Great Colliery Explosion  

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Springhill Nova Scotia

FEBRUARY 21, 1891.














The following description of the Great Colliery Explosion at Springhill, by which one hundred and twenty-five men and boys lost their lives, is the most complete and trustworthy obtainable. This account of the scenes which followed the direful calamity is published on the spot and is strictly accurate.



20th March, 1891.





Are situated in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, and are connected with the Inter-colonial Railway by a branch road five miles long. The Collieries, three in number, are owned and operated by the Cumberland Railway and Coal Co’y, which is composed of Montreal capitalists, and represents invested capital of over $ 1,000,000. This Company purchased, in 1882, the Mining property at Springhill, and the Railway, extending to the shipping port of Parrsboro, from St. John capitalists, by whom the coalfield had been profitably developed for ten years previously.

Since becoming the property of the present owners the capacity of the Collieries has been doubled. The average daily output exceeds 2000 tons, and it has occasionally risen to 2,300 tons. The number of persons employed is from thirteen to fourteen hundred. This small army of workmen finds steady employment mining and preparing coal for shipment. The shipment of such large quantities of coal, indirectly affords many others means of earning a livelihood. The total quantity of coal shipped since the Collieries were opened in 1873, is about 3,500,000 tons. The underground workings are very extensive; and already three lifts have been exhausted, and the depth of No.1 Slope is 1,900 feet, while preparations are now being made to increase it to 2,500 feet. The supply of coal, however, on the authority of geologists competent to form an accurate estimate, is said to be practically inexhaustible.

The facts recited convey an idea of the extent of the mining operations, and a description of the different seams and methods of working will assist in understanding what follows. Three seams of coal, from ten to twelve feet in thickness, are now worked, while smaller seams have not yet been touched. These seams dip in a northerly direction at an angle of 35 degrees The surface outcrop of each seam is about 500 feet above sea level, and beginning at the outcrop three slopes have been sunk. The west seam underlies the east, from which it is separated by seventy feet of rock, and the top, or north seam, is separated from the east by about 160 feet. By holding in a standing position three thin pieces of wood, and imagining the intervening space to be stratified rock, and at a certain depth tunnels driven through the rock connecting the seams, a clearer idea of the underground workings may be obtained.




Two slopes, Nos.1 and 2, were at work on Saturday, February 21st, 1891. Owing to lack of sufficient empty coal cars in which to transport the output, No.3 Slope was idle. The pits had been carefully examined, and the reports of the examiners for the previous night stated that the workings were free from gas. Work began at the usual time, 7o’clock, a. m., and continued without any mishap up to 12 o’clock, noon, when there was a cessation of half an hour for dinner. The machinery was again put in operation at half-past twelve, and everything was running smoothly, when suddenly the loud roar of a terrific explosion startled those underground, and was felt on the surface by a tremor of the earth.

Nos.1 and 2 Slopes, for purposes ‘of ventilation, were connected by a tunnel at the 1,300 foot level. In No. 2 Slope the explosion extended a short distance through this tunnel, but in No.1 Slope it swept along the 1,900 foot level a considerable distance. Eye-witnesses describe it as preceded by a sudden gust of wind, which swept like a tornado through the dark passages, hurling timbers and clouds of dust and flying missiles before it. This was followed in a few seconds by balls of fire, large and small, and then came a solid body of fierce flame that filled the passages, and literally roasted everything in its path. Those near the pit bottom, nearly half a mile from the supposed seat of the explosion, alone are left to describe it. Little John Conway, a driver, was the furthest in the level of those rescued, and, therefore, the nearest to the district where the explosion originated. His escape was almost miraculous.

Manager Swift had relieved Mr. Conway, and was in charge of the pit at the time, about one o’clock He went into the west level half an hour before, and was killed. Those at the pit bottom were without a leader. They were the first to venture into the level, which was still thick with clouds of heated smoke and coal dust. Their names were James Lambert, Wm. McGilvray, Geo. Morrison, Malcolm Blue, Geo. Oulton, Wm. Murray, James Ferguson, Joseph Robinson, Dan. O’Brien, James Miller, and Chas. H.WelIer. They proceeded to the foot of No. 3 chute, where they discovered some clothing and wood on fire. James Lambert went up the chute and extinguished the fire, which probably prevented great damage to property. This party picked up and carried out a number of the wounded, among whom was Willard Carter, a 13-year-old trapper, whose door was completely demolished. Cries for help could be heard, and men, flying for their lives, howling frantically, were met. At No. 4 Balance, with the assistance of James Harvey and John Maiden, who descended from the surface, they rescued Adolph Landry, who was lying beneath a dead horse, severely burned. About 40 feet farther cries of" Mother" were heard, and after removing a dead horse and a quantity of rubbish, John Conway, a driver, was found crazed with the shock and fright, but unscratched. The wounded, so soon as taken to the pit bottom, were hoisted rapidly to the surface, and conveyed to their homes in sleighs, warmly wrapped in blankets. For the first two hours after the explosion a score or more of unfortunates were brought up, ten of whom were seriously injured, the others suffering from after-damp. Four of these have since died. Medical aid was summoned from outside places. The response was prompt. Doctors Bliss, Black, Allen, Campbell and Hewson, of Amherst; Atkinson, Babbitt and Boggs, of Parrsboro; Dr. McDougall, of Oxford, together with the colliery doctors, Cove and Hayes, did everything possible for the alleviation of suffering. The scenes on the surface, as panic-stricken men made their appearance, and could give no tidings of the missing to grief-stricken relatives who eagerly surrounded them, beggar description. To prevent the overly curious and anxious from drawing too near, a rope was stretched across the mouth of the pit, and the entrance to the buildings guarded by policemen. Several colliery officials, among them Deputy Inspector Madden, Assistant Manager Mclnnis, and Underground Managers Conway, Hargreaves, and Simpson, who were on their way to a meeting of colliery officials at Maccan, were notified, and at once returned, and descended No.1 Slope. Underground Manager Conway, assisted by James Ferguson, Peter Shannahan, and John Tarris, directed his attention to restoring ventilation with canvas. Bratticing was proceeded with systematically. Meanwhile, Assistant Manager Mclnnis led an exploring party to No. 6 Balance, up which he went a short distance, till overcome by after-damp, he had to be assisted out. Underground Manager Hargreaves and Cecil Parsons, civil engineer, pushed their way into No. 2 Slope. On the levels in No.1 Slope several heavy falls were encountered, and over these the searching party had to climb and crawl, sometimes laden with their dead comrades’ bodies spread on a canvas sheet, and carrying their safety lamps between their teeth. After the wounded had been taken out, and it became evident that there could be no living person in the pits, the officials consulted, and ordered the searching parties to withdraw from the pit for five hours in order to admit of the circulation of air, and see if there were any indications of fire, as reported, which might allay fear of a second explosion. At six o’clock the men withdrew from No. 1 Slope.

When it became known that the destructive explosion had extended to No. 2 Slope, a crowd gathered there and the wounded were speedily taken to the surface. The first to enter the pit to search for the dead and wounded were William Reese, Ralph Turner, Malcolm McMullin, Moses Jones and Alex. Chisholm. They penetrated through the tunnel where the after-damp had poured out of No. 6 and 7 Balances into the 1,300 foot level, and saw at once indications of its deadly effect. Jesse Armishaw accompanied the party only to find his three sons cold in death. A. A. McKinnon and Daniel Murray went down to search for McKinnon’s brother, whom they found dead on the level, overcome by the powerful narcotic poison. Among others who were the first to go to the relief of the wounded were Charles Rennie, John Matheson, jr., John Moffatt and R. W. McDonald, all of whom exerted themselves nobly in their endeavor to succor the dying and the dead. Within a comparatively short distance on the level, twenty bodies were found lying on their faces, their safety lamps in their hands, where they fell as they ran. Some had succeeded in running nearly half a mile along the dark, narrow passages, groping their way probably when they succumbed. Most of the dead were in the attitude of making violent efforts to escape, when they became rigid under the influence of the poison which they inhaled. A little boy named Ross was found standing with one arm encircling a prop; he had been dead for some time. Horses had dropped on their knees and expired leaning against the side of the levels. When it was found that all in this pit were beyond doubt dead hours before, and that the lives of the searching party might be endangered by proceeding further, they were also withdrawn.




At eleven o’clock, Saturday night, a large party of brave men descended both No.1 and 2 Slopes, and the work of recovering the dead began. The searching party in No. 2 Slope found ventilation almost perfectly restored, and were enabled to carry out those found in the levels. All through the night the gruesome work went on, and Sunday morning all the dead, with three exceptions, had been recovered in this Slope, making 47 for the night. The work was under the direction of Underground Manager Hargreaves, who was assisted by Underground Manager Simpson of No. 3 Slope. Large crowds, sorrowful and anxious, watched with eagerness each load of dead brought up. At No.1 Slope, owing to the terrific force of the explosion, great obstacles had to be overcome before the recovery of bodies could be undertaken. The remains of two boys badly mutilated were picked up and taken out of the pit in bags. A young man was found standing where he stood at the time of the fearful blast, which piled debris around him to the height of his waist, and where he was probably instantly killed Before morning the explorers reached the explosion district, which was literally covered with dead. The men appeared as though instantly killed. They were covered with a lead colored powder, the ash of the burnt coal dust. They did not seem badly burned. Most of them had their hands before their faces, to shield them from the fierce flame. They were blown hither and thither by the force of the explosion. With few exceptions their faces wore a peaceful look, and there were evidences of sudden death. One man had a piece of bread in his mouth and had not finished eating his dinner. Another had his teeth firmly set upon the amber mouthpiece of his pipe, which had to be broken to be released from his death grip. Others were lying beside their picks and shovels. Iron rails were torn up and twisted into every conceivable shape; stout timbers snapped like pipe stems, and heavy material driven hundreds of feet by the violence of the explosion, before which human life could not last for a moment.

Sunday morning the recovery of bodies in No.1 Slope began in earnest, and continued during several days. Owing to over-exertion, and the effects of after-damp, Underground Manager Conway was completely prostrated, and his place taken by Thomas Scott. Entering the pit with Overman Reese and others, smouldering fire was discovered in No. 2 Bord, No. 6 Balance. This was extinguished with little difficulty. Inspector Gilpin and Deputy Inspector Madden descended No. 1 Slope, and passed through into No. 2. They concluded that there would be no further danger from fire. Volunteers entered the pits hourly, and it was only during Sunday ‘forenoon that the appalling extent of the direful calamity became known. Including two, who died from injuries, the dead numbered 123, and with two, who have died since, the number of killed is 125. A complete list of the killed, together with those who died from injuries (marked *), compiled from official sources, giving the ages, and persons dependent on those killed, is as follows:




Anderson, Arthur 


Armishaw, Jesse, Jr. 


Armishaw, Herber 


Boyd. John 

27  Wife.

Bentliffe, John 

39  Wife and 5 children.

Brown, William 


Bunt, Andrew 


Bunt, Alexander 


Bond, George 


Birchell, William 


Budd, Alonzo 

27  Mother.

Bainbridge. Ernest  

20 Mother.

Chandler, Ernes 


Campbell, Donald 

47  Wife and 7 children

Campbell, Alexander 


Campbell, John D. 


Carter, Reid 

50  Wife and 3 children.

Carter, Clarence 


Carter Willard 


Crawford, John 


Casey, Jude 


Carmichael, Andrew 


Carmichael, William 


Carmichael, John 

36  Wife and 4 children.

Clark, Robert 

37  Wife.

Conway, James 

24 Wife and 3 children.

Connerton, John 

30  Wife and child.

Carrigan, William 

27  Wife and 2 children.

Collins, Matthew 

35  Wife and 3 children.

Dawson, Richard 

45  Wife and 6 children.

Dawson, Samuel 


Dillon, Fred. 


Dupee, Joseph 


Dunn, John 


Davis, Thomas 


Ernest, Roger 


Furbow, Samuel 


Francis, John 

35  Wife.

Fife, Hiram  

37 Wife and 2 children.

Fletcher, Thomas 

35  Wife and 2 children.

Fincilayson, Daniel 

38  Wife and 3 children.

Guthro, Lazarus  

56 Wife and 4 children.

Gallagher, Peter 

35  Wife and 3 children.

Gillis, John 


Hallet, Thomas 


Hannigar, Peter 


Hayden, John 


Hunter, John 

33  Wife and 4 children.

Hyde, William 

35  Wife and 4 children.

Johnson, James 


Kent, William 

40  Wife and 6 children.

Letcher, Frank  

22 Wife and child.

Lockhart, Dan 

24  Wife and 2 children.

Livingston, Henry 


Legere, Samuel 


Martin, George 


Murphy, Richard 


Morrison, Thomas 


Muckle, Samuel 


Maiden, Wm. J. 


Morris, James  

50 Wife and 6 children.

Murphy, Jeremiah 

37  Wife and 3 children.

Miller, James, Sr. 

50  Wife and 6 children.

Mitchell, John 

38  Wife and 4 children.

Mott, Ernest 

26  Wife and 2 children.

McKinnon, Allan 

35  Wife and 2 children.

McKinnon, Angus 2nd

51 Wife and 8 children.

McKinnon, John 1st. 

26  Wife.

McKinnon, Laughlin 


McEachran, John D. 


McKay, A. J. 


McKay, Donald 2nd

50 Wife and 2 children.

McGilvery, William 2nd.

25  Wife and child.

McKee, William 

45 Wife.

McDonald, John J.  

42 Wife and 4 children.

McDonald, Rory B.  

40 Wife and 4 children.

McFadden, Robert 


McPhee, Neil 


McNutt, Charles 


McLeod, Neil 

23  Mother.

McLeod, Henry 


McLeod, Rory 

32  Wife and 2 children.

McLeod, Norman 

29  Wife and child.

McNeil, John F. 

32  Wife and 2 children.

McNeil, Rod. C. 


*McNeil, Joshua 


*McNeil, Neil S. 


McVey, David 


McVey, James 


Nash, Charles 

27  Wife and child.

*Nash, Henry 

24  Wife and child.

Nairn, John 

50  Wife.

Nairn, James 


Nairn, Malcolm 

21  Wife.

Noiles, Roger

  33  Wife and 2 children.

Nicholson, Malcolm 

42  Wife and child.

Overs, James 


Pitt, Joseph 

20  Mother.

Pequinot, James 


Ryan, Bruce 

14  Mother.

Ross, Philip 


Ross, Murdoch 


Reid, Peter 


Ripley, Clifford 


Rogers, Thomas 

21  Mother.

Robbins, James 


Rushton, Stephen  

31 Wife and 4 children.

Robinson, Hugh 

39  Wife and 4 children.

Swift, Henry 

42  Wife and 5 children.

Sherlock, Robert A. 

45  Wife and child.

Shipley, Archibald 

35  Wife and 6 children.

Sharples, James 

36  Wife and 3 children.

Simmonds, Howard 


Smith, Edward 


Taylor, Doug1as 


Turner, William H. 

64  Wife and 5 children.

Tatterstal, Joseph 

45  Wife and 5 children and Mother.

Vance, Alexander 

35  Wife and 4 children.

Watt, David 


Wood, George 

21  Wife and child.

Wry, Henry 

18  Mother.

Wry, Edgar 

22  Wife and 2 children.

White, Philip B. 

30  Wife and 4 children.

Williams, John 

40  Wife and 6 children.

Wilson, Thomas 

40  Wife and child.

*Died from injuries.





ADOLPHUS LANDRY, 14 years old, a little French boy, found beneath a horse, was painfully burned, and was delirious for several days. He will recover.

DANNIE ROBINSON, 14 years old, who distinguished himself by saving a little trapper boy, had his face, head and arms covered with burns.

DAVID LIDDLE, aged 22, struck by a flying missile, sustained injuries to his spinal cord that paralyzed the lower parts of his body. He was afterwards removed to the hospital at Halifax.

JAMES DANIEL MCDONALD, aged 30, was panic stricken, and after recovery from the effects of after-damp became demented. Consciousness is slowly returning.

DANIEL BEATON, 13 years old, was struck by a flying missile. His skull was laid bare by a scalp wound and he was badly burned He was rescued by his brother, and is recovering rapidly.

CYRUS MUNRO, one of the worst cases of after-damp, had a narrow escape. He heard the noise of the explosion, and with his companion, who was suffocated, rushed from his working place. He says he became quite dizzy, as if intoxicated, and the after-damp tasted sweet.

Others seriously affected by the after-damp were JOHN DYKENS, DAVID MERRITT, HYATT N0ILES, and JOHN B.ANDERSON. All have recovered.

When the list of the dead and wounded was completed, it was found that a number of families had been fearfully decimated. In one household the father, Reid Carter, and his two sons, Clarence and Willard, were all dead. Clarence was to have been married the first of the following week, and Willard was killed on his thirteenth birthday. The family of Fred Carmichael was sorely afflicted. Three sons, John, Andrew and William, were killed, and another boy, Gordon, carried home unconscious from the effects of after-damp.- Three members of Jesse Armishaw’s family, Jesse and Herbert, and Ernest Brainbridge, an adopted son, were taken home at the same time, all suffocated by after-damp. John Nearing arid his grown up sons, Malcolm and James, were laid low. They were all miners, and worked in the vicinity of the seat of the explosion. In several other families two of the breadwinners were snatched away. Richard Dawson and his son Samuel worked together, and their bodies were found within a few feet of each other, covered by stone, with the exception of their heads, which could be seen. Two young sons of Hugh Bunt, who were assisting in the support of a large family, were killed. Their names were Andrew and Alexander Neil Ross lost two sons, Philip and Murdoch; and the family of Robert McVey was reduced by the death of his two boys, James and David, who were found clasped in each others arms, overcome by the choke damp. Two brothers, Allan and Laughlin McKinnon, were killed. Donald Campbell, the father of a family of seven children, worked with his nephew, John D. Campbell The body of John D. was found lying across that of his uncle. A young man of strong physique, Alexander McKay, worked in the pit only a couple of days, and was numbered with the dead. A broken hearted father, Oliver Dupois, whose son Joseph was killed, was tenderly conveying the remains to his house. His four-year-old boy ran out to meet him, slipped on the ice, and struck his head so violently in falling that he expired instantly. The grief of the little family was very great, and the sad event added to the gloom, which overspread the community.




Though the absence of fire made the work of recovering the bodies tolerably easy and safe, yet, owing to the timbers for the support of the roof being in many cases blown out, access to the working places where the men were suddenly killed was rendered somewhat dangerous, and many of the dead were buried beneath immense quantities of roof stone that had caved in. The search, however, was prosecuted with the utmost vigor, and with great success. Two and three bodies were brought up at a time during Sunday, and the crowd which surrounded the Slopes’ mouth made way in silence for the men who carried some poor victim on their shoulders, wrapped in a sheet or blanket, with only the boots visible at one end to denote that another human being had gone to rest. The bodies were all taken to the carpenter shop, which was used temporarily as the morgue. There, on two rows of benches, from sixteen to twenty could sometimes be seen at one time awaiting identification. The sights within the large building, illuminated at night by the electric light, were sickening. The door was closely guarded. Outside, sleighs awaited the bodies, which were first stripped of the clothing worn at the time of the accident, prepared for burial, and then conveyed to their former homes. This work was most trying, and few men could stand it longer than a few hours. The men had to be constantly refreshed with stimulants. Spectators surrounded the building, and those unable to gain admittance, anxiously peered through the windows. The dead were identified amid most pathetic scenes. Fathers wept piteously over sons, and widowed mothers and wives uttered bitter wails of anguish as they were taken to the side of a covered body, which proved to be the lost one. "That’s poor dear John," was the broken-hearted cry heard as a grief-stricken woman leaned for support on the arm of a friend and identified her relative. These tragic scenes among the dead will never be forgotten by hundreds who looked in upon the rows of corpses. From Saturday afternoon till Thursday evening, five long days, this building was never closed. During that time the bodies were taken up and buried. Those recovered after Tuesday were in a bad state, and carbolic acid had to be used as a disinfectant. Still the attendants continued faithful. Bodies that had begun to decompose had to be at once interred. Some of these were in Places not accessible earlier, and those found beneath falls of stone were well preserved. The last to come out of the ill-fated pit was that of Henry Swift, the Manager of the Collieries. I his remains were found near the face of the 1,900 foot level, covered by nearly three feet of stone.




No services were held, except short ones in the Episcopal and Roman Catholic Churches, on Sunday, the day after the explosion. Throughout the preceding night few of the inhabitants of the town slept, and at daybreak many were astir. The clergymen of the different denominations moved among the bereft widows and children and offered consolation; but the whole population centred its thought on the tragic scenes that attended the recovery of bodies at No.1 Slope. Anxiety was depicted on the faces of even strangers by whom the town was thronged. Sunday evening a mass meeting was held in Fraser’s Hall; Mayor Hall presided. Arrangements were made for the funerals. For the purpose of attending to the burials, and relieving the stricken families of care, a committee was appointed to attend to the digging of the graves and to appoint the time of funerals. Sub-Committees at the cemetery and at headquarters in town assisted greatly. The digging of graves was difficult, owing to the earth being frozen hard. Volunteers were called for, but it was found on Monday that little progress had been made, and at another meeting held Monday evening, another call was made for more volunteers. Tuesday morning the gravediggers faced blustery weather, and attacked with greater success the frozen earth. Hot coffee and other refreshments were provided for the workers, near the cemetery. When more than one member of a family were to be buried, they were buried side by side in one grave. Two and three were laid in several graves, made large enough for this purpose. The strangers were buried in a large grave sixteen feet square. The funerals began Monday afternoon, and continued every day till Friday. It was not an unusual sight to see two and three coffins on a sleigh followed by sorrowing relatives. At times the Clergymen of different denominations conducted burial services simultaneously in different parts of the cemetery. The resident Clergy were assisted by others. Two members of the 93rd Battalion Band, Jesse Armishaw and Thomas Fletcher, were victims of the explosion; the band played at their funerals Tuesday. Monday afternoon one long procession followed eleven of the dead to the cemetery. The funerals each day were: Monday, 33; Tuesday, 53; Wednesday, 14; Thursday 3; Friday, 1. Besides these funerals, the remains of 21 were taken by rail to other places for burial. The committee appointed to look after the funerals were F. L. Peers, Wm. Wylie, U. J. Weatherbee, Geo. A. Smith, William Cargeig, A. D. Ferguson, James Murphy, James Highton Martin Black and Robert Dykens. At the Protestant cemetery, Samuel Russell and John Murray, sr. directed operations and at the Roman Catholic cemetery, Thomas Shannahan attended to the placing of the graves, of which there were over twenty. Several funerals were conducted by the different Societies, among them the Odd fellows, Orangemen and Masonic lodges. The funeral of Manager Swift, Friday afternoon, was of the nature of a public funeral; it was largely attended. The procession was nearly three-quarters of a mile long, and the streets were lined by hundreds of sorrowful people, many of whom followed the remains on foot to the grave. The Masons took charge of the remains, which were buried according to their rites. The procession was headed by the 93rd Battalion Band, reinforced by members of the Cumberland Cornet Band, and played a mournful dirge. The closing scene of the calamity will long be memorable.




There were many instances of heroic conduct. Those who displayed the coolest courage, ‘and faced the greatest dangers, were the men who, momentarily expecting a second explosion, risked their own lives for the sake of their wounded comrades, whose plaintive cries for help fell upon their ears. They penetrated the smoking levels as far as they could without endangering their lives from the choke-damp,which met them after proceeding about half a mile.

When the first party left the pit-bottom, they were accompanied by John Dan Beaton, whose thirteen-year-old brother was working not far from the scene of the explosion. When nearing the place where his brother was supposed to be, young Beaton — who is seventeen years old — dashed ahead, and was soon met carrying his wounded brother toward the pit bottom. He declined assistance offered him, and succeeded in taking out his brother severely wounded. Beaton’s heroism is greatly admired.

Little Dannie Robertson, though badly burned himself, assisted little Judson Tarris, a ten-year-old trapper, to make his escape. Robertson was badly burned about the back, arms and face.

Malcolm Blue and Joseph Robinson exerted themselves nobly for the rescue of their comrades, and succeeded in. carrying out many of the wounded. Robinson was more than once overcome by after damp, but never gave up

Assistant Manager Mclnnis pushed ahead too far and fell. He was assisted out by those who were with him.

Underground Manager Conway displayed great coolness, and at once exerted himself to render the work of recovering the dead less dangerous.

Overman Reese rendered most heroic service, which was gratefully appreciated by at least one of those rescued, who has shown his appreciation of such a noble act.

J. R. Cowans, the General Manager of the Company, who had just returned from Montreal, did not hesitate to descend No. i Slope, and see for himself the extent of the disaster.

Rev. David Wright went down No. 2 Slope, and refreshed the exploring party with hot coffee.

On the surface, while there was a possibility of fire, Deputy Inspector Madden placed thermometers in the return airshafts, which registered the temperature of the pits. These were frequently examined, and any change of temperature carefully noted. These and other observations were taken as a guidance for the men. The Deputy Inspector was present from a short time after the explosion took place, and stated that in his experience at four colliery explosions, he had never observed greater spontaneity on the part of volunteers. When appealed to, the response of the men was hearty. Many were disappointed because their services were declined, owing to the numbers who were anxious to descend to succor their fellow-workmen. From ten, to fifteen men went down in each searching party, and these were relieved hourly.




Sunday afternoon a meeting of prominent citizens, Town Council, representative workmen and Clergy, took place, at which it was decided to issue an appeal for aid for the sufferers. The appeal, which was as follows, was telegraphed free by the telegraph companies to the principal cities of Canada and the United States.

A mining disaster, attended with fatal results unparalleled in the history of Canadian mines, has fallen upon the town and people of Springhill. The loss of life is probably as great as the combined appalling loss at the Drummond and Foord pit explosions. About 117 lives are known to be lost. Fifty-one widows have been left behind, and 157 children made fatherless. The widows and fatherless will require abundant assistance, and that promptly, from a public shocked and horrified by this horrible calamity. Seventy thousand dollars will be required to meet the demands and to alleviate the sufferings of the bereaved and distressed during the most pressing period of their direful misfortune. The residents of Springhill, in meeting assembled, have appointed a committee, consisting of the Mayor, Town Council, and all the resident Clergy, to solicit and acknowledge subscriptions to the Springhill Relief Fund, and they confidently and earnestly ask for an immediate response of all denominations, societies, guilds, trades, and nationalities.


A.McLE0D, Secretary.

The response to the appeal has been highly gratifying, and it is expected that the amount asked for will be subscribed. Among those who contributed was Queen Victoria, who also sent a telegram concerning the loss of life and the wounded, asking for particulars, to which Mayor Hall replied. The Governor General subscribed $500, and other amounts followed.

Since the appeal was issued several names have been added to the list, making 125 deaths. The number of persons dependent on those killed is 57 widows, 169 fatherless children, and 8 widowed mothers. These will be provided for out of the relief fund.




Coroner Dr. C. A. Black, of Amherst, began his inquest Monday evening, February 23rd, in Fraser’s Hall. The twelve jurors sworn were: William Hall (foreman), A. E. Fraser, Richard Bennett, Robert V. Scott, George Watt, Daniel Coghill, R. W. McDonald, Timothy Leadbeater, Daniel Ferguson, Robt. Gray, Charles Simpson, and Simon Fraser. After viewing the remains of John Connerton, the jury visited the scene of the explosion, descending No.1 Slope for that purpose.

The inquest continued during Tuesday, and was then adjourned till March 10th. The workmen were ably represented by Robert Drummond. Inspector Gilpin watched proceedings for the Government, and Hector Mclnnis, of Halifax, on behalf of the Company.

Voluminous evidence was submitted. From the beginning it was asserted that the explosion was caused by coal dust, and took place in No. 3 Bord of No.7 Balance. It was also brought out in the evidence that it had been currently reported that Mrs. Coo, a reputed prophetess of mining disasters, had predicted an explosion in May, which had caused a feeling of uneasiness among the men. Manager Swift consulted Underground Manager Conway regarding this, and to reassure the men of the safety of the pits, they were invited to make a thorough inspection. This they did. Wm. D. Matthews and Thomas Scott, who examined Slope, presented the following report:

"We, the undersigned Committee, appointed by Pioneer Lodge to examine No. 1 Slope, in accordance with the law, as contained in the Mines Regulation Act, submit the following Report: On entering the Mine at 6.40 a. m., we were met by Wm. Conway, Underground Manager, who accompanied us through the workings and principal airways, and we are pleased to state that the ventilation is all that could be desired, both in distribution and quantity, and the workings generally we found in good condition. The system of ventilation is such that it is almost impossible for gas to accumulate even in the goafs, a sufficient current of air being carried to keep them clear. In visiting Nos. 6 and 7 Balances, west side, main seam, we found the places very dry and dusty, and the air in a condition, from the quantity of dust floating in the air, to make it a possible source of danger, which possibility, however, is rendered nil by a system of water works carrying water to each bord, and with a hose attached for sprinkling and damping the places. In fact, we find everything as aforesaid in good order for safety."

Evidence was adduced to show that the district, in which the explosion occurred, had been inspected by the Government Inspector, Mr. Madden, the day before the explosion. He found it in good condition. It was also shown that precautionary measures had been adopted for the safety of the pits that were not known in other collieries.

After the adjournment of the inquest, the Inspector of Mines began a searching investigation into the cause of the disaster, and the system of working the pits. Part of the evidence taken by him was put in at the Coroner’s inquest. The inquest was resumed March 10th, and lasted two days. All the evidence was in at five o’clock of Wednesday, the 11th, and, after three hours’ consideration, the following verdict was unanimously agreed upon:

"The Jury do say upon their oath that the late John Connerton and others came to their death by an explosion which originated in No. 3 Bord of No. 7 Balance, in the west side of the East Slope on the 21St of February, 1891. They further believe said explosion was caused by the flame from a shot fired in said Bord igniting coal dust, and a certain portion of gas, which might have been present at the time. They also believe that there was an unusual flame from the said shot owing to a slip in the stone. They believe the explosion was accidental, that no blame can be attached to the management, and that they have taken every precaution for the safety of their workmen. The Jurors do make the following recommendations: First, that in future, where safety lamps are used, and in very dusty places, powder should not be allowed. Second, they recommend that in gaseous portions of the mine, before the men resume work after dinner, the places should be examined by competent officials. Third, they recommend that the local government procure for the use of the Deputy inspector of Mines a Shaw machine for testing gas."




HENRY SWIFT, the late Manager of the Springhill Collieries was a self-made man. He was born at Bickerstaffe, Lancashire, England. His father was a miner, and after receiving a meagre education at the National School, young Swift entered the employ of the Rainford Coal Company. In 1869 he left England for the United States, where he worked as a miner in the anthracite coal region, afterward going to Maryland.

Mr. Swift did not remain long in the States. He removed to the Albion Mines, Pictou County, where he was married. He then came to Springhill, and for sixteen years held various positions in the colliery here, beginning as a miner and ending as manager.

Mr. Swift was 42 years old at the time of his death. His wife and five children survive him. He was Vice-President of the Nova Scotia Institute of Mine Officials, and took a deep interest in mining subjects. Ten years ago he was appointed a Justice of the Peace. He was a member of the Presbyterian Church, and for many years had been Secretary of the Congregation.

The Colliery Engineer of Scranton, Pa., referring to Mr. Swift’s untimely death, says;

"In the death of Henry Swift, the late manager of the Cumberland Railway and Coal Company, the mining fraternity of Nova Scotia loses one of its brightest lights. Mr. Swift met his death in the sad Springhill calamity while in the pursuit of his official duties. While the loss of each of the victims was to his own immediate friends and family just as great as that of Mr. Swift, the latter’s attainments, and the prominent position which he filled so skillfully and acceptably, makes more than a passing notice of his death necessary. While we never had the pleasure of Mr. Swift’s acquaintance, we knew him through correspondence and repute. Professionally, he ranked very high as a successful colliery manager, and he possessed the good will and respect of all his subordinates, as well as the confidence and esteem of his superior officers in the directory of the Company. When this is said of a man who has managed successfully interests as large as those of the Cumberland Railway and Coal Company, and has had control of a small army of workmen, it furnishes such an index of his character and attainments that nothing more need be said."



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