See also

John FORD (1859- )

John FORD, son of Thomas FORD (1819-1892) and Elizabeth Hadley JOSE (1829- ), was born Q4 1859 in Millbrook, Cornwall. He appeared in the census on 7 April 1861 in Millbrook aged 1.1 The address was: West Street. He appeared in the census on 2 April 1871 in Millbrook aged 11.2 The address was: West Street. He appeared in the census on 3 April 1881 in Royal Navy aged 25.3 The address was: HMS Doterel, South Atlantic 32.55 S 51.1 W. On 3 April 1881 he was a Caulkers Mate in Royal Navy aged 25.4


While at anchor at Sandy Point, Punta Arenas, Chile on Apr. 26th, 1881 waiting to take on coal, an explosion occurred on the new screw sloop HMS Doterel, half a minute later a second more powerful explosion destroyed the ship and sent her to the bottom. The entire episode took about three minuets, but it would take over a year to discover what had caused the loss. When the few survivors returned to England they told of the explosions, but had no real explanation of the cause. The captain had maintained that the first explosion had been a boiler explosion or that there had been an explosion of coal gas in the bunker, this caused the explosion of the forward magazine and in turn the loss of the ship.

Many questions about what caused the first explosion were raised, and one kept being brought up over and over. O’Donovan Rossa, an Irish terrorist living in New York, claimed that the Doterel was blown up by his group of dynamiters, a claim he made several times. He explained that the ship was sabotaged while at the Chatham Dockyard where she was built and that two other unnamed ships had been similarly rigged. He claimed that a ‘dynamite torpedo’ which was shaped to look like a piece of coal, had been planted into the bunker at the shipyard, and that when it was finally used it caused the first explosion. Because of the design of the ship the forward magazine exploded seconds later. Almost every high official discounted this claim and it does not appear that it was ever taken seriously by anyone except Rossa.

The inquiry which was held focused on the boiler and the possibility of a coal gas explosion, and finally in Sept. 1881 determined that it was a coal gas explosion and that no blame could be attached to the crew for the loss. There were few crew to blame anyway as less than twenty of the one hundred and fifty-six man crew had actually survived. The result was in and no further questions would be asked, however a strange twist of fate was about to happen.

On Nov. 22, 1881 there was an explosion on the battleship HMS Triumph, a strange coincidence had her just off the coast of Chile at the time of the blast, but several hundred miles from where Doterel had gone down.

A crewman opened a paint storage cabinet using a candle as light to find what he was looking for, the candle ignited fumes from a new chemical, xerotine siccative, which caused a powerful explosion dismembering and killing two men and severly burning several others, a third man died a few days later. This in itself was just another unfortunate shipboard accident and not much was thought of it.

Some time after, on board HMS Indus at Devonport, Caulker’s Mate Ford, a survivor from Doterel, was watching a man paint a chest and noticed a distinct smell. He asked the painter what he was using and he was told “This is xerotine siccative the stuff that caused the explosion on board the Triumph". Xerotine siccative is a patent drier used as an additive in paint which causes the oil to thicken and solidify (dry) quickly. In the new ironclad ships it was added to the paint used between the double bottom hulls to prevent corrosion, however the fumes from this chemical were highly explosive and did not dissipate in closed environments as later experiments would prove. His inquisition into the smell would bring out the truth of what happened to the Doterel.

He went to the authorities and explained to them that the night before Doterel exploded two seamen were sent down below to bring up two blocks, there they found a jar containing about eight gallons of a liquid which was unmarked and unknown to them. In the course of moving it the jar cracked and the liquid began leaking out. It gave off a distinct odour, the same odour Ford could smell on Indus. Later in the evening the 1st Lieutenant could smell the odour seeping up from below and asked Ford to look into what was escaping the following morning. It was then that he smelled the chemical for the first time. The next morning Ford sent two men below to locate and clean up what ever was escaping from below, the two men returned with an earthenware jar which was leaking this chemical. They put the contents into a can and threw the jar overboard and Ford was informed that the chemical had seeped into the bilges and had run under the forward magazine. He instructed them to go below and clean it up. The two men went back below and appear to have broken a standing rule, no open flames below decks. Ford said he did not see them take a naked flame below, but that it was not out of the question that they did, after all there was very little light below and they may have found the lanterns to be of little use in the areas they were working. A second witness, Carpenter Baird, testified that he had seen them take a candle below and he was sure this was the cause of the explosion.

After this stunning testimony several tests were carried out by the Admiralty and it was found that xerotine siccative was a very explosive chemical and by late January 1882 it was removed from all ships as a dangerous explosive and it’s use was discontinued. The tests took until October of that year, but they confirmed that the explosion was caused by the chemical. If it were not for Mr. Ford’s nose we may never have learned the true reason for the loss of Doterel.


1"1861 Census". Cit. Date: 7 April 1861.
Text From Source: Name Related Cond Age Occupation Birth Place
Thomas Ford Head Mar 42 Mason Millbrook, Cornwall
Elizabeth Ford Wife Mar 32 Millbrook, Cornwall
Mary A Ford Dau Unm 8 Millbrook, Cornwall
Thomas Ford Son Unm 7 Millbrook, Cornwall
William Ford Son Unm 3 Millbrook, Cornwall
John Ford Son Unm 1 Millbrook, Cornwall
National Archives, Kew.
2"1871 Census". Cit. Date: 2 April 1871.
Text From Source: Name Related Cond Age Occupation Birth Place
Thomas Ford Head Mar 51 Builder Millbrook, Cornwall
Elizabeth Ford Wife Mar 41 Millbrook, Cornwall
Mary A Ford Dau Unm 19 Millbrook, Cornwall
Thomas Ford Son Unm 17 Mason Millbrook, Cornwall
William Ford Son Unm 13 Millbrook, Cornwall
John Ford Son Unm 11 Millbrook, Cornwall
National Archives, Kew.
3"1881 Census". Cit. Date: 3 April 1881.
Text From Source: Name Related Cond Age Occupation Birth Place
John Ford Head Unm 25 Caulkers Mate Millbrook, Cornwall
National Archives, Kew.
4Ibid. Cit. Date: 3 April 1881.