BOTALLACK. Botallack, Cornwall. 18th. April, 1863.

Nine men and boys lost their lives when the chain drawing their carriage to the surface, broke and the carriage careered down the shaft, colliding with timber at the bottom. In articles in “The Cornish Telegraph”, the site and setting of the mine are described in vivid detail:

The scene of the disaster was Botallack, a mine renown throughout the world for its metallic treasures and its romantic situation. Worked under the sea since time immemorial, Botallack has always had an interest for us as a hive of submarine interest. Its romantic situation, its machinery lashed by the waves of the Atlantic and the specimen it has afforded of industry and perseverance successfully battling against the inert obstacles of Nature, have always made it a favourite resort of the tourist.

To describe the cause of this calamity it will be necessary to speak of a gigantic piece of recent engineering work on this mine. Approaching the cliffs from the manor house of Botallack passing, and at every step, descending, by account and storehouses, thundering “stamps” and busy “floors” with mining tackle and erections of wood and stone every here and there, the edge of the cliff is at last gained and you look down at the lowest engine house, the Crowns, so called from its proximity to three rocks of compact hornblende known as “The Crowns”. This is by the water’s margin, on your left. In your downward pathway stands a newer edifice. it is a winding engine house. There is powerful machinery inside, with a system of leverage by which the winding process may be stopped or checked promptly. as you skirt the side of this house, you perceive a massive cage, round which in many a coil rests an iron chain, which hangs across one of the numerous coves the waves have here fashioned, and enters a wooden-framed orifice in the opposite cliffs. You may pass over this 40-fathom indent in the rocks by a platform of massive beams, inclining from one precipice to another at an angle of twenty-two and half degrees, and you then pause before the square tunnel of uninviting aspect. Down those darksome passages, its sides dripping and a faint stream of exhalation constantly emitted from its throat into the open air you now enjoy, many a visitor, impelled by curiosity as a love of the new, as well as by the faculties it gives from penetrating the earth, has passed.

(From here) we are hurried into the long sinuous tunnel, by which a uniform angle throughout of thirty-two and a half degrees and in a direction 10 degrees West of North, passes you (in 14 fathoms) under the bed of Neptune, and carried you a distance of 400 fathoms and a depth of 192 fathoms into the Earth’s recesses. This is the Boacawen diagonal shaft. You may explore it afoot, but why weary yourself? Just below the cage and its burden of chain is a skip of tram-carriage, one end attached to the series of iron links which bandage the cage. It is long and low and its four seats will just hold eight persons. It is 2 feet 6 inches high but the shaft before you is 6 feet in height and there is no fear of a knock on the head. Its low wheels promise immense strength and enough speed. It is made of cast iron, you need not mistrust its power: It carries 16 hundredweight comfortably. Nor need you doubt the chain that binds you to the engine. The first 200 fathoms are of links of the best charcoal iron, half an inch in diameter. Its next 100 fathoms are 9-16ths and its last 100 fathoms, the whole being three tons in weight, are 5-8ths of an inch thick, the entire length welded and prepared by the Messrs. Holman at their busy foundry near. But lest a link should part see this ingenious contrivance to check our steel carriage instantly! A spiral spring of immense power of fixed under, and at the back of the skip. It communicates with a lever which rises like the handle of a beer engine in front of the wagon, also with two immense claws, their inner edges serrated, which run one on each side of the rails, which rails are two feet seven and a quarter inches apart. Your conductor releases that lever from a catch and holds it in his hand. Supposing that he felt that your course was too impetuous he would let go the lever wholly. It flies towards you with a clang. Each rail has been caught by crab-like nippers with a giant’s wrench. Your car is fixed.

For those safeguards we are indebted to Captain John Rowe, of this mine. It is ingenious, and over and over again, experimentally and in emergency, has not failed. So now, trusting yourself to all this strength and precaution, away with you down shaft. Nine angles will you turn as you follow the corner bed of a copper load which lay once between the blue killas and the red decomposed killas but has made room for this veritable underground railway. There is a clank of chains and a rush of air, sometimes chilly, sometimes warm, as you descend, but on whole, you glide smoothly downwards until you have 1,100 feet of rock between you and boulders of sea-bed. You can alight and inspect the wonders of mine.

But this immense and expensive tunnel, made by an outlay of thousands of pounds, was not intended for visitor’s convenience. To draw the worthless deads and valuable ore to the surface, and to save the exhausted miner the depressing toil and the frequent accident of the ladder-way, were primary objects. By its means, it is hoped, great depth may be obtained and this part of the mine well developed. But to Science and Labour has to be added Experience, ere perfection be gained. Oh! Woeful pity that Experience should be bought by the sharp severance of life and the groans of widowhood and orphanage.

On the day of the accident, the miners descended to the various levels by the tramway, each load having a captain aboard the skip, who held the brake level in his hand. On Saturday afternoon three parties had to come up. They assembled at the 165 Fathom Level and “first come first served” was the order of the day. Nine were in the skip when Thomas Wall jnr. came up and said a lad named Chapple must come out as he, Wall, must attend a funeral. The load got to the surface safely and Chapple was now with his father. The skip had reached the 135 Level when a link of the chain near the mouth of the shaft parted and struck the signal wire at the side of the shaft and as it parted the wire struck the sign for the engineman to stop and the machinery stood still. The chain was seen to rebound from the shaft mouth and the miners at the 165 Level heard the fearful rush of the released carriage and it human cargo with the attached chain. The shaft was filled with dust and sparks and those in the mine guessed the fate of those on board. Some of them went to the surface and some went down.

Those who went to the surface found that John Gilbert, the engineman and John Wallis who was filling a skip, sent work of the accident to the managers by messenger. Mr. S.H. James was on his way home from the smelting works. Mr. S.H. James jnr., had left for Scilly and Captains Hocking and John Rowe, engineers of the mine and Captains John and Henry Boynes, underground agents, were at the accounts house. The first thoughts of these men were that the brake would hold and the men would be safe. Captain Boynes got to the mine and went down the shaft and was told that all the men had gone to the bottom and had been killed.

The news soon spread and thousands of people gathered at the mine and Captain Boynes working with parties below and three fathoms above the 190 Level they found the body of Richard Nankervis, a lad. A little further on they found the body of John Eddy aged 17, he had been frightfully crushed. The rails finished at the 192 Level and a diagonal shaft was partially sunk, 17 fathoms below this but not cleaned up and railed. A beam projected at the 190 Level to facilitate the loading of the skip and the carriage could not possibly go below this. It had crashed into this beam with great force and inflicted severe head injuries on the men in the skip and killed them all. It took hours to recover all the bodies and transfer them to their homes.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • John Chapple aged 50 years of Naucherrow who left a widow and several children. He was a widower and his wife a widow when they re-married.
  • John Chapple aged 16 years, his eldest son.
  • Peter Eddy aged 17 years of Nancherrow, the son of a widow with six or seven other children.
  • Michael Nicholas of Botallack who left a widow and seven children.
  • John Eddy of Botallack aged 18 years.
  • Thomas Wall aged 46 years of Carnyorth who left a widow and several children.
  • Richard Wall aged 19 years, his son.
  • Thomas Nankervis of Trewellard. He had worked in the Wheal Hazard part of the mine but this was his first day in this mine.
  • Richard Nankervis of Bojcwyan.

The inquest was held the following Tuesday before Coroner Mr. W. Hichens, at the Queen’s Arms Inn at Botallack. After viewing the bodies at the homes of the deceased, the jury re-assembled at the account house, Botallack.

The first witness was Thomas Nankervis who said:

I am a miner of St. Just and Botallack. I was at work on Saturday last in 160 Level of Crown part of mine, where I saw all the deceased men and boys. They left for work and got into the tram at the 160. I put my little brother, Richard William Nankervis, into the tram and saw the party start. I never saw them again until I saw them dead at 190 Level. I saw fire pass down the shaft, I suppose from the chain, but no skip or men. I heard a rush as if a wagon was going with great swiftness and then thought it my duty to go and see after those I knew to be killed. Within three or four fathoms of 190, I found my brother, nearer the 190, John Eddy, John Chapple and his son, one on each side of wagon two or three fathoms below that, Peter Eddy in the wagon, his body and head hanging over, and the other four one upon the other within two or three feet of the wagon. All were dead. My brother Henry said to brakesman. “Take care, your shoulder is too near the brake”. The brakesman was Thomas Wall who answered, “It’s all right.” No one altered their position and the skip started.

Captain John Rowe, one of the mine agents, gave details of the machinery at the mine and James Eddy told the court that the machinery had been working perfectly on Thursday. The jury requested a few minutes for deliberation and found:

That we have found a verdict of “Accidental Death”. We recommend that a subscription fund be opened of behalf of the widows and orphans and that the adventurers be requested dot head the list.

The jurymen expressed their confidence in the machinery and pronounced them efficient. The adventurers subscribed £50 and the inquiry ended.


Cornish Telegraph.

Information supplied by Ian Winstanley and the Coal Mining History Resource Centre.

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