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Hartley Pit Disaster, Northumberland January, 1862 - Page 2

Thanks To Ian Winstanley For The Information - Two Hundred and Four Miners Were Killed
Images From freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry


Hartley Pit Disaster or Hester Pit Disaster. 16th January, 1862.

The accident took place at 10 a.m. on Thursday 16th January when the great beam of the pumping engine broke without warning. It hit the brattice without doing any damage but then it rebounded against the side of the shaft and then fell down it carrying all the timber of the brattice with it. There was great consternation throughout the district.
The night shift were coming up the pit at the end of their shift at the time only sixteen had left the pit and eight men were in the cage when the beam snapped and fell down the shaft.

The cage was shattered and debris cascaded down the shaft. Two men in the cage were killed when they went to the bottom and three died soon after.


The Broken Beam of the Pumping Engine

Two were not badly injured and rescued after a few hours. A lad named William Sharpe and his father climbed out of the broken cage to the pumps and held on to await their rescue.

Dr. Davidson of Deval was in attendance at the pit top to give medical assistance to the injured as they were got out of the shaft. There were two hundred entombed men in the pit and weeping women were in attendance at the pit top. Mr. Charles Carr, the viewer at the colliery and the son of Mr. Carr and the resident viewer Mr. Joseph Humble, were aided by Mr. G.B. Forster, viewer of Cowpen and North Seaton, superintended the operations. On the Friday after the accident, Mr. Mathias Dunn, Her Majesty’s Inspector came to the colliery and with others made an inspection.

On the second day, cries where heard coming from below. The Yard Level was reached and by Friday night the first body was recovered. It was that of a young man named Sharpe and by Saturday, the body of his father George was recovered by Ralph Robson. On Saturday Mr. Coulson, master of sinker of Durham, inspected the pit and it was thought that the debris was in danger of falling down the shaft. Two men were working at the debris with ropes attached to them and six or seven others were helping to remove the debris up the shaft. Two men at the surface kept the gin, jack and grab going to the impatience of the onlookers at the pit head.

At 9 p.m. on Saturday the men in the shaft heard the men in the Yard Seam but work was held up because the shaft wall had come away and the engine which was being used to raise the large quantities of timber and stone from below ground drowned the sounds of the men below.

On Sunday a large meeting of engineers and mining experts was held at the colliery. Most of the eminent names in mining and mining engineering were present at that meeting and the list read like a who’s who of mining in those days and no better plan could be thought of than to get the debris out of the shaft.

Late on Sunday all the stone and rubbish had been removed from the shaft with the greatest difficulty. At 2 p.m. on Monday. Mr. Coulson sent word up the shaft that he expected the men to be withdrawn from the shaft in four hours as he had seen some smoke in the shaft and he thought that those underground had lit a fire.
By Tuesday a hole had been made through the debris and the workers in the shaft could see the clack door of the pump but there was gloom among the rescuers that the men would be reached too late.

It was thought that there was foul air in the pit and this was confirmed by an accident that occurred at the pit. At about 4 to 5 a.m. a cry went up from the shaft that a man had been affected by stythe. (Choke-damp. When the emission of carbonic gas is very strong and the ventilation inefficient, the whole space is frequently filled with 'stythe,' causing the extinction of the candles, and finally life itself.) Mr. G.B. Foster, one of the mining engineers helping with the rescue attempts describes it thus:-
"On Monday a new enemy began to develop. A vapour had been observed coming out of the pumps. During the night sinkers at each change of shift began to show symptoms of nausea on coming into the fresh air and it became evident that they were under the influence of some gas which produced these effects."


Mr. Coulson, Superintendent Of The Exploring Party

John Liddell of North Seaton and Richard Wilson had been at work in the shaft when some of the debris fell and the stythe had come through the clack door and overpowered them. They had been able to catch their implements and had been got to the pit bank.

Liddell came up first and had to be supported to a cabin on the surface by two men and behaved as though he was drunk. Dr Davidson saw to him and revived him with liquor. Wilson was brought up and he was in very bad condition. He had to be laid on the floor of the hut and bathed with water. Spirits were administered and he was taken to Mr. Emerson's house by ambulance.

Mr Emerson, Master Sinker

David Wilkinson, Master Sinker

Richard Pickard, William Coulson and Matthew Dodds were also affected and three others who were brought up in a similar condition Thomas Fairbairn of Cowpen, Robert Fairbairn and Ralph Maughan. Two master sinkers, Mr. Shields and Mr. Wilkinson were involved in the rescue. William Shields brought the men out and he was later to be the man that first discovered the bodies of the victims. The rescued were revived at the surface and had been working in the staple in the High Main Seam. They were brave men beyond all praise. Operations were suspended until brattice was rigged in the shaft before they couldcontinue and all hope for the men below had now gone. It was thought that it was a pit of corpses.

Mr William Shields, Master Sinker

Mr Gilbert Ward, Esq., M.D.C.S

While there was hope and the work was going on in the shaft,there were several medical men at the surface. Mr. Anthony Davison was the colliery surgeon and was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh and was assisted by
Mr. Gilbert Ward of Blyth who was a member of the Royal college of Surgeons, England. Both men stayed at the pithead in the bitter cold and furnished supplies of food and blankets at the local school room.

Among the other doctors that were at the scene were Mr. T. Dawson and Mr. White of Newcastle, Dr. Pyle and his son of Earsdon, Mr. Ambrose, surgeon of the Discovery ship Endeavour, Mr. Nichol, Mr. M'Allister, and Mr. H. Ward, the last four men volunteered to go into the furnace drift if their services were required.

Mr Anthony Davison, Esq., M.D.C.S.E