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Fatal Explosion At The Moira Colliery - Aug 1845

Thanks to Andy Dennis for the Information


Andy Dennis
26 September 2013
I’ve been researching the deaths of some ancestors following the explosion at the Bath Pit on 9 Aug 1845

Hello Fionn

I’ve been researching the deaths of some ancestors following the explosion at the Bath Pit on 9 Aug 1845.  As well as the news article on your site I found two others that offer more information. 

In all seven men and boys died of burns sustained in the explosion.  Perhaps it should be reclassified as a disaster?

The comment that Thomas and Jesse Dennis were not brothers, but cousins, is correct.  However, John Dennis was not there, having finished work about four hours earlier.  The father and son were, apparently, Henry Finch senior and junior, though I have not been able to find records that fit father and son.  I suspect they were also cousins.

I also have a story about brothers John and William Dennis, cousins of those killed in 1845, who were killed at the same pit on 7 July 1844.

It seems a lot of mining history has been forgotten as old folk die out and the remains of collieries are concealed by landscaping projects and natural reclamation.  The area where I live was only developed at all because of coal, especially the Cannock Chase collieries, but, apart from a couple of splendid statues and the odd plaque, you would be hard pressed to know there ever was a mining industry, let alone its scale.

Anyway, thanks for a fascinating site and hope the attached proves useful.

Best wishes

You may be interested in some of the posts on a local blog that I sometimes contribute to,
where local history is an important strand

A Disaster is classified when 5 or more have died meaning this accident was a disaster.

Extract from Leicester Chronicle Saturday 16 August 1845

On Saturday morning last, the 9th, about 6 o'clock, an explosion of fire-damp occurred in the Bath Pit, at the Moira Colliery, near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, whereby 18 persons who were at work in the pit at the time were burnt – two (both lads) so severely as to cause their death the following morning; six severely, but not fatally; and the ten others – among them, the ground bailiff – were also much burnt. The individuals thus burnt were all within 50 or 60 yards of each other when the accident happened. The untoward event has naturally caused much excitement in the neighbourhood, being the most serious occurrence of the kind that has taken place for a long time.

On Monday morning, an inquest was held, before John Gregory, Gent., on the bodies of the two lads who died from the effects of the explosion, when several witnesses, male and female, were examined. From the evidence of the latter, it appeared that both the poor youths were very much burnt, especially over the upper part of their bodies, and that, not withstanding every attention was paid to them by four surgeons, they died on the Sunday morning – on at half-past 10, and the other at half-past 11 o'clock. Their names were Thomas (aged 13) and Jesse Dennis (aged 10). The father of Thomas stated that he was at work in the pit until 2 o'clock on the morning of the explosion, when the pit appeared perfectly free from and sulphurous or foul air: indeed, it was uncommon to have any foul air in that pit, and they generally worked by candles. They had lamps called “Davy Lamps,” at hand, and could generally tell when there was anything wrong with the air by the appearance of the candle: when that was the case, they extinguished their candles, and lighted their lamps. Or if they suspected the air was wrong, they tried it by means of these lamps, the flame of which would rise if the air were bad; and then they would go to another part of the pit, as the foul air would disperse in time. He had worked in the Bath Pit for more than 30 years, and never knew or perceived a better state of the atmosphere in it than there was on Friday night: in fact, they were remarking to each other how good the air was. Never since he had worked there, had he known so serious an accident as the present. – Thomas Hogg, who had worked in the same pit for nearly 20 years, said that he had been at his work nearly three hours when the explosion occurred; and that the first intimation of it that he had, was the blowing of a tremendous wind that put out all the candles but his own. He then knew something must be wrong, and went to see; and on getting to the place where John Dennis had been at work, he found Henry Finch (a relation) very badly burnt. Finch had a lighted Davy Lamp in his hand, and said to witness, “Come here, kinsman, I an almost burnt to death.” At the same time a number of men and boys who had been driven up by the force of the explosion, came running up, and passed on to the shaft; the deceased were taken up; and, afterwards, fifteen others, all much burnt, were taken up. There was a free current of air in the pit, and neither witness nor any of the men that were burnt could account for the accident: was quite sure that every precaution was taken by Mr. Woodhouse, the agent, and all others in authority to ensure the safety of the men. – William Hogg, who had worked in this pit for a number of years, gave similar evidence as to its freedom from foul air up to the accident. Foul air, he added, would sometimes collect in half-an-hour, and principally owing to the state of the atmosphere above “above” (above the surface). When the wind was in the South, they were more likely to have collections of foul air; and it was in that quarter, and rained heavily, on Saturday morning, before the explosion occurred. Had never known anyone to be burnt to death before in this pit, which was perfectly well ventilated. – Mr. John Woodhouse, the viewer, said he first heard of the incident on Saturday evening, at Burton, as he was on his way home. As soon as he got home, he went down into the pit, to make an examination, but found much less indication than might have been expected of such an accident having happened. After having made every inquiry he could, he believed that the cause of the accident was as follows: – That, from the low state of the barometer on Friday night, an extraordinary quantity of hydrogen had exuded from the workings, and gathered in the roof, which was broken and supported by timber. The pit had here fired at one man's candle, and Farmer (the ground bailiff) had been sent for by the other men. Farmer seemed to have thought that the “dam” of clay had failed, for he passed the place where the first explosion had occurred, and went with two or three men to examine the dam. The dam, however, was perfectly sound, while the gas escaped from the roof, filling the open spaces between the timber, fired at the candle of a man named Bradford, engaged in filling, and he was dreadfully burnt. The general state of ventilation of the pit was very good, and prevented the remainder of the men employed in different parts of the pit (about 20 men) from being suffocated by the after damp. He (Mr. W.) was also connected directly or indirectly with every colliery in Nottingham and Derbyshire, and was sure the Moira colliery was as perfectly ventilated as any of them: no expense was spared to make it so. – The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental death.”
[Since the above was written, we have learnt that two more of the sufferers have died from the effects of their injuries.]
Nothing in CMHRC.

Disaster at Moira Colliery
On Saturday 9 August 1845 at about six in the morning Thomas Dennis, a boy of thirteen, had been working underground at the Bath Pit, Moira for about an hour, when he saw a wave of fire coming towards him. He turned to run, but was overtaken by the fire, and, according to his sister-in-law Sarah, “dreadfully burnt, almost over his body to his knees”.  His cousin Jesse, a boy of just ten, suffered similar burns. After terrible suffering and unable to speak, Jesse died the following morning about half past ten and Thomas died about an hour later.

In all eighteen men were “considerably burnt” including Jesse and Thomas (above), six severely, including the ground bailiff, William Farmer. All were within fifty or sixty yards of each other. 

An inquest was held on the Monday. Joseph Dennis, father of Thomas, who had worked there for more than thirty years, and had been at work until two that morning, said that the air quality had been particularly good and that gas was uncommon. In consequence they generally worked by candle light, but Davy Lamps were available in case they perceived anything wrong with the air. 

Thomas Hogg said he had met Joseph Dennis as he was ending his shift, and that he had passed through the place where the explosion had occurred with a naked candle, so it appeared there was no gas then. Hogg said he had been at work nearly three hours at the far end of the works when he “perceived a tremendous wind, which put out all candles but his own”. Realising something had happened, he went to the place where Joseph Dennis had been at work and found Henry Finch, who was very badly burnt. He told the inquest that Henry Finch had said: “come here, kinsman, I am almost burnt to death”. 

William Hogg had also passed through the site of the explosion with a naked candle some three hours before. No one was working there at the time, but the air was pure and free of sulphur. However, he said that foul air can gather in half an hour and its occurrence depended on the weather. The south wind, which blew that morning, made foul air more likely and it had rained heavily, too. It appeared the explosion was caused by accident.  The pit was well-ventilated. 

This was confirmed by John Woodhouse, the viewer, who was connected one way or another with all the pits in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, and said that Moira Colliery was “as perfectly ventilated as any”.

John Woodhouse explained the sequence of events. One (unnamed) man's candle had fired at about three o'clock that morning and the ground bailiff, William Farmer, had been sent for. His initial reaction had been to examine a dam that he thought might have failed, though it turned out later to be intact. The low atmospheric pressure had caused an “extraordinary quantity of hydrogen” to exude into the roof. It fired or exploded at the candle of a man named Bradford.

It appears William Farmer died on the 10th or 11th.

On the 12th George Sharratt, Henry Finch (snr) and Henry Finch (jnr) died.

On the 13th or 14th William Bradford died.

All were buried at Donisthorpe St John between 14 and 18 August.
Leicester Journal and Midland Counties General Advertiser 15 August 1845
Leicestershire Mercury, Saturday, August 16 [1845]
Leicester Chronicle Saturday 16 August 1845
Census 1841, 1851
General Register Office, including via
Donisthorpe Burials 1838-1848 (online).

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