The 1890 Morfa Colliery Disaster: Reports in The Times

back to main Morfa Colliery Disaster page
for the explosion and the rescue efforts, see the articles of March 11th 12th 13th 14th 15th 17th 18th
for the inquest, see the articles of April 2nd 4th 24th 25th 26th
for the report to Parliament, see the article of July 30th

[The Times, Tuesday, March 11th, 1890]


CARDIFF, March 10.

Another dreadful colliery explosion occurred in the South Wales coalfield to-day, by which it is feared that about 150 lives have been lost. The exact scene of this disaster in the Morfa Colliery, Taibach, the property of Messrs. Vivian and Sons, the owners of important works in the neighbourhood. Taibach is situate near the coast, about midway between the eastern and western confines of Glamorganshire. The pits are sunk in such close proximity to the Bristol Channel that some of the workings are under the water. Already there have been two explosions here—one on October 17, 1863, when 30 men were killed, and the other in 1870, when several lives were lost.

This last disaster, which, it is feared, will prove to be of a very much more serious kind, happened at 12 30 in the part of the workings known as the Cribbwr vein, which is known to be particularly fiery. The news of the explosion spread rapidly, and hundreds of people made their way down to the pit's mouth from Taibach, Aberavon, and the surrounding district. Amongst these were many women and children. The manager organized a band of volunteers and superintended the work of rescue, which was at once commenced. A great many miners were brought to the surface from the 9ft. vein, suffering from nothing more serious than the fright and a little effect of after-damp. One or two were afterwards brought up from the Cribbwr vein, but they were so badly injured that very little hope was entertained of their recovery or of the safety of those who were still below. The explorers on entering the Cribbwr vein found that a heavy fall barred their progress. Behind this about 150 men are imprisoned, and the gravest fears are entertained in regard to them.


Mr. Thomas Gray, the manager of the colliery, and his brother, Mr. Fred Gray, Deputy-Inspector of Mines, who arrived in the afternoon, descended the pit and conducted the explorations. They found a fall of rubbish from the bottom stopping the way, and no air could pass. Two men were found dead, locked in each other's arms. At the time of writing they had not been identified. As these men were working at the pit bottom, very little hope is entertained of any of the entombed men having survived. The fitting shop has been turned into a temporary mortuary and hospital.

At 7 20 a man who ascended the pit stated that cries for help had been heard from behind the fall. This statement caused immense excitement among the thousands who surrounded the pit's mouth, and the hopes of relatives of the entombed men for a time revived. Any number of workmen offered assistance in the work of exploration, but in many cases their services were refused because of their want of knowledge of the pit. Up to 8 o'clock the dead brought up were Joseph Wicks, Aberavon, married, one child; Evan Morgan, Taibach, single; Bethuel Heycock, Taibach, single; and William Clatworthy, Morfa, single.

Samuel Jones, one of those in the pit at the time of the explosion, says :—

I was coming up the deep about 12 30 to-day, when, near No. 4, a sudden rush of air passed my companions and myself and threw three of us aside. The dust was very thick. We then made our way further on. The sulphur was so strong that we held our handkerchiefs to our faces. We saw several men lying down. We were unable to assist them in consequence of our weak state, caused by the overpowering fumes of sulphur. When about 40 yards from the bottom of the pit we encountered a heavy fall, but four of us managed to extricate ourselves by going under it, a large stone having fallen against the side of the pit and left a small cavity, which we succeeded in enlarging and through which we escaped. We afterwards saw a young lad called Bethuel Heycock, with his pony, both lying dead. Afterwards we saw James Surtees and Michael M'Grath at the bottom of the pit, Surtees being severely burned.

Though the death-roll could not even be estimated by the officials of the mine at 9 o'clock, the loss of life must be enormous, being variously estimated at from 100 to 160. All that is known is that usually about 420 men were employed in the mine, and that, it being Monday, a large number stayed away from work. At the time of the explosion abouth 250 men were down, and of those about 100 have been brought to bank alive, the remaining 150 being still entombed.

The Morfa Mine is an old one, having been sunk about the year 1844, since which it has been continuously worked by the Messrs. Vivian, its present owners. The present output of this mine is about 400 tons per day.

The day shift, which, as stated above, numbered about 250, had nearly completed their turn when the explosion occurred. The first intimation that anything had gone wrong was a report, not particularly loud, which was timed to have been actually heard a few minutes before half-past 12. This was followed by a dense clowd of brownish smoke, which ascended to a tremendous height. Mr. Thomas Gray, the manager of the mine, was in the colliery office, about 50 yards from the pit's mouth. While writing letters he heard the report, and, on seeing the smoke, at once ran to the pit's mouth. The fan was working, and the cages had not received any damage. Mr. Gray and a few others descended the pit bottom. It was at once seen that the explosion had occurred in the Cribbwr seam, where most of the men were working. All the workers in the nine-foot seam were soon brought to the pit bottom and sent to bank. The shaft being free from damage, this was not a work of great difficulty. The most arduous task still lay before the gallant little band that was to pierce the engine plane. The rank of the rescuers had meanwhile been recruited by cool but eager helpers, and Mr. Gray proceeded to organize two rescue parties. These, headed by old and experienced men named Lewis Rees and John Williams, went, one batch along the airway and the other by the engine plane itself. Those who took the latter route had to climb over several falls, but both got to the bottom of the plane safely. Here they found a heavy fall extending, it was said at first, 80 yards. The two parties, however, were so long away that a third party was sent to look after them.


It is stated by one of the exploring party that three men and a boy have been seen in the Cribbwr vein. These were recognized as Benjamin Nicholas, Lewis Jones, Philip Williams, and Rees Oates (boy). It is expected that the explorers will get through at least one of the falls in a few hours.

[The Times, Wednesday, March 12th, 1890]


PORT TALBOT, March 11, Morning.

The information this morning tends to confirm some of the earlier reports of the appalling loss of life at the Morfa Colliery, Taibach. At an early hour an incident occurred which gave rise to joyful hope, only, however, to be too quickly crushed. As an exploring party were attempting to clear away a fall of some of the blocks of coal, which were as large as trucks and between the top of which and the roof there was but a small aperture, a hand and then an arm and next a face gradually came into view. The explorers were delighted to recognize in the moving objects a boy "greaser" named Oates, who was slowly creeping over the obstruction, and thus making his way from the inner workings to daylight and freedom beyond. On getting fairly out, the lad, little the worse for his experiences, merely exclaimed in Welsh, "Oh, my, what a lot of rubbish we have got through." Naturally, he was anxiously questioned, but before he could answer, first one man and then another appeared crawling over the fall. They were Lewis Jones (repairer), Benjamin Nicholas (repairer), Phillip Williams (repairer), and David Davies (labourer)—all Welshmen. Their tale was a sorrowful one. How they had remained comparatively unhurt, and in what way they succeeded in making their escape, they scarcely seemed to know. But this much they told, that, as far as they knew, they were the only men whom the fearful blast had spared, and they had made their way on hands and knees out of the workings. They had passed many of their comrades, but they were all lying prostrate and dead. They did not encounter a single body showing signs of life in the Cribbwr vein. They, of course, would not pass through all the workings occupied by miners, hitchers, hauliers, and others, but there was every reason to fear that what they saw was typical of the state of things elsewhere, and, with these few exceptions, all the men in the Cribbwr section, perhaps 120 or 130, have perished. Indeed, this is the opinion of an exploring party which came up at 7 o'clock, the members of which included such experienced men as Mr. Robson and Mr. Randall, Government Inspectors of Mines.

The efforts of the gangs of men now descending the mine at frequent intervals are directed to the removal of the great falls in order to permit the entrance of search parties to the inner workings. This is a work of great difficulty and danger, as the obstacles are no sooner partly removed than the coal again falls in, and thus the attempts to get at the miners are very seriously impeded and delayed. The great crowd of women and children who flocked to the scene of the catastrophe yesterday afternoon gradually dwindled towards the early hours of the morning, the wives, sisters, and other relatives of the poor fellows below going home in quest of a few hours' rest. But even then they did not relinquish their watchfulness. In nearly all the windows of the colliers' cottages in Taibach, Aberavon, and Port Talbot candles were burning throughout the night, and with the appraoch of dawn the distressed and anxious ones again gathered at the mouth of the shaft, expressing hopes for the best but fearing the worst. One of the most striking sights at the colliery is the appearance of the huge winding gear intact and in full working order. It is sutomary after an explosion of the force of that on Monday to see the cage but a mangled mass of iron hoisted on to the dismantled wheels, but in the present case everything is square and trim at the mouth of the shaft. This is accounted for by the explanation that the great falls which occurred simultaneously with the explosion suffered the first full force of the concussion, the blast thus spending its force before reaching the shaft.

Two sheds have been set apart, one for the dead and another amply provided with beds for the injured. A local undertaker has received practically unlimited order for coffins. Up to the present no light has been thrown on the origin of the explosion. The Marcel lamp was used, and every precaution appears to have been taken to insure the safety of the men.


The explorers are making good work now. They have got through the great fall, but are encountering more. Already some bodies have been seen. The most thrilling incident of Monday night was the supposed fate of one of the rescuers. Amongst the first of the explorers to go down were three men named Handford, Williams, and Brownsell. These especially distinguished themselves, and, hearing cries in the distance, pushed on, notwithstanding impure air, to the rescue. It was by these men that Jones, Oates, and several others were brought into a place of safety. The rescuers saved them at the imminent risk of their lives, and were themselves so overcome with the gas that they had to be dragged away, and were only got to bank with great difficulty. They lay insensible afterwards for hours. Brownsell, however, notwithstanding the warning of his companions, could not be restrained from pushing further forward. This he did at his cost, for he went out of sight, and the gas prevented his being followed. He was given up for dead, but this morning a desperate attempt was made to reach the place where he was known to be, and to the great joy of the explorers he was found to be alive but unconscious. He was at once brought to the bank, and now lies in a precarious condition in a temporary hospital.

Half-an-hour earlier the explorers met with a pleasant surprise. As they were near the 6½ stall they heard a cry and found it to proceed from John Francis, one of the entombed men, who was little the worse for his experience. He seemed in a dazed state, but was able to walk. He was at once sent up and then taken home. I visited him at his house at Gwarycaeau, Taibach, and found him surrounded by his delighted family and friends. He is an elderly man, and was conversing freely with those around him. He said, "I know nothing about the explosion except that I felt a shock. I was working in No. 7 stall and quite alone. There was no flame, and I had fresh air, but after the shock I knew there was something wrong. So with my lamp I made my way towards the bottom. I had got about 70 yards when I got into sulphur and knew it must be afterdamp. My lamp was put out by this, and I was left in total darkness. As it was no good continuing in the face of the sulphur and the darkness I went back to No. 6½ stall, where the air was pure, and I lay down, waiting for assistance. I went below at 6 on Monday morning, and though it was dark I suppose it was afternoon when the shock occurred. At about 8 o'clock this morning I heard voices near me and shouted, 'Halloa, halloa.' They came up with lights, and Mr. Tom Gray, who was leading, rushed up to me and caught hold of my hand. I had been below about 27 hours, but feel little the worse for my experience. I had no fear when the shock came, and thought it best to be still when my light was put out, as I was in pure air, for I had been in several explosions before. I thought the mine quite safe. It had been thoroughly examined a day or two before, and nothing serious was anticipated. I heard no cries before the explosion, but perhaps that was because I was working alone. I had perfect confidence in lying down in pure air to wait the issue of events, because I have been in explosions before and came out safely."

As the day progressed discouraging reports were received at the surface, and at length Dr. Arnallt Jones volunteered to go below. He found the air so impure that some of the explorers were suffering severely, and that two were really seriously ill from the effects. He sent these up and attended to the others, who were expected to recover speedily. It appears that in addition to the afterdamp the searchers have had to contend with smouldering brattice doors, and at 2 o'clock it was reported that there was fire in the pit, the smouldering embers having endued with life by the currents of fresh air. This information was kept quiet for a long time, but the heads of the colliery did not conceal the fact that the probability was that the search operations would have to be suspended till at least the fire was quenched. When the last explosion occurred in 1870 there was so great a fire that the mine had to be flooded.

The great drawback has been the lack of experienced explorers. Three gangs have been at work constantly. Mr. Tom Gray has spent most of his life underground, and so has Mr. Robson. The former ran a serious risk of his life, the effects of the afterdamp being such that he had to be dragged in an almost unconscious state half-a-mile; and hourly explorers come to the surface suffering more or less severely.

Mr. Isaac Evans, miners' agent, Skewen, who descended the pit about half-past 9 last evening and worked continuously with about an hour's interval throughout the night, came up just before 12 o'clock today. He informed me that the shaft was all right, but that at 20 yards from the bottom there had been a tremendous fall nearly 30 yards in length. The explorers made a way over this and got down into the main dip, which extends for about 800 yards, and found a regular mass of ruins, stone, and timber being blown about in all directions, and the wood so much splintered that the men engaged in repairing the airway cannot use the timber they find. It took nearly ten hours to get over the top of the first fall. They afterwards entered No. 7 heading, which was blown about in a shocking manner. Five dead bodies were lying in a heap, with a horse close by and a little boy further on. They went on to No. 8 west, which would be about 800 yards from the shaft, and there saw three men all dead and very much burnt and bruised. In No. 8 cast there was one body. They could not proceed any further because of the afterdamp. It is expected that the bulk of the bodies will be found only a little further beyond the spot which the working parties have already reached. Until the falls are so far cleared as to reach the headings in the Cribbwr it wil lnot be known whether the lives of all the men working there have been sacrificed. Some members of the working party have fancied that they heard voices in the distance, but it was impossible to establish any communication.

CARDIFF, March 11.

The following is a list of those ascertained to have been killed in the explosion :—

1, Bethnal Haycock, single, Taibach (mother a widow); 2, Evan Morgan, single, Upper Buck-road, Taibach; 3, Joseph Wicks, single, Vivian-row, Aberavon; 4, William Clatworthy, single, Morfa; 5, Tom Keap, boy, Taibach; 6, David Williams, boy, Taibach; 7, William Lewis, married, family, Taibach; 8, T.H. Williams, married, family, Taibach; 9, T. Coates, single, Taibach (mother a widow); 10, Fred Jenkins, single, Taibach; 11, Daniel John, married, family, Port Talbot; 12, William Jones, single, Taibach; 13, David Rees, ostler, Cwmbrombil.

During the day a message was received from the Home Secretary asking for information and expressing deep sympathy with the sufferers by the disaster. Mr. Howell Cuthbertson, of Neath, has fixed the opening of the inquest for 11 o'clock on Wednesday, at the Aberavon Police-station. Only evidence sufficient for identification purposes will be taken, and the inquiry will be adjourned to allow an examination of the mine by experts. Mr. Evan Owen, district secretary of the Miners' Provident Fund, arrived at the colliery on Monday about midnight, and at once put himself into communication with Mr. Richards, the district secretary of the fund. It was found on going through the books of the company to-day that practically all the men of the colliery belonged to the fund, with, perhaps, a few exceptions. This disaster, coming so soon after the Llanerch disaster—to meet which a captalized sum of £29,000 is required—means an intense strain upon the resources of the fund. Help will be badly wanted. At a meeting of the Monmouthshire and South Wales Colliery Association held to-day at the Angel Hotel, Cardiff, it was decided to vote towards the Miners' Provident Fund the sum of £1,000 for the relief of the sufferers by the explosion at Taibach.

11 p.m.

The work of exploration was carried on to a late hour to-night. The explorers came across the bodies of 19 additional victims. The gallant man, Brownsell, who has been lying in a semi-conscious state in the carpenter's shed, died at 9 o'clock to-night for the failure of the heart's action, consequent upon the inhalation of choke-damp while making the first descent into the mine on Monday afternoon. Sir Hussey Vivian, M.P., one of the proprietors of the pit, arrived this afternoon, and made special inquiries with the view of ascertaining that every proper aid was rendered in the recovery of the dead and the care of the sufferers.

A telegram to a news agency from Port Talbot last evening said that the report that a fire had broken out in the Morfa colliery in unhappily confirmed. The discovery was made by a party of explorers who had made their way a considerable distance along the Cribbwr workings, and a hurried consultation was forthwith held. It was evident that the fire had obtained possession of the greater portion of the inner workings, and it was therefore obviously useless to proceed further with the work of rescue until the flames had been smothered. The explorers therefore returned to the surface. Their report caused the utmost consternation throughout the district. Strange to say, it is still open to doubt how many men are still entombed.

[The Times, Thursday, March 13th, 1890]


CARDIFF, March 12.

The full extent of the disaster at the Morfa Colliery is now known. After careful inquiry the officials put the number of lives lost at 87. This includes the brave explorer, Daniel Brownsell. Sixty-eight of the men were married, three were widowers, and the remaining 16 were single. The number of children left fatherless by the disaster is 178, of whom 121 are under 13 years of age.

Mr. Howell Cuthbertson, Coroner, opened the inquest at the Aberavon Police-court this morning on the bodies of five of the men who lost their lives in the explosion. The names of the deceased were :—William Henry Clatworthy, aged 18; Joseph Weeks, 26; Bethnal Laycock, 19; Evan Morgan, 20; and Daniel Brownsell, 30. The latter was one of the explorers. The Coroner said that it was now 20 years this month since they had had to inquire into the cause of the former explosion at the Morfa Colliery. Then the loss of life was somewhere about 30 in number. He reminded the jury that their duty was first to ascertain what was the immediate cause of the death of these poor men, and in the second place what was the cause of the explosion. Evidence of identification was then takem, after which the inquiry was adjourned till the 1st of April.

There is very little to report from the mine to-day. The fire which broke out in the workings on Tuesday afternoon has happily been extinguished, ventilation has been fully restored, and a large number of men are now engaged in clearing away the falls. It is expected that the bulk of the bodies will be recovered to-morrow.

PORT TALBOT, March 12.

Though the mortality is so much less than that at the Llanerch explosion, it is remarkable that in the present disaster more wives have been made widows. Not less than £24,000 will probably be required to meet all exigencies arising from this occasion. This evening £5 per head of the bodies brought up was distributed for funeral expenses by the secretary of the permanent fund. A relief fund has been opened at the branch of the National Bank of Wales at Port Talbot, and the Mayor of Swansea, who is in London, has sent the following elegram to the manager of the colliery :—"Shocked to learn of the appalling accident at the Morfa pit, and hasten to convey my deep sympathy with the bereaved. Shall be glad to be informed how the rescued are progressing. I return to Swansea on Friday, when a local fund shall be started for relief of sufferers." The bodies of certain men discovered yesterday will, it is expected, be brought up before daylight, and already there are stacks of black coffins on the ground, ready to receive the remains as they are brought up. The rumours which have been current that the mine is haunted probably had their origin from the fact that the workings extend to the sea and the rumbling noise is such as is frequently heard in underground workings when the sea is rough. One miner is said to have been so frightened by these noises that three weeks ago he refused to go underground and continued to the last firm in his refusal, saying that he heard similar noises when the explosion of 1870 occurred, and he had a presentiment that a like disaster could not be far off again.

[The Times, Friday, March 14th, 1890]


CARDIFF, Thursday.

The anticipations indulged in yesterday that the greater proportion of the bodies would probably be brought to bank in the course of to-day have unfortunately not been realized. The difficulties that the explorers have to contend with are of the most serious kind, and would daunt any but the stoutest hearts. Mr. Davies, who was on duty the whole of last night, was three times sent to treat explorers who were suffering from the effects of afterdamp. This, however, was not the only danger that had to be encountered. So terrible was the concussion caused by the explosion that the workings are completely shattered; falls are continually taking place; and the work of exploration is most hazardous. After labouring for many hours to pass the big fall, the explorers on Wednesday succeeded in levelling it sufficiently to afford means of ingress into the 400 yards of working, beyond where it was known most of the bodies would be. During the night some of the explorers were able to pierce into this portion of the colliery. Suddenly the roof again fell, filling up the passage through which they had passed and completely entombing them. In this unpleasant and dangerous position they were forced to remain for some hours, until the fall was again levelled, and they were able to rejoin their party. Some time afterwards the roof fell a second time, but fortunately with no serious result. The roof, however, has proved so treacherous that what was practically a wooden tunnel was constructed, cross timbers being placed upon upright pit-wood. Through the covered alley thus made the explorers were able to get into the inner workings. Here they saw between 20 and 30 bodies. The work of recovery was proceeded with, and about noon a message was received at bank that stretchers were required. Shortly afterwards four bodies were sent to the surface.

The fact that an unlocked safety-lamp belonging to Morris, the overman, had been discovered in the inner workings is accepted by inexperienced persons as proof of the cause of the explosion. This, however, is not the view held by colliery officials. The theory formed by Mr. Gray, the manager, in reference to this lamp is that Morris had gone down the return airway and lost his light. He then probably called Thomas Monday, one of the men working in the airway, to show him the way. That Monday was with Morris at the time of the explosion is certain, for the two bodies were found together on the way to the lamp-locking station. Mr. Gray assumes that they were going there for the purpose of getting Morris's lamp relighted. Morris, on reaching the bottom, had probably unlocked the lamp, so that it should be in readiness by the time they reached the station, which was only 50 or 60 yards off. The lamp, however, was screwed up when found, so that it could not possibly have been the cause of the explosion. The lamp was a Musseler, which is so constructed, with internal tubes, that, as soon as it is taken into foul air the flame is extinguished; though whether this was the cause of Morris's lamp going out will probably never be ascertained.

The whole number of bodies already recovered is 18. Some of the poor fellows were in such a condition that the doctors ordered the coffins to be screwed down at once—a necessity which caused poignant but unavoidable grief. It is believed that some days will elapse before the whole of the bodies are recovered. There were in the pit at the time of the explosion about 40 horses, all of which have been killed. Great trouble is expected to arise from the carcasses of these animals, as it is at present impossible to bring them over the falls.

The Lord Mayor, at the request of the Mayor of Swansea and Mr. S.T. Evans, M.P., has consented to open a relief fund at the Mansion-house to aid the sufferers from the disaster. It is requested, in forwarding donations to the Mansion-house, that subscribers will clearly indicate to which of the two colliery funds—the Llanerch and the Morfa—they wish their charity to be devoted. Sir Hussey Vivian, one of the owners of the colliery, has subscribed £2,000.

[The Times, Saturday, March 15th, 1890]


CARDIFF, March 14.

No falls of a serious extent have ocurred to-day, and the explorers have been able to penetrate into the workings to a considerable distance. They saw from 20 to 30 bodies, some of which they brought to bank. Fortunately, the air in the mine is fairly good. Should no further falls take place the explorers hope to reach the extreme point of the workings in the course of the next three days.

A very startling discovery was made to-day. Whilst the explorers were clearing away the falls in No. 8 west heading they came across the body of an ostler named David Rees. He was much burnt about the face and chest. In his pockets were found two unlit lucifer matches and a horseshoe nail. From the fact that the latter has been known to be occasionally used by colliers for the purpose of opening lamps great significance is attached to this discovery.

This evening another startling rumour was current in Taibach. It had been said early in the week that blasting was never adopted in the mine, at least so far as the coal measures were concerned. Gradually it was bruited about that in the No. 8 level, where the coal was very hard, blasting was resorted to, and that on Friday at least two charges were prepared. These should have been fired on Monday morning by a man called Jenkins, but it seems that he did not enter the mine, but left the task to his butty. Questioned as to the manner in which the charge was fired, one of the men employed in the mine stated that sometimes the man to whom was intrusted the operation would pass a very fine wire through the gauze of the lamp into the flame, wait until it became red hot, and then ignite the squib which communicated with the gunpowder. Sometimes, however, if the man found that there was no gas around the blasting hole, he would unscrew his lamp and ignite the fuse direct from the flame. Mr. T. Gray, the manager, stated to-day that they had not fired any shots in the colliery for 27 years, except in very exceptional cases, when the coal was very hard, and then they were most careful about the operation, Mr. Barras, the under manager, not being allowed to fire a shot until he had discussed the matter with him. Mr. Gray said that he was very much against shot-firing at the Morfa mine, and had many times paid large sums in the shape of allowances to the men in order to obviate the use of a shot. If there had been any charges prepared he admitted that they would be in the No. 8 level, where the coal was harder than the rock. He, however, had never been consulted about the matter, nor had he given permission to any one to fire a shot. Mr. Robson, the Government inspector, has already made inquiries into the matter, and an effort will be made to-morrow to get at the spot where the cartridges are said to have been laid.

[The Times, Monday, March 17th, 1890]


CARDIFF, March 16.

There is bad news from the Morfa Colliery. After recovering all the bodies except 43, it was discovered that the pit was on fire, and further explorations have been discontinued. This result was not altogether unanticipated. On account of the numerous falls that had taken place in consequence of the explosion, the explorers had up to yesterday been unable to penetrate far into the Cribbwr vein. But yesterday, although he had been entombed for several hours by another fall, Mr. T. Gray, the manager, determined if possible to reach the Nos. 8 and 9 headings. Fearing that fire might be smouldering, he cautioned the men to be very careful, and if they smet smoke to retrace their steps at once. While the party were making their way along the No. 8 west heading they encountered another heavy fall. After some hours' labour they succeeded in levelling it sufficiently to enable them to pass over, when they perceived volumes of dense smoke rolling towards them. Apprehensive that the current of air passing along might fan the smouldering embers into active blaze and thus cause a second explosion, the explorers begged Mr. Gray not to attempt to ascertain the exact seat of the fire. Having before him the lesson of the Oaks Colliery explosion, when, under precisely similar circumstances, 60 of the explorers were killed, the gas firing a second time, the manager reluctantly gave orders for all of the explorers to withdraw from the mine. There were 18 horses in the nine-foot seam at the time, and these had perforce to be left to their fate.

As the men ascended the shaft the news of their withdrawal spread rapidly to Taibach, where it caused the utmost consternation. Mr. Robson, her Majesty's inspector of mines, happened to be in the neighbour hood, and a consultation immediately took place as to the best source to adopt. With regard to the advisability of abandoning all further explorations there were not two opinions, but there was some doubt as to which of the two courses was the better, whether to seal the mine or to flood it. To close up the shaft and so smother the fire it was felt would be the simplest plan, but this, whenever the pit came to be reopened, would be attended with great risk. Flooding afforded the safest remedy, and this, it was said, could be accomplished in two ways, either by carrying pipes down the shaft and over the large fall in No. 6 heading, and pumping water into them from a reservoir, or by the cutting of a canal from the sea. By the latter method the mine could be flooded at high tide in a couple of hours. But it was doubtful, if this were done, whether the mine would ever be opened again. A fire occurred in the mine in 1873, and on that occasion flooding was resorted to. After the mine had remained idle for several years the water was pumped out again, but the operation entailed an expenditure of £40,000.

Should the colliery be closed the effect would be most disastrous to the district, as it would involve a loss in wages of something like £2,500 a month.

The bodies of 16 of the victims were interred yesterday at Aberavon, Port Talbot, and other places. At some of the burial grounds very distressing scenes were witnessed, several women fainting at the grave side and having to be carried off the ground. Special sermons were preached at all the places of worship in the district.


At a further consultation this afternoon between the colliery officials and Mr. Robson it was decided to flood the mine. It seems that there are pipes already laid down the shaft. These are connected with the reservoir by means of a syphon, which can be got into use in two hours. As the pipes are carried into the nine-foot seam and not the Cribbwr, where it will necessitate someone going down, it is a dangerous task, and who will undertake it is not yet known. Mr. F. Gray, brother of the manager, has offered to lead, and should there be volunteers sufficient the attempt to carry the pipe into the Cribbwr will be made to-night. An effort it to be made at the same time to feed the 18 horses imprisoned in the nine-foot.

At present it is only purposed to flood the lower part of the Cribbwr, as the fire is burning almost at the bottom of the deep. There are several falls, however, in the way, and if the water does not flow freely through the débris the whole mine will have to be flooded. The operation is expected to take from two to three weeks.

A statement was circulated on Saturday that dynamite had been found in the mine. This has been thoroughly investigated to-day by Mr. Gray, who states that the first piece of dynamite ever used in the colliery was brought there on the 27th of February by a man living at Neath. It was to be used in a trial in a hard heading. Only 10lb. had been used. The shotman, on being interviewed, stated that he never gave any dynamite out for use in the Cribbwr. The miner's agent, however, states that he knows on indisputable authority that on the day of the explosion one of the men working in the nine-foot had half a cartridge and two caps in the hard heading. Another miner has stated that blasting has been going on in the Cribbwr vein and many other places in the colliery during working hours, and that at the last inspection a man had been caught in the very act of firing a shot. It is also alleged that some time ago the men complained that riders had been allowed to go below the lamp station with their lamps unlocked, and a promise was then made that the custom should be stopped. Miss Talbot, of Margam Abbey, has contribued £2,500 and Miss Olive Talbot £500 to the relief fund.


Sir,—The occurrence of another terrible colliery disaster in South Wales causes me to make through your columns a further appeal for help which is sorely needed. A deputation, headed by the Mayor of Swansea, informs me that the number of widows and orphans to be provided for by reason of the Morfa explosion is, considering the number of lives lost, quite phenomenal in the experience of these melancholy occurrences. Of the 88 persons killed, no fewer than 69, including the brave explorer, Brownsell, leave widows, with close upon 200 children, and a considerable number of dependent relatives.

To provide the very modest allowance of 5s. weekly to the widows, and 2s. 6d. weekly to the children until they reach 14 years of age, with similar payments to dependents, will require £20,000. Towards this the proprietors of the colliery (Messrs. Vivian and Sons) have contributed £2,000, and the Coal Association of the district £1,000; and it is in the effort to raise the remainder that I urgently appeal to the sympathies of the public.

The poor fellows who have lost their lives while following their dangerous calling were not improvident. They were all members of the Miners' Permanent Fund established a few years ago for Monmouthshire and South Wales; but the awful succession of great disasters makes it imperative that this young institution should be assisted from outside sources. As I mentioned in my letter concerning the Llanerch explosion, all the distress arising from great colliery disasters in England for the last ten years has been met by these permanent societies without an appeal from the Mansion-house; and surely they are deserving of aid from the charitable to meet the pressing claims that have now arisen.

That after so short an interval I should again have to plead the cause of these poor widows and orphans will, I sincerely hope, be looked upon as a special reason for making the response prompt and generous.

I shall be happy to receive donations at the Mansion-house, or they may be paid to the account of the fund at the Bank of England.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

HENRY A. ISAACS, Lord Mayor.
Mansion-house, London, E.C., March 15.

[The Times, Tuesday, March 18th, 1890]


CARDIFF, March 17.

The work of flooding the Morfa pit did not commence until 1 o'clock this afternoon. On examining the collliery plans it was found that the rise from the bottom of the engine plane to the Cribbwr was only 2ft., while the rise to the nine-feet seam was as much as 10ft. It was, therefore, unnecessary to send men down the pit to divert the water pipe from the nine-feet into the Cribbwr vein. There is a very heavy fall in the No. 6 level of the Cribbwr, which may impede the course of the water; but, as one of the colliery officials remarked, a fall had never been known to occur in the Morfa, which was impervious to both air and water. It is believed that the water will soon percolate through the débris. But under even the most favourable circumstances at least a fortnight must elapse before the water can reach and extinguish the fire. Water is obtained by means of a syphon from an adjacent reservoir, and is conveyed down the shaft through a 5in. blast-pipe. The cage in the shaft had been previously drawn to the surface, the winding gear disconnected, and the rope drawn around the engine drum. While these melancholy operations were going on, the poor women who day after day had trudged to the pit in the hope of seeing the bodies of their husbands brought to bank gave way to despairing cries, and were reluctantly persuaded to return to their homes. The fate of the 18 or 20 horses in the mine is the subject of much commiseration. They are confined in a stable midway between the entrance to the Cribbwr (which is 80 yard from the pit eye) and the entrance to the 9ft., which is some 500 yards further away. One or two of the colliers volunteered to descend the mine and to essay the rescue of the animals; but Mr. A. Vivian, one of the proprietors, would not give his consent. The death-roll is too great already. Even if the animals escape drowning they must inevitably be starved to death. One of the men who was working in the pit on the occasion of the last explosion said that one horse was found alive three weeks after it had been left to its fate. In its agonizing hunger it had eaten the wood off the manger.

In response to the Lord Mayor's appeal for the widows and orphans of the miners who were recently killed in the Morfa Colliery accident, about £500 was yesterday received at the Mansion-house, including from Mr. G.T. Clark, of Dowlais, £200; Messrs. G. Borwick and Sons, £50; "In memoriam Sydney Gilchrist Thomas," £50; Mr. Alfred Scorer, £10 10s.; A.S.G., £10; Mr. J.H. Appach, £25; Mrs. Palmer, of Rheola, £50; Mr. T.K. Hardie, £10; and Messrs. Benetfink and Co., £10 10s.

[The Times, Wednesday, April 2nd, 1890]


The adjourned inquest into the circumstances attending the deaths of 87 colliers on the occasion of the recent explosion at the Morfa Colliery was opened at the Police-court, Aberavon, yesterday morning, before Mr. Howell Cuthbertson, district coroner. Mr. Howell Jeffreys, barrister, appeared for the Crown; and Mr. S.T. Evans, M.P., for the South Wales and Monmouthshire Mines Association. Mr. J. Robson, her Majesty's chief inspector of mines for South Wales, Mr. T.A. Grey, deputy inspector of mines, and Sir Hussey Vivian, M.P., were present. The coroner alluded to the extent of the catastrophe, and said that it was a matter of deep regret that 44 bodies still remained beneath the surface. The first witness called was Mr. Thomas Gray, who said he was the manager of the Morfa Colliery, acting as assistant to Mr. Wynne, of North Staffordshire, and was a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers. The witness read a minute description of the colliery and its ventilating appliances. The two veins worked at Morfa were the 9ft. and Cribbwr veins. The Waddel fan circulated 80,000 cubic feet of air per minute through these workings. The colliery was worked entirely with locked lamps of the Marsant pattern. Shot firing in the coal was practically given up in 1863, and no shot had since been fired in the 9ft. vein, but on special occasions he had permitted shot-firing in the Cribbwr vein. At the time of the explosion, however, there were only three places in which blasting was allowed. Referring to the occurrence of the 10th of March, he said that Thomas Barras came up from the pit after breakfast and reported satisfactorily to him. While he was there the firemen's reports were brought in, and they also showed the colliery to be safe and free from gas. At about 12 30 he heard a dull report, and looking out saw a cloud of smoke rise from the shaft to a height of 20ft. A cage was immediately got ready, and the witness and five men went down the shaft. At the bottom they found several men, who reported that the explosion had occurred in the Cribbwr. The 9ft. men were safely got out through a hole in the fall. Mr. Aireys then described the shattered condition of the mine, and how two of the exploring parties were overcome with the afterdamp, but were subsequently rescued. All the doors were blown outwards, except that at No. 8, and his conclusion was that the explosion had occurred at that point. It was afterwards discovered that the mine was on fire. The fires, to all appearances, were twice put out, but on the Saturday morning there were still signs of fire, and after a general consultation it was decided that further risk of life was unjustifiable. It was afterwards decided to flood the levels. This was begun on the 17th of March, and was still in operation as lately as Thursday last. Unmistakeable evidence was afforded in No. 2 that the fire was not yet extinguished. The witness said that since 1886 monthly inspections of the colliery had been carried out by the men, and that on the 5th and 6th of March a special examination of the whole colliery was made, occupying two days. During the 17 years he had been at the colliery he had never received any complaints of any danger in the mine. Messrs. Vivian and Sons were most anxious that everything should be done for the safety of those employed, and any expenditure to this end was always freely sanctioned. David Aubray, fireman, said that he went into the pit on the 9th of March, the evening preceding the explosion. He went round the workings of the Cribbwr vein, taking about two hours for the purpose, and during his examination he found no gas, fog, nor any indication of danger. He used a locked lamp; no one went into the workings with an unlocked lamp. He fired a shot on the Friday before the explosion at a certain point, about 50 fards from the face of the heading. He had never found any gas in the place or near to it. He used powder to fire the shot, and opened his lamp for the purpose of lighting the fuse. John Morris fired a shot on the Saturday. Certain of the colliers prepared the charges. He was the person appointed to fire the shots. No dynamite had been used in the Cribbwr vein during the 13 years he had worked there. In answer to further questions, witness said he had fired a shot on the Thursday. He had also fired on the previous day on the same spot. He could not remember whether he fired a further shot on Friday. He did not see any shot prepared after this.

The CORONER.—Can you say whether any shots were fired on Monday morning or not? The witness.—I cannot answer that question.

By Mr. Evans.—It would take him on an average about five minutes to examine each working place. There were 25 working places, and the distance traversed by him would be nearly three miles. The shot firing commenced about two months before the explosion. Firing had not taken place on every day since, but it had on nearly every day for the last fortnight. On the 17th [sic] of March he found gas at a certain point, and he stopped the man working. Mr. Evans.—Then from the 7th to the 10th of March you found that there was so much gas that men could not work there? Mr. Aireys.—Yes. Did you examine the place again on the 10th?—Yes. Was there any gas there?—Yes. A dangerous quantity?—No, sir, not dangerous, but too much for the men to work there. What steps did you take to clear the gas?—I took no steps. On the examination being continued, the witness said that a fan had been fixed in the place a month before. The witness did not think that he did anything that conduced to the explosion, but he had been warned not to go into the place, and there was a danger signal up, too. Mr. Evans.—Does it happen that this man Walters, who was killed, had serious burns upon him? The witness.—I did not see his body.

The inquiry was then adjourned.

[The Times, Friday, April 4th, 1890]


The inquiry into the disaster at the Morfa Colliery was resumed on Wednesday and yesterday at the Aberavon Town-hall, before Mr. Howell Cuthbertson, coroner.

The fireman, David Aubrey, was again called and examined by Mr. Howell Jeffreys, who called his attention to rule 12(g), which required that in any place where gas had been found it must be cleared away before shot-firing. The witness said that gas had been found in a certain heading, and that it remained there from the 6th up to the time of the explosion. The powder used for the shot was not a "water" cartridge, as stipulated in the rule, and no watering was done before the shot-firing. The hole in the coal was drilled. The cartridge was pressed into it with a copper rammer. The firing was always done by a witness, who opened his lamp to light the fuse.

By the CORONER.—He found no gas anywhere in the colliery on the morning of the explosion, except in the stall already mentioned—not a lampful in any part of the colliery. He had never seen men smoking in the pit, and he did not believe that they carried matches about with them.

The CORONER.—Were the men examined at the lamp station or anywhere to see what they had about them? Witness.—No. Four or five years ago the men's pockets used to be searched.

William David, repairer of the colliery, said that he had worked there for 13 years. He went to work on Sunday night, the 9th of March. His duty that night was to act as fireman. He went to Evan Ely's heading at about a quarter past 10. Here he found gas in the upper side, about two and a half yards of it, half a yard or so back from the face. The fan was not working in this heading at the time. He had found gas there on Saturday night, and the danger signal was up at the time. He next went to the 8½ heading and found nothing wrong. He made a report in the firemen's book on Sunday night.

The CORONER.—Will you read the report? The witness.—I cannot read or write, Sir. A man named Mike Sullivan made the entry for me.

The CORONER.—The entry is, "Presence of gas none; roof and sides good. General safety satisfactory. Cribbwr all safe and free from gas. This 10th day of March." It is signed by you. Did Mike Sullivan write your name too? Witness.—Yes.

Being further examined, witness said that the reason why he did not report gas in Ely's heading was because there was no one working there, and Aubrey, the day fireman, was coming round after him before the day men went to work. A boy had read the rules to him. There was no smoking in the pit. He had heard that matches had been found on David Rees, the ostler. The men were not searched before going down the shaft.

Mr. S.T. Evans, M.P.—When Morris ordered you to inspect the workings did he know you could not write? The witness.—I do not think he knew. You knew it was your duty to make the report in your handwriting?—Yes. And yet you did not tell the overman you could not write? Why did you not report the gas found there?—Because everybody knew there was danger there and the signal was up.

In answer to further questions, witness said there were five men working four yards from this dangerous place of Ely's. The hand-fan had been stopped from Saturday morning to Sunday evening, 36 hours. He could not say why it stopped working. There were no colliers working there from Saturday afternoon. All Monday morning he could detect gas with his plug lamp, as well as with the other, by pulling the cotton down low.

Mr. Evans.—Did you pull the cotton in every place you went to? Witness.—Yes; I took my time.

In reply to Mr. Tennant. Witness said that the gas had not increased from Saturday to Sunday, although the fan had not been working. He did not regard the small quantity of gas he found as dangerous.

James Nettle, night foreman at the Morfa Colliery, said that he was last in the pit on Friday, the 7th of March, in the evening. He went to the Cribbwr vein, and came out at 4 o'clock on Saturday morning. His lamp was locked and he had a key. On Friday night he went first to the 6½ heading, in which two colliers were working. It was all clear from gas. From there he went down to the main deep. There was nothing there. He went to Evan Ely's place and found a little gas in the upper side and near the fall. It extended out about three yards from the face, and about a yard across the face. The danger signal was up. It was put up on the 6th of March, about midday. Ely's place had been worked about six weeks. He had seen gas there before, on the 21st of February, and had reported it. He cleared it by the 22d. He did not report gas in Ely's stall after that until the 6th of March. He had no idea as to what had caused the explosion or where it had occurred. He had no knowledge of men being searched when they went down. He never saw smoking below. He always made a report when he saw gas.

Questioned by Mr. Evans, M.P.—Would it be probable for the gas to accumulate from the 17th of March onwards so as to cause the explosion, if the fan was not working? Witness.—It would not accumulate much there. Mr. Evans.—You do not think that was the cause of the explosion? Witness.—No. In answer to Mr. Tennant, the witness said it was possible that a blower might have occurred, and, if shot-firing had gone on, caused the explosion. It was his (witness's) duty to see that the hand fan was kept working while he was down the pit. The gas he found in Eley's [sic] stall on the 6th of March had accumulated during the previous 24 hours, and if a naked light had been taken there it would have caused an explosion. It would take about 20 nights to clear the Cribbwr vein of coal dust in all the headings, and at the end of that time they began again.

The inquiry was then adjourned until the 23d inst.

[The Times, Thursday, April 24th, 1890]


The adjourned inquest into the circumstances attending the deaths of 87 colliers at the Morfa Colliery, Port Talbot, was held at Aberavon yesterday, before Mr. Howel Cuthbertson, district coroner. Mr. Howel Jeffreys appeared for the Home Office; Mr. J.H.T. Robson (Inspector of Mines for South Wales), Mr. E.R. Randell (Assistant-Inspector), Mr. J.S. Martin (Inspector for the South-Western District), and Sir Hussey Vivian, M.P., were present.

John Francis was called. He said that he was a collier, and had been working at Morfa about 15 years. He and four others were in No. 7 west when the explosion took place. Three of their lamps were put out and the other two kept alight. They laid down, and afterwards Mr. Grey and others came to them over the falls, and they were got out on Tuesday morning. There had been shot-firing in the mine recently, but he had never heard of any men refusing to go to work owing to it. He knew it was the practice of over-men and firemen to have keys, but he had not seen them open their lamps.

Rees Oates, a boy, said that on the morning of the explosion he went to the pit at 9 o'clock and proceeded to the No. 7 west. He was by himself when the explosion occurred, but he went on and overtook Philip Williams and Lewis Jones. He felt the afterdamp when he got near the wind road, but not before. It made him senseless. His lamp was put out by an accidental kick in passing over the falls.

Benjamin Nicholas, repairer, of Taibach, said that he had seen gas sometimes in No. 7 since he had been working there, but none for two or three weeks before the explosion.

Philip Williams, repairer, of 14, Constant-row, Taibach, said that he was working on the morning of the explosion in No. 7 west. He was not blown down by the force of the explosion, as he was protected by a tram. It was a very strong blast. There was dust in the air, but not very much. There were men clearing the dust.

The CORONER.—Did you tell anybody after the explosion that the dust was fearful?

Witness.—No Sir, not that I remember.

He said that he believed the explosion took place in No. 8. If he had been there he would not have been giving evidence that day. The noise after the explosion was like the ripping of calico. This was from the falls. He did not know why the colliers asked for a special inspection of the mine.

The inquiry was further adjourned.

[The Times, Friday, April 25th, 1890]


At the resumed inquiry into the cause of the Morfa Colliery explosion at Aberavon yesterday, Phillip Williams, on being recalled, was examined as to the reason why a special examination was made of the pit a few days before the explosion. There were complaints of spirits being about, and the men thought the special examination would get rid of the spirits. He had seen no shots fired in the Cribbwr vein, but had heard that some had been fired lately. If they began firing where he saw gas he would not stay there a minute. In answer to Mr. Robson, witness said John Francis told him after the explosion that he smelt powder smoke just before the explosion.

Lewis Jones, living at Taibach, said he was a repairer at Morfa Colliery, and he did not smell any powder smoke before or after the explosion. He had heard that shot-firing had taken place, but he had never seen it. This witness also thought that the examination was desired because of the spirits.

William Harding, collier, one of the special examiners appointed by the men, said that on Thursday morning before the explosion he went down to the bottom of the old pit but could find no gas anywhere. He then went down to the Cribbwr deep and searched all the manholes from the top to the bottom. He found two or three which were not quite right and told John Morris about them. They were put right between the Thursday morning and the Saturday night. In No. 9 he found gas and he told the men to keep from there. This witness was asked as to the cause of the examination. He said that from the sounds which went through the pit they believed something was to be seen there and that something unusual was to take place. About 14 days before the accident he and another were at work in the pit when they heard a noise. The door above them clapped together. No one had been sent there that day and none of them could understand it. Many of them were superstitious, and after the explosion he was bound to regard the noises he heard as something coming before it.

Mr. Gray, the certificated manager of the Morfa Colliery, then underwent cross-examination. He said the shots in the Cribbwr were rendered necessary in driving the deep down, owing to the coal being so hard. His opinion was that the explosion took place in No. 8 heading. By Mr. S.T. Evans.—Before allowing shot-firing he made a special examination, and after conferring with Barras, the under manager, and Morris, he gave a general sanction. Aubrey, as fireman, would fire the shots. Leyshon was also authorized to fire shots, but William David, the other acting fireman, was not.

Some further evidence was given and the inquiry was adjourned.

[The Times, Saturday, April 26th, 1890]


The inquiry into the cause of the Morfa colliery explosion was concluded at Aberavon yesterday before Mr. Howel Cuthbertson, coroner. Several witnesses were called to prove that shot-firing took place in the mine, and a repairer named Francis stated that after the explosion he observed to one of his mates that there was a smell very much like powder about. None of the witnesses had any knowledge of shot-firing on the morning of the explosion, but they said that shot-firing took place on the previous working days.

Mr. James Barrow, mining engineer, Maesteg, said that the use of water in the Cribbwr seam was not especially necessary in shot-firing, as there was not so much dust in the faces as in the main roads, but a water-cartridge tended to safety. A damaged lamp was just as likely as anything else to have caused the explosion, but of course there must have been some gas. He was of the opinion that shot-firing should not be allowed where gas was continually present, but such was not the case here.

Mr. T.J. Robson, her Majesty's Inspector of Mines, said that he was almost certain that the explosion arose from the firing of a shot in either No. 8 or 8½ heading. In his opinion, wherever safety-lamps were necessary, and this was a safety-lamp colliery, blasting should not be allowed except in stone work. The risk of an explosion would be diminished by thorough watering, but he had not much faith in water-cartridges.

Mr. J.S. Martin, another inspector of mines, expressed his agreement with Mr. Robson's evidence.

The CORONER having summed up, the jury returned a verdict that there was a strong probability from the evidence that the explosion took place in the face of No. 8½, and that it was due to shot-firing, but that such shot-firing was carried on in accordance with the rules of the Mines Regulation Act. In a rider the jury recommended that firemen should report gas on all occasions wherever found.

[The Times, Wednesday, July 30th, 1890]


Two reports have been presented to the Secretary of State on the Morfa Colliery explosion, and were yesterday published as a Parliamentary paper. One is drawn up by Mr. Howel Jeffreys, barrister-at-law, and the other by Mr. J.T. Robson, one of her Majesty's Inspectors of Mines.

It will be remembered that the explosion at the Morfa Colliery, Port Talbot, occurred on the 10th of March last, and that the 86 persons in the pit at the time lost their lives thereby. Forty-three of the bodies were recovered at once. The rest of the bodies were left in the pit, which had to be flooded. The inquest was opened on some of the bodies on March 12 and then adjourned until April 1. At the adjourned inquest Mr. J.T. Robson, her Majesty's Inspector of Mines for the South Wales district, in which the explosion took place, Mr. Howel Jeffreys, on behalf of the Secretary of State, and several other gentlemen were present. In all the inquiry lasted for seven days, and came to an end on April 25. The jury returned a verdict that death was due to afterdamp and burns caused by an explosion of gas, which explosion probably took place in the face of the No. 8½ range, and they were of the opinion that the explosion was due to shot-firing carried out in accordance with the rules laid down by the Mines Regulation Act, and that it was due to accidental causes. In fact the jury blamed no one, but recommended that firemen should report the presence of gas whenever found.

Mr. Howel Jeffreys in his report recites all the known facts of the case. He comes to the conclusion that the explosion occurred in No. 8 or No. 8½ west, probably the former. He says that it is difficult to entertain a doubt that the cause of the explosion was shot-firing. This belief was expressed not only by the jury (as already stated), but by the coroner, by the four Inspectors of Mines who were present, and by a large proportion of the witnesses. There is not the least reason, he adds, for supposing that a naked light was used that day for any purpose except that of firing a shot. The only other suggestion made, that the explosion might have been caused by a broken lamp, need not be seriously considered. Mr. Jeffreys thinks it a by no means improbable hypothesis that Leyshon, who was acting in place of the day fireman that day, and whose body has not yet been found, fired the shot inthe place known as Girffiths's stall. Ignition of gas originated the explosion, which was fed, intensified, and carried along by the coal dust which it whirled up and ignited in its passage. Mr. Jeffreys finds it difficult to believe that there was not a techincal breach of one of the rules in the Mines Regulation Act, either in shot-firing too soon after a report being given of the presence of inflammable gas, or else in making no attempt to water the parts where dust was lodged. Further, there was a breach of the rules in the fact that no competent person was appointed to inspect the part found dangerous; and the presence of gas, recorded on Thursday and Friday, was not recorded on Saturday and Monday, the last being the day of the explosion. Mr. Jeffreys finds another breach of the rules in that a deputy fireman's report was made in another person's handwriting, and he thinks that the officials committed an error of judgment in permitting shot-firing in these particular places without providing water-cartridges or the use of water, and in permitting such firing during the shift. He does not recommend any prosecution. He concludes by urging that if shot-firing in fiery mines cannot be avoided—and he does not dissent from the view that it was carried on in accordance with the general rules—he thinks it would be better that such a risk should be confined to the few men actually engaged in the operation rather than that the lives of tens or hundreds of others in different parts of the mine should also be sacrificed.

Mr. Robson also comes to the conclusion that, though there was no positive evidence of a shot having been fired at or about the time of the explosion, there can be little doubt that it was a shot which ignited gas, either present within the range of the shot or suddenly given off at the time of the firing. He gives his reasons as follows:—

"1. It was a fact that shots were being fired almost daily in three or four places, and the ordinary time for firing was coincident with the time of the explosion.

"2. On that morning, Aubrey, the day fireman, had been asked by John Griffiths, one of the colliers working in the place marked B, when he (Aubrey) would be coming in; and on Aubrey replying that he was not coming in, Griffiths said, 'Tell John Morris (the overman) that I want some one to come in.' Aubrey understood this to mean that Griffiths expected to have a shot ready to fire during the shift.

"3. Aubrey gave William Leyshon, the man appointed in his place, his safety-lamp and the key for opening it in case he had a shot to fire.

"4. Leyshon was not seen on No. 7 that day by any survivor, and, as his body has not yet been found, it is probably in No. 8 or No. 8½ west, where he had been at the time of the explosion.

"5. The colliery had been for many years worked with safety-lamps, and the discipline as to their use was such that I do not think any of the workmen would surreptitiously use a naked light, or smoke in the workings.

"6. A safety-lamp damaged and left burning, a lamp in an unsafe condition being passed by the examiner on the surface and by the fireman or other examiner at the lamp-station underground, the passage of flame through the gauze of a safety-lamp by an abnormal velocity of current, and a spark from a pick striking some hard, flinty stone, are each possible means of igniting an inflammable mixture of gas and air; but the probability of such a contingency where gas has happened to be present is too remote to be entertained as the cause of this explosion."

With reference to the finding of the jury that the explosion was due to accidental causes, Mr. Robson dissents, as shot-firing is a deliberate act regulated and permitted under certain conditions, to be ascertained by previous examination. Whether Leyshon really followed the directions laid down for shot-firing, if he did fire on that day, will never be known. As to the recommendation of the jury on the report of the presence of gas wherever found, Mr. Robson entirely concurs. He concludes by pointing out that the explosion is another warning of the danger of shot firing in mines known to be fiery and dry. It shows in a very forcible manner "the absolute necessity there is for some thoroughly reliable method of keeping all roadways as free from dust as possible, without which the best ventilated collieries may sooner or later become the scene of such calamities as that which occurred at Morfa."

The owners of the colliery are Messrs. Vivian and Sons, and the agent and certified manager is Mr. T. Gray, who had held that position for 17 years. Mr. Robson adds to his report a plan and a section which illustrate the general conclusions to which he comes.

back to main Morfa Colliery Disaster page

content last revised 19 Feb 2007