GREAT COLLIERY EXPLOSION
Springhill Nova Scotia
FEBRUARY 21, 1891.
FULL PARTICULARS OF THE GREATEST MINING
H. A. MCKNIGHT,
SPRINGHILL., N. S.
PRICE 25 CENTS.
*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.
SYMPATHY AND RELIEF
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.
WILLIAM HALL, Mayor.
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."
THE LATE MANAGER SWIFT
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."