Launched in 1858, Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s prototype for the liner, Great Eastern, was the largest ship in the world. Here, a passenger describes an explosion on board.
We had dined. It was six o’clock, and we were off Hastings, at about seven miles’ distance from the shore when the sound of a tremendous explosion was heard. The reverberation followed. Then came to our ears a tremendous crash, not hollow, as of thunder, but solid, as of objects that offered resistance. Then a sweeping, rolling, swooping, rumbling sound, as of cannon balls scudding along the deck above. The rumbling noise was followed by the smash of the dining saloon skylights, and the eruption of a mass of fragments of wood and iron, followed by a thick cloud of powdered glass, and then by coaldust.
To me, the crash was greater than the explosion; and I thought more of a collision, or of the fall of one of the huge funnels, than of an explosion; but my next neighbour cried out, `The boiler has burst!’ On gaining the deck I could at first see nothing but billows of steam rolling towards us. Then along the deck I saw the engine hose rapidly drawn along, and in another moment dozens of men were seizing it and carrying it forward. The wind was blowing tolerably strong, and when the steam cleared away a little in my immediate vicinity, there came an eddying shower of splinters, fragments of gilt moulding, shreds of ornamental paper, and tatters of crimson curtains. Several gentlemen now exerted themselves in the most praiseworthy manner to get the passengers to safety; the danger was evidently forward; a thick cloud of steam concealed all objects; but there was smoke as well as vapour, and I thought the ship was on fire. As men and passengers came rushing by I heard cries of `Fire’, `The boilers’, `The donkey engine has burst’; but these were more matters of question and answer than evidences of terror. There seemed to be amazement and curiosity, but among the passengers at least not the slightest panic.
But the effects of the catastrophe soon became lamentably apparent. One by one, borne on the shoulders or in the arms of their comrades, or, in one or two cases, staggering past, came by the unfortunate men who had been scalded in the stokehole. The face of one was utterly without human semblance, and looked simply like a mass of raw beefsteak. Another was so horribly scalded about the groin, that the two hands might be laid in the raw cavity, and scraps of his woollen undergarments were mixed up with hanks of boiled flesh. Another I saw had his trousers scalded away from the mid-thigh; his two legs, bare from thigh to heel, were continuous scalds, the skin and flesh hanging here and there. As they raised another man, the flesh of his hands came away in the grasp of those who held him, and he looked as though he had two bloody gloves on. There were some cases of severe contusions, and cuts from fractured glass; but curiously enough, not one instance of broken limb. Some of the sufferers were hysterical, laughing and crying in a pitiable manner. When in the hospital, or sick bay, the agony of some was so intolerable that, however gently and soothingly it was done, they had to be held down. The remedies applied were linseed oil and cotton wool, continuously renewed.
12 September 1859
On April 15th, 1989, 96 Liverpool football fans were crushed to death at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield when the police let in too many fans to one section of the ground.
Here, a survivor of the tragedy talks of how he has struggled to come to terms with what he experienced.
3rd DECEMBER. SEVEN MONTHS ON.
At the age of twenty I have experienced the Hillsborough Disaster. In one day my whole life was changed. I stayed in Liverpool the week following the disaster and went to Anfield the following Saturday. On the bus going to Anfield a bus conductor got on; for some reason I felt like the world was going to end. I started shaking, my heart was pounding and I had strong shooting pains in my arms and legs, I didn’t know what was happening to me. Then I realised I could hear voices on the conductor’s ‘walkie talkie,’ just like the voices on the policemen’s ‘walkie talkies’ on the Saturday before when supporters were dying. This was the first panic attack I’d ever had in my life. I now get them regularly. I returned to London the next day and suffered two days of constant nightmares; every time I woke up I saw people’s crushed faces and bodies around my bedroom. Unlike other nightmares when I woke up, the feelings didn’t leave me because I couldn’t tell myself that the nightmare wasn’t true. I still get these nightmares. I left my course in London and felt like I was a total failure.
I couldn’t go to the Vernon Sangster Centre where the social workers were situated, as the thought of talking about what I’d seen made me feel sick. In July my mother drove me to the Vernon Sangster but I was too frightened to get out of the car. A social worker came out to the car to talk to me; we hardly spoke about Hillsborough. He referred me to a social worker on the newly appointed Hillsborough team, who I then saw weekly and still do. With the help and support from my social worker I started Liverpool Polytechnic in October; I now study psychology. I felt unable to return to studying biology or any subject involving the human body; the person alive behind the body matters so much to me now, Academically I enjoy the course, although, sometimes it can be very difficult to concentrate. However, I am unable to attend seminars, as involvement in groups, (or crowds), or performing a task in front of a group (or crowd), provokes very strong panic attacks. I hope with time and support I can overcome this fear.
I still suffer bouts of depression and have lost a lot of my self-confidence; before Hillsborough I felt quite self-confident. When I am able to enjoy something, it is normally only a distraction from Hillsborough for a few minutes or hours; it is difficult to do something simple like watch a film or the new without something bringing a flashback of Hillsborough.
I returned to Hillsborough six months after the disaster. I walked up to the gate I’d passed bodies through and put 3 red roses in it. This was the first time I was able to cry since April 15th. I feel like crying all the time but for some reason I am unable to break down and cry.
One of the few places I’m not frightened of being in a crowd is at Anfield. I still believe the Kop and Liverpool Football Club is the easiest place to fall in love with. I’m most grateful for the support I’ve had from my girlfriend, other survivors, and my social worker. Although I will never be the same person I was before the disaster, I’m determined not to let Hillsborough beat me.
The account I’ve given is a very personal one and although I feel reluctant to share it with many people, as a survivor of the disaster I feel I have a responsibility to tell what really happened that day for the 96 supporters who can’t. To the old man I spoke to and all those who suffered, REST IN PEACE.