Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/817

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
795
MODERN EXPLOSIVES.

house officers discovered clock-work machines loaded with dynamite concealed in barrels of cement just imported from this country, and Irish revolutionary patriots in America avowed that they had sent them to be used against England, and that they hoped by similar devices to render English vessels unsafe and unprofitable. Many remembered the project of Thomassen, years ago, for blowing up in mid-ocean a vessel on which he had goods heavily insured, and wondered whether such plans could indeed be extended to the shipping of a whole nation. There were like alarms later. The officers of the Bothnia were naturally disturbed when two strangers prowled through her passage-ways and, a few moments afterward, the carpets over which they had passed burst into flames from some novel combustible smeared upon them. In Liverpool a second discovery was reported of dynamite cartridges concealed in bales of cotton received from America, and believed to be destined to destroy mills at Oldham. All these were merely alarms. More lately an explosion of dynamite on board the Glasgow steamer Severn is reported to have killed nine persons and injured forty-three, four of these fatally. These things have brought to public notice the want of any distinct, efficient law to punish the sending of explosives on board ship with the purpose of destroying her on her voyage. If an explosion occurs, if life or property is destroyed, the general laws against murder, piracy, or defrauding insurers, would probably apply. But suppose the infernal machine is detected before injury is done, so that the offender can be charged only with having sent it aboard. Is there any sufficient law against this? No doubt the practical danger is small. Aside from the hope that villains capable of forming such a plot are very few in number, it is well known that most of the cargo of ocean-bound steamers is received direct from responsible exporting houses, and a stranger could scarcely obtain access to their packing-rooms in order to conceal cartridges in their merchandise. Still there must always be some tons of miscellaneous parcels, and the ship-owners can know little or nothing of the senders of these. It must always be possible for a schemer, under pretense of taking passage, to send a trunk aboard containing an infernal machine. How could this be discovered? But difficulty of detection is no reason why the public should not have the protection of a severe law for cases which may be detected. Such laws as exist are designed rather to forbid concealing the character of explosives in order to avoid the ship-owner's objection to take them, or his demand of a higher freight on the score of the danger, than to prevent the heinous offense of plotting the destruction of the vessel. For example, in New York city the authorities discovered that hands on board the Havana steamship Saratoga were concealing gunpowder packed in fourteen fifty-pound cans (seven hundred pounds in all), underneath berths in state-rooms. On a canal-boat were found forty boxes, each marked "I. R. P.," believed to mean "Irish Revolutionary Par-