Scotsman Reports Disaster – Part 5

Continued from Parts 1 – 4 ….from the Scotsman, Tuesday 23rd October 1877…..

“Many of those at the pit-head had their whiskers, eyebrows, and hair singed, and the manager Mr Watson has his face and hands scorched. We looked into each other’s faces, each fearing to say a word, because we only knew too truly what had happened. We were paralysed, but only for a minute. We ran to No. 2 pit to see what could be done there, but found the connection stopped, although some men were got out.

Then we came back to No. 3 pit , all our wits now about us, unhooked the cage from the tow rope, and put on the “kettle.” The “kettle” is a barrel-like vehicle which is used mainly in sinking pits, and which from its shape will go down or -up a shaft where a cage can’t go.

Many men were anxious at once to descend into the pit and explore, anxious not only to save our mates , if possible, to learn the true position of affairs. It was evident, then, from the pit-head that many slides were out of their places, and that a portion of the midwall had been broken down.

John Pickering , a Cornishman named Coulter, and myself, got into the “kettle, ” and were lowered down. We got about thirty fathoms deep, when we found the bell gear all broken, and the needle, or the stay in the centre of the pit which keeps everything correct, thrown right across the shaft.

We were therefore compelled to ascend to the surface for the purpose of getting materials for connecting the bell wire. The next gang that went down consisted of Thomas Cox, William Mason, and a stranger, and they endeavoured to ” clear away part of the obstruction but found it necessary to return to the surface.

After that, a man named Gilchrist, a stranger, and myself went down, connected the bell-wire, got away part of the obstruction wood, and got as far down as 124 fathoms, when we found the broken wood and blown-up mid-wall fairly across the shaft, preventing our further progress downwards.

While we were debating what should be or could be done, in the silence of the shaft we heard groans of agony and loud moans coming up from the workings below.

Our hearts were sorrowful that we could no further go to the help of our poor unfortunate fellow workmen. We shouted to them that help was near, that assistance was coming, and we listened for a reply, but there came naught but a renewal of the agonising’ groans. We could do no more but signal to be drawn up to the surface once more , in order to consult with the mining engineers who, we knew, must by this time have been attracted to the pit , as to the best mode of getting through the obstruction and reaching some of the poor fellows whom we were now certain yet remained alive at the bottom of the pit.

Thus so far for No. 3 pit. But it is necessary to return to No. 2. As has already been remarked , none of the firemasters or inspectors have come up alive from this mine; and it is only known by inference that from four o ‘clock in the morning to the time the explosion took place all went well.”

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Illustration of the 3 men going down in the kettle to inspect the damage and assess the situation.

To be continued.

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