Perils of Mining
From The West Briton, October 12, 1838
[Re-printed from the Newsletter of the St Just Research Group of the Cornish Association of Victoria Inc., Australia]
We have had great pleasure in laying before our readers the following graphic description of the almost miraculous escape of a miner at Botallack mine, St Just, by an obliging neighbour whose signature it bears:
“Few of us know the many horrid dangers in which our miners are constantly exposed. My blood has often thrilled, even while reciting some of the hair-breadth escapes which have come under my own immediate knowledge.
A few days since, a pair of 3 men, employed in cutting down the Crown Engine-shaft at Botallack mine had prepared 2 holes to remove a part of the rock. Two of the party, namely Nicholas BOWEN and James GRENFEL, the younger, retreated into a level about [.] fathoms above the stope and were safe, leaving James GRENFEL, the elder, to fire the fuses and follow them.
The fuses were ignited, and poor GRENFEL, had so far retreated as to be able just to step into the level and be secured. The ladder on which he stood at this moment gave way, and he fell about 7 feet below the burning fuses. The ladder having fallen into the sump completely cut off his retreat, and nothing but a mangled and miserable death appeared to await him. By the light of the fuses he discovered the lift of pumps through which the water was drawn from the sump; it was, indeed a forlorn hope, but to the pump he clung, and grasping it as if in death awaited his fate. To use his words “I know’d I must be blow’d to pieces, but that was’nt hafe so dismaying as to think about my wife and cheldum – I’ve 5 cheldum that ceant work,….., and my wife’s a cripple”.
All was darkness save the hissing fuses just above him. The thundering explosion soon followed, and the moment of hope, doubt, and bewilderment arrived. Life became an awful query – he breathed, and through the miserable gloom saw the fire sprouting from the remaining fuse. The second thunder followed, and he again was safe.
Almost covered in attle – clinging to the pump – death and speechless, stood poor GRENFEL.
The son described his own situation thus: “When I heerd feather screech, and he and the ladder fale away, I know’d twas all ovvur; he must, thoft I, be kill’d in one of these here 3 ways. – Ef he’s gone to bottom, every lem es brock. Ef ennything like life es left, he must be drown’d in the sump; and ef he shud be catch’d by the stage where we belong the two holes must blow un into thousand pieces. Oh dear!
Oh dear! I faced down pen my knees, and all that I cud pray was – Oh Christ, save faethur. Nicky was standing up, and I said to us, oh Nicky pray for faethur”.
“Nicky kneedled down, but he dedn’t pray, I reckon; for when the holes went off he said “He’s out of pain or he’s in the sump swemming. My lighted candle was on my hatcap; I catch’d hould ov the lift, slider’d away from flinch to flinch, and was down pon the slope like lightning. The place was full of smok, and not a lem no nothing human cud be seed. At laest up agenst the lift I seed faethur’s head and shoulders. The attle was to his brist, and hes face in a dismal shape; hes eyes were pooun, but he cudnt speak. 0 help me Nicky; help me, doey, to clear away the traed from faethur”.
“He’s glazing, said Nicky, but he cae’nt be alive, you know; twud kill a thowsand cats ef they’d ben there. Oh, clear away quicker! Quicker! Nicky. Oh, my dear faethur! Caenty speak, faethur?” – and such like expressions followed the rapid exertions of the agonized young man.
His eyes were fixed on the dismal countenance of his parent. At last a trifling quiver of the lip spoke life – another effort confirmed it. “I believe I’m saved, Jimmy, and I baent hurt much, I reckon, Jimmy”, was feebly spoken from among the rubbish.
To describe the meeting, and finish this true tale of real life, I would repeat the words of apathetic Nicky.
“When Jimmy heerd his faethur speak, he tore away for the life ov un over the attle, and then they both beginned to cry. Howsomever, we got’n clear at laest, and broft un up. He’s as deef as a buddick; but that and a few smale cuts es awl the hurt that’s dun to un.”