WHEAL AGAR Redruth, Cornwall. 15th. August, 1883.

The mine ws the property of the Wheal Agar Mining Company and at the time of the accident the mine was being worked at 235 fathoms below the adit or 253 fathoms from the surface and at the time had a single shaft and one skip road. For some months before the accident, the miners had been raised and lowered by the winding machinery in a two decked cage capable of holding up to ten people. the Inspector thought that the shaft was not a good one for this purpose as it changed it’s inclination several times which made the use of rolls to brake the engine necessary.

During the night of 14th-15th August the engine had been used to draw minerals from a depth of 225 fathoms. On 15th August, between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. the rope was found to have stripped for some fathoms from the shackle due to a breakage of one of the strands. Captain Ralph Danniell, the agent in charge of the mine at the time climbed the shaft by ladders and inspected the rope but could see nothing wrong. On arriving at the surface he ordered the damaged part of the rope to be cut off and the shackle reset.

The work was not completed by 6 a.m which was the time for the mining core of men to go up and the day core to go down. Instead of making the men use the ladders, Danniell ordered the cage attached to the capstan rope and sent it down to draw men from the 195 fathoms level before he had made a careful examination of the rope as made.

The drawing engine when disconnected from the winding drum, worked the capstan drum and when driven at its normal speed it would take about 18 minutes to raise the cage from the 195 fathom level to the surface which was a distance of 213 fathoms. If the winding drum was used this journey would take about five minutes. There was an indicator to show the position of the cage in the shaft but there was no indicator on the capstan.

One cage load of men reached the surface in safety and another cage full was lowered. In the next trip there were 10 men the cage and three on the outside. At about 7 a.m. just as the cage reached the top of the landing brace, one of these men, Henry Cardines, jumped off. At that moment the rope broke 10 feet above the shackle and the cage fell down the shaft and the other 12 men were dashed to pieces.

All the victims were miners:

  • Charles Trevena aged 27 years
  • William Carrill aged 27 years
  • Edward Dawe aged 19 years
  • Thomas Cock aged 18 years
  • George Clemens aged 25 years
  • Joseph Roberts aged 43 years
  • James Caddy aged 21 years
  • Paul Pope jnr. aged 22 years
  • Charles Osborne aged 23 years
  • Henry Thomas aged 17 years
  • Thomas Richards aged 19 years
  • Francis H. Woolcock aged 19 years

At the inquest held at Pool on the 22nd. August, the Inspector thought that a serious breach of the Metalliferous Mines Act had been committed for the following reasons:

    1. The only reason of letting the engine driver known when to stop the cage was by a mark on the rope, and the communication of signals from underground by ringing. As this would not be sufficiently exact, a gate to arrest the descent of the cage was put across the shaft at the 195 fathoms level. The signal line communicated first with the lander who had the to ring the enginemen so that, in all probability there was some delay in stopping the engine, resulting in slack rope being let down, which might have taken up a kink when the engine started again. This would tend to separate the strands of the rope, and by throwing the weight unequally on the wires to promote a fracture.
    2. In taking up the cage with a slack rope, the pull on the rope at starting would be at least double the amount of the working load, consisting in this case of the cage, the 13 men and the weight of the rope hanging over the pulley at the poppet-heads. This would have been in excess of the strain of that the rope used should have been subjected to when human life depended on it, even if it had been in good condition.

Mr. Frenchville also pointed out that there were men riding on the outside of the cage which was against regulations and that their extra weight contributed to the disaster. He found the capstan rope was four and a half inches in circumference made up of six strands of steel wire, round a hemp core, with eighteen wires in each strand. No invoice of the rope was produced and there was no satisfactory evidence as to how long the rope had been in use but it was clear that it had been used for at least two years before the accident. During this time the pit had been renovated and it must have been subjected to severe strains. James Pentecost, at pitman, told the court that the rope had been lowered with a weight of 20 tons and a few days before the accident had raised a lift of pumps which weighed at least 10 tons.

Mr. Frenchville examined the broken ends of the rope after the accident and found that many of the wires were very much corroded. The state of the rope had not been discovered because of the many layers of tar and grease that masked the defects.

The shackle was sent to Mr. Thomas W. Trail, Engineer in Chief at the Board of Trade and Inspector of the Chain Cable and Anchor Proving Establishments who inspected the rope and gave the following evidence:

I examined the rope as well as the wires at the fracture point. I consider the breakage was caused through the rope not being sound. Several of the wires were very much corroded and I can form no opinion as to how long they had been in that state, but in the ordinary course of events, for some considerable time unless the rope had come into contact with chemicals or some other corroding influence but I may say that the wires were not visible to a mere external examinations. In addition to the rope being injured by corrosion, it would have been injured by a load of 20 tons being put on to it. If the rope were in good condition it might have worked worth a strain of from 5 to 6 tons but I would not put this amount of weight on it raising men. If there had been a kink in it it would have been more liable to break especially as there was no swivel in the connections between the cage and the rope. I think it possible that the accident might not have occurred if the wires had not been corroded, but putting a stain of 20 tons on it would shorten its life. I attribute the accident to the corroded state of the rope coupled with the fact that it was subjected to a strain of 20 tons.

I think that is the rope had been inspected the flaw would have been discovered. The breaking strain of the rope when new would have been from 27 to 36 tons but that entirely depended on the quality of the material.

The corner brought in a verdict of “Accidental Death” with a rider that all cages should be fitted with catches to ensure greater safety in case the rope broke. The Inspector commented that, “the question of catches was not as simple as it would seem.”


The Mines Inspectors Report.

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

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