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At two o'clock five persons who had gone down having ascended, two being in the shaft coming up and the other two at the bottom, another explosion, much less severe that the first, excited more frightful expressions of grief amongst the relations of the persons still in the mine. As each party came up, he was surrounded by a group of anxious enquirers. Their reports were equally hopeless and their account of the impure state of the mine was corroborated by the second explosion that, for the present, their assertions appeared to obtain credit. But this was only a momentary impression.
Charles Taylor

It was recollected that persons had survived similar accidents and when the mine was opened, had been found alive. That in a pit near Byker, three had subsisted on horse beans and candles for forty days.

Persons not wanting to excite a disbelief in the accounts given by the persons had explored the mine, it was suggested that the relations of the sufferers, that they might be induced by bribery or want of courage to magnify the danger and represent the reaching of the bodies as impossible. Thus the grief of the neighbourhood began to assume an aspect not only too gloomy but irritable. The proposition to endeavour to extinguish the fire excluding the air from the mine was received with cries of 'murder' and with determination to oppose them proceeding.

Many of the widows and other relatives of the sufferers continued about the mouth of the John Pit during the whole night, hoping to hear the voice of a husband, a son or a brother calling for assistance.

On the following day, an immense concourse of colliers assembled from various other collieries. They were profuse in reproaching the persons concerned in the mine with want of exertions to recover the men, each one having some example of successful attempts in cases of this kind to relate, and all professing their readiness to assist but with their profession, none were found that would enter the mine. The mixture of conceits and prejudices common with workmen whose experience has only furnished them with a partial knowledge of the nature and peculiarities of their profession, without being acquainted with the connection between causes and effects, appeared to be the ground for their reasonings and assertions. As soon as those who led the outcry could be induced to listen patiently to the relation of the appearances attending this accident and the assigned reasons for concluding that the mine was on fire and that the persons in it dead, they seemed to allow that to reach the bodies of the sufferers till the fire should be extinguished was practicable.

The proprietors of the mine gave the strongest assurances to the crowd, that if any project could be framed for the recovery of the men, no expense should be spared in expecting it and if any person could be found who was willing to enter the mine, every facility and help should be afforded him but as they were assured by several of the most eminent viewers in the neighbourhood that the workings of the mine were in an unapproachable state and that any further attempt to explore it would hold out in reward for the undertaking, they would not be an accessory to any man's death by persuasion of a bribe.

On the 27th of May, at the clamorous solicitation of the people, two persons again descended the John pit, in order to ascertain the state of the air in the workings.

Immediately under the shaft they found a mangled horse in which they supposed they perceived signs of life but they had advanced about six or eight yards before the sparks of the flint were extinguished in the choke damp and the men who played the mill began to show the effects of the poison by faltering in his steps. The other 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 breath, even in the course of the atmospheric air, they immediately ascended but the afflicted creatures to whom they told their tale, still clinging to hope, disbelieved their report.

Wishful therefore, to give as ample satisfaction a possible to the unhappy women, two other persons again went down. At thirty 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 unfit for breathing. When they ascended, their clothes emitted a smell somewhat resembling the waters of Gilsand and Harrowgate but more practically allied to that of the turpentine distilled from coal tar.

The report of these last adventures partially succeeded in convincing the people that there was no probability of any sign 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 in grief and rage had some necessary connection, went away loading the conductors of the mine with execrations and threatening revenge. Some were even heard to say, that they could have borne their loss with fortitude, had none of the workmen survived the calamity. They could have been consoled if all their neighbours had been rendered as miserable and destitute as themselves.

For such a multitude, unanimity of sentiment could not be expected. No scheme of proceedings could be invented to meet with the approbation of all the men. In the evening of this day it was therefore resolved to exclude the air from then 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. Measures affecting it were accordingly taken and after experiencing various disappointments from sundry accidents, they ultimately succeeded. When the preparations were being made for the reopening of the mine, many idle tales 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, pats and beans, how they heard the persons who visited the mine on the day following the accident and the Wednesday following but were too feeble to speak sufficiently loud to make themselves heard. Some conjurer to, it is said, had set spells and divinations to work and penetrated the whole secrets of the mine. It was reported he had discovered one famishing group receiving drops of water from the roof of the mine, another eating their shoes and clothes and other such tales 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 neighbour's calamity. On the morning appointed for the entering of the workings, (the mine having been previously opened) the distress of the neighbourhood was again renewed at an early hour. A great concourse of people collected, some out of curiosity, some to stir up revenge and aggravate the sorrows of 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 out of the horrible pit.



Pit Terminology - Glossary