Tuesday, 4 July 2017

A Weapon of Mass Destruction in Victorian Times: The Coal-Dust Flame-Thrower

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Note: this article would best be read in context, i.e. after having perused the letters and accounts of Ernest Glitch, Experimentalist, in the order they appear in The Chronicles

Horror weapon invented in Weardale by Glitch. Also in 1862, his assistant noted the depletion of U235 in pitchblende from Oklo, and suggested that a natural reactor could be the cause of the isotopic anomaly.

Eleventh day of October 1862

My Dear Faraday,

I hope you are well. Here at Glitch Manor we are enduring medical problems with my assistant. I am afraid Hodges' mental health is once again on the crest of a slump. He is manic and extremely excited about his recent experimentation with uranium, the results from which he has completely misinterpreted. However, some of the observations are of minor interest, and I will endeavour to relate these phenomenon for your amusement later in this missive, in a manner I hope more rational than Hodges' fantasies! I ask you Faraday, what manner of mental disorder would induce a person to believe a lump of metal the size of a bull's heart, could explode with the force and energy of half a million hundredweight of triply nitrated phenol?

However, let me now relate news of a more credible nature and dismiss from our minds the continuing medical problems my assistant has been blighted with. Although, before I forget Faraday, I must mention that Hodges has regained the power of speech! He has been struck dumb for some the months, after his unwise inhalation of white-hot sodium vapour and subsequent mummification of his vocal apparatus. His voice is now of a most unusual nature, of a tone more usually heard from castrato singers or trap-caught juvenile poachers. Of course, he attributes his re-vocalisation to one of his folk remedies. The daily liberal application of rancid hog-fat to the remains of his vocal chords with a badger-hair brush. Utter tosh of course, a more efficacious remedy would have been use of my thallium & oil of vitriol balm, but Hodges maintains it's use on his buboles (of which more later) causes enough discomfort. Although it is somewhat pleasing to be able to converse with Hodges again, I find his screeching tone most irritating. At times I am tempted to thrash him for no other reason but his annoying tonal qualities. I think perhaps I'll ask the advice of Mr. Groves on this problem. He could perhaps cauterise Hodges' vocal chords with a carbuncle lance heated to a dull redness. This would no doubt thicken them up with scar-tissue, and so reduce their fundamental frequency of operation. Hodges should talk like a man, not scream like a gut-shot snow leopard!

I have recently been experimenting with a new Weapon of Mass Destruction Faraday, The Glitch Inflamer. I'm very hopeful that it represents a new avenue of warfare. One which will, I hope, benefit both Glitch Industries (Arms & Pharmacopeia Division) and the Empire of our most Gracious Majesty, Queen Victoria. The Glitch Inflamer uses only best Durham coal (from the 4 foot 11 inch Busty seam, at 64 fathoms down the Delight Pit at Dipton colliery, the same seam I use for the Glitch Coal Bomb) for it's operation, and can be mounted easily on a war-horse or even a stoutly muscled infantryman. A small boiler and steam engine (of the type I used at Aintree in the '55 Grand National) powers a crusher & powderer, a vortex blower and miniature influence machine. The operation of the weapon will be readily apparent should you care to examine my rough sketch, which is enclosed, together with a drawing of Hodges' ridiculous uranium & pinene mist experiments.

The Glitch Inflamer - A Coal-Dust Flame-Thrower

As you can appreciate from the drawing Faraday, the infantryman simply feeds coal from his sack into the maw of the Inflamer. It is crushed and powdered to a fineness exceeded only by lycopodium. The powdered coal then feeds into the vortex blower and is blown forwards, in a large plume of dust. The soldier then discharges the Leydens and a huge sheet of flame engulfs the enemy! A true Weapon of Mass Destruction Faraday! You should have seen what the first test did to a nearby lead-miner's cottage. Blackened beyond belief.

Hodges uranium experiments have been extremely interesting, not least to see at first hand how delusional madness can destroy the ability for rational thought. Poor Hodges, he sees these small white tracks in his mist-chamber and declares they represent the unleashing of titanic energies!

His experimentation began as an odd interest with the production of artificial clouds and mists. He began producing super-saturated vapours of pinene using an upright double-walled glass cylinder, capped at top and bottom with disks of quarter-inch thick silver. Both disks he completely blackened using hydrogen sulphide. The electrically heated top plate has it's internal surface covered with black felt. This felt Hodges soaks with pinene prior to assembly. Externally, the plate is surrounded by Cypriot asbestos wool. The lower plate is cooled to a constant temperature using directly piped spring water passing through a coil of copper tubing soldered to the bottom of the silver plate.

Using this arrangement, once the temperatures are stable, a horizontal zone of super-saturation exists within the chamber. Hodges found that the slightest trace of dust offered chance of nucleation within this zone. Following my work in 1856 in precipitating the combustion products from an acetylene flame using an influence machine, Hodges found that a modest amount of electrical potential applied between top and bottom plates, utilising a small array of cells, cleared the mist chamber of dust.

He then artificially produced clouds, using a needle point within the chamber, connected to any external source of static electricity. To observe the resulting effects, Hodges ingeniously has provided a source of illumination to one side of the mist-chamber. The torricellian vacuum above a column of quicksilver holds a very thin carbonised Sumatran Tiger's whisker, attached to platinum wires fused into the tube. When connected to the same battery of cells powering the top heater, a grand illumination results, because of the electrical incandescence of the big-cat's whisker. Hodges noted an odd effect when using this source of illumination. Whilst having a polished zinc needle positioned within the chamber, unconnected to any electrical device, faint wandering tracks of wispy mist seemed to emerge from the needle - but only when actinically illuminated by the big cat`s whisker. A more modest source of illumination, such as an oil lamp, does not seem to cause this effect. Hodges thinks this pathetic effect of some importance! The dolt. The outside of the chamber, at the rear, has been coated with lamp-black, to provide a matt-black background for viewing these phenomena.

Tiring of his electrically produced clouds and mists, and remembering the rapidity with which glowing barium discharges a gold-leaf electroscope, Hodges wondered if glowing barium would produce clouds, as the mist-forming coronal discharges similarly rendered gold-leaves flaccid. I must admit Faraday, when Hodges showed me the effects, I was mildly interested. Hodges, however, was beside himself. His excitement was obvious. His good eye bulged, saliva drooled, he gesticulated wildly with his hook, as he poured out his theories to me in an unintelligible shriek of mathematical gibberish. I calmed him with a few strokes from my canine-pacifier, and observed the phenomenon. He had a tiny fragment of glowing baryte crystal attached to the needle within the mist-chamber. It was a sample we had collected from the tertiary mineralisation of a pitchblende deposit discovered during my recent Equatorial Africa Expedition. The effects this sample shew are much more marked than even our most fractionally crystallised glowing barium from Joachimstahl pitchblende! At last, a true ore!

Sorry Faraday, I run ahead of myself. The Effects;- like a miniature radial leonid meteor shower, hundreds of thin white trails continuously dart from the sample! They all stop abruptly, at around 0.17 millifurlongs from the crystal. Hodges maintains that these are the tracks of the self-same corpuscular high-speed effluvia he spirally accelerated within my Gemstone Enhancer!

I became immediately worried about Hodges' state of sanity. His recall to the days of gemstone enhancement, when he'd so damaged his hand that it needed amputation, reminded me of his madness then. Remember Faraday, he'd proposed that the intrinsic energy of motion of one of these corpuscular effluvia is proportional to it's meagre weight multiplied twice by the swiftness of a sunbeam! Well, once I realised that my assistant was back onto this ridiculous notion (he'd have these tiny white trails of mist are produced by corpuscules travelling at a madman`s velocity, millions of furlongs to the hour!) I lost interest in his mist-chamber, and did not look in on his experimentation for a week or so.

Hodges` Mist-Chamber, with nuclear fission assembly

1. outer glass cylinder
2. inner glass cylinder
3. insulating air space
4. upper blackened silver disc
5. black felt soaked with pinene
6. nickel chromium heating wire
7. asbestos wool insulation
8 & 9. wires to battery of cells for heating
10 & 11. wires to battery of cells for condensation nuclei clearance
12. lower blackened silver disc
13. copper pipe soldered to disc for cooling water
14 & 15. inlet & outlet pipes for cold spring water
16. turned cuban mahogany support
17. intimate mixture of powdered emerald crystal and powdered glowing baryte crystal, wrapped in platinum foil
18. hog fat
19. block of uranium metal refined from Joachimstahl pitchblende
20. top of a glass torrecellian vacuum tube
21. vacuum
22. carbonised sumatran tiger`s whisker
23. platinum wires
24. quicksilver
25. wires to battery of cells for illumination

He was severely ill when I demanded an update, reacting as I'd expected from an injection I'd given him days before. He was almost too feeble to shew me the assembly of uranium metal and glowing baryte / emerald mixture. The mineral mixture he had wrapped in thin platinum foil, which blocks Hodges' corpuscular effluvia apparently. When the mist-chamber's temperature differential had once again been stabilised, I could see that the block of uranium metal within the chamber produced the tracks I'd seen before, but much less in quantity, and having a shorter range. When Hodges positioned the wrap of minerals (coated for some reason by a rancid layer of hog-fat) adjacent to the metal, long, thick, branched tracks occasionally darted from the uranium. He explained to me that the uranium he'd refined from Joachimstahl pitchblende produced more of these anomalous tracks, than the chemically identical uranium he'd refined from our African pitchblende.

Well, Faraday, I've rarely to come across experimentation of a more useless nature; the man is simply playing at science! I said as much, and he shewed me reams of paper covered in arcane mathematical calculus. I'm used to this ploy from Hodges. After giving him a short thrashing, I demanded he explain any possible value to our understanding of science, or value to Glitch Industries, in his pathetic results.

Hodges mental derangement then became most apparent Faraday. He suggested that the uranium has within it an admixture of a different uranium, having identical properties upon chemical analysis. But differing in being able to produce the anomalous tracks when exposed to the influence of the platinum wrap of mixed glowing baryte and emerald powders. The uranium from Africa has had, he maintains, the special uranium burned out because of what he terms "an exponential growth of linked expulsions of highly energetic corpuscular effluvia." He calls this a link-reaction. One expulsion, he maintains, has the ability to influence other particles of the special uranium, causing them to similarly eject effluvia. Just as the admixture of minerals was able to induce these expulsions. But if the particles of special uranium within the metal were more closely spaced, one expulsion could cause two or three more, which would induce expulsion in more and more in an exponential runaway! He thinks some particular arrangement within the ore body enabled a link-reaction to take place, probably thousands of years ago, when primary mineralisation of the deposits was taking place.

As I'm sure you remember Faraday, it has long been a bone of contention between Hodges and myself regarding the nature of glowing barium. I have always maintained that the luminescent substance is simply a special type of barium, found in minute quantities in pitchblende. Hodges holds the view that it is actually a new element! (The dolt even refers to it as Hodgium!) His present mania-induced theories require him to invent a "special" uranium - a concept he scoffs at, with respect to barium!

At this point I asked Hodges to come to his point, and not waffle using unsubstantiated speculative theories. This was when his madness reached it's apex, and only his fever and obvious frailness prevented me from slapping some sense into his diseased body! He said that if the special uranium could be extracted from the non link-reacting uranium, (the dolt suggested gaseous diffusion of halogenated uranium!), the metal would be the most explosive substance known!

Well, as you are perfectly aware Faraday, uranium is an element, and not an admixture of inflammatory and oxidising substances. Nor is it a highly nitrated organic compound, nor an unstable combination of elements. Elemental metal cannot explode! Hodges saw my disbelief, shewed me diagrams of the electrostatic and magnetic deflection of his mist-chamber tracks, fruitlessly trying to demonstrate that these feeble mist-tracks represent immense energies. He finally said, that the mere accumulation of enough of this uranium, to the size of a beasts blood-pump, would cause the metal to spontaneously explode, with the explosive effect I mentioned at the beginning of this communication. I have instructed Hodges to cease all his private experimentation until he regains his sanity.

Upon re-reading the above paragraph, I realise that a mind such as yours will no doubt have perceived a small error in my statement regarding the nil propensity for elemental metal explosion. I should have qualified this by the addendum of "without input of external energy." For as you are well aware Faraday, thin metal wires explode most satisfactorily when included in the discharge path of a highly charged battery of leyden jars, or a galvanic battery of cells such as resides in my stables. The energy for the abrupt vapourisation of the metal obviously not originating within it`s fabric!

Although Hodges' mental health remains decidedly questionable, his physical health is improving steadily, as he struggles to get over The Plague. He became quite spirited only the other day, when he caught me injecting Maud the maid with Leprosy Toxin. He is quite proprietorial in his outlook towards my servant; I believe the man is still quite infatuated with her! Hodges, without due thought to systematic scientific process, suggested quite brusquely (but at high frequency) that I should inject him with the toxin, instead of Maud the maid.

I realise that she was in a state of panic, even whilst under the calming influence of the sharkskin restraint harness with which she was strapped to my corpse dissection table, and the pre-injection opiates I'd had her injest. I myself found the sight of the large No. 12 Blathwaite ground glass syringe, filled with the foul grey broth of macerated leprous dropped body parts, quite revolting. But the progress of science is well nigh unstoppable, as you know Faraday. As I began to inject the first gill of this sludge into her knee, just under the patella, I calmly explained to Hodges why it had to be Maud the maid, and not he.

Firstly (please excuse me here Faraday, if I seem pedantic in my recall of these events and my reasoning - I need an intellect such as yours to appreciate that the excruciating pain and suffering I cause, can only benefit mankind in ways at present unknowable, yet without any shred of doubt, perhaps beneficial)... Firstly, Hodges is physically unsuitable for the Leprosy Experiment. The general nature of his skin being so scarified and thickened to be useless for observation of pre-ulcer exfoliation. The medicinal effect of my Tl2SO4 & H2SO4 balm would not be readily observable. The lily-white, unblemished skin of Maud the maid, on the other hand, provides a fine blank canvas for the ravages of infection to defile, and then to be thwarted by my medication.

Secondly, he is only now recovering from the injection of Black Death bubole pus he received not one month ago. His recovery has been remarkable, of which more later. However it would not be wise having the two experiments running concurrently, the resultant observations would be severely compromised in their philosophical value.

Thirdly, and here Faraday, I hope you detect a note of compassion, I explained to Hodges that he was unsuitable because of his silicified wrist stump; the reaction of Leprosy Toxin to silica rich living human tissue being an unknown. At least for now.
I believe Hodges accepted my reasoning but I was having considerable difficulty with the injection, ambidextrous problems of keeping Hodges at bay with my dog-whip apart. I withdrew the pointed osmiridium tube from Maud the maid's knee and, to my absolute disgust, discovered a blockage! None of the stinking sludge had actually become entrapped underneath her knee-cap. I probed the sharpened tube end with a needle, and an object of such foulness emerged that I was sickened to the pit of my stomach! It was a greenish-grey fragment of toe-nail, slick with putrescence! Well Faraday, My enthusiasm for the experiment waned, I think much to the relief of my servants. I'll store the toxin for further maceration at a later date, but I must admit to feeling nauseous merely thinking of the process.

The Bubonic Plague has affected Hodges' ability to efficiently perform both his usual duties, and his private uranium experimentation, over the past few weeks. At one point I caught him shivering with fever, trying to burst the buboles which had erupted in his crotch. I soon kicked some work-ethic into the man, as he was meant to be changing the electrolyte in the cells of the stables battery. Minor medical problems cannot delay the testing of my electromagnetic cannon, which is nearing completion.

Hodges has responded so well to my thallium & oil of vitriol ointment, I can foresee considerable profit to be made from it's bulk production and sale, should The Black Death, or other pestilence revisit Britannia. Of course Hodges is sceptical as to its beneficial qualities, preferring to account his recovery from the ravages of plague to his mouldy extracts. Specifically a particular green mould. Another ridiculous folk remedy, no doubt Faraday!

Hodges' quarters in the old pitchblende boiling shed are awash with glassware, in which he has nutrients, for his moulds and toxins to grow and proliferate. He maintains that the vile growths arising from his nurture of disease toxins are destroyed by this singular green mould. This same mould he stoutly maintains is the reason for his recovery from The Plague. The man is losing his grip on reasoning and analytical thought, to my mind Faraday. My thallium and oil of vitriol balm is the quintessence of modern inorganic chemistry, and Hodges' presumption that a mere mould could be of any benefit in the fight against disease, borders on the edge of credibility. Almost as ludicrous as exploding metal, don't you think Faraday? The poor man.

Yours Most Sincerely,

Ernest Glitch

Copyright © 2003 Roger Curry
All Rights Reserved

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"Hodges emitted a scream the like of which
I hadn't heard since his scrotum was burned off
during my experiment with fluorine gas last year."

The Exotic Experimentation of Ernest Glitch,
Victorian Science with a Smile

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Diameter and temperature vs. time of the fireball of a 20 kiloton nuclear air burst

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