major change in Swedish politics after an election.

Until 1967, Sweden drove on the left—opposite from its neighbouring countries (Denmark, Finland, and Norway). Swedish drivers who travelled abroad got into car accidents because of their unfamiliarity with the traffic patterns, as did tourists who came to Sweden.

Additionally, Swedish car companies such as SAAB and Volvo made cars that were meant to be driven on the right so they could be more easily exported to the rest of the right-driving world, but many of these cars found their way onto Swedish roads. Swedish drivers were thus seated closest to the outside edge of the road, making visibility difficult.

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Traffic in Stockholm in 1966, with cars travelling on the left hand side of the road.

To fix these problems, the Swedish government made the case for switching driving to the right side of the road, and put the decision up for a public vote.

The response was overwhelmingly negative, with most Swedes wanting to stick with what they were used to. The government just decided to move forward with their plan anyway.

The government went on a major publicity drive to help with the transition. They designed signs and stickers featuring a new “H” logo (short for höger, or “right”). They distributed pamphlets and made public service announcements on TV and radio.

Dagen-H
One of the more creative ways that the Swedish government publicised the switch from LHD to RHD

One TV station even ran a competition for a song to help make people aware of the upcoming switch. The winner was Håll dig till höger, Svensson (“Stick to the Right, Svensson”) by The Telstars.

There were multiple issues that need to be addressed. Buses had their doors open to the curb, so bus stops had to be moved to the other side of the road. Road signs face one way, on one side of the road, and they also have to be changed. Intersections need to be reconfigured, and new road lines need to be drawn. Car headlights illuminated the wrong area of the road, and thus had to be replaced.

September 3, 1967 was declared Dagen-H (or “H-Day”), short for Högertrafikomläggningen (“the right-hand traffic diversion”). All nonessential traffic was banned from the roads from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. If you were on the roads at that time, you had to come to a stop at precisely 4:50 a.m. and sit there for 10 minutes until precisely 5:00 a.m., at which point you had to move to the other side of the road.

H-Day went very smoothly, probably due to the majority drivers displaying excessive caution in the face of what was presumably a terrifying shift – what if someone forgot to changeover, and a head-on collision occurred? However, once everyone had gotten used to the change, accident levels rose to normal.

Several countries (Iceland, Nigeria and Ghana, to name a few) followed Sweden’s lead and changed from the left to the right, but in 2009 Samoa did the opposite, going from the right to the left.

LHDvRHD
Map showing the comparison between LHD & RHD countries in the world.

 

The Today I Found Out and 99percentinvisible web pages were used as sources for this blog post.

Two women and a pilot


At 10 o’clock of the morning of March 18, 1952, two women reached the 405th 7th hole at the Timuquana Country Club in Jacksonville, Florida. They were good golfers. One of them, Bertha Johnson, had been Jacksonville City Champion in 1938 and, now aged in her early 50’s, was still good enough to compete in tournaments. She had been president of the Jacksonville Women’s Golf Association for two years after the end of World War 2. Bertha and her playing partner, 38 year old Mary Dempsey, drove off from the 7th tee and started walking towards their balls. They were oblivious of any danger – it was just another round of golf to be enjoyed.

The pilot was on a routine training flight from the Jacksonville Naval Air Station base that bordered the Timuquana Country Club.

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Photo of the Jackssonville Naval Air Station – the Timuquana Country Club course can be seen in the top-left corner.

He was worried – the oil pressure gauge on his Vought F4U Corsair fighter was registering a low reading and engine power was below normal. He called the base to request an emergency landing. The duty runway was cleared and prepared.

The pilot made his approach to the runway, but all was not right. The engine of the Corsair was behaving erratically, so the pilot didn’t have enough control to land the plane. He flew past the runway, turned right and hoped to make another approach with enough control to land. Suddenly, the Corsair’s engine died completely. The plane was now a glider – no power, no noise, and no chance of making it back to the runway. The pilot looked at what was available to land. Was there anywhere to land? He saw a strip of grass on the Timuquana Country Club – it was the 7th fairway.

 

Corsair.jpg
A flight of Vought F4U Corsairs from the Jacksonville NAS in flight.

A man driving a van was making a delivery from his fruit and vegetable stall on Roosevelt Boulevard to the Naval Air Station. He saw the Corsair come in low over the buildings with smoke pouring out of the engine cowling. “It’s going to crash”, he said to his wife. The Corsair pulled back up into the air a little, but no higher than the tree-tops. The man and his wife watched it disappear behind the trees.

Hole_7map
Layout of the 7th hole at the Timuquana Country Club. Changes to the tees have resulted in different yardage than was the case in 1952.

Johnson and Dempsey played their second shots about 220 yards from the 7th tee. They then strolled in a leisurely way down the centre of the fairway towards the green. Their caddie, 19 year old Theodore Rutledge, walked about 35 yards behind them, along the eastern side of the fairway. Rutledge looked up, and saw the Corsair. It was coming in silently against the wind, strangely unobtrusive, its long nose and black engine smoke obscuring the pilot’s forward vision. Rutledge yelled a warning to the Johnson and Dempsey, who didn’t hear him, and then ducked and ran.

The Corsair landed in the middle of the 7th fairway and hit the women from behind with the propellor. One body was thrown 35 feet, the other 65 feet. Johnson and Dempsey were killed instantly. The plane continued down the 7th fairway for another 155 yards, veering towards a clump of trees in the rough on the western side of the fairway. It crashed into the trees and the impact broke off the engine and the cowling. The pilot scrambled out of the wreckage and then watched the Corsair burst into flames. He was standing by the burning plane when the course superintendent arrived.

Hole_7B_700w
Photo from the 7th fairway looking towards the green. The Corsair veered to the left and crashed into the trees.

“Are you hurt?”, asked the superintendent.
“No, thank God,” said the pilot. “I got out before the fire started”.
Rutledge rushed up and blurted out the news that two golfers had been killed.
The pilot went to pieces.

Newspaper
Front page of the “Miami Daily News” of the 20th March 1952, with the fatal crash the top story.

Andrew Ward’s book “Golf’s Strangest Rounds” – Extraordinary but true stories from over a cenury of history”, Robson Books, London, 1999 p. 154-155 was the source for this blog post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hampton car


 

The Hampton car took its name from the Warwickshire village of Hampton-in-Arden, where Walter Paddon built his first prototype in 1911. The following year he started the Hampton Engineering Co Ltd at Kings Norton, Birmingham, making a conventional car powered by a 12/16 hp 4-cylinder Chapuis-Dornier engine selling for £295. Very few of these were made, and before the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914, Paddon had brought out three more designs, a cyclecar with a 8hp 2-cylinder Precision engine, a cyclecar with a 2-cylinder 2-stroke engine, and a light car with a 4-cylinder 10hp Chapuis-Dornier engine.

In 1919 the Hampton Engineering Co moved south, taking over part of an ironworks at Dudbridge, Gloucestershire, where a 10/16hp light car was made, powered by a 1496cc 4-cylinder Dorman KNO engine.

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1919 Hampton 10/16 light car

This was soon joined by a 1795cc car, also Dorman-powered. Bodies were mostly made in-house and production reached six cars a week by the middle of 1920. The company underwent the first of its many reorganisations during the year, emerging as the Hampton Engineering Co (1920) Ltd. For 1923 Meadows engines were used, in two sizes – 9/21hp and 11/35hp.

For four years the company struggled to keep afloat, but towards the end of 1924 it went into receivership before being rescued by Major Griffith Jones, who acquired the company for about £13,000. The new company was called the Stroud Motor Manufacturing Co Ltd but lasted less than 15 months, becoming bankrupt in January 1926. Another company was formed, Hampton Cars (London) Ltd, with finance from London and an office in Westminster, although the factory remained at Stroud.

The 11/35hp became the 12/50 and was joined by a 1247cc 9hp and a 1683cc 15hp 6-cylinder model. The latter was very short-lived, being replaced for 1929 by a larger six with a 2931cc Meadows engine, a handful of which were produced. The most popular model was the 12/40, which made up the bulk of the 300 cars made each year at this time. For 1930 Hampton offered a supercharged sports version of the 12/40, while some models were offered with the Cowburn coned roller gearbox, made by Kitson Components Ltd of Stroud.

In the same year Hampton’s credit with Meadows ran out, as as the Wolverhampton company was its main supplier of engines, Hampton was faced with a serious problem. A small 4-cylinder engine of 1196cc was offered, possibly of Hampton’s own manufacture, while for its larger model it went to the German Rohr company, from which it ordered 100 2262cc straight-8 engines, and 50 chassis with independent suspension by double-transverse half-elliptic springs. The discrepancy in numbers was presumably because Hampton had a number of its own chassis that it wanted to use up, and could sell the result at a lower price than for the more sophisticated Rohr chassis.

However, the company failed again before many of the German components reached Stroud. It was reorganised by the receiver, Thomas Godman, as the Safety Suspension Car Co Ltd at new premises at Cainscross, near Stroud. Although Godman offered the Rohr chassis with a choice of 2.4 litre 6-cylinder engine or the Rohr straight-8, now enlarged to 2736cc, it is unlikely that any were made.

Hampton2
The final Hampton – the 16hp with a Roher chassis and Continental engine.

Nick Baldwin’s, book “The World Guide to Automobiles – The Makers and Their Marques”, MacDonald & Co, London, 1987, p. 213-214 was used as the basis for this blog post.