Dangers of Mining

March 1888

Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Friday 09 March 1888

The accident at Denaby Main Colliery, resulting in the instantaneous death of John Humphreys, is a reminder that no provisions of an Act of Parliament can remove the dangers of mining.

In this case everything had been done in accordance with the regulations, and the deceased was a man of experience. His ear had been trained to interpret the sounds given off the coal, roof, and sides, and his eye was quick to detect flaws which told of hidden dangers. He had properly timbered the face of the coal—had placed sprags to catch the downward pressure of the mass he was about to “hole,” or undermine, and cockers to resist the forward pressure. These precautions taken, he set himself with the vigour of lusty manhood to wield his pick against the base of the coal to be brought down. To him the sputtering and pop-gun-like reports given off the point of attack, accompanied at intervals by protesting bumps—as though some angry subterraneous spirit lurked behind and muttered discontent being disturbed—were as music.

The miner likes not to hole at a “face” which is quiescent, and which refuses to respond to his vigorous assaults. The sulky silence tells him that he will have to do all the work himself. He wants the coal to help him, and the sharp little bursts and more ponderous thuds of the heavy artillery, familiarly spoken of as “bumps,” do that effectually. Each report is accompanied by discharge of small splints of coal from the face, which otherwise, in “dead” coal, would have to be brought away by the pick. With a sound wall of coal in front of him, free from faults and slips, and properly timbered, the miner will gleefully gibe the riot he creates at every blow.

“Go it, you beauties”—if not another word less refined—is his invitation.

But alas, for John Humphreys! the wall was not sound. Sloping inwards and upwards, from base to submit, was a slip ”—a parting—and half-way up the height of the wall was another parting going in the opposite direction. Thus there was formed an inner block of coal representing a solid V upside down, with another not solid, and having the outer section free and resting on the floor, fitted over it It was on this outer section that the deceased man was at work. Its base was all but cut away, when, thus weakened and set at liberty, it suddenly “bumped,” broke away, and slid down from the sloping “face” behind In the very moment when the toiler below was probably congratulating himself on the way in which the coal was working in the twinkling of an eye—the mass was upon him, and all was over.

The picture is too painful to pursue further. John Humphreys’ death is only one amongst many which no skill and forethought can prevent. But it should have its lesson for the public. So accustomed are they to read of fatalities in mines that nothing but some huge catastrophe rouses them to sense of the perils by which the comfortable coal-fire is made possible. If they could realise all that is conveyed in the word “collier,” possibly greater efforts would be made to improve his lot and to raise him in the social scale.