NEW CATHEDRAL. St. Day, Cornwall. 19th. January 1881.

The New Cathedral Mine was purchased from the Stannaries Court about two years before the accident by the New Cathedral Copper and Tin Mining Company, Limited but it had been worked for only ten months. It was a new mine that the previous owners had opened from the surface and no one knew the extent of any old workings on the lode but it was known that a parallel load had been worked about 40 fathoms to the south many years before.

At the time of the accident the men in the mine were James Matthews and James Ferral on the 52 fathoms level west of the engine shaft. On the same level east of the engine shaft were George Richards, Richard Gates, Richard Bennetts and William Northley. On the bottom level of 52 fathoms level were Joseph May, John Blacker and William Blacker.

At the inquest Thomas Murrish told the court:

I have worked in the New Cathedral Mine since the first day. On the 19th January last I was working in the end of the 52 fathoms level west and left there about 2.15 p.m. There was a little water coming from the bottom of the end than in the morning but I had no misgivings. I told my comrade, the one who relieved me, James Matthews, and he said we are going to have bet ter ground, and had better try a ‘take’ from Captain Davey.

James Matthews was the sole survivor of the disaster and he told the inquest:

I was one on the afternoon care in the New Cathedral Mine on the 19th January last. I was working in the end of the 52 fathom level west of the engine shaft and had with me a boy called James Henry Ferral. I met Murrish at the adit on my way down he told me some water was rising from the bottom of the level. I told him I thought better ground was coming. The water coming out was of no quantity. It was just running, there was no force about it. I had no idea there was any danger. We had bored two holes, of which one was in the bottom. The water did not increase at all, all those holes were fired. I went into the “platt” and the boy with me. One hole went off the other missed fire. I prepared a fresh charge to fire the missed hole. I waited about half an hour and was preparing to go in when I heard a rush. I called to the men at the bottom of the shaft to come up, and I and the boy ran to the winze east of the shaft where the ladderway is. When I got on the ladder in the winze a rush of air put out my light. I had previously seen the boy take the ladder. I had called to the men in the east end of the 52 fathoms level but I don’t know whether they heard me. I kept up the ladders in the dark till I came to the adit, when I lit my candle and found that I was alone. I never heard of any of the men objecting to their work in the mine on account of water.

 Those who died were:

  • Joseph May aged 37 years, miner.
  • George Richards aged 29 years, miner.
  • John Blacker aged 24 years miner.
  • Richard Gates aged 33 years, miner.
  • Richard Bennetts aged 17 years, miner.
  • James Ferral aged 15 years. miner.
  • William Northley aged 15 years. miner.
  • William Blacker aged 20 years. miner.

The ladder at the bottom of the winze by which Matthews escaped was a movable one so that stuff could be wheeled from the level end of the shaft. When the mine was pumped out the body of the boy Ferral was found at the bottom of the 52 fathoms east level, grasping the ladder firmly with both hands.

At the inquest the agents stated that they did not know of the existence of the old mine and although the Inspector had made inquiries he had been unable to find any plans of the old workings. Captain Davey. The manager of the mine stated that a few weeks before his appointment he asked Captain Joseph Michell, one of his predecessors, if there was any a danger for old workings and was told:

You can extend the levels west or east and you will find no communication anywhere.

 That was about nine months before the accident and Captain Michell had been in the locality all his life the jury returned a verdict of accidental death caused by the influx of water from old workings and exonerated the agents from all blame.

The 52 level was extended to the west after the accident with boreholes kept in advance of the workings and an old winze was found and the water was let down slowly and strong brick dam installed. This contained a three-inch pipe so that if further water was encountered it could be drained off through the pipe without danger.


The Mines Inspector Report, 1881.

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

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