FATAL COLLIERY EXPLOSION AT KAITANGATA.
EVERY MAN IN THE MINE KILLED. THIRTY FOUR LIVES LOST. TWENTY-FIVE WIDOWS AND ONE HUNDRED AND FIVE CHILDREN LEFT DESTITUTE. Monday morning. Friday the 21st of February, eighteen hundred and seventy-nine will be long remembered in sadness throughout Otago and New Zealand. It will be noted in Almanacs henceforth, and repeated by firesides as the date on which the most terrible disaster in the history of the Colony happened. Previously there had been wholesale loss of life by land and „ sea. Soldiers had fallen fighting, and men wcmen and children had been massacred during the fierce and fitful : i struggles witb the Maori, which for years marked our occupancy of the North Island. Vessels had sailed from our ports, and neither they nor their passengers had ever been seen by human eye again. Ships had been dashed against rockbound parts of our coast, had strewn our shores with wreckage and had carried death into many a family. But it was reserved for the disaster at Kaitangata to cause a loss most sudden, horrid, and appalling in the very midst of those whom that loss most affected, and strong men, bread winners, husbands, fathers, and sons, in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, lay dead within a few yards of all on earth they loved and lived for. This it is that will in future single out the late colliery explosion from the records of other and previous griefs and will mark the sorrowful circumstances that attended it. The Kaitangata colleries are situated in the broken range of hills that fringe the coast from Dunedin southwards and that at the estuary ofthe Clutha river experience a lengthy break. Tbey are at the southernmost point of the line thus indicated, which throughout its whole ex. tent is more or less coal bearing. The principal pit belongs to the Kaitangata Railway and Coal Company, and on Friday morning last, about eight o'clock, thirtyfour men and boys entered its' mouth ''never to return alive. -"The '"workings consist of ia long drive 1 sonic 450 feet in extent a!t the' head of a blind gully and following the
- line of its bed.' The drive rises perceptibly • as it pierces the hill, and has one air shaft, timbered* for some height above the surface,<about niidway between ies extremities. Oh the right hand side of its upper end r ( :,ai?e 'What -are known as " the old wdi?kVv iingst" ■■"■ This 1 is- the place from which for a considerable 1 1 time the ' coal ■ wast won j ; but i for manymohthspast ithas been abandoned, and its accumulations of fire damp 1 havebeen shut off from danger by a strong v door supposed- to be i kept always locked, '* ahid the key retained by the manager. On the left hand side of the main drive are the V new workings; and ib was into these that the great 'majority of the workmen -went on Friday, leaving 1 Only 'in the drive the • few: whose: occupations were carried on -there? '■ At* the foot of the guliy ; and along the^ adjoiningVbanks of the" Clutha river • is situated the village of Kaitangata, and the houses of the miners. • ■ At some time bewteen eight and nine o'clock in the morning of Friday, what maybe best described as a dull and sudden thudj resembling.* the sharp shock of an earthquake, was felt throughout Kaitan- • i gata, and the mines adjacent to the Company's, and immediately after a sullen cloud of sickly smoke was seen in the still < air, banging over the gully in which that, ' iand< another mine are situated ' There was 1 a ; rush from all parts to the spot, and as somehow or 1 another it was the name of Shores 1 4 mine that had been previously connected with apprehensions of danger, few of those who were coming so hastily together imagined where the real seat of the calamity was situated. The wives and i relatives of the thirty-four who were in the company's pit were thus situated, and when they came to the spot, and quickly realised what had happened, their agony was fearful to witness. It was soon seen that an explosion, terrible in its effects, had taken place somewhere within the workings * a boy, who was driving a horse about forty or fifty yard 3 within the tunnel, was blown from its mouth, as from that of a cannon, and when picked up, fifty yards distant, lingered a mere crushed^ and slightly breathing body, for a few moments, and expired. At the mouth of the drive, a house used for keeping tools etc in. was driven for several yards, and one end was shattered by trucks blown against it. Immediately in front of it a man had been engaged tipping the contents of the trucks as they were brought out ofthe mine into railway waggons beneath, and though blown forward with great violence at the moment of the explosion he was fortunately sent under the shed, whence he was extricated without having sustained much damage. The broken trucks that had been shot out from the front of the drive lay around, and for some moments this was all that could be known' of the extent of the disaster. But as it was evident that in the recesses of the mine were hidden the worst results of the explosion, and as none could measure their extent, whilst all feared the worst, so the scene at the pit's mouth became one that might appal the stoutest heart, The wives and mothers and the children ofthe unfortunate men known to be within the mine huddled together on a little knoll at its mouth, and mourned the misfortune that had befallen them. The loud cries of some were mingled with the suppressed sobbing of others, whilst the inability of some of the younger children to comprehend at once the nature of the evil that had overtaken them rendered the grief of the elder more heartrending. In the meantime an almost frantic, and at first unorganised effort was made by miners from other pits, and by men of other occupations to rescue those who might remain alive in the pit, or more properly speaking, to ascertain if any were yet alive. Their efforts were made in heroism, for the atmosphere within the pit was deadly ; but the brave fellows, heeding nothing but the uncertainty of the fate of others, hearing nothing but the in-; ward voice, which seemed calling them to give succor, pressed on, and, despite the fatal fumes which it became plain occupied every inch of the mine, endeavored to penetrate its recesses, only to be brought back fainting and half dead. The partitions, in technical language " brattices," which were used for keeping up the vention of the minejhad been blown down, And temporary efforts at their replacement had to be made before • anything in the way of organised attempts at rescue could Ibe carried out. And then it was found that the fatal after-damp which follows on ah\ explosion of fire-damp was so strong that it was almost impossible to hope that any of the thirty-four who had entered the mine that morning full of life and vigor could be yet alive. In the meantime no definite news of the catastrophe had been sent to places beyond Kaitamgata, but brief telegrams throughout the provincial district and the Colony had told almost the worst that was to be feared, ;and the little that was to be hoped. In Milton and in Dunedin men told each other with bated breath that " something awful " had happened in the " Company's mine " at Kaitangata, and the 11.35 train from the latter place brought up the directors and various Dunedin officials of the Company, who, until they arrived upon the spot, were unaware of the nature, though they had been apprised in a manner of the extent of the accident. And the means for the temporary ventilation of the mine proving efficacious, to a certain extent, the rescuing parties, now organised into regular shifts, pressed on and about noon the body of a young man named Charles M'Donald was brought out. It was much disfigured and had evidently felt the full force ofthe explosion making down the main drive. This was followed by two bodies, those of "William Hay and Edward Beardsmore, and as these bore no traces of injury, but looked as if they were not dead but slept, some idea as to the exact nature of the accident began
to be formed' It was seen that the explosion must have taken place in the main drive or the old workings and not in the new, 'that those only who were in the drive or who 'might without any apparent reason have" been in the old workings had been hurled before it, batter-jd and bruised and violently kjlled, But the men in the new workings, of whom Hay ai:<l Beardsmore Were two, had heard but hot, fplt the explosion, and endeavouring to > cap© bad met V the deadly afterdamp and sank io to that painless sleep of death which scientists call asphyxia. As it was evident that the number of men left alive in Kaitangata, though doing their best, could not continuously keep up work, a telegram was sent to the Green Island Coal Field, and a special train from there arriving, about eight o'clock, brought more stout hearts and wi! ling hands, and so the melancholy ( work of rescue went on all night until by 8 o'clock on Saturday morning thirtytwo, bodies had been fetched back to the glorious air, which would never gladden them again., They mostly bore the calm and .peaceful: look of men whose deaths had been easy. A Amongst them was the body of the manager William, Hodge. All were now accounted for of those who had gone into the mine except two, one of them being a miner Andrew Jarvie, and the other Archibald Hodge, the submanager. As the upper end of the drive was approached, the workers had to contend against more than foul air in the shape of stuff thrown down by the explosion, and at last at two o'clock on Sunday morning the two hitherto missing bodies were recovered, that of Archibald Hodge being within the. old workings, that of Jarvie hear them in the drive, but both fearfully defaced aod injured. Then the whole story of the accident became as plain to read as a child's story book. For some reason or another Archibald Hodge had found access to and had entered the old workings with a naked light, the ordinary candle carried by miners. Then the firedamp had exploded, killing and mangling Hodge, Jarvie, and all in or near the main drive* and, as has been said, the others, making a despairing effort at escape, had met and fallen under the fumes of the after-damp, which permeated and penetrated every portion of the mine. And here is a proper place in which to discuss the cause of the disaster. The door into the old works was supposed te be kept invariably locked, and inside it was known to be danger and death. Indeed, there have not been wanting warnings that the fire-damp which furnishes so many fearful paragraphs in mail news from England, was prevalent in the Kaitangata mines. I believe lam correct in saying that one or two small explosions have already taken place in " The Company's Pit," and one miner, a Tokomairiro resident, quitted work some time ago, not it is stated without premonition of danger. Two hypotheses have been started to account for the act by which poor Archibald Hodge brought death upon himself and others. One is that there were a number of disused rails lying in the old workings, and that, needing them for use elsewhere, he went to see how best they could be removed. Another describes him as an eccentric man, not altogether in his right mind, and tells how he looked upon the old workings as concealing some mystery which he was determined to unravel. Outside of this is the question ofjbow far the mine could be considered safe to work in under the circumstances, but against this we have set up repeated and official inspections. As these questions will, no doubt, receive full investigation at the adjourned inquest which is to be held to-day. I leave them for the present, remarking, however, that at home, the ordihai*y, let alone the official inspect tors, of coal mines are men of high education and long expedience, receiving large salaries in compensation for what is supposed to be their knowledge. Here the official inspector, so I am told, gets some £150 a year. It is only fair to notice, however, that terrible colliery accidents occur under the home, as well as under the Colonial system. I may also say in 1 this connection, that I heard it openly and repeatedly said that had there been another air shaft in the main drive so as to have given at least the conditions required under an English Act, not a man in the new workings need have perished. But when an awful accident occurs there are never wanting for it, the truth of which can only be established at such an investigation as the Coroner's inquest I have mentioned. So far I have endeavoured, without branching aside to give details as to names and minor incidents, to attempt a continuous and succinct account or story of the horrible occurrence which has shown us that coal mining in New Zealand is not exempt from the dangers which attend it in the Old Country, but I may now perhaps be permitted to notice names and incidents which whilst not, supplying blanks in my narrative may still give information of a more precise and particular character. In the first place, then, the names of the dead, and the bereavements caused are as follow :-^- Samuel Coulter, leaves five children— one boy of 13 able to work, and a girl in Dunedin about 12. All the rest are young. He is an aged man, and arrived lately from Scotland in the ship Taranaki. David Buchanan, about 27, leaves a wife and two young children. He iv a son-in-law of Coulter, and is also a new arrival William Watson, about 40, leaves his father-in-law, who is a very old man, and four children, the eldest of whon is about 9 years. James Spiers leaves eight children the oldest 10 years and the youngest 4 months. Andrew Jarvie leaves eight children, three of whom are grown-up girls at service. Archibald Hodge, deputy manager, was unmarried. William Hodge, his brother, who was general manager, was about 35 ; a single man.
Thomas Smith, between 30 and 40, leaves a wife and five children. The latter all young and unable to work. Barney M*Gee, married, about 40, has a wife and three children unable to work. John Gage leaves a wife and three yonng ohildrsn. George Jarvie leaves a wife and two young ohildran. ■ ' ■R. and J. Hall, brothers. Williani ; Whinney, a yonng man, leavaa a wife and two children. James Beardsmore, senior, leaves a large family, five of whom are grown up, and unmarried, and three of whom are httle children. Joseph Beardsmore, brother of the last man, was; acting fireman of the mine. He leaves a wife and a grown up daughter, and two sons, one of whom is grown up. Edward Beardsmore, a young married man, and son of James Beardsmore, leaves a wife and . two children. Caleb Beardsmore, son-in- law of James Beardsmore, leaves a wife, three young children, and an aged parent. James Beardsmore, jun.. son of James Beardsmore, a young man, was unmarried. James Mblloy, an elderly man, and his two sons, John (aged 18) and Edward (aged 16), Mrs Molloy, who is about 60, has thus lost husband and sons, and has not a relative in the Colony. James Clining, 25, leaves a wife and three children. John Clark, late of Green Island, roadsman in the mine, leaves a wife and large family. John Ferguson leaves a wife aud five young children ; the oldest is about seven years of age. Charles M'Donald, son of John M'Donald pony driver, 14 years. Edward Dunn, son of George Dunn, a hawksr, 16 years. William S. Wilson, late of Green Island, and nephew of the Samsons of Green Island, leaves a wife and four children, all young. William Hay, a young man, unmarried, has ne relative in Kaitangata, but has a sister and brother in the Colony. His married sister, Mrs Hardie, is wife of a baker, late of Green Island." Kobert M'Millan, a young man, leaves a wife and four children, the eldest of whom is about six years. Mrs M'Millan's only relative in the Colony is a brother at Green Island. Thomas Frew, middle-aged man, leaves a wife and five children, residing in Duuedin. Two of them are grown up daughters. Thomas Black, an elderly single man of about 55 years, had no relatives in the district. He once had a lease of a coal quarry at Lovell's Flat, and is well known in Tokomairiro. Daniel Lockhart, ■ unmarried. Joseph Morton leaves a wife and child. The following are the names of the miners in the Company's employ who were off work at the time of the acci-dent:—-T. Barclay, Edward Beardsmore, W. Love, M*. Hennessy, John Irving, T. Sowerby, C. Hunter, William Coulter, William Wilson, George Hen ton, John Tiffin, Daniel Taylor, and Elisha Beardsmore. Of the above it is noticeable that Hunter should have been at work on the Friday morning, but fortunately for his life, overslept himself, and so escaped death. The names of those who worked so hard and so bravely at rescue include amongst others Messrs Shore, J. Brown, James Wilson, Robert Wilson, Charles Samson, William Samson, Michael Muir, George Hunter, — Hennessy, William Wilson, — Richardson, Adam Harris. Alexander Cook, John Tiffen, Hugh Wilson, James M'lvor, John M'lvor William Hodgkiss, Andrew Falkener, and Stephen Russell. The dead, as they were recovered, were taken to the building now almost completed for Mr Jenkins's new hotel, and the dull monotonous work of coffin making went on whilst they were being taken there. The Revs. Ronaldson and Chisholm of Milton, and Allan of Inchclatha, arrived at Kaitangata soon after the news of the disaster had spread, and were unremitting in their attentions to the afflicted families of those who had perished. The ' Morning Herald ' and * Otago Daily Times ' have made the accident a pretext for a newspaper squabble. The * Herald ' had some reflections on the rescuers, and the editor of the ' Times,' whose sympathies are evidently with undertakers, complains of the coffins being plain and not ornamented. And over these things they are quarrelling.
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FATAL COLLIERY EXPLOSION AT KAITANGATA., Bruce Herald, Volume XI, Issue 1091, 25 February 1879
FATAL COLLIERY EXPLOSION AT KAITANGATA. Bruce Herald, Volume XI, Issue 1091, 25 February 1879
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