Hartley Pit Disaster or Hester Pit Disaster. 16th January, 1862.
The funeral procession leaving Colliery Row for Earsdon Churchyard
The funerals took place in Earsdon churchyard on 26th February and it was estimated at the time that there were about 60,000 people at the funerals of the victims, between noon and 1 p.m., carts lined with straw were driven slowly to the doors of the colliers cottages and lifted onto them. Each cart carried five victims and made the journey to the churchyard surrounded by the relatives of the dead and the followers extended down the road as far as the eye could see.
Some of the victims, about ten, were buried at Cowpen and a few at Seghill but the majority were buried at Earsdon. The Duke of Northumberland gave a plot of land to the north of the church for the burials and this was later incorporated into the churchyard.
The work of digging the graves had not proceeded as quickly as it should have and when the procession reached the churchyard only two thirds of the graves were completed but the work was quickly completed.
The graves were dug in three parallel rows, one to the west which was an immense trench, the middle one contained a trench and in this thirty three coffins were placed and smaller graves in which two or three bodies were buried and the third was of double of single graves with earth walls between them.
The Reverend E.R. Mason, the Vicar of the Parish and his Curate, Reverend D.T.
Jones met the coffins as they arrived and read the service for the dead and it took until 3 p.m. to complete all the proceedings. After the service was finished the graves were filled and this took until late into the evening.
Mr. T. Wemyss Reid, wrote on the burial of the victims-
“There is something dreadful in thinking of the desolation which the departing carts left behind them. That which is merely a misfortune to the kingdom generally, has been the destruction of the village of New Hartley. With very, very few exceptions, every strong working man in the place had been carried away to his long home and there is only left a company of aged men, weak women and helpless children.
When the place will recover form the paralysing shock it had received, if indeed it ever recovers, Heaven only knows. For many years to come babes yet unborn may rue the terrible occurrence of last Tuesday week.”
At a meeting in Newcastle it was thought that a sum of £17,000 would be required for the permanent relief of the widows and orphans but this sum was exceeded by the generosity of the public, particularly miners from other coalfields and private donations of eminent people including the Queen, who donated £200 and the Duke of Northumberland £300. Several £1000 had been subscribed in Northumberland alone and by the time the inquest was started, the Fund had reached £30.000 and subscriptions were coming at a rate of £1000 per day and eventually reached about £80,000.
Mr. W.F. Barymorean was appointed actuary for the Fund and 7/- per week was assigned to each widow and 10/6d. to a widow and child, 13/6d. for a widow and 2 children, 15/6d. for a widow and three children, 17/6d. for a widow and 4 children, 19/6d. for a widow and five children. The allowances would continue with no misconduct on the widow’s part as long as they remained unmarried and the children to age 15 years for girls and 12 years for boys. Infirm adults received 7/- per week. The widows would get £20 on remarrying and £3 for funeral expenses on dying with £1 for the death of a child.
The Fund was so large that the Hartley Fund to relieve the dependants of mining disasters was set up and over the next years was sadly used a very great deal.
Mr. S. Reed was the Coroner at the inquest which was held at Seaton Deval. The
Home Secretary, Sir George Grey had instructed Her Majesty’s Inspector of Mines, Mr. Mathias Dunn to conduct an investigation into the cause of the disaster and Mr. Kenyon Blackwell was appointed to help
Mr. Dunn and report in full to the Home office.
The single pit shaft was 12 feet in diameter and 100 fathoms deep with a substantial wooden brattice down the centre made of 3 inches plank on plank. The pumps were 24 inches in diameter and the shaft was blocked for 7 fathoms after the disaster.
Carbonic acid gas was thought to have been the cause of death of those entombed which could have been produced by the dying embers of the furnace. The Inspector said-
“We would hope that the sufferings of the poor people would be of a specific character and unattended by violent pain.”
This was the opinion of the jury on how the men met their deaths and they added-
“The jury can not close this painful inquiry without expressing their strong opinion of the imperative necessity that all winding collieries should have at least a second shaft or outlet to afford the workmen the means of escape, should any obstruction take place as occurred at the New Hartley pit.
Those that were trapped were hungry, thirsty and weary but a new enemy appeared, gas.”
Unlike many disasters that would happen in the mining industry in subsequent years, legislation was quickly enacted and stated that all collieries were to have two shafts.
There is little evidence in Hartley today of the momentous events that occurred at the colliery in 1862.
Interment of the pitmen on a lot near Burradon Church, given by the Duke of Northumberland.
Joseph Humble the under-viewer was so devastated by the disaster that he left mining and opened a Drapers store.
Only last night there was a replay of an old episode of 'Who Do You Think You Are' with Kate Humble, which now really grabs my attention because her relative Joseph Humble was the viewer of Hartley Mine ( I guess of course that you have seen the episode ) I did note that they mentioned that the documents relating to the disaster and the inquest are held at the New Castle North of England Institute Of Mining And Mechanical Engineers. Maybe this might be helpful to Robert Dixon and I wonder if Mark Wilkie, that has an inquiry on your site about the where abouts of Joseph Humble, is aware of this episode?
Have attached the above Doc for Joseph Humble pretty sure it is the right Joseph, might be helpful.