Search billions of records on Ancestry.com
   

KAITANGATA MINE DISASTER
CORONERS INQUEST

Coroners Inquest into the Kaitangata Mine Disaster

Saturday February 22nd - Monday February 24th - Monday March 10th 1879

Magistrate Mr E H CAREW Residential Magistrate of Milton and a Jury of Sixteen
Mr David DUNN (Foreman) Mr Alex MITCHELL
Mr John WALKER William BISSETT
William CARSON George KIDD
Hugh McFARLANE John GORDON
Allan BLACKIE Charles SMAILL
Andrew SMAILL Joseph ROBERTSON
Alexander BISSETT P F STODDART
James MUIRMalcolm MORRISON

Mr Commissioner WELDON and Inspector MOORE were also present.

THE KAITANGATA CATASTROPHE ----------- THE INQUEST
Otago Daily Times Tuesday, February 25 1879.

The inquest was resumed yesterday morning at the Bridge Hotel, Kaitangata, before Mr. E. H. CAREW, District Coroner, and a jury of 16.

The Coroner stated that before the resumption of the inquest that was adjourned from Saturday last there would be an inquest on the bodies of Archibald HODGE and Andrew JARVIE, which were found on Sunday morning. Mr David DUNNE having been appointed foreman, the jury went to view the bodies. Thomas KNOWLES, pit headman said: I am employed in the Kaitangata mine. I knew Archibald HODGE and Andrew JARVIE, and identify the bodies in the adjoining room as those of the deceased. HODGE was a miner. His duty was to attend to the roads and the furnace. JARVIE was also a miner. the bodies were found yesterday morning in the mine. JARVIE was found between 1 and 2 o'clock in the main drive, at the point indicated in the map produced. It was lying about 250 or 300 yards from the mouth of the tunnel, and about 200 yards from the place where he used to work, in the direction of the pit mouth. His place was to extend new workings. The body of HODGE was found at 5 o'clock in an old working, about 95 yards from the main drive of the present workings and about 10 yards from the main drive of the workings.

The Coroner: For the present that is all the evidence required of you. Orders can now be given for the burial of the bodies. We will resume the inquest that was adjourned from Saturday.

Charles Edward TWINING said: I am a mining surveyor, and hold a Government certificate as a qualified colliery manager in England. I served my articles as a mining engineer in Oldham, Lancashire. I have had the management of collieries for I should say, six or seven years. I was employed as surveyor by the Kaitangata Coal Mining Company with instructions to get an increase in the "get" of coal. The Company wanted 200 or 300 tons per day in the winter. I had no control whatever in the management of the mine, but whenever I saw anything that required attending to I reported it. I believe Mr HOLMES is chairman of the directors of the Company. The late Mr William HODGE was working manager of the Company. It was not my practise to give him instructions direct, but I used to give him instructions from Mr HOLMES when asked to do so. One time I told him by Mr HOLMES directions to start a new drive. I was first employed in December last. The first thing I did was to make a survey and see how the get of coal could be increased. I made the survey. I know the plan produced. The part coloured pink indicates my survey. The part coloured yellow is the new workings, and the part coloured blue the old workings. I made a report of the survey to Mr HOLMES. He asked me which way I should drive to get more coal, and I laid out two places (marked on the plan) and recommended them.

The Coroner: Were there any operations going on in the old workings then?

Witness: No. HODGE had talked to me about them, but I had recommended him not to touch them, as we were not getting any more coal out.

What were your reasons for recommending that he should not work here any more?

Because by robbing the mouth of the mine it always weakens the main roads.

It was not a question of ventilation then?

No.

It was simply because you did not want to weaken the foreground?

That was it.

Did you make any other recommendations?

I recommended that there should be a connection between this side of the workings and the other (pointing it out on the plan).

Did you make these recommendations verbally?

Yes.

And what did Mr HODGE do? Did he simply commit them to memory, or write them down in his note-book?

I never saw him take a note of any suggestion I made. Examination continued: I also recommended that an opening should be made as near the facings as possible, so as to convey the air around.

Do you know whether that was done?

Yes, it was done.

How was the ventilation managed at that time? - was it the same as at present?

It was going in the same direction.

Has there been any change made in the ventilation of the mine under your directions?

A little. I recommended Hodge to make one or two improvements.

What did you recommend?

I recommended him to have more openings through the facings, so as to bring more air through.

Did he do that?

Yes.

Have you ever reported on the ventilation of the mine to the directors of the Company, or to Mr HOLMES?

No.

Did you not think it part of your duty to do that?

No sir.

What are the duties of a mining engineer at Home?

I had nothing whatever to do with the actual management of the place, except so far as to make suggestions and report on the place.

Would it be the duty of the manager or the engineer to provide ventilation?

The Manager.

Are you sure of that?

Yes. The under-manager has to hold a certificate of competency from the Government before he can take on such a position.

What would the qualifications of a manager at Home need to be?

He would be required to understand the different systems of ventilation, so as to work a mine safely.

Had you any conversation with HODGE with regard to the ventilation of this mine?

No, I don't know that I ever had; but I observed to him last Saturday week that the air was much better since he had got the openings put in.

Did he ever complain to you about the air being had?

No.

Were you ever in the old workings?

No sir, I understood that he was going to push it on at once.

And had instructions t convey to HODGE about that?

Yes, from Mr HOLMES.

Examination continued: I produced a letter written by me to HODGE, giving him the bearing and tracings.

Where did the letter come from?

It was found in HODGE's desk at home. (The letter was here read. It contained directions for HODGE. He was to carry that work on with three shifts, working night and day )

And he was to continue working till it was through?

Yes.

You thought it necessary, then, that some expedition should be used?

Yes, the reason was to have a second outlet, both for travelling and air.

Would that have improved the ventilation?

Yes.

Examination continued: There is only one means of getting in and out of the pit at present. They don't call an air-pit an outlet. But there is a chimney from the mouth of the tunnel to the extreme point of the new workings, and from the mouth of the tunnel to the entrance into the old workings is a distance of 136ft. The body found the nearest to the mouth of the tunnel was that of a boy names McDONALD.

Is it usual at Home, in a mine of this description and size to work with a single air-shaft?

No. The law at Home is that whenever there are over nine adults it is compulsory to have two outlets. Of course, the more outlets there are the better.

From your professional experience can you say that it is usual to have a single shaft?

No, I can't say.

From what you know of the mines - without having any particular knowledge of the old workings - you believe it was safe then, to work it in the way it was worked?

As far as I know it was perfectly safe. But I thought it necessary to have another outlet.

Did you think that outlet was required to make the mine safe?

Yes sir - to make it perfectly safe. After the adjournment Mr TWINING's examination was resumed. He added: I don't consider it safe to have brattice-work in front. That is to say, it is unsafe in a manner, although I should not say it was perfectly unsafe.

What would be the means of making this brattice-work more safe?

Having it built in brickwork instead of timber. The tunnel would have required to be about 40 or 50 yards in length.

What ought to have been done to make this air pit into an outlet for the men?

Machinery would have been required to lift the men up and down.

If you had been called upon to recommend a second outlet for the mine, would you have recommended this air-pit to have been made available, or would you have recommended an outlet in another part of the mine?

I should have recommended that the outlet be made in another part of the mine.

Was there any advantage in keeping these old workings open?

It was very necessary that they should be kept open, so you can see that there is in accumulation going on there and they ought to be ventilated Just as much as the other workings. I cannot say what thickness of wall would be required to effectually keep the foul air from getting through, but I should say a nine inch thick wall would be sufficient for ordinary purposes.

Is it customary to use barometers?

It is compulsory to have a barometer in the Old Country - one in the mine and the other on the surface. It is not necessary to have locked lamps or safety lamps, except when there is fire-damp in the mine.

Were you ever informed, or did you ever suspect that fire-damp was in your mine?

I was told either by HODGE (the manager) or BEARDSMORE, that there was some in the south end of the new workings. I won't be sure which of them it was who told me, but we were all three together at the time. That was about a fortnight or three weeks ago. We went to see if there was any damp, and took the Davy lamp, but found no fire damp there.

Was that before or after you recommended the cross-drives to be put in?

It was after.

Did you feel surprises to hear that there was any damp there?

Yes; because that was the first time I had heard anything about fire-damp being in the mine.

Were you aware of any previous accidents from fire-damp in the mine?

I never heard of any; in fact I never heard of any accident of any description having occurred in the mine before.

Have you heard of any inspection of the mine having been made by the Government Inspector?

Yes.

Say what you know about it.

On the 1st of this month Mr COX, who I believe is the Government geologist, and Mr BINNS, the coal inspector, were to have met me at the mine by arrangement. Mr COX came down alone, but Mr BINN I believe was here the day previous, and had been through all the workings - both new and old. I suppose I asked Mr HODGE what Mr BINN had said about the mine and he said that Mr BINN had read over to him the notes he had made during his official inspection, but HODGE did not tell me what was the result of the inspection. Mr COX went through the new workings, and remarked that everything seemed straight and satisfactory.

Up to the time of the accident did you believe the mine to be safe for men to be working in it?

Yes.

Do you mean quite safe or ordinarily safe?

Ordinarily safe.

A Juror: Have you been employed as a consulting engineer?

Witness: What I was asked to do was simply to come down and try and straighten the place and get them something like working order - they have been so very crooked. I don't consider I was what I should call a consulting engineer, although I was asked for advice sometimes.

Is it usual at Home for mines of this description to constantly employ a consulting engineer?

No.

But as a rule?

No, I don't know that is the rule at any place I have heard of. Very often the managing director is also the mining engineer.

A Juror: What do you mean in regard to places being crooked?

Witness: to get the drives straight, as the more angles the greater the friction and the less of ventilation.

A Juror: Can you tell us in your opinion whether the fire-damp caused this explosion?

Witness: I believe that coal having been taken out to a greater height in the interior of the old workings than the height of the opening in the main drive, and gas being lighter than air; space would be afforded for the accumulation of gas. The gas, I believe, increased until it reach the top of the opening where the main drive passed through.

Then you believe that high places in the old workings had become dangerous from the accumulation of gas, and that the explosion has taken place from there?

Yes sir.

A Juror: Taking the works as a whole, has ample provision been made for ventilating the works?

Witness: There was quite sufficient air going through the mine to ventilate the whole works, if travelling in the right direction. I told HODGE it would not do to dispense with the furnace at the air-pit unless they had a fan. There was always a good fire at the furnace so far as I know.

(BY TELEGRAPH)

The witness TWINING continued: The duties of surveyor are distinct from the engineer's. The furnace was always kept burning. Robert GRIGOR, land surveyor of Balclutha said: I have been connected with this mine 10 years. I surveyed some workings in the Kaitangata Coal Company's mine. I recognise part of the plan produced coloured blue as part of my plan. To the point marked Z there was natural drainage up to the time of my survey southwards to the tunnel's mouth. I never knew of fire-damp in the old workings. My survey was completed about two years ago.

William WILSON, miner, deposed: I have been in the employ of the Kaitangata Company about eleven months. I have been working underground. I went to work in the mine at 11 o'clock last Thursday night, and came off at 7 o'clock Friday morning. Joseph BEARDSMORE was fireman. His duties were to go into the mine at 8 o'clock in the morning and thoroughly examine the rooms where the men worked to ascertain the state of the air before the colliers were allowed to go to their places of work. BEARDSMORE came in at a quarter past 5 that morning. We asked him if there was any fire-damp. He said no remarking that the air was very clear. Up to the time I left the mine I found the air very good. I knew of fire-damp in the mine for the first time last October in Chenning's level past the third room on the right, in the new workings. It was then four feet below the roof at the face. The men there - CHENNINGS and Michael HENNESSY - were stopped from working by the fireman for three or four days. William HODGE would be sure to know of it, because he would see the men were not at work there. From that time there was generally fire-damp in the new workings every morning, but sometimes there was none. It would be easy to detect by means of a safety lamp. I have been mining for 10 years - seven in Nottingham, England and the rest in this colony. The men had no fear of fire-damp in the new workings but sometimes there was fear on my part, as well as on the part of some of my mates, as to the state of the old workings. I don't know whether the fireman was on the habit of examining the old workings. It was said he was not. I did not think it safe to go with a naked light. In English mines places like that represented on the plans produced would have been closed with three-feet brick walls, and the back of the walls covered with clay. As soon as the roads are finished they ought to be closed up at once. There were good many miners in the Kaitangata mine who had experience at Home. Before the explosion the old workings were seldom mentioned, and no dissatisfaction at their not being bricked up was expressed. I was quite satisfied to work in the mine myself till the accident. I remember a slight explosion taking place in the mine near the east end of the workings a few months ago. Andrew JARVIE was burnt a little I believe, and was laid up about three weeks. The working was continued shortly afterwards, when precautionary measures had been taken. I have known Archibald HODGE to go into the old workings to bring out rails, but not lately. On Friday about 9 o'clock I was awoke by my wife who said there had been an explosion. I got up and saw people rushing towards the mine. I arrived there amongst the first and lent help in recovering the bodies. I have no doubt whatever that the explosion originated in the old workings, in the place where Archie HODGE was found. There was not sufficient foul air in the new workings to cause such a great explosion. I was working with search parties almost night and day till 4 o'clock on Sunday morning. We were accustomed to work with naked lights. Only the foreman used a Davy lamp. At Home miners always use safety lamps. I never heard complaints here regarding the use of naked lights. In mines opening from the surface by tunnel, the air is always considered safer than in those opening by shafts. HODGE's was the only body found in the old workings. We could not find Hodges lamp or hat near the spot where he lay. If the fireman ever found fire-damp in the rooms he used to put bars across the mouth; but if no fire-damp he put a shovel or pick as a sign that all was safe. To get rid of fire-damp, the fireman used to wave a sack up and down. This is called brushing it out. Others besides HENNESSY and CLEMMINGS knocked off work for a days or so on account of fire-damp.

John IRVINE, Coal miner said: I have been employed at Kaitangata a long time; working under ground up to September 1877, when I left for eight months. The air was pretty good. It was also very good when I returned. I was engaged in the old workings for two months. After that I was put into the new workings, about august last, I saw indications of fire-damp in the headings going up the rise. A month later a man named Andrew JARVIE, who was working at the end f the new workings, was burnt by an explosion of fire-damp. since then I have observed indications of dire-damp in different parts of the new workings, but heard of no serious accidents. On Thursday I went to where a miner named LOVE was working, and saw more indications of fire-damp. This was in the new workings. I said "You had better be cautious, or something serious might happen". He told me he would be as cautious as he could. I could detect fire-damp by holding the lamp up to it when it came down from the roof about a foot. I was a miner at Home 11 years, and about 12 years at Clyde. Fire-damp is found in very small quantities in lignite pita. In extensive mines like that of Kaitangata, I have invariably seen safety lamps used. I always considered the old workings ought to have been bricked up to prevent persons going into them. This is the practice at Home. I think the new workings thoroughly well ventilated as far as they extend. I have not been in the old workings lately. I went about 10 yards in about three months ago. There were partitions across consisting of bags. We had lights with us but found no fire-damp. We were not allowed to go into the old workings, but occasionally the miners went in for certain purposes. We used to tell each other it was better not to go there, as it was dangerous. For myself, I feel satisfied that the fire-damp had been driven from the new workings by means of air passage, and accumulated in the old workings, where it has been set fire to. I would never have dreamt of going into the old workings with a naked light. I believe Archie HODGE was a careful man. I he had his full wits about him. I can't tell what took him into those workings except that it might be to hunt for rails. I don't think he was capable of acting as a fireman, but I can't say why I had this opinion. He was not the man I should have trusted to go into these workings, even with a safety lamp.

At this stage the Coroner announced that the inquiry would be adjourned.
Superintendent WELDON asked the Coroner to adjourn for several days in order to enable Mr HOLMES, who is in some part of the North Island to be communicated with. The enquiry will adjourned till Monday next the 3rd approx. at 11am. There are still four or five witnesses to be examined.

____________________________________________________________________

Our note: In fact the Inquiry was not reconvened until Monday March 10th 1879. This was due to an illness (following an accident) of Charles SMAILL. He had been confined to his bed by the Doctor who ordered him not to attend the Inquest. Andrew, Charles brother and also a member of the Jury had said that Charles was most anxious that he attend the Inquiry. At the suggestion of the Coroner, several of the Jury travelled to Mr SMAILL's residence and brought him to the Inquest by boat.

THE KAITANGATA CATASTROPHE ----------- THE ADJOURNED INQUEST
Otago Daily Times Tuesday, March 11 1879.

(FROM OUR SPECIAL REPORTER)

The inquiry into the circumstances attending the late fatal colliery explosion at Kaitangata was resumed yesterday morning, before Mr E H CAREW, the District Coroner, and a Jury, at the Bridge Hotel, Kaitangata. Superintendent WELDON was also present.

A brief delay was caused in the commencement of the proceedings in consequence of the temporary absence of a juror named Charles SMAIL (sic), who met with an accident on Friday evening. He was laid up in bed, and the doctor had ordered him not to attend the inquest that day, lest erysipelas might set in. Mr Andrew SMAIL, who was also a member of the Jury, stated that his brother was very anxious to attend. At the suggestion of the Coroner several of the Jury repaired to Mr Charles SMAIL's residence, and brought him to the Court in a boat.

William SHORE said: I am Manager of the No. 1 colliery at Kaitangata. I have been working at that mine three years and a half. I have been engaged in coal-mining for 24 years. I was 19 years in Ayrshire, Scotland, and five years in this Colony. I know the Kaitangata Railway and Coal Co.'s mine. I was in it on four different occasions prior to the explosion. I have been through the old workings when the men were engaged there. That must have been 12 months ago, as near as I can judge. The last time I was in the mine, prior to the explosion, was about three months ago.

Do you know the state of the mine at that time with regard to fire-damp?

No further than from heresay. I had occasion to go there for some dynamite once, and the men said then that there was fire-damp in the heading.

What was the general reputation that the mine bore with regard to fire-damp?

With the exception of this one place I have referred to, I never heard of fire-damp being in the mine. Its reputation is pretty good.

Did you ever know of any accident taking place from fire-damp?

Yes; I knew of Mr JARVIE being burnt there.

Then all you know on that subject is that fire-damp was seen in the heading?

Yes; repeatedly seen there - that is, going towards the rise. I understand the system by which the mine was ventilated.

You say you know the old workings?

Yes.

Is the roof higher than the air-shaft?

Yes; considerably higher.

And would there be space in it?

Yes.

Do you consider, then, that the mine was properly ventilated, knowing that there was fire-damp in the mine?

I can't say that the old workings were thoroughly ventilated, to judge from appearances.

In what would the ventilation be deficient?

The air was allowed to scatter, instead of the current being carried along in one body. Of course I am speaking now from appearances after the explosion.

What do you consider the best way of achieving that object?

The cheapest and simplest way would have been to have fire-screens.

Your name has been mentioned in connection with a safety-lamp: have you got it?

No; I found it and delivered it to the owners.

Where did you find it?

In the new workings.

It could not have been blown from the old workings to where you saw it?

No; that would have been impossible.

I believe you found Archie HODGE's body?

Yes; it was about half past 4 o'clock on the Sunday morning after the accident. He was found in the old workings - the only one that was found there.

Have you formed any opinion as to where the explosion originated?

I have no hesitation in saying that it took place in the old workings.

Why?

I form that opinion from the direction in which the blast travelled. There were plenty of traces from the way in which the stoppings had been knocked out. Besides you can see the direction of the current on the floor of the mine.

Where do you think it started from?

It must have started from where the body of Archie HODGE was found.

A Juror: In searching for HODGE's body, did you use a safety lamp?

Undoubtedly.

And were there any traces of fire-damp still remaining?

No; not while we were searching.

After it was known that fire-damp had been seen in the heading you have spoken of, would you consider it a safe or a rash thing for a miner to go into the old workings with a naked light?

I would always consider it a rash thing for a man to go into old workings on any occasion, knowing that fire-damp existed.

Have you worked much in mines in which fire-damp was known to exist?

Fire-damp has been known to exist in every mine I have worked in, with the exception of the Green Island mines.

When did you first hear of fire-damp in this mine?

When Mr JARVIE was burnt - about six months ago.

As manager of a mine, do you think it proper to leave the headings of old workings open, in such a way that men may go in and out with naked lights as they choose?

It may not be proper, but it is customary in coal-mines to leave them open, so that me may travel out and in, although they are generally prohibited from doing so. It is customary to have a board with the word "Fire" written on it.

George Jonathan BINNS said: I am a mining engineer. I have a certificate of competency as manager of a mine from the North-East Lancashire Board of Examiners. I am coal-viewer for the General Government of New Zealand. I know the Kaitangata Railway and Coal Company's mine, having been down it once previous to its explosion. That was on the 24th January last. I then examined the new workings, on behalf of the Government. I had permission from the late Mr HODGE, the manager. The permission was given perfectly freely.

Will you state what opinion you have formed in regard to ventilation and the mode of working?

I have formed the opinion that the new workings were, comparatively speaking, sufficiently ventilated, but the old workings were in a very dangerous condition: or, perhaps to put it more correctly, they were not unlikely to become in a very dangerous condition.

And do you mean that you did not ascertain whether it was so or not?

I did not ascertain that it was so.

Do you wish to give any explanation of that?

Certainly. In the first place I had no time, and in the second place there was no safety-lamp. Besides, I was assured by HODGE that there was no gas there.

And did your not having a safety-lamp influence you at all in not going farther into the old workings than you did?

I can't say that it did. If I had had one it is possible that I might have gone farther than I did, but I did not stop owing to not having one. To test these high places would require a great expenditure of time and would also require a ladder or a very long pole.

And was the time at your disposal?

Not entirely. I was given a certain amount of time to "work" this part of the Island, and although I did not occupy that time fully, I had to get on as fast as possible. The words of my instructions were to go through as quickly as possible, and there was a great deal of other work to be done. Perhaps at the time I did not consider the danger of the thing so much as I did after I had left. HODGE told me that gas had never been seen in the old workings, and I was bound to believe him. I thought these large open spaces constituted an element of danger, and I said so to HODGE. If there had been no unevenness in the roof a current of air would have taken all the gas away. If the roof had been uneven the gas would lodge in the highest part. I am of opinion that the brattice work is not proper in the main intake. There should most certainly have been another outlet. It is scarcely possible to say whether another outlet would have saved any men after the explosion. The openings from the new to the old workings should have been cut off by brick stopping and a trap-door, fitted with a lock, the key of which the manager should keep.

Would you consider it a want of ordinary care that the passages were not fitted in that way under the supposition that gas had been seen?

Certainly: it was great negligence.

Whose duty would it have been to make that provision?

I should say the manager of the mine ought to have done it.

A Juror: Did you make any report to the Government of the fact?

Witness: I made a report to the head of my department.

The Juror: Have you a copy thereof?

Witness: I have a copy thereof.

Another Juror: Did you give any instruction to HODGE?

I had no power to give instructions to Mr HODGE. I exceeded my duties as it was in telling him that it was very dangerous. The imminence of the danger prompted me to do this. I went round the mine principally to collect statistics and report on the mine; but if I saw anything that required attention drawn to in my cursory examination, I mentioned it.

The Juror: Did you form any opinion as to the capability of the manager?

Witness: I had no time. It is impossible to form an opinion of any man in a couple of hours. It would take weeks or months. He was a very reticent man, but quite willing to give any information I asked for.

Examination continued: I have examined the pit this morning. I have been close to the place where Archibald HODGE was killed, and have found a very large quantity of gas there.

Is it dangerous?

Highly dangerous; sufficiently dangerous, indeed, to cause another explosion of approached with a naked light.

Must that gas have accumulated since the last explosion?

I should certainly say so. All gas would be cleared out by that explosion.

Can you tell me what a "blower" is?

A blower is a sudden outburst of gas, which has probably generated in the coal some distance in - I should say in a cavity - and finds an outlet in one place and escapes from there in a stream that you can light. You can hear it.

Would you say that this has accumulated from a "blower"?

I should say not.

Will you give your reasons?

So far as I can form an opinion, it was not from a blower.

Do you thinks that the gas accumulates very quickly in this particular mine?

Yes; in a particular portion. On the morning of the explosion and the day previous the barometer had fallen very considerably. I don't know how much it had fallen, but such was the case. With the fall of the barometer the gas would be likely to come out from the coal readily.

Mr Allan HOLMES then stepped forward to give his evidence. Addressing him the Coroner said: I understand you are a director of the Company, and you may or may not be responsible for the management of the mine. I therefore caution you that you are not compelled to answer any question unless you choose to do so.

Allan HOLMES said: I am a director of the Kaitangata Railway and Coal Company. I am not the chairman of the Board and I have taken no responsibility for the management of the mine. It was managed by William HODGE under the directors. He received no instructions whatever from the directors as to the general management of the mine. He only consulted the directors on special matters.

Were the directors ever informed of there being fire-damp in the mine?

I was informed of it and they would have known of it, I imagine.

Who told you?

HODGE told me himself.

About what time was this?

About the end of July or the beginning of August. That was the first time I had heard of it.

What were his words?

He said the mine was making a little fire-damp. I said, "You must take every precaution." He said it was a mere nothing, or words to that effect. I told him that I should feel a great deal more comfortable if the mine was put upon the safety lamp system. He said he had appointed BEARDSMORE as fireman, and it was BEARDSMORE's duty to go round the mine every morning and inspect it thoroughly for fire-damp. I impressed upon him the necessity of using every precaution, and told him to see that the men did not enter the mine till it had been examined every morning. The men did not appear to be frightened about fire-damp. They never dreamt of any big explosion, but simply feared one or two of them getting burnt occasionally in the rooms. HODGE was a very careful man and from several traits I observed in his character, I had every confidence in him. About the end of December or the beginning of January, I came down to the mine to see how it was going on. HODGE told me that the previous day the men had not been at work, and he would not allow me to go into the mine, as it had not been tested that morning. BEARDSMORE was sought for, and I took the opportunity of questioning him on the subject of fire-damp when we were alone. He appeared to be a very intelligent man, and told me that he had spent the greater part of his life among fire. He seemed to realise the danger of fire-damp, and my visit reassured me that every precaution would be taken. Just before that I ordered several ........................safety lamps and an instrument for testing the velocity of the air. HODGE told me that he had ordered three dozen safety lamps. He had general authority to get all timber for the mine without requisition to the directors. He had full permission to obtain anything he wanted for the working of the mine, and, so far as I know, he has never been refused anything. Mr HODGE had a considerable interest in the mine, being a shareholder to a large extent. The fact of his being a shareholder did not interfere with our attitude towards him. He was exceedingly pushing and faithful in every respect as far as I knew. I got to know that there were defects in his mode of winning the coal, but I was convinced that he would take every care of his men. He took in the Mining Journal, and bought expensive works on mining, and once thought of attending the Mines classes at the Otago University. [An extract from Mr COX's report of the mine, as embodied in the report of geological exploration during 1877-8, witness took to be favourable]

After an adjournment of 15 minutes for lunch the Jury resumed.

The Coroner (to Mr BINNS): Mr BINNS, I wish to ask you one question that I had previously forgotten. Some of the witnesses have given it as their opinion - but they did not pretend that they were experts - that the gas that penetrated in the new workings would be carried across into the old workings until it met the high place, and then it would separate from the air and remain there. Do you believe that's a correct theory?

Mr BINNS: I don't believe it is. Air charged with gas might go up there, but unless the air in the main drive were explosive, I don't think that the air lodged there would be explosive.

The Coroner: Then the accumulation of gas in the old workings came from the old workings?

Witness: Decidedly.

The Coroner: I think that will do. (To the Jury): Well, gentlemen, that's all the evidence there is to lay before you. It is your duty now to consider your verdict. I think that there can be no doubt that you will find that the deaths of these men will have been occasioned by an explosion of gas in the mine. If you find that, then you have further to consider whether the explosion was caused - or whether the collection of the gas and the explosion of the gas were occasioned - through the negligent or improper working of the mine. I will read to you from "Russell on Crime" (vol 1), so that you may understand for what purpose you have to consider that:- 'An indictment for manslaughter alleged that it was the duty of the prisoner to cause to be ventilated a coal mine, and to cause it to be kept free of noxious gases, and that the prisoner feloniously omitted to cause the mine to be ventilated, and that noxious gases accumulated and exploded, whereby the deceased was killed. It appeared that the deceased was killed by the explosion of fire-damp in a colliery, of which the prisoner was a sort of a manager, and it is computed on the part of the prosecution that this explosion would have been prevented if the prisoner had caused an air-heading to have been put up, as it was his duty to have done. For the defence it was attempted to be proved that it was the duty of one of the persons killed to have reported to the prisoner that an air-heading was required, and that he had not done so.' In summing up, Moule J., said:- The questions for you to consider are, whether it was the duty of the prisoner to have directed an air-heading to be made in this mine, and whether by omitting to do so he was guilty of a want of ordinary and reasonable precaution. If you are satisfied that it was the plain and ordinary duty of the prisoner to have caused an air-heading to have been made in this mine, and that a man using a reasonable diligence would have done it, and that by the omission the death of the deceased occurred, you ought to find the person guilty of manslaughter. It has been contended that some other persons were, on this occasion, also guilty of neglect; still, assuming that to be so, their neglect will not excuse the prisoner, for if a persons death be occasions by the neglect of several, they are all guilty of manslaughter; and it is no defence for one who is negligent to say that another was negligent also, and thus, as it were, to try to divide the negligence among them. It may be said that it is a case very much to the point. If you think that this mine was improperly worked by Wm. HODGE, who was the manager of the mine, and that it was his duty to have worked it in a different manner - that it was his duty to have made better provision for ventilation, or to have got the passage into the old workings closed, so that persons could not go in and out as they chose, - then, gentlemen, I think that you have to find that he was guilty of such culpable negligence as would amount to manslaughter. If, on the other hand, you think that this was an unforseen occurrence that might almost occur daily in the working of the mine, and that it was simply accidental, you will find that it was so. With regard to Archibald HODGE, even if you were to find that Wm. HODGE worked and kept the mine in a negligent manner, the fact of Archibald HODGE entering the old workings with a naked light would also render him culpable. On that point Russell on page 864, vol 1 says:- "Where persona employed about such of their lawful occupations whence danger may probably arise to others, neglect the ordinary cautions, it will be manslaughter at least on account of such negligence." If you think that he used ordinary precautions he would not have gone into the old workings without being provided with a safety lamp. I think, then, gentlemen, you would also have to find him guilty of manslaughter. If there is any part of the evidence - I have here all the evidence taken on the different days - that you would wish your memory refreshed upon, I shall be very glad to read it to you. Or if there is any other point you wish to ask me about - and it is my duty to direct your attention to every point connected with the matter - I shall be glad to do so. The room will now be cleared whilst you consider your verdict.

Shortly after 3 o'clock the Jury were left to consider their verdict. About 10 minutes to 4 o'clock the Foreman sent for the Coroner.

The Coroner: Gentlemen, are you agreed upon your verdict?

Foreman: We are

The Coroner: How do you find?

Foreman: First, your worship, The Jury find "That Archibald HODGE, through entering the old workings without ordinary precaution and with a naked light, caused an explosion of fire-damp whereby 34 men and boys lost their lives". Second, the Jury find "That William HODGE has not used the necessary precautions to prevent an explosion of fire-damp in the mine over which he had management." As a rider, we add "That seeing there is no law for inspection and supervision in the conduct of mining, we express the necessity of measures being adopted whereby many accidents may in the future be averted." The inquiry then closed.


Return To HOME

FAMILIES I AM RESEARCHING | MISCELLANEOUS GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH |NEW ZEALAND DISASTERS AND TRAGEDIES | NEW ZEALAND AND WORLD WAR ONE | NEW ZEALAND ROLLS OF HONOUR – BY LOCATION | NEW ZEALAND ROLLS OF HONOUR – BY CONFLICT | NEW ZEALAND ROLLS OF HONOUR – MILITARY NURSES | PAKEHA/MAORI NAMES |PASSENGER LISTS TO NEW ZEALAND | SHAND – FAMILY HISTORY | SPONDON, DERBYSHIRE, ENGLAND | TE PUKE, BAY OF PLENTY, NEW ZEALAND | WOMEN OF SOUTH TARANAKI