Harper's New Monthly Magazine/Vol. XLIV/No. 261/February 1872/Editor's Scientific Record/Explosion of Gun-Cotton at Stowmarket

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Much excitement has been produced in England by the explosion of gun-cotton at the well-known works of Prentice and Co., Stowmarket, resulting in the loss of nearly thirty lives and in a great destruction of property. The precise cause of the primary explosion was unknown; but a second explosion was produced in the attempt to rescue cartridges from the burning building by means of a stick. This was attempted, as appeared from the evidence, in consequence of a report recently made on the subject of gun-cotton by Professor Abel, of Woolwich, in which the public were assured that unless exploded by a fulminate, gun-cotton was perfectly harmless, being like so much loose cotton when ignited without detonation. It is generally understood, indeed, that to obtain the full effect of gun-cotton it is necessary to fire it by means of a percussion-cap or fuse. It is, of course, impossible to state that no fulminate was present on the occasion of the Stowmarket explosion; but it is not at all probable; and we must therefore conclude that under certain circumstances, at present not understood, gun-cotton is really explosive by simple ignition, and as such is to be handled with the utmost precaution.