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mills were not only rendered useless, and respiration became extremely difficult, but the probability of their ever reaching the places where they expected to meet with those they were in search of, or finding any of them alive, was entirely done away. To the hopelessness of success in their enterprise" should also be added, their certainty of the mine being on fire, and the probability of a second explosion at every moment occurring and burying them in its ruins.
At iwo o'clock Mr. Straker and Mr. Anderson had just ascended the John, and were gone to examine the appearance of the air issuing from the William. Menham, Greener, and Rogers, had also ascended. Two of the party were at this moment in the shafi, and the other two remained below, when a second explosion, much less severe than the first, excited more frightful expressions of grief and terror amongst the relatives of the persons still in the inine. Rogers and Wilson, the persons in the shaft, experienced little inconvenience by the eruption; they felt an unusual heat, but it had no effect in lifting up their bodies, or otherwise destroying the uniformity of the motion of their ascent. Haswell and H. Anderson, hearing its distant growlings, laid themselves down at full length on their faces, and in this posture, by keeping firm hold of a strong wooden prop, placed near the shaft to support the roof of the mine, experienced no other inconvenience from the blast, than its lifting up their legs and poising their bodies in various directions, in the manner that the waves heave and toss a buoy at sea. As soon as the atmospheric current returned down the shaft, they were drawn to bank. This expedient of lying down and suffering the fury of the blast to roll over them, is mentioned in the life of Lord Keeper North, under the year 1676. It is most efficacious where the mine is wet, for atmospheric air always accompanies running water; but the warning of a blast being usually sudden, it requires a degree of experience and coolness, not commonly united, to exercise any precaution against it. The miner, knowing its irresistible power, instantly sees the inefficacy of every attempt to escape, and, like a physician af. tacked by some incurable complaint, and conscious that his art is unequal to its cure, makes no struggle to save his life.* As
* Dr. Thompson, in his Annals of Philosophy, says, that " what is called fire damp in coal mines is the carbureted hydrogen gus of chymists. It is comporis, of
or of seren atoms of liydrogen, and three of carbon. He conceives that fire-dämp is formed by the action of coal upon water. The water is decomposed, two atoms at once. All the oxygen combines with carbon, and forms carbonic acid; while all the hydrogen upites likewise with carbon, and forins carbureted hydrogen, or fire
each of the party came up, he was surrounded by a group of anxious inquirers. All their reports were equally hopeless; and the second explosion so strongly corroborated their account of the impure state of the mine, that their assertions for the present seemed to be credited. But this impression was only momentary, On recollection, they remembered that persons had survived sinilar accidents, and when the mine was opened, been found alive. Three had been shut up during 40 days in a pit near Byker, and all that period had subsisted on candles and horse beans. The proposition to exclude the atmospheric air from the mine, in order to extinguish the fire, was therefore received with the cries of " Murder,” and with determinations of opposing the proceeding. Many of the widows continued about the mouth of the John pit during the whole of Monday night, with the hope of hearing the voice of a husband or a son calling for assistance. On Tuesday the 26th of May, the natural propensity of the human mind to be gratisied with spectacles of horror was strongly exemplified. An immense crowd of colliers from various parts, but especially from the banks of the river Wear, assembled round the pits, and were profuse in reproaches on the persons concerned in the mine, for want of exertion to recover the men. Every one had some example to relate of successful attempts in cases of this kind--all were large in their professions of readiness to give assistance; but none were found to enter the inflammable jaws of the mine. Their reasonings and assertions seemed indeed to be a mixture of those prejudices and conceits which cleave to workmen whom experience has afforded a partial insight into the nature and peculiarities of their profession, and not to be grounded on any memory of facts, or to result from a knowledge of the connexion between causes and effects; and on this account, as soon as the leaders of the outcry could he brought to listen with patience to a relation of the appearances that attended this accident, and to hear the reasons assigned for the conclusion that the mize was on fire, and that the persons remaining in it were dead, they seemed to allow the impracticability of reaching the bodies of the sufferers till the fire was extinguished, and consequently the necessity of smothering it out by excluding atmospheric air from the mine. On Wednesday the 27th of May, at the clauoruus solicitation of the people, Mi. Straker and the overman agan de scended the John Pit, in order to ascertain the state of tie air in
damp. We are not ac?nainted with any means of preventing the formation of this gas; but it certainly might be prevented from accumulating, by ventilating the mine properly. If the usual method of fires, &e. be insufficient, nothing would be easier than to pump the air out of the mine, by means of an engine: and this would gecure a perfect ventilation at all times, unless we suppose tile workmen culpably nega ligent." Vol. III, New Series.
the workings. Immediately under the shaft they found a mangled horse, in which they supposed they perceived some signs of life ; but they had only advanced about six or eight yards, before the sparks of the flint were extinguished in the choke-damp, and Haswell, who played the mill, began to show the effects of the carbonic poison, by faltering in his steps. Mr. Straker therefore laid hold of him, and supported him to the shaft. As the baneful vapours had now taken possession of the whole of the mine, and they found it difficult to breathe even in the course of the full current of the atmospheric air, they immediately ascended. But the afflicted creatures, still clinging to hope, disbelieved their report. Wishful, therefore, to give as ample satisfaction as possible to the unhappy women, Mr. Anderson and James Turnbull (a hewer of the colliery, who had escaped the blast) again went down. At 30 fathoms from the bottom they found the air exceedingly warm: to exist without apoplectic symptoms for more than a few yards round the bottom of the shaft was found impossible, and even there the air was so contaminated as to be nearly irrespirable. When they ascended, their clothes emitted a smell somewhat resembling the waters of Gilsland and Harrowgate, but more particularly allied to that of the turpentine distilled from coal tar. The report of these last adventurers partly succeeded in convincing the people that there was no possibility of any of their friends being found alive. Some, indeed, went away silent, but not satisfied; others with pitiable importunity besought that measures to recover their friends might even yet be adopted and persevered in; and many, as if grief and rage had some necessary connexion, went about loading the conductors of the mine with execrations, and threatening revenge. Some were even heard to say they could have borne their loss with fortitude had none of the workmen survived the calamity; they could have been consoled had all their neighbours been rendered as miserable and destitute as themselves! From such a multitude of distracted women, unanimity of sentiincnt could not be expected-no scheme of proceedings could be in vented fortunate enough to meet with the approbation of them all. In the evening of this day it was, therefore, resolved to exclude the atmospheric air from entering the workings, in order to extinguish the fire which the explosion had kindled in the mine, and of which the smoke ascending the William pit was a sure indication, This shaft was accordingly filled with clay about seven feet above the ingate or entrance from the shaft into the drift; and the John pit mouth was covered over with loose planks.
Many idle tales were circulated through the country concerning several of the men finding their way to the shafts, and being recovered. Their number was circumstantially told-how they subsisted on candles, oats, and beans--how they heard the per
sons who visited the mine on the day of the accident, and the Wednesday following, but were too feeble to speak sufficiently loud to make themselves heard. Some conjurer, too, it was said, had set his spells and divinations to work, and penetrated the whole secrets of the mine. He had discovered one famishing group rer ceiving drops of water from the roof of the mine-another eating their shoes and clothes, and other such pictures of misery. These inventions were carefully related to the widows, and answered the purpose of every day harrowing up their sorrows afresh. Indeed, it seemed the chief employment of some, to make a kind of insane sport of their own and their neighbours' calamity.
The morning of Wednesday the 8th of July being appointed for entering the workings, the distress of the neighbourhood was again renewed at an early hour. A great concourse of people collected—some out of curiosity, to witness the commencement of an undertaking full of sadness and danger-some to stir up
the revenge and aggravate the sorrows of the relatives of the sufferers, by calumnies and reproaches, published for the sole purpose of mischief; but the greater part came with broken hearts, and streaming eyes, in expectation of seeing a father, a husband, or son, "brought up out of the horrible pit!"
As the weather was warm, and it was desirable that as much air might pass down the shaft as possible, copstables were placed at proper distances to keep off the crowd. Two surgeons were also in attendance in case of accidents.
At six o'clock in the morning, Mr. Straker, Mr. Anderson, the overman of the colliery, and six other persons, descended the William pit, and began to traverse the north drift towards the plane-board. As a current of water had been constantly diverted down this shaft for the space of ten hours, the air was found to be perfectly cool and wholesome. Light was procured from steelmills. As the explosion had occasioned several falls of large masses of stone from the roof, their progress was considerably delayed by removing them. After the plane-board was reached, a stopping was put across it on the right hand, and one across the wall opposite the drift. The air, therefore, passed to the left, and number six was found.
The shifts of men employed in this doleful and unwholesome work, were generally about eight in number. They were four hours in and eight hours out of the mine : each individual, therefore, wrought two shifts every 24 hours.
When the body of number six was to be lifted into a shell, or coffin, the men for a while stood over it in speechless horror: they imagined it was in so putrid a state that it would fall asunder by lifting. At length they began to encourage each other “ in the name of God” te begin ; and after several hesitations and resolı
tions, and covering their hands with oakum to avoid any unpleasant sensation from touching the body, they laid it in a coffin, which was conveyed to the shaft in a bier made for the purpose, and drawn “to bank” in a net made of strong cords.
When the first shift of men came up, at ten o'clock, a message was sent for a number of coffins to be in readiness at the pit. These being at the joiner's shop, piled up in a heap to the number of 92, (a most gloomy sight,) had to pass by the village of Low Felling. As soon as a cart-load of them was seen, the howl. ings of the women, who had hitherto continued in their houses, but now began to assemble about their doors, came on the breeze in slow fitful gusts, which presaged a scene of much distress and confusion being soon exhibited near the pit; but happily, by representing to them the shocking appearance of the body that had been found, and the ill effects upon their own bodies and minds, likely to ensue from suffering themselves to be hurried away by such violent convulsions of grief, they either returned to their houses, or continued in silence in the neighbourhood of the pit.
From the 8th of July to the 19th of September, the heart-rending scene of mothers and widows examining the putrid bodies of their sons and husbands, for marks by which to identify them, was almost daily renewed; but very few of them were known by any personal mark—they were too much mangled and scorched to retain any of their features. Their clothes, tobacco-boxes, shoes, and the like, were, therefore, the only indexes by which they could be recognised.
At the crane twenty-one bodies lay in ghastly confusion : some like mummies, scorched as dry as if they had been baked. One wanted its head, another an arm. The scene was truly frightful. The power of the fire was visible upon them all; but its eifects were extremely various; while some were almost torn to pieces, there were others who appeared as if they had sunk down overpovered with sleep.
The ventilation concluded on Saturday the 19th of September, when the 91st body was dug from under a heap of stones. At six o'clock in the morning the pit was visited by candle-light, which had not been used in it for the space of 117 days; and at eleven o'clock in the morning the tube-furnace was lighted. From this time the colliery has been regularly at work; but the 92d body has never yet been found.
All these persons (except four, who were buried in single graves) were interred in Heworth Chapel-yard, in a trench, side by side, two coffins deep, with a partition of brick and lime between every four coffins.