Scotsman Reports Disaster – Part 6

Continued from Parts 1 – 5….from the Scotsman, Tuesday 23rd October 1877…..describing events in detail from the disaster morning before. We return to Pit 2 and the bravery of the first men sent down to inspect what was happening.

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One man, however, who made a very narrow escape with his life—to wit, John Sharp, a  roadsman gives a narrative of what occurred under his own observation in this working.

He says : — “I went down into No. 2 pit at six o ‘clock, according to my usual practice. Then apparently everything was all right, and along with my mates, I continued working until twenty minutes to nine o ‘clock, having no suspicion that anything was wrong.

Indeed, I had been going all through the levels, seeing that the roads were all right, and having satisfied myself of this, was returning at the time mentioned to the bottom of the shaft, for the purpose of ascending to get my breakfast. I had reached within eighty or ninety yards of the pit bottom, when I felt an awful blast coming from behind, like a storm, which immediately returned back on my face. Our lamps were all blown out, and I knew then that the pit had ‘blasted, ‘ though heard no noise.”

It may be well to state here that the reason why the blast descended with the dip of the seam, and found escape by the shaft of No. 3 pit, instead of running upwards, as one might naturally expect , towards No. 2 pit, is as explained by the colliers themselves, that the flame invariably goes against the air, free ventilation being mainly provided from No. 3 pit.  It followed , therefore, that the flame of the explosion, according to this theory, should run down the dip.

Continuing his narrative , Sharp said — “I ran for No. 1. communication but there felt the after damp very bad, and then groped my way as far as the underground engine house. Here, through the darkness, I heard the overman’s voice shouting to go directly to the ‘big dook’ and open the door. This I attempted to do, but got no further than twenty or thirty yards when I was all but overpowered by the choke-damp.

Turning and crawling on hands and knees , I without great difficulty reached the bottom which was between twenty and thirty yards distant.

I had been in the south ‘dook’ and on reaching the pit bottom I found nearly all the men who had been in the north ‘ dook’ with their lamps lit standing there. I crawled over the steam pipe and on to the top of the cage.

Owing to the breaking of the slides in the shaft and other obstructions, the cage had not been able to run up. The men from the north side asked me to ascend the shaft and endeavour to clear it. I rang the bell, the cage slowly ascended, and we came across some broken timbers and slides, and the needle which supported the steam pipes in the shaft. These I kicked out of the way of the cage, and by and by I was hauled to the top very much exhausted.

The cage was sent down for the north men, who were at the bottom of the pit. I crawled home and it was two or three hours before I fairly recovered from the effects of the damp. ”

Another lad , named William Kirkland, who has been much burned about the face, head, and hands, says : — “I was working on the north side, running the chains “—which means that he was employed in collecting hutches from different miners, and chaining them to one another in one train to bring them to the pit mouth — ” I was thirty yards from the pit mouth when I heard a noise , and looked round , I saw a great mass of flame rolling along the level.

My mate , Thomas Martin , shouted to me to ‘clap’ that is to fall on my face on the floor of the gallery, which I did, but not before the flame had struck me about the face and hands. I remembered that my brother Robert was working in the south ‘dook ‘ and I staggered up to try and get to him, but could not advance. My mate cried to me to make for the cage  and I crawled to the pit mouth as quickly as I could, and was taken to the surface.

It will thus be seen from the narratives of these two men that the explosion was as unexpected in No. 2 pit as it was in No. 3; that it came upon them without the slightest warning  and that for some reason or other, which further investigation may bring out, the fire-damp as well as the flame was more severe on the south side than it was in the north “dook” for nearly if not all the men employed in the latter working escaped to the pit-mouth and were, some with more or less injury, drawn to the top. So far as can be learned, not a single soul who was in the south side of the pit escaped, and there is now no hope that any have survived.

Men are pictured clearing Pit number 3 shaft to allow safe exit for survivors and ingress of rescuers.

To be continued…

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