29 August 1881 — Rhode Island
Death Notice from the New York Times 1881.
BLOWN UP BY A TORPEDO
TWO OFFICERS KILLED OUTRIGHT AT NEWPORT.
LIEUT. COMMANDER EDES AND LIEUT. SPALDING THE VICTIMS-THEIR BODIES TERRIBLY DISFIGURED-CARELESSNESS "IN HANDLING THE ELECTRIC APPARATUS THE CAUSE OF THE FATAL ACCIDENT.
NEWPORT, R.I. Aug. 29.
The most terrible accident, which ever happened in Newport occurred at 2:10 o'clock this afternoon at the United States torpedo station, on Goat Island, in Newport Harbor, by. which two naval officers were killed. A number of experiments in connection with the regular instruction being given the torpedo class were progressing this morning, and the order was given Lieut. Commander Benjamin L. Edes and Lieut. Lyman G. Spalding to explode a common earth torpedo in the harbor in front of the station.
They went out in a row~boat and laid the torpedo, taking every precaution in the process. Returning to tho shore they attempted to fire the torpedo. but failed, owing probably to the leaky condition of its case. Capt. Selfridge ordered them to prepare another torpedo, and placing it in their boat they again rowed out into the harbor.
Thirty yards from their mooring point was another boat containing Lieut. Manney, Ensign Slack and a number of workmen, who were engaged in laying a second torpedo. Lieut. Manney asked Lieut. Edes if the connection on shore had been broken. Edes replied.? Yes."
Manney turned away, and the next instant he heard a. terrific explosion and saw a column of water shoot upward, in which were distinguishable the fragments of Lieut. Edes' boat and the bodies of its two occupants. Edes's body was thrown fully 200 feet into the air. He is supposed to have been seated directly over the torpedo when it exploded. Lieut. Spalding?s body was hurled only about 15 or 20 feet into the air . Both men were instantly killed.
Manney?s crew rowed up, and taking Spalding?s body aboard, carried it ashore.
Another boat brought in the remains of Lieut..Commander Edes. The bodies presented a. sickening appearance. One of Edes's legs was blown off and both arms were broken and the face was blackened by powder and so disfigured as to be almost unrecognizable. Lieut. Spaldings feet were both blown off, one leg was torn into shreds, the body was terribly mangled and the face was greatly disfigured.
Lieut. Spalding in life was a splendid specimen of physical manhood. The remains of the two unfortunate officers were collected and placed in sealed metallic coffins. Lieut. Commander Edes had hired a cottage here for himself and family. Mrs. Edes, who was at Narrangansett Pier when the accident occurred, arrived home to-night. She is completely prostrated by her terrible bereavement. Lieut. Commander Edes had been ordered to join the Ordnance Department at Washington next week
The duty which Lieut. Spalding was discharging today was the last which he was expected to undertake at the torpedo station.
Coroner Topham held an inquest at the station this evening. It was shown that the fatal torpedo contained 24 pounds of ordinary gunpowder, and hence it must have been exploded by the electric current and not by concussion.
Capt. Selfridge. the commandant. testified that three precautions were always taken against premature explosions, the first in the electrical laboratory, the second in the signal box on the beach and the third in the circuit closer attached to the buoy at a safe distance from the operator?s boat.
After the unsuccessful attempt to fire the torpedo in the morning Lieut. Commander- Edes accompanied by Commander Bradford went to the electrical room; which is in charge of Lieut. A.G. Caldwell who was looking out of the window: at the experiments.. Mr. Edes broke the circuit for his torpedo and also one for
Lieut. Mauney and went out. He then took the second torpedo and proceeded to lay it with Mr. Spalding.
Lieut. Caldwell testified that if he found two circuits broken in his room he must have closed them mechanically. At any rate he did close them. This was clearly his duty, , as other officers testified,. although had he left the circuits broken the accident would not have happened. Commander Bradford however had distinctly given instructions to Edes about breaking the circuit on the beach. This Edes failed to do,. relying. on the break in the electrical room.
A theory prevails that an independent circuit was established by salt water leaking into the circuit closer when the torpedo was fired by the signal telegraph. Another theory is that the staple in the torpedo had been driven in too far, and that the torpedo, when it touched water, instantly exploded. It is certain that the accident could not have happened had the officers obeyed instructions by breaking the current on shore.
Tho torpedo then would not have been fired except from the shore. Commander Edes was among the best informed officers at the station on the subject of exploding torpedoes by electricity, and his life appears to have been sacrificed by his oyer-confidence.
The- Coroner's jury rendered the verdict that Lieut. Commander Edes and Lieut. Spalding lost their lives by the accidental explosion of a torpedo that the accident would not have happened had they followed instructions and that no one at the station was to blame. This exculpates Lieut. Caldwell, who is prostrated by the terrible accident. The captain of the torpedo launch who saw Edes? body hurled into the air and the limbs flying off in every direction, said he never saw a more horrifying spectacle.
The affair has caused a great sensation in the city and naval officers are profoundly affected.
Three weeks ago a premature explosion of a torpedo took place but no serious injury was done.
Six years ago a man named McCarthy was horribly injured at the station by an explosion of powder.
These are the only casualties that have occurred there in the twelve years that the stations has been established. All the naval officers concur in the opinion that the victims of the tragedy were clearly responsible for it and that their over-confidence caused their untimely death.
Lieut. Commander Benjamin Long Edes was born in Maryland, he was appointed from New York state acting Midshipman at the Naval Academy, September 25th 1861 and he graduated in 1865.
He served with the European Squadron from 1865 to 1868 with the South Atlantic Squadron from 1869 to 1872. Was at the Asiatic Station from 1873 to 1875 and at the Hydrographic Office in 1875-1876.
He was commissioned Lieutenant March 12, 1860 and Lieutenant-Commander during the first half of the present year. He was assigned to the duty of receiving torpedo instruction in the discharge which he met his death on the 1st of last June, 1881
He leaves a widow and two children.
Lieut. Lyman G. Spalding, a native of New Hampshire. He entered the service in June 1871 and was commissioned Lieutenant on July 10 1875. He was assigned to this station for torpedo instruction on June 1 last. He was unmarried
Published: August 30th, 1881, Copyright The New York Times.