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Account of an Inflammable IVell.
445 42. Are there any remarkable sea weeds used for manure of land, or curious on any other account?
43. What are the courses of the tides on the shore, or off at sea, the currents at a mile's distance, and other things worthy remark?
44. What number of fishing vessels, of what sort, how navigated, and what number of hands are there in the parish?
45. How many ships and of what burthen belong to the parish
46. Are there any and what light-houses, beacons, or land-marks?
47. What are the names of the creeks, bays, harbours, headlands, sands, or islands near the coasts ?
48. Have there been any remarkable battles or sea fights near the coasts, and when did any remarkable wrecks or accidents happen, which can give light to any historical facts ?
49. If you are in a city, give the best account you can procure of the history and antiquity of the place; if remarkable for its buildings, age, walls, sieges, charters, privileges, immunities, gates, streets, markets, fairs, the number of churches, wards, and guilds, or companies, or fraternities, or clubs that are remarkable; how it is governed; if it sends members to parliament, in whom does the choice lie, and what number of votes may there have been at the last poll
XVII. Account of an Inflammable Well.
Coalbrookdale, June 25, 1755. IN consequence of your inquiry after natural curiosities, i shall endeavour to give you as exact an account as possible of one in our neighbourhood, leaving the physical causes to be assigned by those who are better qualified to judge of such phenomena.
About 40 years ago a burning well was discovered not far from hence. It was situated about 60 yards from the river Severn, in the parish of Broseley, and county of Salop, at the foot of a gently rising hill, encompassed on every side with coal-works, though none very near it.
This remarkable curiosity first made its appearance about the year 1711, being discovered by a poor man living near
the place, who being alarmed with an uncommon noise in the night, arose, and went to the place from whence it proceeded, with a lanthorn and spade: upon digging a little, the water gushed out with violence, and (to the man's surprize) took fire at the candle. In order to reap some benefit from the discovery, he afterwards inclosed it with a frame and door, leaving a hole to collect the fame, by which he might light, and extinguish it, at pleasure ; by this means he made considerable profit from the company resorting thither to see it. Thus it continued in fame some years, but the store of inflammable matter being exhausted, the fire grew weaker, and would burn no more.
But in the year 1747, the same old man, by a like notice as before, once more gave the struggling vapours vent, at a place about ten yards distant from the old well, where it burnt as formerly. At that time I published a short account of it in the Birmingham paper, for the discoverer's benefit, and numbers of strangers from different parts were gratified with so rare a sight. Amongst other ladies and gentlemen whose curiosity drew them thither, was Mr. Mason, F. R. S. and Woodwardian professor at Cambridge, who afterwards inserted a little Memoir in the Philos. Trans. on this subject, addressed to Martin Folkes, Esq. but as it is a vague account, wanting that precision necessary to gratify a naturalist, I shall here attempt a more distinct narration.
The well, on application of a candle, immediately took fire, and flamed like spirits of wine, to the height of 18 or 20 inches; the heat was so intense as to boil a common tea kettle in about nine minutes; mutton stakes, and slices of bacon, were broiled very soon, and with an excellent favour. The old man sometimes boiled his family pot over it, and had the adjacent neighbourhood abounded less with fuel, it might have been applied to culinary purposes, with great advantage.
It is remarkable, that the flame was emitted with a rumbling noise, and alternate gulpings of the water, which, though boiling like a pot, always remained cold, and the ebullition still kept it muddy. do not suppose there was any inflammable quality in the water itself, which proceeded only from the morassy grounds above; doubtless the igneous vapours were collected in the lower cavities of the earth, and hollows of old coal mines, which generally produce very sulphurous exalations, and particularly in the works near this place, where the subterraneous ducts of air force through the fissures of coal and rock, so strongly, as to blow out a candle. These currents of air, in their passages to the vacant
hollows, are impregnated with sulphur and salt, where, being pent down and confined, they at last force a passage through the interstices which drain off the superficial water, and thereby occasion that pulsation in the Aame, resembling a smith's forge.
I am farther confirmed in this supposition by the circumstances attending its last, and probably, its final cessation ; for about three years ago a gentleman determined to sink a coal-pit near the spot, but the undertaking proved expensive, and hazardous; the workmen were greatly annoyed by wildfire, and when they had sunk to the depth of 88 yards, and began to get coals, a subterraneous reservoir of brine suddenly burst into the work, and filled it to the level of 18 yards, which proved to be only a stagnant lake, and not a brine spring, although it was so strong that an egg swam high in it. The pit was afterwards drained, but the sulphur remaining excessively strong, it was judged proper to fire it, which caused so terrible an explosion as alarmed all the neighbourhood, they imagining it had been an earthquake. It shook their windows, pewter, and even the casks in the cellars. This, however, seemed like a dying groan of the burning well, which since that time has entirely ceased to burn.
Had such a curiosity appeared near London, the dis.. coverer would probably have got a fortune by it; but now we can only perpetuate its memory by inserting this account, which you may depend upon as authentic.
Yours, &c. 1755, July.
XVIII. Fire from the Bowels of a Beast.
THE latter end of October, 1751, an inhabitant of Esnans, near Neufchatel, in Franche-compté, who had a heast that had been sometime sick and extremely swoln, gave it about the quantity of an ordinary charge of gunpowder in cold water, upon which the swelling presently subsided; but it soon returning, the remedy was again repeated, but produced only a transitory effect. It was therefore resolved to kill the creature, and several of the neighbourhood came out of curiosity, at the opening of it, to see in what condition the Aesh was. As a butcher was forcibly drawing out the stomach, or paunch, he tore it, and there instantly issued
forth, with some noise, a flame that rose above five feet high, which burnt his hair and eyebrows, and affected his eyes to that degree, that he could not bear the light for a long time. A young girl who held a lamp to light him, had all her hair burnt off, and would probably have been a further sufferer, had not her mother thrown her apron over her head, and so smothered the fire. This flame continued decreasing two or three minutes, the paunch contracting all the while, but an intolerable stench remained in the cowhouse.
As singular as this fact appears to be, it is not the only one we have upon record. Fortunius Licetus, in his book De lucernis antiquorum reconditis, reports, that a professor of anatomy at Pisa dissecting a body in the public amphi. theatre, and a candle standing near him, there burst forth from the stomach a vapour which kindled at the candle. This accident appears to be near a-kin to that above related, and both seem to prove, that vapours easily inflammable may be formed in animal bodies, for it is very unlikely, that the gunpowder which the beast had swallowed several days before, could any ways contribute to such an event.
XIX. Earthquakes, how produced.
In order to form the most probable system of earthquakes, it should be observed, that all readily inflammable substances, as gunpowder, and nitrous or sulphureous minerals, in their ignition generate a large quantity of air, and that the air thus produced is in a state of very extraordinary rarefaction, and if compressed within the bowels of the earth, cannot but occasion very violent effects. Suppose, therefore, that at the depth of 100 or 200 fathoms there be lodged pyrites, or other sulphureous matters, and that by the fermentation produced from the filtering of waters, or other causes, these happen to take fire, what will most likely be the result?
In the first place, it is known that those substances are not, for the most part, disposed in horizontal strata; on the contrary, they are contained in perpendicular fissures, and in caverns at their bottoms, as also in other places into which waters can penetrate. These substances coming to take fire upon imbibing water, will generate a large quantity of air, spring of which, compressed in a little room, will not only shake the superior ground, but seek for passages whereby to extricate itself: such are the canals formed by subterraneous rivulets, where a furious wind will be formed, whose noise will be heard at the earth's surface; and this wind will throughout its whole extent cause an earthquake, more or less violent, in proportion as it is more or less remote from the new kindled fire, or rushes through passages more or less narrow. This explication seems to agree with the several phenomena of earthquakes.
Chemistry furnishes a method of making artificial earthquakes, whose effects are in all respects similar to those of the natural ones. As it fully illustrates the process of nature upon the very principles I have advanced, I here give it, though pretty well known, from Boerhaave..
To 20 pounds of iron filings, add as many of sulphur; temper, mix, and knead the whole with a little water into a stiff' mass, which bury some feet deep in the ground. In six or seven hours, time this will produce a prodigious effect; for the earth will begin to tremble, crack, and sinoak, and actual fire and flame will at length burst through. Such is the effect of two cold bodies in the cold ground, from the bare intermixture of a little water: there wants but a sufficient quantity of the mass to produce a true volcano.
It has been observed for ages past, that places near the sea are the most exposed to the terrible disasters of earthquakes; on which account, doubtless, it was that Neptune was called by the ancients Συσίχθων, as also Κινοσίχθων, Ενοσίyar@ and Traxlopoyarns, by all which epithets they denoted his power of shaking the earth. Cast your eyes to those parts of the globe where volcanoes most abound, and you will find them all situated in islands, or near the sea coast, and where these are, earthquakes are frequent. The Alps are not subject to them, but those parts of Italy which are farthest advanced into the Mediterranean are; and the like holds good in America.
The season of the year seems to have some share in these tremendous events. The first great overthrow of Lima was indeed in July 1586, but the other two, of 1687 and 1746, happened both in October, probably after the equinoctial high tides, in conjunction with the western winds, had introduced much water into the subterraneous cavities. Lima has been considerably shaken by two other earthquakes, in 1630 and 1655, both which, like the late dreadful one at Lisbon, were in Noyember.