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1862 The Hartley Pit Disaster

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John Weedy's collection of

The Illustrated London News

January 25th 1862

Section of the workings

No, 1129 Page 81
(first report) ( this is my village where I was brought up)


Loss of Two Hundred and twenty lives

One of the worst colliery accidents which has occurred in this country took place on the morning of Thursday week (Jan 16th) at New Hartley Colliery, near Newcastle-on-Tyne, resulting in the immediate death of five poor fellows and the suffocation of 215 others. Hartley new pit is situated close to the Hartley junction of the Blyth and Tyne Railway, on the western side of the line. This colliery, like the majority of the mines in the northern coal district, has only one shaft, which is made to serve the double purpose of upcast and downcast work. For this purpose a wooden partition or "brattice" divided the shaft from top to bottom, and ventilation was by this means secured. The shaft itself was lined with wood, and part of the wall through which the shaft descended was built up with masonry to make it more secure. The colliery had been subject to inundations, and additional precautions were used to keep down the water. An immense pumping apparatus was erected close to the mouth of the colliery - the beam of the pump amost, indeed, projected over the shaft, and was of enormous strength. It weighed above forty tons, was 8ft broad in the centre and 5in. thick in the thinnest part, and, as such a beam should be, it was of the best material. I t was the breaking of this beam which caused the accident. It snapped in the middle, and, pitching direct down the shaft, smashed the brattice in its ponderous fall, pulling down after it the wooden lining of the shaft, bringing away masses of masonry, and, as it is supposed, stopping midway in its flight, and acting as a platform on which to pile an immense heap of broken timber, stone and rubbish.

The first victims of the accident were some poor fellows who were "riding" up the shaft in the iron "cage" when the beam fell. Strange to say, the immense mass of metal appears to have passed them without materially injuring any of the number; but the falling timber but the falling timber and stone made short work of the majority, and three of them were killed immediately, while three more were saved by hanging on the cage, and two were thrown, mortally wounded, on the rubbish which choked up the pit.

It is a very touching memorial of this part of the calamity that one of the wounded men prayed in the midst of his sufferings, and one of his comrades climbed down from the cage where he had been suspended, and prayed with him till the hour when death released him. The living men in the cage were many hours before they were relieved.

Dreadful as the situatuion of these men was it was an enviable one compared to that of the poor fellows in the mine , 215 in number, now seperated from them by a fatal barrier. the misfortune of the miners who were down below was aggravated by the fact that it was about the time of changing "shifts". The day men were already at their labour, whilst the night men were about to leave it. Two lots had reached the top, the third were stopped in their progress, and the remainder were shut up as in a tomb.

In Hartley Colliery there are 3 seams of coal. The first or "high main" is completely worked out, and just as completely cut off from other parts of the colliery, it is, i fact, a large cave in the shaft, and as the rubbish passed it in its flight it was used as a receptacle in which to cast the material dug up from the fallen mass. The next halting-place was the yard seam, and thirty fathoms below that was the "low main." Here the men were at work, and this place, it is believed, would be flooded in a short time after the necessary suspension of pumping operations, caused by the breaking of the beam of the pump. The men were not, however, in the first instance, oblged to remain in the "low main." From that place to the yard seam there is a passage, well known, and easy of access. But the mass of debris was stopped in its fall before it came to the yard seam.

The ablest mining engineers and pitmen in the coal trade were engaged day and night in attempting to force a way through the onstructions in the shaft to reach the men and boys below, who at times were distinctly heard working. But difficulties in clearing it away were enormous. In the first place, though hundreds, to their honour be it said, volunteered to work, only two or three had room to do so, and, lest the temporary but fatal platform on which they worked should give way, it was necessary to suspend the workmen by the waist or under the shoulders. In the second place, the water began to pour out of the crevices in the sides of the shaft, and the shaft itself, with the stones at its sides, began to give way. The men were constantly in danger of their lives, and the work was stopped, in order that the sides should be properly "bratticed." The last danger was the carbonic acid gas which was emitted from the pit on Tuesday night, nearly dpriving the workmen of life, entirely suffocating them for a time ; stopping the whole of the operations, and stopping, too, every hope that relief could reach the imprisoned men.

During the whole of Tuesday night workmen were employed in putting up a cloth brattice in the shaft, and pipes were also fixed between the engine-furnace and the high seam, to improve the ventilation. The sad trgedy was now revealed in all its horror. The cloth brattice was completed on Wednesday afternoon, and cleared the shaft to some extent of gas. Three pitmen (volunteers) went down, penetrated the obstruction, got into the yard seam by the engine drift, and found men lying dead at the furnace. They pushed their way through. The air was bad. Within this door they found a large body of men sleeping the sleep of death. They retreated and came to bank with the appalling intelligence.

Mr. Humble, viewer of the colliery, and Mr. Hall, immediately went down, and returned in an hour and a half. Both had to be taken off the sling, seriously affected by gas. They went through the works, and found no living man, but a hetacomb of dead bodies. The bulk of the bodies were lying in the gallery near the shaft. An affecting report, which has touched all hearts, was made by them. Families were lying in groups; children in the arms of their fathers; brothers with brothers. Most of them looked placid, as if asleep; but higher up, near the furnace, some tall, stout men seemed to have died hard. The corn-bins were all cleared. Some few of the men had a little corn in their pockets. A pony was lying dead among the men but untouched.

Several volunteers subsequently penetrated the workings, and confirmed this statement. Nearly all of them, however, were brought to bank seriously affected by gas.

There was great danger of more men losing their lives. Medical men, of whom there were large numbers at the colliery, held a council at eight o'clock, and, by their advice, no more men were allowed to go down until the ventilation should be better.

The village of New Hartley is a scene of misery, desolation, and woe, as nearly the entire working population have been stricken with death.

The scenes at the pit's mouth during the long attempt to clear the shaft were most heart rending. The Newcastle Daily Chronicle gives the following report of the proceedings on Tuesday :--

"The flaming beacons on the high platform of Hartley Pit glared steadily in the eyes of weary-footed pedstrians approaching from Deleval or from nearer cottages. A thin cover of snow overspread the ground, and had changed the dark dry brown of the coaly roadways to a path of clear whiteness. The pit-heaps are ashy grey, and the stillness of death reigned around, broken only by the interminable orders for the gin, the crab, and the jack, which is heard through the morning air. Black figures bent their steps noiselessly towards the gleaming fires, where groups of persons were sitting or reclining quietly, the fountains of their grief being wellnigh exhausted, and the anguish of their minds, great as it is, being almost overpowered by the sleepy influences of the hour. Around the pit's mouth, however, eager spectators still watched the indications of the progress of the work, as if at any moment friends might be brought to bank whose lives depended on their presence at the moment of arrival. Meanwhile the ponderous machinery worked smoothly on; the ropes, as thick as a mans leg, glided up and down like greasy, slimy serpents, and in the hollow depths of the pit the lights burnt distinctly in a matery atmosphere."

A telegram was received from her Majesty on Wednesday afternoon asking intelligence as to the hopes of saving the men.



February 1st

No, 1129 Pages 103 / 104

In this issue, extensive illustration and commentary on the " (New Hartley in Northumberland) Hartley-Pit Tragedy", detailing that fatal mining accident.

entrance to the shaft

Scarcely yet though the worst of the event was ascertained upwards of a week ago - scarcely yet has the agony of excitement occasioned by the awful calamity at the Hartley Colliery calmed down sufficiently to allow of its being treated with collected thoughts or sobriety of reflection. Even now the "jowling" of that buried multitude, immured in darkness, cut off by they knew not what obstruction from the homes and families they had erewhile left in peace, and struggling day by day to fight off grim despair, rings in our ears, haunts our recollection, and fills our hearts with the dismay of utter helplessness. We hardly know which affliction was most poignant - that in the abyss below or that upon the surface above, save that in the latter case the fearful suspense was more protracted. It is said that a drowning man lives over again in a few moments, by an instantaneous act of memory, his whole life. Who, then, can imaginethe intense action of those two hundred and fifteen souls during the long interval between their first consciousness of peril and their ultimate death? What vivid flashes of recollection!- what voices of conscience!- what strainings of hope!- what hurried counsels!- what earnest prayers and vows!- ay, and, doubtless, there were men there whose steady faith in "things unseen as yet" strengthened them to minister consolation to their fellow - victims and to beget resignation where most it was needed! Seldom has human congregation passed through such a baptism of tears and fears to the shades of death

Not one of them survives to tell the awful story. Mystery has sealed it as her own for ever. We can only be silent in presence of the dread catastrophe, or, if we speak at all utter the prayer, "God's peace be with their spirits!" We are all but too familiar with the outlines of the facts - such of them, we mean, as were not entombed forever with the only person who could tell them - to require any detailed repetition of them here. They differed somewhat from the too common run of coalpit accidents.

A mine the working level of which, a hundred fathoms deep, was accessible by only a single shaft, and bordering so closely upon the sea as to render neccessary the incessant action of a pumping engine of 400 - horse power to keep it sufficiently free of water for the safe employment of the men - a ponderous iron beam from this engine, serving as the gigantic arm to lift the water to the surface, outstretched over the mouth of the shaft - a sudden fracture of the limb at the very moment when a shift of hands was taking place - the fall of the heavy fragment down the shaft, but, unfortunately, not to the bottom - the consequent formation of an effectual obstruction in the shaft, nearly seventy fathoms down, but above all means of egress made up of broken timber, canvas, and earth which the falling half of the beam had carried down with it - heroic and desperate attempts from above, for several days and nights successively, to clear away the obstruction in time to set free the imprisoned hands - the ascent of nearly the whole number of the victims through a "man-hole" to the "yard-seam" whence they made themselves heard occasionally to those who were working for their rescue by "jowling" - the rise of "stythe," a carbonic oxide fatal to life - and death, either by water in the main level or by

page 105

suffocation in the yard-seam, to everyone of the hapless workmen down in the mine when the accident occurred; - such is a brief dry epitome of a casualty more appalling, more fatal, and marked from beginning to end with a greater and protracted intensity of excitement than any that has occurred in England within our recollection. Now that all is over, it were useless to dwell upon the heart sickening details. All that can be learnt from the most minute narrative of events to lead us to practical inferences of the slightest value, or to guide us to the performance of duty, may be learnt equally well without harrowing up the feelings afresh by a repetition of the of the sad details of this tragic story.

The time will come we devoutly trust and confidently believe, and perhaps is not far distant, when those of our countrymen whose lot it is to labour in darkness and in danger deep down below the surface of the earth, and to win from murky depths the mineral which is a principle source of the wealth to the country and a means of comfort to every household in the land, will be able to carry on their toilsome operations, if not as commodiously and pleasantly to themselves, as safely at least as the farm labourers who prepare the soil for our crops, and who reap them when they have arrived at maturity. Every accident, and, alas! they are sadly frequent, which overtakes these hardy delvers, contributes its share towards attracting careful attention to a field for beneficent exploration and study in which the triumphs yet to be won will be appreciated alike by the votaries of science, economy and philanthropy. Much has already been done to free from peril the occupation of miners. Several inventions have been made and generally adopted, and some laws have been enacted the effect of which has ver materially lessened the dangers and mitigated the hardships of those who accept for themselves and their families a vocation sinularly devoid of pleasant associations at best. We are apt enough while enjoying the fruits of these poor men's toil as to be utterly incurious as to the cost to human thews and sinews, and, we may add to domestic comfort and peace to which they are obtained. We content ourselves with the blessing without caring to inquire as to the process by which it has been placed within our reach. It is only when some terrible calamity occurs that we are startled by a discovery of the habitual risks, privations, exposure, and fatigue which have been unmurmuringly encountered in order to supply us with the raw material of so many of our means of civilisation and so large a proportion of our fireside enjoyments. Such painful occurrences as that at Hartley Pit give us, if we may say so, a section of mining life laying bare to our perception and sympathies the various strata of hardship, amounting at times to misery, which overlap each other in a miner's ordinary occupation, but which are usually concealed from all but initiated or inquisitive eyes. Nor is the information thus diffused through the public mind entirely unproductive. Many minds are set athinking as to how the lot of these men may be alleviated, and science is stimulated to make active and perservering search for protective agencies in their behalf. This is almost the only compensation which humanity derives from these terrible calamities. We may reasonably hope that the Hartley Pit tragedy will be the occasion of a large eventual amelioration of the miner's hazardous calling; and that in this as in many other instances out of the frightful death of some of its members Divine Providence will deduce means for bettering the normal conditions of all the rest.

One very obvious method of diminishing risk the workmen in coal pits is the provision of duplicate means of entry and exit. It cannot be pretended, indeed, that the catastrophe at Hartley Pit was needed to suggest this common-sense precaution. The habits of every animal that burrows in the ground, to say nothing of the mining experience of men capable of reflection, must long since demonstrated the reckless negligence of congregating men in narrow galleries running hundreds of feet beneath the earth's surface, and exposed to a frightful variety of destructive contingencies, without opening for them some other way of return to light, safety, and home than the single one by which they descend to their work. It is said that the pit men have long agitated for the adoption of this indispensable requisite for their security, that in some instances their desires has been acceeded to, and that no reason but that of economy can be assigned for neglecting to provide this additional means of safety and comfort in every coalmine in the kingdom. What the dictates of common sense and the suggestions of humanity have hitherto failed to enforce, the recent calamity, no doubt, will be the means of obtaining. Already, we understand the Home Secretary, Sir George Grey, has put into circulation a series of official queries, the drift of which leads us to infer that he contemplates early legislation on the subject. We are always better pleased when such arrangements as are plainly necessary for the protection of working men originate with, or are spontaneously adoptedby, their employers. But in all hazardous occupations, it would seem, the interposition of law between masters and men for the security of the latter, has been found necessary; and, assuredly, if in any conceivable case such legislative interference can be held to be justifiable and imperiously called for, mine proprietors can have no reason to complain of the meddling propensities of the Legislature in insisting upon their provision of a duplicate shaft in every case in which men are sent below the surface of the earth to dig the coal from which they derive their wealth.

It is impossible to pass the Hartley Pit catastrophe under review without paying our tribute of heartfelt admiration of the bravery, the devotion, the disinterestedness, the perseverance, the heroism so largely displayed in the efforts made to rescue the imprisoned miners from their impending doom. Those efforts, continued over a space of many days, have made us proud of our countrymen, and have disclosed to us a rich vein of character embedded beneath the the uncomely exterior of a rude and uncultivated class which ought to raise them in the estimation of the public and bespeak for them its warmest sympathy.

Within a few yards of the mouth of that coalpit-shaft occurred, we are bold to say, mainifestations of self sacrificing courage, of magnanimous oblivion of self, of cool presence of mind in view of appalling dangers, of readiness to do and to dare anything for the sake of saving life - more numerous, more heroic, and fitted to shed a brighter lustre upon our common nature than have distinguished any battle-field of which history makes mention. The risks voluntarily encountered by not a few, and which were all eager to encounter if thereby any good end could be gained, were equal to those of a deadly seige. But, although necessity was laid upon no one, no one flinched. The work to be done must be done in darkness, occasionally almost in solitude , quite out of sight of applauding companions and the only excitement to sustain men in the doing of it was that which grows out of sympathy with the suffering. Yet there was no task, however perilous, which human ingenuity could devise, or human energy perform, for which there were not more than a sufficient number of volunteers; there was no visible effect produced by the destructive agencies that surrounded them upon the working companies who went below which scared from the same active but dangerous service those who waited above to take their turn. I ever men have earned the thanks of their countrymen these men have; and right sorry and ashamed we are that political etiquette, whilst it formally acknowledges, and by acknowledgment, rewards the courage of men when for patriotic ends they risk life to destroy it, will not admit of displaying similar gratitude to , and of conferring similar honour upon, men equally brave and patriotic who risk life to save it.

An admiring and kind hearted-community will doubtless do that which the Houses of Parliament are precluded by tradition from undertaking - and in so doing will only be following the example of their beloved Queen. The Royal widow and mother of orphaned Princes is not so absorbed in her own domestic grief but that she can hasten to offer her tribute of sympathy to the lowliest who suffer from a like bereavment. It is, after all, but little that the pity or benevolence of the public can do towards supplying to a stricken village of mourners all that they have lost by the calamity that has snatched from them the stay and staff of family life. But the little that it can do we trust it will do promptly and generously, and with a spontaneity indicative of genuine fellow-feeling. Indeed, we cannot harbour a doubt about it. The magnamimity of which we have had such glowing specimens among the mining class cannot but reproduce some semblance of its self through all ranks of society; and while but few, from the nature of the case, could be volunteers in facing danger and death to avert possible calamity, there will be many who, now that the calamity has happened, will cheerfully come forward to mitigate its effects, and, by showing kindness to the hopelessly breaved, prove how gladly they would have done their part, if the duty had been assigned them, in attempting to prevent the bereavement.


The bodies of the unfortunate miners who, as recorded in our last number, died of suffocation in Hartley pit , have been brought to the surface and buried. After much labour, attended with the greatest danger, the sinkers were enabled commence their melancholy work last Saturday morning, and early on Sunday morning the whole of the bodies, it is believed, have been recovered. From the various accounts given by the reporters of the local journals we select the following particulars:--


By actively working Friday se'nnight Mr Coulson's sinkers got the cloth bratticing completed; and, having erected a platform below the yard seam, which directed a good current of air into that intake, and Mr. T. R. Foster and Mr. Coulson, who had gone down the shaft and examined it carefully, having come to "bank" and reported that the shaft was clear of gas, and that all was safe, a large working gang of colliers proceeded down into the workings to send the bodies to bank.

As soon as the men got into the yard seam they encountered the first dead man, a fine looking fellow, who was sitting, apparently sleeping, in seat made in the side of the seam coal only a few feet from the shaft. His name was John Galligar. His flannel trousers were doubled up, and he looked as if he was resting after a hard day's toil. Five or ten yards within the seam is a gallery five or six yards from the shaft. Here a large body of men and boys were lying in rows -- those next',the wall of the coal sleeping in a sitting position, and the next row in advance of them resting on the others' knees. They were lying in three rows on each side, all quiet and placid, as if sleeping off a heavy day's work. Boys were lying with their heads on the shoulders of their fathers; and one poor fellow had his arms clasped around the neck of his brother. One or two brothers were locked in each other's arms, but all lying as if death had crept quiety upon them and stole away their lives whilst they might be dreaming of home and liberty. Beyond the company of sleepers a man lay propping open a door, as if he had resisted the poison of the mine longer than the rest, and had arisen to open one of the doors to bring a little more fresh air in. Two men were lying on the ashes at the furnace, but beyond that point, and farther within the workings, we believe the working parties have not deemed it wise or prudent to go until the whole of the bodies have been sent up out of the galleries and those parts next the shaft, where they lie within an area of something like fifty or sixty yards. The men that went down were in charge of a viewer.


It was at first intended to coffin the bodies down the pit, and send them to bank; but, as it was discovered that they were not so far advanced in decomposition as was at first anticipated, it was determined to save time by bringing them up in slings and coffining them at bank. A considerable staff of surgeons was assembled at the pit mouth, and every precaution was adopted, both at the pit mouth and in the workings, by the plentiful supply and use of disinfecting fluids, to neutralise any ill effects that were likely to arise through the effluvium from the bodies. It was hoped that the pitmen, who were urged to do so by the medical men for sanitary reasons, would have prevailed upon the widows to allow the bodies not to be removed to their dwellings , but out of regard to the feelings of the poor widows they absolutely refused to interfere. A long relay of colliery team-carts was kept on the road leading from the pit. A large number of pitmen who remained at bank , as well as others who were employed below, were each furnished with a pair of gloves , and about a quarter before eleven the signal was given to the engine-man, and the first two bodies were brought to bank. They were slung by the middle, and were attired in the usual pit garb -- a flannet jacket and waistcoat, blue stockings, and strong shoes, the knees and part of the leg exposed, as is seen in the dress of a Highlander. The first two men brought to bank did seem to have suffered seriously from the effects of starvation. Several of the men brought up had some corn in their pockets, evidently a part of the division which they must have made from the horse bin in the stable. During daylight, with the exception of some two or three upon whom decomposition had rapidly set in, the aspect of the dead was far from repulsive: many had evidently slept quietly away. Their clothes were drenched with wet, arising from being brought up the shaft, down which the water seemed to pour in a perfect torrent. The bodies, as soon as they were brought to bank, were wrapped in a cotton sheet, and, if identified, their names were incribed on the coffins in which they were placed. The coffins were put upon rolleys, and removed to the carts in waiting, and thence immediately taken to their bereaved homes. Those not identified were coffined as "unknown," written in chalk on the coffins, which were then taken away to a storehouse, and, thence removed to their homes as soon as identified. Many pitiful and distressing scenes were witnessed. The pit rows in which are the cottages of the pitfolk, are no great distance from the mine---indeed, a view of the shaft can be commanded from most of the cottage doors. Upon the discovery of the bodies in the mine the "fountain of tears" had been nearly dried up. But, as each poor wife began to put her house in order to receive home the remains of her lost husband, or a mother her child, the scene of misery in this bereaved community cannot be described. And it is but right to state that, while large crowds of persons were assembled round the pit all day, but few persons led away by curiousity obtruded themselves upon the sorrows of those poor widows and fatherless children by wandering about the rows of cottages.

Early on Sunday morning the work of bringing up the bodies of the unfortunate sufferers was ended. At that time 199 bodies had been recovered, and, after a very careful search through the workings of the middle seam, no more could be found. Notwithstanding that the ventilation of the further workings is still very incomplete, two or three daring men penetrated to the "staple" which communicates with the lower seam, where they found that the water had risen in the lower workings to the height of 18ft. It will therefore be impossible for some time to get at those whose retreat may have been cut off in the lower seam.


During Sunday 20,000 persons congregated around the pit. The larger portion of them were coliers some of whom had travelled a long distance. The scene in the pit rows this morning will never be. Almost every cottage contained a coffin, with the remains of a lost one, some two, one five, and one poor woman had no less than seven coffins piled up in her cottage, containing the remains of her husband, five sons, and a boy they had brought up and educated. The meeting of friends was deeply afflicting. The houses of the bereaved looked models of cleanliness and order, the coffins containing the remains were laid upon the well-known pitman's four-post bedsteads, and white coverlets over them. Long strings of carts arrived at one o'clock, when the coffins were brought to the doors, previous to being lifted into the carts, and the hymn, "Oh God, our help in ages past," was sung in mournful cadence, amid the wailing of the widows and the sobs of the orphan children. The effect was almost overpowering. The larger portion of the internments (about 150) took place at Earsdon Church, in a piece of ground given by the Duke of Northumberland.

Mr Hugh Taylor, of Backworth, and other influential gentlemen were present to see that every decent respect was shown to the remains. The other bodies were interred at Horton and Cramlington.

During the day various ministers of religion suitable addresses from the pit-heap, and both there and at the burial ground the people assembled behaved with greatest decorum.


Some idea of the extent of the frightful disaster will be gained from statistical returns that have been compiled by the parochial officers, assisted by the officers of the colliery. The following is a statement of the number of the nearest relatives only of those whose lives have been lost in the pit:--

Widows .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 103
Children .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..257
Sisters supported by brothers .. .. .. . 27
Orphans .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 2
Parents supported by sons .. .. .. .. .. ..16
Aunt supported by nephew .. .. .. .. .. .. .1
Grandmother supported by grandson ..1

Total .. .. 407

407 living, and 219 dead, including those who were killed by the falling of the cage, and yet those figures only indicate those immediately

(Page 107) affected by the calamity. The male populaion of three pit hamlets have been swept away at one fell swoop; and of all the men employed at this important colliery, which but nine days ago was in active operation, only twenty-five remain alive.

There is one widow less than in the returns made. A wife of one of the lost men was very ill with consumption at the time that her husband made his last fatal descent into the mine. As he did not return at the wonted time of finishing the "shift" he was in she got anxious about him, and, after a day or two had elapsed and no news of his release came, the fatal truth had to be told her. It was her deathblow. She languished and died, and on Sunday her remains were interred beside those of him she loved.


As stated in our last number, a telegram was received from her Majesty on Wednesday week asking intelligence as to the hopes of saving the men. The following is a copy of the telegram:--

Osborne, Jan. 22.

General Grey, Osborne, To the Viewer of New Hartley Colliery Shields ---

The Queen is most anxious to hear that there are hopes of saving the poor people in the colliery, for whom her heart bleeds

In reply to her Majesty's kind-hearted inquiry Mr Carr telegraphed that there were still faint hopes of the men, or a portion of them, being recovered alive. At a later hour a telegram was despatched to Osborne announcing the finding of the bodies.

In the course of Thursday evening a second communication was received from the Queen, through Sir C. Phipps, expressing her Majesty's concern on hearing of the discoveries the previous afternoon, and requesting information as to the condition of the families who have been plunged into such deep affliction. The telegram ran as follows:---

Osborne to North Shields, Jan. 23, 1862

Sir C. Phipps to Messrs Carr Brothers, Hartley, Newcastle ---

The Queen has been deeply afflicted by the dreadful news from Hartley. Her Majesty feels the most sincere sympathy for the poor widows and orphans. What is doing for them? I write by to-night's post.

To this welcome expression of Royal sympathy Mr. G. B. Forster replied in the following terms:--

Measures have been adopted for the immediate relief of the poor people. A public meeting is to be held to-morrow at Newcastle for forming a permanent relief fund. There are 406 women and children left destitute.

The following letter written to Mr. Carr, the head viewer of the colliery, by command of her Majesty, was read by the Incumbent of Earsdon at a large religious meeting held on the pit-heap on Sunday:----

Osborne, Jan 23, 1862

Sir, ---- The Queen, in the midst of her own overwhelming grief, has taken the deepest interest in the mournful accident at Hartley, and upto the last had hoped that at least a considerable number of the poor people might have been recovered alive. The appalling news since received has afflicted the Queen very much.

Her Majesty commands me to say that her tenderest sympathy is with the poor widows and mothers, and that her own misery only makes her feel the more for them.

Her Majesty hopes that everythingwill be done, as far as possible, to alleviate their distress, and her Majesty will have a sad satisfaction in assisting in such a measure.

Pray let me know what is doing.

I have this honour to be your obedient servant,


The clergy are visiting the bereaved, and read the Queen's letter to them. It is found to be a great comfort and a consolation to them.



Section of the workings



Mining memrobilia

Section of the workings

Page 105



The sum stated to be required for the permanent relief of the widows and orphans is 17,000 ; but that amount is likely to be soon exceeded. Several thousands have already been subscribed in Northumberland alone, and efforts are being made throughout the country to lessen the force of the calamity which has overtaken the sufferers of Hartley. Her Majesty has subscribed 200 ; the Earl of Durham's name is down for a similar amount ; whilst the Duke of Northumberland gave 300. But the most pleasing feature of this movement is the heartiness with which it has been taken up by the working classes, and especially the miners of the country, who are eagerly putting down their mites in support of so commendable an object.


The body of the overman Amour, who would take command of the party below, and in whose courage and experience and fertility of resource great confidence was felt, was one of the earliest brought up, and in a memorandum-book in his pocket was found the following touching but consolatory record:---

Friday afternoon, half-past two. -- Edward Armstrong, Thomas Gledson, John Hardie, Thomas Bell and others took extremely ill. We had also a prayer meeting at a quarter to two, when Tibbs, H. Sharp, J. Campbell, H. Gibson, and William Palmer.. (The sentence is incomplete). Tibbs exhorted to us again, and Sharp also.

From this, which is all the intelligence that is likely to come to us from below of the dreadful scene, we learn not only the resigned frame of mind in which the poor fellows met their fate, but also that the gas had begun to take effect on them at an earlier period than was supposed.

On Monday a large collection of the tin flasks, candle boxes, and other articles which miners use, was brought up, and all day long the heap was wistfully turned over by the poor widows and orphans, each anxious to discover some memorial of their lost relatives. On one of the tin flasks was found, scratched in rude characters---- probably just at the moment the writer had discovered the full horrors of his situation---- "Mercy , O God!" On another were scratched the words, "Friday afternoon. My Dear Sarah---- I leave you," ---- as though the poor fellow had succumbed in the act of taking an affectionate farewell of his wife.


The accident at Hartley Colliery having proved to one of such terrible magnitude, our readers maybe interested in possessing an accurate description of the mine and the nature of the accident:---

The Hartley New Colliery is hundred fathoms deep. In it there are three seams of coal. The first, or "high main," is completely worked out, and, just as completely cut off from other parts of the colliery. It is , in fact, a large cave in the shaft; and, as the rubbish passed it in its flight, it was used as a receptacle in which to cast the material dug up from the fallen mass. The next halting-place was the yard seam, and thirty fathoms below that was the "low main." Here the men were at work, and this place would be flooded in a short time after the suspension of pumping operations, caused by the breaking of the beam of the pump. The men were not, however, obliged to remain in the "low main." From that place to the yard seam there is a passage by which the men obtained access to it. But the mass of debris was stopped in its fall before it came to the yard seam.

As everybody knows by this time, the workings of the Hartley Mine were reached by a single shaft, the diameter of which was 12ft. For purposes of ventilation this was divided into two equal parts by a wooden partition called in mining language a "brattice," which ran down it from top to bottom. One side served as a downcast pit, by which the air was carried down to the workings,and, having been passed round them by ordinary means, rushed to the surface again by the other half of the shaft, which thus became the upcast. For all purposes of ventilation this arrangement appears to have been perfectly adequate.

1862 broke beam

In the downcast were worked the cases for the passage of the men and minerals, and in the upcast worked the pumps, which were of great force. The pit is what we call a very "wet" one--that is, there is a large flow of water into it. The were capable of lifting 180 tons of water at each stroke, and their average working was from five to six strokes per minute. The mine is but a short distance from the sea; in fact, from the pit's mouth you may see the masts of a small brig lying at anchor off the coast; and, as the water at the bottom of the pit is perceptibly salt, it is probable that the sea is the principal feeder. The engine from which the pumps derive their motive power is placed close to the pits, and the great beam to which their "spears" or rods were attached projected over the upcast, and worked right over it a considerable height. The water was brought up at two lifts, first to the upper seam, about 240 feet from the surface, and then to bank. There were, consequently, two sets of pumps and two spurs--- one passing from the outer end or nose of the beam down the upcast to the pumps fixed in the shaft, and the other fixed to the hinder end of the beam, which worked up and down a "staple," or narrow shaft, communicating with the upper seam, and again, most unfortunately, with the upper seam only. On the morning of Thursday 16th, the beam, without warning, snapped in two, slightly in front of its axis. It was just making an up-stroke at the time, and the detached half fell, nose first, right into the centre of the shaft. It struck first against that part of the "brattice" which rises above the level of the ground without doing it much damage, rebounded against the side of the shaft, and then went down, carrying with it all the bratticing and most of the timber with which the sides of the shaft were lined.

1862 fractured piston cap

The cage, which was ascending the shaft at the time, was carried away and the ruins stuck fast about six fathoms above the middle seam, thus blocking off all access to the men below. No satisfactory cause has yet been assigned for the breaking of the beam. It is an immense casting, weighing more than forty tons. Looking at its massive proportions, it is easy to see how little anyone could have expected such a failure. It is well proportioned, and the metal seems to be of excellent quality. The fracture has revealed a large hole in the casting some six inches long and four inches deep, which at first sight appears to be a honeycomb, but which is, in fact, a natural shrinkage in the process of cooling, hardly to be avoided in castings of this size. All the engineers who have inspected it agree that it did not weaken the beam in any appreciable degree, and , in fact, that the breakage is not to be accounted for by any inherent defect in the beam.

THE ILLUSTRATIONS Our present Impression contains a series of Engravings, from Sketches by our Special Artist, in connection with the fatal accident at Hartley Pit. The Engraving on the first page, representing the entrance to the shaft, as viewed from the "horse-hole", shows two miners--two of that gallant band, that forlorn hope, who day and night went with their lives in their hands on their errand of mercy -- descending to clear away the wreck with the vain hope of rescuing their comrades alive. Here-with are given a sectional view of the workings showing where the dead bodies were discovered ; and Engravings of the fractured piston and of the broken beam of the pumping -- engine, the snapping in twain of which caused the dire catastrophe. Portraits of some of the men who most ditinguished themselves in trying to rescue the buried pitmen are engraved on page 110. Mr Coulson is the engineer under whose superintendence the whole of the explorations for the buried miners were carried on, everything having been done by his instructions and under his eye. Messrs. Emerson, Shields, and Wilkinson were master sinkers working under Mr. Coulson. William Shields went down the pit to bring out those who were overcome with gas in searching, and was one of the first to discover the dead bodies in the yard seam. George Emerson was the first who entered the yard seam, and brought up the tools consisting of two axes and a saw, belonging to the immured men. Thomas Watson was one of the men who were

(Page 108)

"riding" up the shaft in the iron cage when the beam fell. It is a most touching incident of this part of the calamity that one of the wounded men prayed in the midst of his sufferings, and that Watson, one of the few who miraculously escaped, slid down from the cage where he had been suspended and prayed with the dying man till released him from his sufferings. Robert Turnbull made himself useful in many ways. At the outset of the terrible affair he made a vow, which he religiously kept, that he would not sleep until the imprisoned men were rescued or their doom was known. Among his many duties he undertook the arduous task of mediating between the anxious and uneasy thousands who daily and nightly thronged the pit's mouth and the insulted men who were trying their utmost to extricate the buried men. During the operations of clearing away the wreck there was great excitement amongst the men working under Mr. Coulson in consequence of some foolish individuals amongst those around the pit having expressed an intention of shooting both Mr. Coulson and his men if they did not proceed at once to get out the bodies of the men. This it was impossible to do until the shaft was made secure by the cribs which were in course of being put in. In consequence of these threats Mr.Coulson and his men, with a natural feeling of indignation at such unmerited treatment from some of those in whose behalf they were risking their lives every minute, intimated their intention of leaving the work as it was forth-with. To reassure the gallant fellows, and to show them that the bulk of the men around had full confidence in them, and deprecated the threats uttered by their foolish and unthinking companions, a meeting was held on one of the pit heaps, and Turnbull was appointed chairman. He vigorously addressed the meeting, pointing out the folly of such an interference with the workmen under Mr. Coulson, who were using their utmost exertions for the recovery of the bodies. After some remarks from other speakers, the following resolution was adopted unanimously :-- "That this meeting has every confidence in the men at work under Mr. Coulson, and that we give them every assistance and encouragement in our power till the work is accomplished."

Page 109

(From a Correspondent)
The harrowing details of the New Hartley calamity and other recent colliery accidents call loudly for an investigation as to the cause of such disastrous events, and demand a full discussion of the precautions essential to their avoidance. Two of these misfortunes in particular, attributable, as they plainly have been, to the absurd and antiquated use of “plank brattice,” or partition of 5-inch woodwork inserted in the shafts of mines, between the ingoing and returning currents of air, demand our present attention more particularly. The two accidents to which we shall now advert are those of Page Bank Colliery, in Durham, which occurred on the 30th of September, 1858, and the recent appalling one at New Hartley Colliery, in Northumberland.
The cause of the first-named disaster was an accidental ignition of the timber work, or” brattice,” separating the fresh and return air in the pit, which immediately interposed a flaming gulf of fire between eighty-six of the work men who were at their duties in the galleries of the mine and their brother miners who were safe on the surface. This was further aggravated by the ignition of a blower of gas in the shaft, which was only ultimately extinguished by the explosion of five quarter-barrels of blasting powder. In order to extinguish the fire in the burning shaft there were no less than thirteen fire- engines at the place at one time. The results of this accident were that out of the eighty-six persons buried alive ten died from suffocation. At the inquest held on this accident much talent and ability were brought to bear. The conclusion (after a careful perusal of the evidence, and of the remarks of the Coroner and the Government Inspector) is irresistible—that had there been two shafts for the mine properly arranged, so as to enable a prompt rescue, in place of the three inches of wood which formed the division in the one shaft into two openings, the whole of these ten lives would have been saved, and that the entombment of the eighty-six would have been of the most trivial duration. Nay, more ; it is most probable that had there been two properly-arranged shafts, the one devoted entirely as an upcast, and devoid of timber or combustible material, the accident would never have occurred.
It will be unnecessary to describe at length the details of the sad case at Hartley Pit; suffice it to say that the shaft was l2ft. in diameter, divided in the usual way by a brattice of 3-inch planking, well fitted together, thus separating the ingoing from the outcoming current of air, and arranged so as to afford space for drawing the coals out of the mine on one side and lifting water on the other. The effect of the snapping of the beam was to hurl it down with amazing velocity and force it against this brattice, sweeping away every loose or friable material which formed the sides of the shaft, and jamming all together so securely as to defy all the efforts of the most able workmen to disengage the rubbish, save at the cost of many days of almost superhuman exertion. Good air there would, no doubt, be in the mine; but from the moment of plugging up the shaft in the way just described the vast cavern of the mine would be neither more nor less than a stagnant pool of air, which was slowly yet surely being diminished each moment by the rising floods into a yet more stagnant arid poisonous prison for human beings. Added to this, we have also the further corruption of the air by the supposed production of carbonic oxide in the furnace, which might occur immediately after the severance of the wooden partition in the shaft. If human ingenuity were taxed to devise a plan for the destruction of human beings, so as to leave the least possible means of rescue, it is difficult to imagine a scheme more appallingly certain to do so, or which could realise more fully the horrors of the imagination of Dante in his “ Inferno.”
Several questions arise out of this sad accident which must now be discussed.
First amongst them is that arising out of the position, geological and physical, of the Hartley coal district. Was it absolutely necessary that two shafts should he avoided at New Hartley, and one shaft be converted into two by the insertion of a” brattice” of 3-inch fir planks?
Secondly, admitting, for the sake of argument, that a bratticed shaft was unavoidable, could no better material be found than the frail division of wood?
Thirdly, with reference to the material forming the beam. Is cast iron the most proper metal for this important purpose? or could no effective measures be adopted in order to lift the water which would be less fraught with danger to the works and the lives of all concerned?
In former times, when the works of a mine were opened out by means of a drift or tunnel going in at the hillside, with the upcast-shaft sunk down to meet it at the top, the means of ventilation and the water clearing were effected in this most simple manner. When, however, deeper seams were to be sought, and in the search quicksands were to be passed, as well as water-bearing strata, at great cost, the bratticed shaft was invented to expedite and economise the winning of collieries.
So simply was the effect of two shafts thus produced that the practice became general in the counties of Durham and Northumberland; and even to the present day it is found so convenient an arrangement that many cases exist in which, though justified by no difficulties, large single shafts are being sunk, which will, as soon as finished or necessity may require, be divided by brattices into as many compartments as may be needed for the work in hand.
Hence, fortified as this process is by the practice of the most eminent mining engineers, it cannot be wondered at that it is so general; nay, more, there are instances in which two separate shafts are sunk and finished upon distinct royalties, by different proprietors, and in which, as in the cases of Seaton and Seaham, near Sunderland (both now in the possession of the Marchioness of Londonderry), the brattice Is preserved as an essential of ventilation when it might be avoided, and distinct shafts of moat capacious area made available for the downcast and upcast of these extensive mines. So much is this the practice in these two counties that we find the highest authorities appearing at inquests to maintain its prudence; and even the Government inspector of the district, as in the case of Page Bank, although candidly admitting that safety would be much enhanced by having more than one opening in the solid strata, qualified this admission by an assertion that, had a fire occurred in the downcast, the lives would have been similarly jeopardised; forgetting that the element of fire, as from a spark from the furnace, would then have been avoided; to say nothing of the fact that much less timber would have been needed, and that torches would have been easily avoidable in the way they were used at that pit; as well as that, by a simple mode of management, and the extinguishing instantly of the furnace fire, every man could have been speedily rescued.
There can be no difficulty In the adoption of Iron for bratticing. except the expense; but it may be a question whether It could be so prepared, by galvanising or otherwise, as to be of a durable nature, and also whether its great cost would not make a new and distinct shaft the most economical.
With reference to the material forming the beam, we are fortified by the practice of the most eminent engineers, who, In the construction of the magnificent bridges of the Conway or Menai Straits, would never have taken wrought iron for their work had they convinced themselves that cast Iron was reliable and yet the cases are similar. The question certainly deserves attention. Indeed, wrought iron has been introduced, hut we are not aware
with what degree of success.
In conclusion, we may add that It is impossible to traverse the great northern coalfields, as we have done, without being convinced that a great prejudice in favour of these bratticed shafts, and against distinct openings in the solid strata. So long as this state of things obtains, It Is obvious that we shall have further accidents like that at New Hartley. To avoid It, we would suggest that in future calamities mining engineers be called from distant districts to elucidate the truth at the coroners’ Inquiries, and that the gentlemen introduced be entirely unbiased, and left to form their own judgment. _ Let every mining engineer in the north, be he mining Inspector or otherwise, reflect that In the adoption of a bratticed shaft he simply places three inches of fir plank between hundreds of his fellow-men and eternity, and he will for ever abjure so pernicious a dogma, even though it Involve an extra cost in the first Instance and gain him a temporary character for extravagance. This done, he may rely upon having removed one cause of misfortune from the great northern coalfields, so celebrated as the nursery of talent and industry

COLLIERY SHAFTS. – A discussion on the subject of single shaft collieries took place at a meeting of Manchester Geological Society on Tuesday week. The speakers included two colliery inspectors and other gentlemen of experience in matters; and the opinion was unanimous against the system of sinking only a single shaft and relying upon the precarious expedient of brattices.

Page 110 also contains a view of the pit's mouth from the railway, taken shortly after the fatal accident.

1862 hartley disaster page 110


The New Hartley Calamity February 8th Page 156



Page 111

One of the most painful scenes in connection with this sad event, the removal from the bank of the coffins containing the bodies of the miners, illustrated on page 111, completes the series. Here, also Turnbull bore prominent part in the proceedings. As each body was brought to bank and placed in a coffin he called out the name, when known, or gave such a description of the person and dress as might lead to its recognition. The coffin was then put on a roller, taken across the bridge, and given up to the charge of the relatives

1862 hartley disaster page 111



Poem "The Hartley Calamity" by Joseph Skipsey

New Hartley Colliery Disaster

New Hartley and Seaton Sluice

The New Hartley Families

Durham Mining Museum

Co-Curate archive












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