My name is Katie Burton, and I'm a doctoral student from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, USA. I'm currently writing a dissertation on canaries in literature and culture in the nineteenth century. Part of my research focuses on canaries' usage in British coal mines, and I'm trying to track down any information and/or records (both written and visual) that show that practice pre-1915. Although I'm able to find lots of casual references to canaries being used throughout the nineteenth century, I have found very little concrete proof of this. I can find records of J.S. Haldane's experiments with canaries in the 1890s, which then lead to more official use of the birds, but not really anything before that. I'm assuming the birds were used in a more unofficial capacity, which obviously makes it harder to locate documentation. Your website has been so helpful, as there are several photos of rescue teams with bird cages in the early 20th century. I'm contacting you to see if you have any suggestions for where I might look for even earlier evidence: photos, written records from local mines, mining and governmental organizations, individual miners, etc. Any leads would be greatly appreciated!
Also, I'm not able to access the video about coal mine canaries on your website, even when I try using Chrome browser. Are you able to send me the file?
Thanks in advance for your time!
See also Canaries and Breathing Apparatus
Bob's Page 1910 - Canaries
Philip Healey and Tommy Rainbird testing for gas with a canary, 1950s
Canaries were used by a few Colliery Companies in the late 1800s, after several explosions, where they were used and approved by the Mines Inspector.
The first Rescue Station was opened at Tankersley, Yorkshire in 1902.
The second one at Mansfield Woodhouse in 1909, officially opened in 1910. 74 collieries were covered. All manner of new rescue equipment was tried and tested here. Because of explosions and fires and such emphasis was on protecting life of the rescue personnel when attending these incidents.
Under the new regulations canaries were part of the system and were kept at the station.
Eventually they would be kept at each colliery in the event of an incident. At least 2 were to be kept; however in practice about half a dozen usually bred by a local dealer were kept in an aviary and looked after, fed and watered by a member of the safety staff at the pit.
Because the canaries were bred in captivity they were quite used to living in a cage unlike a wild bird. Unfortunately these small birds did not live more than 3 or 4 years.
Canaries sing and chirp most of their daylight hours however when taken underground in a small open cage about 1 foot or 0.30m cubed they tend to hop along the perch until rested when they relax again and begin chirping, however when in a gaseous atmosphere of say about 6 parts per million of carbon monoxide, or whitedamp following an explosion or heating, the canary stops chirping and becomes agitated and of course the longer it is in the situation the more agitated it becomes until finally dropping off its perch. It falls off quicker the higher the percentage of the gas. This action gives men a chance to retreat to fresh air before succumbing. A canary's heartbeat is up to 100 times faster than a human being so the carbon monoxide is attracted quicker into the haemoglobin in the bloodstream.
A mouse has similar attributes but in a gaseous atmosphere they tend to curl up in a corner so it would not be evident to a man that there was a poisonous gas present. Men who have been found dead after being poisoned had rosy cheeks and appeared to look well, albeit they were dead.
Canaries having fallen off their perch were placed in a sealed chamber and oxygen administered
Canaries having fallen off their perch were placed in a sealed chamber and oxygen administered from a small tank until they revived. Generally most did so but it depended on the length of time and in what percentage of gas.
A man can only live in 1 percent for probably up to 20 minutes before feeling faint and it is imperative to get to fresh air as soon as possible. The gas build up in the blood is continual and does not reduce for many hours afterwards.
In 1992 canaries were made redundant when an electronic hand held machine was accepted by the Mines Inspectorate as being accurate.
Trusting this information is of use.