Published Resources Details Journal Article

The Bullfinch disaster
The Engineer
vol. 88, 25 August 1899, p. 196

Accession No.593


On the 21st of July 1899 the torpedo destroyer Bullfinch (length 210 feet, beam 20 feet 6 inches; draught 7 feet 10 inches) built by Earles' Shipbuilding and Construction Company, Hull, for the British Government, had almost completed her contractors' trials having made six runs on the measured mile, maintaining an average speed of 29.74 knots. This was a full-power consumption test. The required speed of 30 knots had already been attained. The trial began at 10.00 a.m. and the engines were kept running until 1.10 p.m. The engines had been running at about 300 revolutions per minute for over three hours and the indicated horsepower was 6,120. At 1.10 p.m. the connecting rod of the high-pressure starboard engine broke. The cylinder was cracked for about two thirds round under the top cover, and steam escaped through this crack. The end of the broken connecting rod smashed some of the machinery and punched a hole in the bottom of the boat. Eleven men lost their lives as a result of this accident, nine being scalded to death at the time of the accident, and two died later at the Haslar Hospital. On the 17th of August the coroner's Jury found that: "The immediate cause of the deaths of the victims on board the Bullfinch on July 21st, 1899, at Spithead, was the breaking of the high-pressure connecting rod of the starboard engine and the consequent breaking of the head of the cylinder, and the emission of steam there from causing the deaths of eleven men. We find there is no precise evidence of the cause of the actual fracture. We consider the rods were not capable of withstanding the great strain of the high speed of twenty-nine or thirty knots. The weakness, we consider, emanated both from slightly faulty design - namely, rods weakened by excessive boring, and insufficient metal at the jaw at the point of fracture. Also the evidence of the quality of the material is not satisfactory." The verdict of the jury was complete enough in a sense, but did not explain why the connecting rod failed.