Saturday, June 27, 2009

More on baby engines, and fires in 19th century NZ


Further to the fire hand grenade post, and my perplexion as to "baby engines". Phil Hanson, in his comment to that post, appears to have hit the nail on the head.

Here are some entries referring to "baby engines" in Papers Past:

FIRE IN ALBERT BARRACKS.
Yesterday evening, shortly before 8 o'clock thick volumes of smoke and showers of sparks were observed to rise in the vicinity of Albert Barracks. A few seconds later flames were seen darting upwards, and it scarcely needed the alarm-bells, which pealed forth from their stations in the city and suburbs, to tell that a fire had broken out. It was speedily ascertained that a building outside the walls of the barracks had ignited, and thither Mr. Asher and the members of the Fire Brigade hastened; two of the men taking with them each a " baby " engine.
SC, 6 March 1872

In a city like Auckland, where the buildings are for the most part wooden, and close together, it is not to be wondered at that when a fire breaks out many buildings are destroyed, especially when the appliances provided for extinguishing fires are of such an unsatisfactory nature. Mr. Superintendent Asher, who is an old and thoroughly practical fireman, knowing that a vast amount of damage may be done at any moment by the outbreak of a fire, has provided himself with a “Baby Engine," with which, on more than one occasion recently, he has been able to arrest the progress of a fire. He has discovered that a new water-throwing apparatus — the “hydronette" — has been invented and patented, and it is his intention to send to London for one of them by the next outgoing mail. This instrument, which is worked by compressed air, has for its recommendations ample discharging capacity, wide range, varied force of impact, instant power of graduation, ease of action, and above all, simplicity. It is said that no water-throwing machine in the world, worked by the power of one man, as this is, can equal the hydronette either in the length of its throw or in the graduations of force at its command The hydronette has been tested by a number of people in England, and they speak of it in very high terms.
SC, 2 December 1873

About 11 o'clock yesterday morning Mrs. Jones, of the hairdressing saloon at the corner of Queen Street and West Queen-street, observed a strong smell of burning in the room at the back of the shop, where a small fire was kept for business purposes. Mr. Jones soon extinguished all the flame that could be seen. The smell of burning still continuing, however, he went over for Mr. Asher, superintendent of the Fire Brigade, who suggested the removal of the bricks that formed the back of the chimney, and sent for the " baby " engine belonging to the Insurance Companies, and this small engine to all appearance was the means of arresting what might have been a large conflagration.
SC, 10 July 1874

The fire-engine, in charge of Mr. T. Humphries, Captain of the Fire Brigade, was brought quickly into position, but owing to the only well available being too deep, the engine was of no utility. Fortunately Mr. Halse had on the premises a valuable hand fire-engine, called a "Baby" engine, and this was at once brought into use.
Taranaki Herald, 1 November 1880

Our contemporary the News this morning, in noticing the usefulness of the "Hydropult," or, what is better known as a " baby engine," at the fire on Sunday afternoon last, recommends the distribution of a number of them about the town, and commends this suggestion to the Borough Council and agents of the Fire Insurance Company. Our contemporary is evidently unaware that there are four of these engines in the place, and that they were introduced some time since into New Plymouth by Mr. H. Weston, the Agent of the New Zealand Insurance Company. At the late fire, two of them were in use, the one owned by Mr. Halse, and the other by the New Zealand Insurance Co. The Bank of New Zealand has one on the premises, and Mr. Cottier, of the Masonic Hotel, another. For the information of the public, we may state that the use of the New Zealand Insurance Company's "baby engine" can be obtained at any time in case of fire, the police having a key of the place where it is kept, and can always get it as well as a supply of canvas buckets.
Taranaki Herald 6 November 1880

A "hydropult" is defined as: "A machine for throwing water by hand power, as a garden engine, a fire extinguisher, etc."

In an advertisement in the front of an edition of Daniel Deronda by George Eliot, there's mention of:
"VOSE'S PATENT HYDROPULT, A PORTABLE FIRE ANNIHILATOR. "
Weighs but 8 lb., and will throw water 50 feet.
So, a baby engine may have been an early form of fire extinguisher. At the moment, that's my best guess.

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