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Life in the Parish

Truro , Cornwall
J. Mosman, OPC


CORNISH VITAL STATISTICS - To the Editor of the West Briton.


Having completed an examination of the Burial Register of the parish of Illogan, for the three years from July, 1837 to August 1840, with a view to obtaining the longevity of miners, I beg to be allowed, through the medium of your columns, to publish the result.

At the last meeting of the Polytechnic Society, I stated that 32 was the percentage of miner's deaths from mine accidents in Illogan during the first of the three years I have named; and that the mean per centage of four parishes for different periods had been 17. The Illogan per centage for three years I now find to be 18 4-tenths, the mean per centage for Camborne, Illogan, Gwennap, and Stythians, being 13 4-tenths; or if, for the reasons I stated at the meeting, we take only the last three parishes, 15 9-tenths, the mean difference between the longevity of miners and men of other occupations being, for the four parishes, 11 years.

In your last week's notice of the annual meeting of the Royal Institution, Dr. BARHAM is reported to have expressed an opinion that the statements I made at the Polytechnic meeting, respecting mine accidents, would, "of themselves, lead to inferences greatly too unfavourable." But, although I earnestly desire to arrive at the same opinion, at present I fear the mean proportion I then gave will not be found so unusually great, especially in parishes where the mines are deep.

I wish it always to be kept in view, that in my calculations, I separate the miners recorded in the registers from their fellow parishioners; and that, finding how many miners have died, and how many of their deaths have been occasioned by mine accidents, by comparison of these numbers I obtain my per centages. Proceeding in this way, if the register has been correctly kept, nothing but one's own carelessness can occasion error; and therefore, as I have been scrupulously careful, I may be sure my results are correct. In the registers I examined, 1,500 deaths were recorded: of these, 803 were males. Of the males, 231 were miners, and of the miners, 31 died violent deaths.

It is not, however, because the accuracy of my results is questioned, that I give this explanation. The only question raised relates to their sufficiency as data for a general conclusion. No one doubts their sufficiency more than I, or would more gladly avail himself of further sources of information; but I know not where at present they are to be obtained. The second report of the Registrar General has been referred to, but that report affords no ground for judging what is, or is not, an ordinary proportion of mine accidents to the total number of miners' death. For, lst, the report makes no distinction of occupation. The mining districts of some counties are given separately from the other districts of the same counties, but the Cornish districts are not so distinguished. And if they were, if the same rule were acted on for it, as has been for other mining districts, miners would not be distinguished, in the report, from other men dying in the same districts. 2nd. All descriptions of violent deaths are included under one head in the report, and mine accidents are not to be distinguished from suicides, murders, infants overlaid, accidental poisonings, death by lightning, &c., &c., amounting to 10 percent, of the whole number of violent deaths, nor from accidental deaths in general.

From the report, however, it appears that of the 3112 males registered in Cornwall , 8 per cent died violent deaths, while the mean per centage for England and Wales was but 4 7-tenths. There is indeed only one district in which the per centage appears to have been greater than in Cornwall, and that is the mining portion of Stafford, Salop, and Worcester, where I believe a great many coalmine explosions had occurred, and in which the per centage appears, from the 39th page of the report, to have been nine 6-tenths. The whole of Cornwall giving to the total of male deaths a proportion of eight per cent of violent deaths, the report cannot, I fear, be considered to afford any hope that if, as in Staffordshire, &c., the mining parts of Cornwall were distinguished; and if, in the mining parts, miners and their violent deaths were distinguished from others, as it is among them violent deaths in Cornwall principally occur, the mean per centage I have obtained would be found unusual. At all (……?), no evidence that it is so can be soon adduced. The parish registers are the only sufficient evidence; and many years must elapse before even they can decide the question.

But, God forbid, that while the question of a high, or low per centage is waiting the decision of time, we should remain inactive spectators of the destruction of life among our labouring population! That a large proportion of our deserving poor should be doomed to die eleven years before their time, that this county may be enriched, and no charitable effort be made for their reprieve – that the most hideous accidents should continue to decimate their miserable ranks, and no effort be made to avert them! Is our bounty exhausted by our missionary efforts, our bible society efforts, and our other exertions to teach our holy religion to races of men we never saw, and can we not afford to submit ourselves to the charitable injunctions of that religion in behalf of the misery endured at our very doors? Does our familiarity with the suffering weaken its claim upon our sympathy? Does the slow development of the fatal effects of mining operations abrogate the title of the labourer to our best exertions in his behalf?

If a troop of 231 soldiers had been engaged in an action in which 31 of the men had been laid dead on the field, and the remainder been so maimed and disabled that they were certain of dying 11 years before their time, we should be sure the action had been terribly severe. Are not any engagements equally severe that entail the same destruction of human life, - the same calamity? Cornish mining occupations have had just such effects; and if, for the encouragement of scientific effort to prevent their recurrence, thousands instead of hundreds of pounds were required, they ought to be freely contributed.

The philanthropist may rejoice that so able, and so influential a statist as Dr. BARHAM has taken up the subject. It is to be hoped he will continue to call attention to it, and undertake to point out the precise direction in which he judges exertions should be made. With very great diffidence I have ventured to dissent from his opinion in one particular, but I feel assured that no one could, with greater benefit to the sufferers, take the lead in this labor of charity.

To one very important subject, continued attention is already recommended, and that is the ascent of miners by the ladders. In some of our deep mines, the workman, after six hours of hard labor, in an exhausting temperature and the foulest atmosphere, must accomplish what is equivalent to climbing an almost perpendicular precipice five or six times as high as the cross of St. Paul's Cathedral, or from 1600 to 1800 feet before he can return to his home; and no one who has ever attempted the ascent of St. Paul's or any other building of similar elevation, will doubt that the utmost exhaustion must follow the dreadful task. Here then is one of the causes of the evils we complain of. The public has long been aware of the bad effects of climbing; many plans for its obviation have been proposed; and one, with various modifications, several times regarded by the Polytechnic Society. No mine, however, has yet introduced it.


If the public is not quite satisfied that the plan is a good, or a practicable one, it might be desirable that a meeting should be convened in the mining district, to which the authors of all the plans which have been exhibited, or which may be contrived in time, should be invited to attend with their models, and submit to a public examination of their nature and comparative advantages. I have no doubt that such an invitation from any influential person would be immediately responded to, and the meeting would have additional value if held where working miners could conveniently attend. I venture to beg that the propriety of such a meeting may be seriously considered, and that it will not operate disadvantageously to the cause of humanity, that so humble an individual as I has suggested it.

I have been led, by the interest I take in this matter, to greater length than I had contemplated; and without at present making any reference to other matters of great importance connected with it,

I remain, Sir,
Your very humble servant,
Robert BLEE, Jun.
Redruth, November 16th, 1840.



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