GETHIN. Merthyr, Glamorganshire. 19th. February, 1862.
The colliery was the property of Mr. William Crawshaw of Cyfarthfa and was about two and a half-mile from Merthyr Tydfil and this was the first serious accident that occurred in the district. The collieries had been worked for some years and the coal went for the manufacture of iron in Merthyr. The coal had been worked along the outcrop of the measures and the gas had drained away naturally. At the time of the explosion, the mines were being sunk to a greater depth and giving off greater quantities of gas which demanded greater skill and attention in their management.
The colliery was managed by Mr. Moody and he was assisted by his son and several underviewers. There were two working pits at the colliery, one was a pumping pit and the other an upcast. The winding and pumping pit was 17 feet by ten feet and the upcast pit was 10 feet in diameter. The downcast pits were 126 yards deep and the upcast was 576 yards in depth. The shafts were sunk in the late 1840s.
There were about 800 men employed in six pits on two levels. The No.1 pit was on the East side and it was here that the explosion took place. At the time there were about 100 men at work on the west side.
Mr. Moody went underground with the underviewer, John Enyon and John reported daily to Moody. Mr. Moody was the viewer for all the Cyfarthfa Collieries of which the Gethin Collieries was one. He laid out the ventilation of the mine and with the help of John Enyon who was his son. He had the job for eight years and over a million tons of coal had been worked from the colliery.
The firemen reported any danger to everyone and they firemen made their inspections of the mine before the men went down. The night fireman had found nothing out of order and he told the day fireman, Thomas Thomas:
All is right, but there is a little gas in John Jone’s heading, No.20 about 10 yards back from the face there had been a bit of a fall above the timbers, and gas was lodged there.
Thomas Thomas, the fireman was at work when the explosion occurred. He had just examined the Nos. 16 to 19 cross headings, found everything all right and was on his way for his dinner. He reached the No. 14 heading when he was knocked down from behind and burnt by the blast.
Mr. G.H. Laverick, viewer at the Plymouth works heard the explosion at 2 p.m. He went to the pit, met Davies and Mr. Kirkhouse and went down the pit. He examined the doors at the No. 13 and 14 headings and a great many bodies had been brought there. he continued:
I then proceeded to the No.18 when I got up about 50 yards on the road I picked up a burnt handkerchief. At the bottom of the No.19 heading, there was a horse blown across the level. Attached to the chain was a train of coal the train was off the road, about eight or nine feet from the north side level. On the west side of the heading saw a portion of what seemed to have been a door did not observe anything of the other doors there had been a fall of earth between the level and the wind road could not proceed any further because of the chokedamp. I believe that the door at the bottom of No.19 must have been kept open at the time, otherwise, it would have been shattered to pieces. The haulier was jammed between the rib and the trams. They had to leave the tram to remove his body. The horse was blown across with its head inclined to the west, indicating that the blast had come down the heading from the north. Further up we came across four men who appeared to have had their dinners, for the stoppers being out of their bottles. They appeared to be suffocated.
The mineral agent of the Cyfarthfa Colliery, Mr. Bedlington Kirkhouse, heard the explosion about two o’clock. He went to the pit and descended with Laverick and others. After meeting some men who told him that they had recovered some of the bodies, he went along the No.16 heading where men were putting up some brattice to drive the air on. They were in a hurry to get the bodies out and he did not start to take notice of his surroundings until he was in the No.19 heading when he noticed a tram. A man had been blown down the heading and jammed between the tub and the rib and they had difficulty in getting him out. Kirkhouse then went on and before he got to the No.20 heading, he found five men. They were lying on their side. he was not sure, but Isaac Davies could have been one. Their tins contained tea and there were pieces of bread lying around. They could not go on because there was gas still in the mine.
John Instone, who was the surgeon attached to the colliery found that the forty-seven men and boys were killed, forty-six were brought out of the mine dead and one died the following morning.
Those who were suffocated:
- William Richards, aged 42 years.
- Jenkin Jones, aged 39 years.
- John Jones, aged 31 years.
- Edward Benyon, aged 37 years left a wife and 3 children.
- Daniel Rees, aged 30 years.
- George Rees, aged 20 years.
- Titus Jones, aged 16 years.
- William Lewis, aged 18 years.
- William Lewis Jnr.
- William Williams, aged 32 years.
- John Jones aged 23 years.
- Samuel Morgan, aged 27 years.
- Evan Davis, left a wife and 6 children.
- Griffith Powell, aged 56 years.
- Daniel Griffiths, aged 48 years.
- John Griffiths, aged 13 years.
- Silvanus Griffiths, aged 43 years.
- Morgan Jenkins.
- Edward Edwards aged 44 years.
- John Edwards aged 52 years.
- William Davis, aged 21 years, single.
- James Turner, aged 36 years.
- Daniel Walters, aged 21 years.
- William Evans, aged 21 years.
- Lewis Rees, aged 22 years.
- James Gwynne, aged 32 years.
- Those who were burnt:
- Isaiah Davis, aged 41 years with a wife and 5 children.
- Thomas Jones, aged 20 years.
- Herbert Davis, aged 20 years, single.
- Morgan Evans, aged 13 years.
- William Jenkins, aged 29 years.
- Richard Lewis, aged 56 years.
- Ebenezer Jones, aged 44 years.
- Rees Morgan, aged 35 years.
- John Lewis, aged 56 years.
- Thomas Evans, aged 38 years.
- Griffith Griffiths, aged 17 years.
- William Hughes, aged 11 years.
- Thomas Griffiths, aged 17 years.
- Those who were burnt and bruised:
- Thomas Morris, aged 13 years.
- David Jenkins, aged 21 years.
- Benjamin Richards, aged 30 years.
- Thomas Evans, aged 30 years.
- Samuel Jones, aged 38 years.
- William Edwards, aged 37 years, single.
- Thomas Evans, aged 14 years.
- William Humphries, aged 13 years.
The inquest into the deaths of the men was held by the Coroner for the Northern Division of Glamorgan, Mr. George Overton. The inquiry took nine days before the verdict was delivered. Mr. Kenyon Blackwell, the manager of the New British Iron Works assisted the Coroner at the request of the Coroner. Mr. Charles H. James, solicitor of Merthyr watched the case for the proprietor of the colliery and Mr. Brough, Inspector of Mines for the Western District of England assisted Mr. Evans.
John Lewis, the engineer and surveyor at the colliery produced plans of the workings in which the explosion took place and the Colliery Rules which had been established in accordance with the Act.
John Enyon, the underviewer at the colliery was in charge of six pits on two levels. He did not hear the explosion as he was on the east side but he went to the west side and helped in the recovery of the bodies. From the position of the bodies and the doors that were blown down, he believed that the explosion occurred in the inner cross headings.
The fireman at work at the time of the explosion was Thomas Thomas. He had been around the pit to see that the doors and brattice were all right. Everything was in its place and was right for the men to come down to their work. He met the night fireman, Rees Herbert, who finished his inspection and was burnt by the blast when he was on his way to his dinner.
Rees Herbert, the night fireman, was the next to give his evidence. He said that he could neither read nor write. He had inspected the working places the night before the explosion and found some gas which he reported to Thomas Thomas. He told the court that the roof in the No.20 cross heading was bad and often broke through the timbers. He had found gas in John Jones’ place and had erected a “Fire” notice but there was not the time for him to remove the gas. He gave orders for safety lamps to be used in the place but all the people who were killed, except four, used naked lights.
The master wasteman at the colliery, Edmund Rees, had six men under him but he could not read the rules. He had charge of the roadways and airways and two or three days before the explosion he had been in every part of the colliery but he did not see any blowers of gas.
Several colliers were examined on the state of their working places but the evidence of James Thomas, Lewis Davies, Joseph Evans, David Thomas, Edward Edwards, John Davies, and others did not throw much light on how the explosion occurred. A collier, Benjamin Beddoe, who had worked as a collier at the colliery three years before the disaster and Seth Francis who had worked there two years before, Daniel Phillips and others who had worked in the pit were called but they did not know the state of the mine after such a long absence.
Mr. G.H. Laverick was of the opinion that the explosion took place at the mouth of the No.19 heading or up the stall. Mr. Bedlington Kirkhouse who was with Laverick’s party told the inquiry that he had seen previous explosions and he thought that the greatest injury would be at the point where the gas ignited. He was also of the opinion that the seat of the explosion was the No.19 heading.
Mr. Moody thought the explosion had taken place on the No. 19 heading and was well aware of the other explosions that had taken place in the area. He was of the opinion that a single bratticed shaft was dangerous but the ventilation of the colliery was good.
Lionel Brough, the Government Inspector for the Western District of England, was told by the Secretary of State to attend the inquiry. He thought the explosion took place on the No.19 heading and that the gas was ignited at a naked light. Mr. Evans gave his evidence and the Coroner addressed the jury:
It is for you to consider how and by what means the explosion occurred firstly, did it arise from a mere accident secondly, did it occur through culpable neglect. If the former, it will be your duty to return a verdict of accidental death but if you think it arose from the carelessness or negligence of any of the viewers, agent or overmen, or others who had duties to perform in reference to the pit, or the men who were employed therein, then it will be your duty to find a verdict of manslaughter against the delinquent.
The Coroner then explained the law upon this point and gave the decisions of the various judges as to the liability of officers who wilfully or carelessly neglect their duties. He observed that the cases of this description might be multiplied, but it was sufficiently laid down to show that managers, agents, and others who have duties to perform, on the due and careful performance of which the lives of the miners and others engaged in these dangerous undertakings, are bound to bring to the exercise of their respective duties ordinary and reasonable precaution, as well as skill and ability.
The Coroner, Mr. Overton, then commented on the leading facts given in evidence and said:
Do you, gentlemen, think, from the evidence that the accident is to be attributed to the ventilation or management of the colliery? Have the operations been properly planned and executed, is the mode of working coal, partly with naked lights and partly with safety lamps, safe and proper or, on the other hand, do you consider that the operations have been badly devised and executed or that the ventilation has been insufficient or defective or that the mode of using the lights is dangerous and bad, and that this unfortunate occurrence may be attributed to all or any of these causes? This is the question for you to decide you have heard the evidence and you must draw your own conclusions. I will conclude by thanking you for the great attention you have paid to this very protracted inquiry, and with the earnest hope that you will give such a verdict as the justice of the case requires, and will satisfy the public at large.
The jury retired to consider their verdict and returned after an hour and a half with the following verdict:
In the inquiry into the cause of death of Samuel Jones and others, we find, 1st. that the ventilation of the No.1 Gethin Pit was deficient in quantity, badly arranged, and liable to frequent interruption 2nd. that the viewer disregarded the first general rule and also permitted the Special Rules Nos. 16, 18, 24, 26, 31, 34, 37, and 63 to be generally disregarded by his officers, and we find a verdict of manslaughter against John Moody.
Mr. Moody was subsequently indicted at the assizes at Cardiff. A grand jury heard the evidence and found “No true bill.”
The Mines Inspectors Report, 1862. Mr. John Evans.
The Colliery Guardian, 22nd February 1862. p.150. 8th March, p.183. 15th March. p.207. 22nd March. p.223.
Report to and Address of the Honourable House of Commons. March 1863.
Kenyon Blackwell on the subject of the accident at the Gethin Colliery in the early part of 1862. H. Waddington.
Information supplied by Ian Winstanley and the Coal Mining History Resource Centre.Return to previous page