A Complete History of The Great Flood at Sheffield
by Samuel Harrison
Web Page 33

(120 contd.)
(THE INQUEST. Contd)

Mr. JACKSON said there could be no doubt that if the pipes were bared, they would be found to be broken just outside the outer edge of the puddle wall. He was satisfied of this, because, on visiting the dam the other day, he found water bubbling up at the top of the fore bed. It was also bubbling up at a lower point. Whether, however, the leakage was from a fracture of the pipe or from a drawn joint he could not say. It was these appearances that made him express, on the same day, a positive opinion that the fracture or dislocation of the pipes had been the immediate cause of the accident.

Mr. RAWLINSON explained that the present condition of the pipes under the embankment, supposing it was ascertained by baring them, could not be received as evidence of the condition in which they existed before the bursting of the embankment. He wished the jury distinctly to understand this. If a dozen joints were found to be drawn now, no human being could say that they were drawn before the flood.

Mr. PAWSON: Suppose a pipe should be found to be fractured in the region of the puddle bank, would your remarks hold good.

Mr. RAWLINSON: Yes. It would be impossible to say whether it was fractured before the embankment was broken or not.

Mr. JACKSON thought some conclusion might be drawn, and remarked that the portion of the embankment nearest the by wash had "hogged" down considerably since he first saw it.

Mr. JACKSON'S examination by Mr. B. Smith resumed: I do not think there is any disadvantage in collars or shields round the outlet pipes when they are carefully puddled round. I am decidedly of opinion that the embankment has not burst in consequence of leakage arising from the baring of the rocks. If I had a dam to make to morrow I should not hesitate to bare the rocks, which is one of the commonest practices. The plan of keeping control of the water of a reservoir by making a culvert through the solid ground round the end of the embankment is not a new idea, but it is one which has not been much acted upon. The other plan I have named is in use at Manchester. When the crack was seen the mischief was done.

By the FOREMAN: They could not in an hour or two have drawn off sufficient water to prevent the accident. We might, if we were starting to construct a reservoir, have devised other means which would have done it, such as driving a tunnel as large as a railway tunnel; but that would have been an outrageous proceeding.

By Mr. SMITH: If I were planning a reservoir again, I should undoubtedly put in a culvert for the pipes. That has been suggested to me by this accident and that which I experienced at Melbourne.

By the FOREMAN: There was no danger in baring the rocks inside the dam. If they were covered with impervious material it would have been wise to have left that.

The CORONER: That is on the assumption the water percolating through the rocks gets under the embankment; as there is no doubt it does.

Mr. SMITH (to witness): Is that your opinion ?

WITNESS: I think water got under; but after hearing Mr. Gunson's evidence, I think it was not a question of danger, but rather a loss of storage.

Another question being asked by a juryman as to the present condition of the pipes, the FOREMAN (Mr. Pawson) interposed, and said: The Jury will give this point up if the Water Company will promise, for ulterior purposes, to have the pipes laid bare, and an examination made. The reason for this is that there are other dams in this locality constructed, and being constructed, on the same principle.

Mr. SMITH Would undertake, on behalf of the Company, that as to the baring of those pipes they should place themselves in the hands of Mr. Rawlinson. It was more important to the company than to anybody else.

The FOREMAN said the Jury should take advantage of the power they had, because the examination sought had a bearing on the other works. Although they should endeavour to confine themselves strictly to their province, they could not forget that they were townsmen as well as jurymen.

Mr. SMITH: Do you want more than that it should be left in the hands of Mr. Rawlinson ?

THE FOREMAN: We are satisfied.

MR. GUNSON RECALLED.

Mr. GUNSON was recalled, having expressed a wish to make some explanation. He began by saying that he had been misunderstood on the previous day in reference to the water seen behind the embankment. He did not think it had come from the reservoir.

The CORONER stated that he was quite satisfied with the note which he had taken on that point.

Mr. GUNSON was then examined as to the variance which had taken place in the actual work from the specifications. These, it appeared, had been considerable. A specification, he said, was simply a guide; and when the specifications for the Bradfield reservoir were drawn up, Mr. Leather was not aware of the materials to be got in the excavation of the reservoir.

By a JURYMAN: Mr. Leather was more than twice--perhaps six times -- at Bradfield during the construction of the work. I used to go over and see him. He had to come once a year at least to report.

The CORONER: He is a "consulting engineer," gentlemen, an ornamental officer. He is expected to do nothing but simply present a report.

Examination continued: We are not complying with the specification and carrying up the puddle wall of Agden simultaneously with the embankment, because that was impossible.

The CORONER: Oh ! I don't believe in impossibilities.

Examination continued: stones may fall among the puddle if the embankment be carried up before the puddle wall, but I have taken every means to prevent any remaining there.

The CORONER strongly denounced the departure made from the specifications. A specification, he said, they would understand in future, was not a guide, but a farce and a deception. Here was one made for the purpose of not being carried out. Me was out of all patience. If the reservoir at Bradfield had been constructed in the same way as this one was being made at Agden, he was not surprised at what had occurred. It would not be so bad if the Water Company would admit they had made a single mistake. They assumed that everything had been perfect.

Mr. GUNSON: Not perfect, but we did everything for the best so far as our knowledge went.

The CORONER: Very well then; I am sorry you have got so very little knowledge.

Mr. GUNSON: It is a great misfortune.

Examination resumed. The witness said that Mr. Leather saw the alterations that had been made in the Agden valley reservoir as compared with the specifications.

The CORONER: And didn't he find any fault with them ?

Mr. GUNSON: No.

The CORONER: Then he ought to be ashamed of himself.

The CORONER replied that the engineers might say what they liked, but they had no business to depart from specifications. He did not care what all the engineers on the bench might say to the contrary. They drew up specifications, and executed the work in precisely the contrary manner to that specified; and then, when destruction came upon us, they said the work was perfect. It would not do at all.

A JURYMAN: I think you should take it more deliberately.

The CORONER: It is difficult to do so, when there is the broad fact that the work has destroyed nearly 300 of our fellow citizens. (To Mr. Smith): Have you any witnesses ?

Mr SMITH: I will say, if the jury are not satisfied, the Company will be at the expense of calling the most eminent engineers in the world. The Company court inquiry into the disaster. As to the evidence of Mr. Jackson, he has shown that the points questioned in the construction of the work were matters of doubt.

The CORONER: If you cannot point out a reason for the embankment breaking, we have a right to assume that it has failed from bad workmanship.

Mr. SMITH: I don't think that. One conjecture was that it arose from a natural failure of the ground.

The FOREMAN, addressing the Coroner, said he had made a statement that morning which must have relieved Mr. Leather's mind, which was that the jury believed he had not been guilty of criminal neglect. Perhaps he would now ask Mr. Leather if he had formed any additional conjecture as to the cause of the disaster.

Mr. LEATHER: I have heard the evidence of Mr. Jackson this morning as to those pipes, and I think it possible such a thing may have happened as the drawing of the joints. At the same time, I think if such a thing took place the result must have shown itself long before, at the foot of the bank or in the valve house. The theory seems very doubtful, but the gentleman spoke so confidently that it may be entitled to some credit. I still think the accident has been caused by a slip of the land outside the bank.

The CORONER: Is there any evidence of that ?

Mr. LEATHER: It may have taken place and been covered with the ruins of the embankment.

A JURYMAN asked if there were any witnesses who had seen the crack before Mr. Gunson ?

The CORONER: It was seen about three hours before by a party who was here yesterday, but it was not thought necessary to call him.

Mr. GUNSON said, that now the suggestion had been made as to a land slip, it was right to state he had been told there was a house opposite the reservoir, which, though above the road considerably, showed some symptoms of giving way.

An adjournment here took place for half an hour.


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