DOLCOATH. Camborne, Cornwall. 20th. September, 1893.

At about 1 o’clock in the afternoon and in the words of the Inspector, Joseph Martin, “was the most disastrous fall or run of ground of which (so far as loss of life is concerned), I have experienced either under this Act or the Coal Mines Regulation Acts.”  The fall occurred at the 412 level of the Mine, east of the New East Shaft. There were sixteen men engaged in strengthening the “stull” on the back of the level. Eight men lost their lives, the other eight, although uninjured, very narrowly escaped the fate of their comrades, especially one man named Davis who was entombed for 36 to 40 hours before he was released.

The 412 fathom level was the deepest that had been opened in this mine, although the shaft is down far enough for the 425 fathom levels. The lode at the site of the accident was 30 feet wide and in consequence of being very rich in tin ore, the whole width is “stoped” or worked away and sent to the surface, which left a large cavity above the level 35 to 40 yards long, 10 yards wide and at the highest point within 2 or 3 yards of the 400 fathom level.

The “stull” consisted of 21 baulks of pitch pine 18 to 20 inches square and 30 feet long, set at distances of about 3 feet apart. Over these “stull pieces” there was sheeting planks or slabs upon which 2 or 3 fathoms of “deads” of rubbish was piled. A certain portion of the stull pieces were strengthened with “struddles” and “legs”.

The underground agent having noticed that some of the “stull piece” were bending, gave the chief timbermen, John Pollard, one of the deceased, instructions to strengthen “stull”. He got the necessary timber sent down on the day before the accident and on the day of the accident and took two or three experienced timbermen with him to the place as well as a dozen labourers to assist in putting up the heavy baulks. When the accident occurred they were engaged with one of these long pieces which they had hanging on blocks at the time, trying to set it between some of those which were bent.

It was at first thought that, in preparing the foot of the bed for those pieces, one of the others had been undermined and loosened, but the witnesses at the inquest gave evidence that clearly showed that this was not the case. They stated that they heard a noise above the “stull” as if a heavy fall or run of ground had occurred, and again a second one, followed immediately by the collapse. The view as to the cause of the accident is corroborated by the fact that a large portion of the lode or ground under the roadway of the 400 fathom level fell away at the same time, causing the collapse of the roadway at that level.

Information about the accident was sent to the surface as soon as possible when search parties were organised and sent down. Two of the men, Osborne and Davies were found to be alive but Osborne died that evening. Davies was rescued 36 to 40 hours later. Shifts of men continued working day and night in search of the others, but the difficulties met with in dealing with the huge timbers and rubbish, were such that the last body was not recovered until 11th October, twenty-one days after the accident.

Those who died were:

From the Glasgow Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), Friday, September 22, 1893:

  • James Adams, 33, Tuckingmill, wife
  • Frederick John Harvey, 30, Camborne, wife
  • Richard James, 34, Illogan Highway, wife and five children
  • John Henry Jennings, 20, Camborne, single
  • William John Osborne, 32, Camborne, single
  • John Pollard, 25, Chief Timberman, Camborne, wife and three children
  • Charles White, 58, Senior Timberman, Camborne, wife only

Richard Davies, 18, Troon, single – Buried, but rescued after 37 hours

From “Cornish Mine Disasters” by Cyril Noall:

  • James Adams, Tuckingmill
  • Frederick John Harvey, Camborne
  • Richard James, Illogan Highway
  • John Henry Jennings, Camborne
  • William John Osborne, Camborne
  • John Pollard, Chief Timberman, Camborne
  • Charles White, Senior Timberman, Camborne

The inquest into the disaster was opened at Tyack’s Hotel, Camborne, before Mr. G.P. Grenfell County Coroner. Captain Josiah Thomas, the manager of the mine made the following written statement:

I am Manager and Purser of Dolcoath Mine, having been appointed manager in 1868 and Purser in 1883. The mine has worked continuously since 1799. The deepest level is the 425 under adit, or 453 from the surface. The lode becomes larger as depth is attained, and in the deeper workings east of the engine shaft it is 20 to 390 feet wide, with an underlie of 49 degrees south, or a little over four feet to the fathom. The country rock on both sides is granite. In stoping away the lode we sometimes leave arches standing, and where arched are not left we put in large timbers across the workings at about right angles to the underlie of the rock. The timber used for this purpose is principally pitch pine or large pieces of Norway timber 12 to 16 inches in diameter. Captain James Johns, our chief Underground Agent, has the principal direction of the timber work, together with three underground agents. Pollard, the Chief Timberman, was directing the men who were working with him at a point n the 412 fathom level, 40 fathoms east of the New Shaft, when the accident occurred. No expense has been spared in securing the ground throughout the mine. I was in the very place where the accident occurred the day previous, and considered the stull to be perfectly safe. I was in the immediate neighbourhood of it for about one hour.

I first heard of the accident about three o’clock in the afternoon and going underground found the pace in the 412 collapsed up to 5 or 6 feet of the eastern end. It was about 14 fathoms from one end to the other. After the accident, I was informed that certain persons were missing who had been working there. Men were immediately put to work at both ends to clear the stuff and put in timber. They got to work instantly; in fact, it took several men down with them to begin work at once. There were many difficulties to contend with in clearing the huge rock and the large pieces of timber which were all mixed up together. The rocks were blasted very cautiously and the timbers had to cut out bit by bit so it was an extremely slow process. In the first place were tried to ascertain if anyone was alive. They called as loudly as possible but there was no response. I presume Davies must have been asleep at the time because he said he heard men working afterwards. Davies was rescued after 37 hours. The 400 fathom level has collapsed for about the same length as the 412. The extreme right of the stull was equal to more than three time the amount of stuff that was on it.

Captain Thomas continued that the distance usually allowed for setting the baulks into the footwall was about a foot. He did not think that rock would be liable to splinter off. The distance allowed depended on the nature of the work. He had never observed the rock to splinter off from the edges by blasting, because the foot was always placed in firm ground.

James Johns, the underground agent said that the stall that collapsed consisted of 21 or 22 pieces of timber, 18 inches square pitch pine and an average length of 33 to 34 feet, fixed at an incline of 45 to 48 degrees and from, 2 to 3 feet apart. A second stall was being fixed similar to the first. When questioned by Mr. Martin, Johns went on to say:

I think some of the ground had given way after have been given vent to the bottom. Two days before the accident I noticed a weakness on the western side. I saw Pollard and told him that one of the pieces was bending. Pollard said that he had noticed it, and as he knew the length of the piece, he would cut it down at once. I told him that I would go down with him the next morning and see it. I went down with Pollard and the timber did not see any worse. We were looking at the timber together and agreed as to what should be done. He thought the bending in the piece was due to the pressure of the hanging wall. I saw no other piece bending and did not see any danger whatever. I said to Pollard, “If you ever see anything in this stall wrong mind you do it when the timber is good, because the timbers are liable to decay,” and Pollard said he would. The pressure from the hanging wall varied very much in places. The bending in the piece would, of course, indicate movement somewhere, and show that something was very heavy somewhere. Pollard was an experienced man and he had been at Dolcoath for about five or six years. Previous to that he had experience timbering in other mines.

The witness went on to explain in detail how the timber was set but he could not account for the stall at 400 coming away. He supposed that the ground at the back of the stope had given way because the stall-piece had broken. They found the stall-piece that they were repairing broken in pieces.

A juror put it to him that if this one piece only had gone down more men would have been saved and Captain Johns replied:

I believe the men had a chance to escape, but that they thought they were safe enough under this stall. I do not see that any of them had any difficulty to escape except Charles White. I was told that Pollard was on the tramroad holding a candle for one of the men to drive a nail and that could be only three fathoms from the end of the stall. I believe that Pollard and the other men had such confidence in that stall that they went there for safety.

John Williams, one of the working party at the spot where the accident happened said that they were at work putting in new timber to make the place secure when the run occurred. He, with some others, ran away when he heard a big noise overhead. He and the others managed to get away but there was no hope for the others.

When he got a light, he went back and found that the run had taken place and filled the place with stuff. They had got the timber in ready to set, but there was a delay to get in the foot. Pollard had been with him and just before. When they found that they could not get the piece in Pollard ordered White to make a little more room at the foot by working it away with a pick. Before there was time make the room, the accident happened. There was no one using a pick on either side that he noticed. He could not tell where the weight came, all he hard was a roar and saw the rock falling.

Albert George Roberts was also working at the place said that some men were told to cut off the props. He was sitting down having his lunch when he heard some ground falling away and he asked his companions what it was and was told that a little ground had fallen away above. About two minutes afterwards he heard a further heavy fall.

David Jones, a mining student who was working with Pollard said that after they tried to get a piece of timber in, it jammed at the top and the bottom. This occurred twice and it was decided to leave it until the next day. he heard the alarm given and ran out of the western end with six others. When the rush of air caused by the fall had subsided, they went back and shouted but could not hear or see anything. When they got to the top of the shaft they found a relief party ready to go down. He had heard it said that the stoping was rather high and that the timber hardly strong enough for it.

William Brown who was trapped for about thirty-six hours said that he found Jennings’ mangled body on the day after the accident and on the Thursday night he discovered a crevice into which he crawled. He heard someone moaning which continued for some time but after a few hours it stopped. He believed it to be Osborne. He also got near Davies of Troon and spoke to him.

After hearing all the evidence the jury brought in a verdict of “Accidental Death” without retiring and passed a vote of sympathy with the relatives of the deceased and the Agents of the mine.


The Mines Inspector’s Report, 1893. Mr. Martin.
The Western Morning News, 10th October 1893.

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

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