Ford, Charles

Ford, Charles    1915 October 22nd       Maiden Bradley

Death in a Whey Tank – Dairyman Overcome by Poison Fumes

An extraordinary case of poisoning by fumes has been investigated by the South Wilts Coroner (Mr F H Trethowan) at Maiden Bradley, where a dairyman named Charles Ford lost his life in a whey tank. These tanks are used by cheese-makers for the storing of whey, and it was while attempting to clean out a tank, which had become foul, that Mr Ford was overcome by the poisonous fumes.

At the inquest Robert Luff, farmer, of Perry Farm, Maiden Bradley, said Ford had been in his employ six months, and on Saturday morning between ten and eleven o’clock he went to the whey tank to clean it out. He preferred to do it before doing another job, and witness accompanied him to the tank, which was descended by means of a ladder. He raised no objection to going down the tank, which was about two feet square on the top, and opened out at the bottom to about six feet, the depth being nine feet six inches. He did not require any assistance to go down, but after he got below the cover he seemed a little nervous, and said to witness, “Could you steady the ladder?” He got a stick and did so, and Ford then said, “That’s much better.” Then he went a little lower down and he seemed to lose his nerve. Witness said to Ford, “Get up and let me go down,” and he made a guttural noise in trying to answer, but still had a firm hold of the ladder. Witness appealed to him to come up several times, but received no answer, and then, getting anxious, he called for help. All the time Ford was on the ladder, but at last he slipped off, and witness held him by the wrist as long as he could. Help arrived, and Frederick Colman went down and made a very plucky attempt to get to the bottom, but he had to come up quickly owing to his being overcome by the fumes. There was a lot of thick matter at the bottom.

What happened after that? I said, “Well, I will go down,” and I managed to get down to touch his leg, but had to come up quickly.

Were you feeling faint? Yes, very faint. Then we went for ropes and I made another attempt. This time I reached the body and got it in a sitting position, but to all appearances he was dead.

The witness added that others came and made unsuccessful attempts at rescue and eventually with the help of a hook and ropes they got the man up. Ford had been in the tank an hour and ten minutes. Artificial respiration was not tried because it was thought not worth while.

Replying to the Coroner, he said the operation of cleaning the whey tank was not regarded as dangerous, and he had never heard of a similar case. It was previously cleaned out two years ago and he went down himself then. On that occasion he left the cover the day before, for 16 or 18 hours, and then there was a lot of stuff there. This time he did not think there was so much whey, as they had to use a lot of water, and he was very much surprised to find it so strong. On this occasion the cover was left off for only half an hour.

A Juryman : Did you imagine that the water had absorbed the poisonous gasses? I thought it would, and that there would be no need for it to be opened so long.

Frederick Colman, cowman to Mr Luff, corroborated, and said Mr Ford was his father-in-law. He made a desperate attempt to reach him.

Dr Bartlett, of Bourton, said he had come to the conclusion that Ford died from asphyxia, owing to the inhalation of carbolic acid gas, which had been brought about by the fermentation of the whey in the bottom of the tank.

Asked how long a man might live under such conditions, Dr Bartlett said he did not think vitality would last more than half an hour. As to artificial respiration, it always ought to be tried, because a man partly dead might be revived. They had heard of people being taken out of the sea, apparently dead and with no life at all, who had been brought back to life again by means of artificial respiration, and it was one of those things that always ought to be done.

The Coroner said he thought it was just as well that this should be generally known, with these places about.

Dr Bartlett said the best plan was to test these places before entering them by using a lighted candle, and if it went out they would know it was not safe. The atmospheric conditions might make all the difference between a tank being safe or unsafe.

The Coroner said it was a very sad occurrence. Mrs Ford, who lost her son in the Dardanelles a few days ago, had now lost her husband in a tragic way, and he was sure they all sympathised with her. People who had cleaned out these tanks thought nothing of it, and did not think it necessary to take precautions.

The jury unanimously agreed to a verdict of accidental death, and handed their fees to the widow, with whom they, and the Coroner, expressed sympathy.

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