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THE KAITANGATA EXPLOSION.

The following important correspondence has been handed to us for publication : — Dunedin, 13th March, 1870. Dr Hector, Dunedin. Fie Accident at Kaitangata Coal Mine. Sir, — As yon are doubtless awarr* various opinions are held by experts and those who consider themselves such, as to where the accumulation of gas which exploded in the mine originated. Some think that the small quantities of gas occasionally met with in the new workings, through defective ventilation, gradually accumulated in the old and partly abandoned workings ; others again believe that the gas originated solely in the coal of these old workings ; and now, after the accident, the holders of either opinion are ready enough to point out mistakes in the management — carek-ssness in not cutting off all communication with the old workings and assumed defective ventilation ; neither of these theories appear to me to be satisfactory. The late manager, Wm. Hodge, always stated, and having known him for eight years I believe he spoke the truth, that the coal in the old workings had never given off gas during the period it was wrought ; and further, that after the workings had beon partly abandoned, he and his brother had been through them ou several occasions, and had never found the slightest trace of gas. And in corroboration of this is the fact "that on the 25th of December last, just two months before the explosion, a party of gentlemen, including James Davidson, George Maitland, and George Richardson, under the guidance, of Hodge, went through the whole of the old workings with naked lights, and examined them from top to bottom, without the slightest trace of gas beiug discovered. I understand, however, that yon have suggested a third theory regarding the whence of the gas in question, which has not been made public, and which, if correct, alters the aspect of matters very much, and had it been made known to the jury would probably have led them to modify their verdict. Ido not believe that William Hodge was a careless or incautious man in any respect ; and he believing, and, I think, correctly, that no fire-damp to occasion tlie least apprehension existed, or was likely to originate in tlie mine under his charge, if it can no,'/ be shown that there is a strong probability that the gas which exploded made its appearance suddod.y, and did not originate in his mine, the public and the jury that condemned him (unheard, for there was no one to put in a word for him) will, I think, look at the sad accident in a different light. Your theory I understand to be that the fire-damp came from the mine below us, and in which a good deal of firedamp has been met with. The manager of this mine (Mr Shore), a careful and experienced miner, knowing fire-damp to exist, has, of course, taken the usual precautions to prevent accidents. That the workings of this lower mine being now in close proximity to the boundary cf the upper, aud the water which was at one time veiy plentiful in the latter having been recently drained off, the exit by wliich this water got away would open a now and unexpected means by which gas in the lower mine would ascend into the old workings of the upper mine. Mr Binns stat-jd at the inquest that there was now nearly as much gas in the old workings as at the time of the explosion. It appeal's to me absurd to suppose that a coal which, whilst being wrought, gave off no gas in the old workings, and only a trifling quantity in the new, should all at once generate^ gas so suddenly, and in such large quantifies, without some special cause, and it would seem that if there is now a second accumulation like that which exploded, it can only be satisfactorily accounted for by your theory. That a communication exists between the two mines is clearly proved by the disappearance of the water in the upper mine. If I have been correctly informed of your ideas on the subject, I do trust that in justice to poor Hodge, a man of whose ability- and character you have had several

opportunities of judging, that you will not hesitate to state your opinion fully and unniistakeably, r with a view to this letter and your reply being published.— I am, &c, T. T. Ritchie. City Hotel, Dunedin. March 13th, 1879. T. T. Ritchie, Esq.. Dunedin. Sir, — In reply to your letter of this elate requesting my opinion as to the source of the fire-damp that caused the recent disastrous explosion in tlie Kaitangata mine, I may say that I have not been in the mine since February, 1877, and that my evidence was therefore not considered necessary at the inquest. Any opinion I can offer is therefore a surmise, founded on the evidence taken at the inquest, and my general knowledge of the subject.

In the extension of the old workings to the dip of the coal, and towards tlie boundary of the land held by the Kaitangata Company and that held by Mr Shore, evidence of the existence of an extensive downthrow fault has beon met with, this fault throwing the coal in the opposite manner to the faults met within following the coal to the rise or into the new workings. I havo not been down Shore's shaft, but from the dotails stated to me, the existence of this fault seems to have been proved ; and moreover, that the coal in .Shore's mine, as this fault is approached, is crushed and tilted at a steop angle. This would, from my experience of other coal mines in New Zealand, alter the character of the coal and cause the evolution of- gas. As long as the ground was undisturbed tliis gas might remain pent up. That it did escape when it wus tapped by the drive from the bottom of Shore's shaft is proved by the evidence, Shore having, among others, been hims.if burnt by it. The drainage of the faultsd ground by Shore's shaft and drive wonld probably cause a free communication along the

caulted ground between the crushed coal and the old workings, and any cessation of pumping from Shore's shaft that would allow the water to rise in it would naturally force the fire-damp up into the old workings. I have found on i liquify that Shore had left off pumping for five days during the week before last Monday, .Then Mr Binns found that the old workings had re-filled with fire-damp to such an extent that the high grooves were again

full to within five feet of the floor. As Mr Twinning and others were in the same part of the workings only a week previously, and at any r;Ac all the gas must have been cleared out by the explosion only a fortnight previously, this shows the gas to have accumulated with great rapidity, and much faster than I think it could have been formed by the disintegration of the standing coal, or the furthor decomposition of slack heaps in the old workings. Moreover, had it ever previously formed with the same rapidity it could hardly have escaprd detection. Mr Binns was in the old workings with Hodge on 28th January, and though he reported, and for very sound reasons, the mine to be in a dangerous condition if gas tcere tv accumulate, he had yet found no gas. This was after the workings had been standing for months : six weeks later he finds that the gas has accumulated so as to be easily found, and in about three weeks' time only. This therefore, to my mind, raises a strong presumption that the first appearance of gas in tlie old workings was sudden and in large quantity, and that it came, and is still coming, from a "blower" that has broken ont in some part of the old workings, and as an indirect consequence of Shore's workings. If this view is correct, neitlvr poor Hodge nor anyone else could have foreseen that it was necessary to take unusual precautions. I did not form this opinion till after the inquest had closed ; but I expressed it freely on the ground to several persons, and have no hesitation in placing it at your service, if it will in any way clear Hodge's memory of culpable carelessness of the lives of those under him.— l am, &c. , James Hector.

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/CL18790321.2.21

Bibliographic details

THE KAITANGATA EXPLOSION., Clutha Leader, Volume V, Issue 290, 21 March 1879

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THE KAITANGATA EXPLOSION. Clutha Leader, Volume V, Issue 290, 21 March 1879

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