Nature will quickly catch you at sea when you find out the coal you are carrying from Liverpool England to San Francisco has spontaneously combusted in the hold and your clipper ship is on fire. Capt William Freeman, born in 1820, the eldest son of William and Martha (Simonds) Freeman of Brewester, Cape Cod tells the story.
The New York Times November 15, 1874, Wednesday SHIPS BURNED AT SEA.; DISASTERS OCCASIONED BY SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION OF COAL.THE DESTRUCTION OF THE SHIP MOGUL, OF BOSTON STATEMENT BY CAPT. FREEMAN, ITS COMMANDER. The schooner Greyhound, which arrived at San Francisco, Nov. 5, from Tahiti, brought as passengers Capt. W. Freeman, of the Mogul, and eighteen seamen, survivors of the crews of the two ill-fated vessels, the Mogul, and the Centaur. Capt. Freeman makes the following report of the loss of his ship: The Mogul left Liverpool April 23, and passed Cape Horn July 2; thence to 17 deg south had continual north-westerly winds and then light south-east trades. On Aug. 1, found the coals in the fore part of the main hatch heated and steaming. On the 2d and 3d, trimmed the coal out of the main hatch, hoping to find the heat only local, and to get rid of the hot coals, but found them hotter as we worked down, and at 1 P.M. on the 3d, sulphurous gas and smoke burst out under the men's feet. when we immediately trimmed the coals back to the original level to smother the fire as much as possible, and at once commenced to get the boats ready for use and decided to make for the Marquesas Islands. On the 4th the gas and smoke were forcing themselves out of all the openings aft and through the air-holes under the half-poop deck, and we thought it best to close the ship up forward to stop the draught as much as possible, and to leave the after-hatches and scuttle open for the escape of gas, fearing an explosion if we closed all up. That afternoon we got three boats hung over the starboard side, ready for use. On the 6th we found the gas and smoke increasing very fast, and forcing their way through all openings, the effects of which turned the paint-work above the decks lead color. All hands were employed in putting canvas seizings on the boats, and making any improvement we could think of to add to their safety; and getting sails, water, and provisions ready. That evening we had the three boats fitted with masts and sails, and everything done we could think for their safety. On the 7th, in the morning, we found the gas, smoke, and heat increasing very rapidly, and, from the smell and the appearance of the smoke, it was quite certain that the woodwork of the ship was on fire. At midday, the steam was coming out from the iron bilge pumps by the side of the after port of the forward house. At 1 P.M. I called the crew together and explained to them the condition I considered the ship in, the fear I had of an explosion of gas at any moment, &c., and decided that it would be best to leave the ship before dark, knowing that there would be great risk in lowering boats and getting them away from the ship in a sea-way in the dark.
After abandoning ship to the life boats We then started on our perilous passage of 1,400 miles to the Marquesas [Islands]. The instructions were to rendezvous at Resolution Bay, Island Santa Christiana. With myself, in the long-boat were twelve persons, and with each of the two mates, with smaller boats, each seven persons- with provisions in each boat, if carefully used, to last at least thirty days. Thus, thank God, all hands are safely landed.