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Bog Walk Tube
(In 1904: It was the largest pipe in the world - 6,200 feet long, 8 feet in diameter, weighing 1,700,000 pounds, with 260,000 rivets holding it together.)

The power Station that housed the turbines which produced electricity. The pipes shown brought water from the reservoir to the turbines
( The power Station that housed the turbines which produced electricity. The pipes shown brought water from the reservoir to the turbines )

The early morning of June 24, 1904 dawned clear and crisp. In Spanish Town, St. Catherine, and other areas outside of Kingston, men and women were lined up waiting to catch their tram to work as usual. They waited until they realised it was not coming. The lucky ones caught rides in wagonettes and buggies; the unlucky set out on foot.

No one was quite sure what had happened - only that there had been a temporary delay that would soon be fixed. By the time eight o’clock rolled around, wild rumours had begun to circulate about a horrible accident at the Bog Walk Power Station that had affected the tram car system run by the West India Electric Company.

It was said that up to 80 men who had been cleaning silt and debris in the eight-foot long cast iron pipe (also known as a flume) that carried water from the Rio Cobre River to the Power Station, had been washed into the turbines and drowned. The collection of silt and debris was not uncommon, nor was the need for it to be removed so as not to inhibit the flow of water, and therefore of hydroelectric power. Nothing like this had ever happened before. By 9 o’clock, railway stations, newspaper offices, anywhere information could possibly be found, were packed with anxious enquirers. Much later, the only news to be had was that 33 coffins were sent out to Bog Walk by train.

Workers building the dam across the roaring Rio Cobre River
( Workers building the dam across the roaring Rio Cobre River )

The Accident
In Bog Walk, by this time, crowds had gathered at the Power Station. According to Dr. Hammond, who was called to the scene, it was one he would never forget as long as he lived: “men, women and children lying on the ground, rolling over, clutching handfuls of grass, stones and earth, and screaming aloud in the last extremities of mental agony” as they searched for their loved ones who seemed to be lost to them forever. At that time, 33 were believed dead and 17 missing. A few hours later, it was confirmed that the 17 had managed to escape through a manhole near to the dam itself. At one o’clock in the morning 61 men had gone down into the huge pipe located about 15 yards from the power station. The pipe curved slightly upward and then sharply downward running directly into the power station itself. The men encountered about a foot of water and got down to work as usual. Colin McDonald, one of the survivors, in speaking to a Gleaner reporter at the scene, explained that within an hour of going into the pipe he felt the water level rise but he didn’t think it was anything to worry about. It couldn’t have been coming from the dam because the dam was closed. It was always closed when the men were working in the pipes. But the water kept rising slowly but surely and by 4:00 a.m.,the men started to panic. Their supervisor, a Mr. Douparrouzel, apparently tried to keep his men calm by telling them there was plenty of time to get out - there was an exit closer to the dam. But his men panicked and threw their torches into the water so that they were all covered in darkness. Soon it was said a man appeared at the manhole with a torch lighting the way and calling to the men. Twenty-eight managed to get out in the over twenty minutes it took for the water to fill the pipe. If they had listened and remained calm, site reports reveal, that twenty minutes could have saved 300 men instead of 33.

( Three workers standing inside a section of the unassembled pipe )

The remaining men
According to Gleaner records of the event, Douparrouzel, distraught by the experience and trying his best to come to terms with this catastrophe, could only seem to say that the water must have over time swelled to the point where it rushed over the sand and debris to flood the pipe. Although no one lived to tell this tale, it is believed that three of the men located in a very narrow section of the pipe, panic-stricken, Douparrouzel explained, had tried to exit through a 2 foot 8 inch wide manhole at the same time and effectively formed a human plug, entombing all 30 behind them. These 33 were found drowned, all heaped together, their clothes torn, their faces and bodies completely mutilated.

Within a few days, the tram car system was back in operation. Meanwhile families who had lost fathers, brothers, cousins, tried to come to terms with their losses. Although the West India Electric Company behaved very sympathetically towards the families, helping to organise funeral services and financial
retribution, the general feeling was that someone had blundered somewhere for that level of water to have appeared. Ensuing investigations ruled the catastrophe an accident, small consolation to the many who suffered great losses.

(The Constant Spring Tram running along King Street)
( The Constant Spring Tram running along King Street)

Today the Bog Walk Power Station stands closed. In the 1930s the tram car system was replaced by a bus system. The tram lines were uprooted and replaced with wider roads. Some lines, such as the one at Cross Roads, do still exist. The tramcars stopped running in 1948. As for the large pipe in which so many were drowned alive, only a shell remains, preserving the memory of the catastrophe on that June 24th morning.

- Rebecca Tortello
All photographs courtesy of the Jamaica Library Service.

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Complete List of Past Pieces
Port Royal Earthquake
Port Royal Earthquake : I Was There
June 20, 1965: Martin Luther King Jr. visits Jamaica
Bog Walk Tube
For Your Listening Pleasure
The Road to Freedom
Birth of Independence
Hurricane of 1780
Tragedy at Kendal 1957
The Ward Theatre 1912
The Guarded City: Port Royal 1690
The Triumph of Will:1960s
The History of Our Parishes
Jamaica and the Great War
Jamaica's Grand Hotels
Celebrating Christmas Jamaica 'Style'
Disaster - The Earthquake of 1907
The Great Exhibition of 1891
The Mutiny On The Bounty & The Arrival of The First Breadfruit 1793
The Fall Of A Gentle Giant: The Collapse of Tom Cringle's Cotton Tree
Jamaica's Botanical Gardens
All Hail The State Visit Of Emperor Haile Selassie I
Jamaican Healer And War Heroine Mary Seacole
Mistresses Of The Sea: Female Pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny
The Capital City: A Historic Look At Kingston
Riots Here: Send Help At Once
A Historic Portrait of the Town Where Jamaica's Tourism Began
Devon House -The first 500 years in Jamaica
Jamaican Coffee - A beverage of distinction
Jamaican Rum - A kill-devil of a drink
Jamaica Festival - What a Bam Bam
Captivated by Jamaica - Sir Hans Sloane's Passion for Jamaica
Captivated by Jamaica Pt II - Noel Coward, Errol Flynn and Ian Fleming
The Founding Of The BITU & The JLP
The Founding Of the People's National Party
Lewis Hutchinson: The Mad Master
A Pioneer, A Survivor: Dr. Cicely Williams

Henry Morgan: The Pirate King

Claude McKay: Jamaica's First Poet Laureate
Frazier versus Foreman on the Sunshine Island 1973
The Magical Spiderman: Anancy
The Case Of The Shark Papers
Katherine Dunham - Matriarch of Modern Dance
Money - The Roots of Jamaican Currency
Simon Bolivar: El Liberatador
Old Time Tellin's: A Closer Look At Jamaican Proverbs
Recollections of World War II
Place Names - A Window to Jamaica's History & Character: Wnat's In A Name?
The History Of Spanish Town
A Cultural Explication Of Empire: Lady Nugent's Journal
The History Of Falmouth: Boom Town Of The 19th Century
Dreamers Among Us - Famous Jamaican Scientists- Prof. Louis Grant 1913 - 1993 Part I
Dreamers Among Us - Famous Jamaican Scientists-Part II
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Jews In Jamaica
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Chinese
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Lebanese
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Indians
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Irish
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Africans
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Germans
Colourful Characters - Jamaican Birds
The Stamp Of History: The Jamaican Postal Service
The People Who Came - The English
Old-time Jamaican weddings
In this place dwelt Horatio Nelson
Printing in Jamaica
Museums in Jamaica
Gibraltar Camp: A Refuge From War
The history of the Salvation Army in Jamaica CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS
Somewhere beyond the sea
A fascination with football
Jamaican Horse racing History
A Time to Live...Jamaican Birth Rituals
A Time to Die Death rituals
Deadly superstitions

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