An accident of the most shocking character that it has fallen to our lot to chronicle in this borough for some time past, occurred on Monday evening. As everybody in Portsmouth knows, a gun is fired from the garrison saluting battery every day at noon and at sunset, by two men belonging to the 21st Brigade Royal Artillery. The gun in question is one of eight saluting guns, fixed on a platform near the place known as the Queen's Bastion, opposite the Spur Redoubt. The platform named is at the east end of the rampart of that part of the fortifications known as the long curtain, and is approached in the ordinary way by the slopes on the side facing the Governor's Green. Between the sea beach and the curtain there is a wide ditch, on the-north side of which is a high stone wall, surmounted by a wall of bricks rising about four feet above the stone work. Beyond this, at a distance of about three feet, rise the earth works which protect the powder magazines, shell recesses, &c. These works commence at a point near the marble cross on the Grand Parade, and run in a parallel line with the Governor's Green until they join the saluting platform, which is constructed at an angle, which lessens the width of the moat or ditch between the fortifications and the redoubt.
In times past it has been the custom of the military authorities to post a sentry on the saluting battery in the rear of the main-guard in the vicinity of the sun-dial, his duty being to keep people from climbing upon and injuring the earth-works, and from trespassing upon the Government land in the immediate neighbourhood. In consequence of the small number of men in the garrison, however, a short time back the sentry was withdrawn, and has not been replaced, and the result is that boys do just as they please, and easily elude the vigilance of the sentries placed farther along the fortifications, whose posts do not extend to the spot at which easy access is gained to the ramparts.
For a considerable time past a number of boys, some of whom are respectably dressed, appear to have made it a practice to watch for the firing of salutes, or the noon and evening guns, and the moment the guns have been fired, to scramble for the copper friction tubes, which they sell at marine store dealers at a trifling amount. In order to approach the saluting battery, without being perceived by the sentries, they have to climb over the wall or gate referred to, and pass along the chemise-de-rondes (sic), or pathway, between the brick wall and exterior slope of the long curtain. On Monday evening, Bombardier Smith, of the 21st Brigade Royal Artillery, the non-commissioned officer of the guard at the Gunwharf Barracks, and Gunner Warby, of the same Brigade, proceeded to the platform about eight o'clock for the purpose of firing the sunset gun at sixteen minutes past that hour.
Up to the time of firing the gun no one, as they allege, was in the vicinity of it, and no accident of any kind was anticipated, It appears that a little boy named Alfred Scott (within a week of eight years of age), whose parents reside at 25, Durham Street, St. James's Road, Southsea, went out to play about six o'clock on Monday evening. An elder brother, named Samuel, 12 years of age, went to bathe near the "Hot-walls," and, as he was returning, be saw his brother Alfred on the ramparts. He called to him to go home, and ran after him, overtaking him in the very neighbourhood of the saluting-battery. The little boy, Alfred, however, says his brother, ran in front of the guns in order to elude him, and he (Samuel) passed along the rear to meet the runaway.
The younger boy had reached about the middle of the platform, but was below it, on the grass slope, a position in which it would be difficult, if not impossible, for him to be seen by any, save those actually upon the slope. He then ascended the slope suddenly, and just as he had gained a spot from which his head could be seen, the string attached to the friction tube was pulled by Gunner Warby, who had received the order to fire from Bombardier Smith, and the poor little fellow, who was then only about five yards from the muzzle of the cannon, received the whole of the charge (2lbs. of large grain ordinary powder, enclosed in a silk bag) direct in his face. He was blown against the wall with considerable violence. Great consternation was caused among those standing round the gun at so sad and unexpected an accident.
The boy was immediately picked up, and a stretcher having been procured, he was conveyed to the drill-shed of the 2nd Hants Artillery Volunteers. Mr. Frederic Morley, surgeon, of St. Mary's Street, Portsmouth, was speedily in attendance, and pronounced life to be quite extinct. The face was horribly mutilated, especially towards the top, and death must have been instantaneous. An inquest will be opened to-day at the drill-shed. Yesterday (Tuesday) morning a board of officers, with Lieutenant-Colonel Robert C. Whitehead, of the 58th Regiment, as president, assembled at the main guard, and heard statements from various military witnesses as to the circumstances of the accident. The board will prepare a report on the subject for submission to Lieutenant-General Sir C. Hastings Doyle, K.C.M.G. Commanding-in-Chief the Southern District.
[Hampshire Telegraph, 17th June 1874]