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Cambrian Disaster Doc. 3
THE CAMBRIAN SWANSEA MARCH 23 1877
On Friday morning, Mr E. Strick, coroner, resumed the adjourned inquiry into the cause of the death of the 18 men killed at the Weigh Fach pit of the Forest Fach colliery. As previously, the inquest was held at the Marquis Arms. Mr Wales, Her majesty’s inspector of mines for the district, was in attendance; Mr T. Glasbrook, the manager of the colliery, was likewise present. The first witness called was Benjamin Thomas, who resided at Mile-end, Swansea. He said he was a mine manager, and held a certificate. He was in the employ of the Landore Siemens Steel Co. He had charge of the Worcester and Weigh Fach collieries since their commencement 13 years ago, and had been manager three and a half years under the new Act.
He inspected the Weigh Fach pit on the Tuesday before the accident. The workings were all clear on the Tuesday. Generally speaking, there was not much gas in the colliery. It was between eight and nine o’clock on the Tuesday morning when he went down the pit.
David Davies was the fireman, and had been so about two years. Witness appointed him fireman on the recommendation of Abraham Bevan. During the two years he had been fireman, he performed the duties to witness’s satisfaction. His duty was to go down to the works early in the morning, during the day turn, and examine the workings before the men passed the lamp station to proceed to work. That would take him an hour and a half to examine the workings carefully. Although the men did not go down the pit on Wednesday, the pit should have been carefully examined on the Wednesday night, or at three or four o’clock on Thursday morning. It was necessary for the fireman to go down earlier that morning because the workings had all been stopped. The stoppage of the works would undoubtedly lead to the accumulation of gas, and it would take longer to examine the works. If the fireman had found gas there, he would have been able to clear it himself. Witness went to the Weigh Fach colliery on the morning of the accident about a quarter to eight o’clock, and saw several of the men who had been injured by the fire damp. Some of them were lying dead below the 19 level on the slant. Witness went as far as he could, till he was stopped by the choke damp.
On Friday morning he examined the works with a view of ascertaining the cause of the explosion. The explosion took place in No 19 level, at the point where the airway from No 20 came in and joined it. He came to that conclusion because the lamp with the case off was found in that level. The force of the explosion would not blow the case off. It must have been a naked light, used without the case. The bottom of the lamp was found near the spot where Abraham Bevan’s body was found. It was Abraham Bevan’s lamp. If David Davies had only got down there an hour before the men went down, it would not have been sufficient to allow him to examine the workings carefully. Witness visited the Weigh Fach pit every Tuesday. Witness did not allow anyone to work where there was gas in the pit. The rules provide for clearing the gas before the men went to work. As the lamp was found with the case off, he came to the conclusion that it must have been taken off by the person who had the lamp, as the explosion would not have blown it off. He thought the gas was brought from No 20 into No 19 till it met the light, and then exploded.
By Mr Wales; When in No 20 on Tuesday, he examined for gas but found none. A little fan was worked opposite No 20. Abraham Bevan told witness he had put the fan there because there was a little gas there. Witness told him on the Tuesday that it was not allowed. Did not know it was taken away. Witness did not know there was any gas in the top-hole. If the fireman found gas witness would expect him to enter it in the book. He had never seen a naked light beyond the lamp station, No 18 since they commenced to using lamps. Had never heard that Abraham Bevan allowed a man to work beyond that point with a naked light. Thomas Rees had never told witness-so. Never had a complaint of any man taking off the lamp top beyond that station. Had never heard of any shots fired there.
Mr Gladbrook called attention to the following rule, and asked Mr Wales how it was constructed? Because Mr Wales had said that no one had a right to give such authority. 112 lamp stations to be indicated by the words “Lamp Station” set up in legible characters, shall be appointed either on the surface, or so as to open out of a main intake course, beyond which no naked light, candle, matches, or apparatus of any kind for striking a light, or any combustible matter, tobacco pipe, gunpowder (except in cartridges) or un-locked safety lamps, or any key or contravene for opening the lock of any safety lamp, shall be taken by, or be in the possession of any person, or any pretext whatever, without first having the express authority of the foreman or superior officers. These rules were sanctioned by Mr Wales himself.
Mr Wales said there was a rule in the regulation of Mines Act, which overruled all special rules. These rules were different from the Aberdare district.
Mr Glasbrook said that strict orders were always given in the collieries that no one should work in any portion of the colliery where there was gas.
David Thomas, Llanelly, said he was a roller, and had been working at the New Pit Weigh Fach. The last time he worked there was Tuesday week. He was then in the 20 level tramming with J. Jenkins and D. King. Saw gas on Sunday or Monday night in the top-hole, where he was filling in the level. Thomas James and William Thomas were then working in the top-hole. Knew it was contrary to the rules to work where there was gas.
He told them there was a little gas there and they said “yes” but he did nothing, and they continued to work on. It was his duty to report to the fireman, and as soon as he saw Thomas Rees he reported it to him. Rees said he would clear it out as soon as he could, and he put the boy to work the fan, and cleared it from the top-hole. That was the only time witness saw any gas there. Did not see any gas there on Tuesday night before the explosion.
Moses Richards, collier, working at the New Pit at Weigh Fach, went to work on Thursday week at half past six o’clock. He worked in the 14 heading east, returning about three quarters of an hour after he went down, and when about two yards from the slant he heard the air turning back, and he went up and went to the engineer, Philip John, and told him to work the fan quicker.
Thomas Rees, fireman, recalled said there was gas in No 20 on the Monday and night, but it was of no account and could not hurt anyone. It was his duty to clear away the gas and stop the men from working, and he did so. Mr Wales, Inspector of Mines, then read his report of his inspection of the Weigh Fach colliery. After referring to his visit to the pit on three separate occasions, and giving a description of the pit itself, he went on to state that was that the quantity of air passing into the face of the top-hole during working hours would not be sufficient to keep it free from gas, and especially would that be so when the small fan was not being worked. When the fact they were obliged to use a small fan, and the evidence which had been given, were borne in mind, there could not, he thought, be two opinions in the matter, not withstanding that the fireman, Thomas Rees, had distinctly stated on his oath that he never met with gas there. It appeared that the day shift colliers left their work about noon on Wednesday, and there being no men at work in the night shift of that day, the small fan would not have been worked for a period of 18 or 19 hours, that was, from noon on Wednesday till seven o’clock on the next morning, during which time doubtless gas would collect in the face of that top-hole, as it had done on the previous Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday evenings. When the boy began to work the fan, probably about 7.15am or so, that gas would be dislodged, and would pass from there to No 19 level, where no doubt it was ignited by the open light of deceased overman.
Abraham Bevan, whose body and lamp with the top removed were found only a few yards from the very spot on No 19 level. He considered the accumulation of gas in the top hole of No 20 west level was due to a want of sufficient air and defective ventilation at that point, and that the explosion was caused by the reckless conduct of the deceased overman Abraham Bevan, in having taken an open light beyond the lamp station, which was a flagrant breach of the rules. In his opinion the manager, Benjamin Thomas, should never have allowed a small fan to be used to force the air in the top hole, but should have employed proper means for increasing the quantity of air, as he must have known it was deficient from the fact of the small fan having to be used, even if he had made no examination or test.
He was also of the opinion that neither the deceased fireman, David Davies, nor Thomas Rees, discharged their duties faithfully. He had gone carefully over the their reports as entered in the book for several weeks previous to the explosion, and on only one occasion he found gas reported, whereas it was clear in his mind that for several days previous to the explosion, gas had been lodged in the top hole of No 20 west level.
Note: The disaster took place on Thursday 8th March 1877.
*Re-written from the Cambrian Friday March 23rd 1877 by Robert Davies, Fforestfach, Swansea*
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