The Huskar Colliery, Moorend Pit
Silkstone, Barnsley. 4th July 1838
The Huskar Colliery was joined to the Moorend Colliery for the purposes of ventilation and the colliery was the property of Mr. R.C. Clarke of Noblethorpe.
The day was hot and sunny but a violent thunderstorm raged from about 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Hailstones and about two to two and half inches of rain fell.
The pit had a shaft used for pulling coal to the surface by a steam engine and in a wood there was a drift which was used for ventilation. The rain put out the boiler fire and the engine could not be use to take the men to the surface; a message was sent down the pit for all the miners to make their way to the pit bottom.
The children, boys and girls, who worked in the mine, decided to wait until the engine was working again. They had then spent nine hours underground. Forty of them decided to go out of the pit by way of the ventilation drift to Nabbs Wood. At the bottom of the drift, there was an air door and the children went through this. As they made their way up the drift, a stream which was swollen into a rushing torrent by the downpour, overflowed down the drift. The children were washed off their feet and down to the door through which they had just passed. The water rose against the door and twenty six children were drowned. Some of the older children managed to escape along a slit which lead to the Moorend Colliery.
James Garnett, the father of one of the children, was one who went in after the water had subsided and he found the body of his child. It could not be recovered until all the twenty six had been removed. They were taken to Thostle Hall where George Teasdale and a man named Buckley washed their faces and then they were taken to their homes in carts.
Children's Employment Commission
Benjamin Mellor, aged 46 years old., examined on the 18th March 1841 told the Children's Employment Commission:-
"I am underground steward to four of Mr. Clarke's pits and I have the superintendence of above 90 colliers. We have had but one bad accident and that was on the 4th July 1838. It had been raining hard during a thunder storm to such an extent that the water came into the sough of the engine house and the engineer gave the alarm to the banksman who shouted out incautiously to put the light out and come out of the pit. The children and people were frightened, not knowing what the matter was. A number of children, either from the fright or from a desire to get a holiday, ran from the shaft towards the pittrail which forms a second outlet and this, together with the water escaping from the old workings, rushed down the pittrail and met the children who has passed a trap door, against which they were driven by the water and being unable to open it, 26 were drowned, 11 girls and 15 boys.
The water by the marks it left could not have been above six inches deep in its stream down to the pittrail but it rose at the door and there they were drowned. Fourteen had got out before and they had passed sufficiently far to be safe. I am quite sure that the stream had never overflowed before. No man can prove it. The stream is very small and is dry nine months out of the twelve. If the children had remained in the pit or at the shaft, they would have been quite safe, the water never rose anywhere except just where they were drowned."
The inquest into the disaster was held at the Red Lion Inn, Silkstone By Mr. Badger of Sheffield, Coroner. The bodies had been viewed at their homes and Joseph Huskar, who lived in Huskar, told the court what happened on that fateful day.
"Eleven of us were together and they all drowned but me. The water swam me down the day hole and through a slit into another board gate."
William Lamb said:-
"We did not know what we were going out for. We thought it was fire. The water washed the children down the day hole against a door, through which we had just come, and they were all drowned. If we had stopped at the pit bottom we should have been saved."
Uriah Jubb stated that:-
"I was coming up the dayhole with Elizabeth Taylor and some other. We heard the water coming and me and Elizabeth Taylor got into a slot in the dayhole and we stopped there until we could get out. The water met the others as they were coming up and drove them against the door where they were drowned."
After hearing all the evidence and the accounts of survivors, the jury returned a verdict of "Accidental Death".
Queen Victoria took an interest in the disaster and the loss of so many young lives in a pit was a factor in the setting up of the Royal Commission to enquire into women and children working in coal mines.
There is an inscription on the old monument in the churchyard of the Parish Church, Silkstone which records a disaster in the district. It reads:-
"Take heed, watch and pray, for ye know not when the time is."