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Main Colliery, Neath, Glamorganshire. 6th April, 1859

Information From Ian Winstanley - Twenty Six Men And Boys Were Killed

The colliery was the property of the Neath Abbey Coal Company - Twenty six men and boys were killed when the mine was flooded by a sudden inundation. The manager of the colliery was Mr. John Graham and John Dorman was the overman. Years before there had been an inundation at the same colliery and it was known that coal had been worked all around and that the old workings were full of water.

On the 6th. April the colliers and others were engaged at their jobs throughout the mine. After a few hours water from a large acreage of old workings broke into the mine and in a very short time filled the shaft for many yards. Most of the men had enough warning to get to the shaft bottom and leave the pit safely but twenty six others did not get out of the pit. It was thought that the pressure of the water prevented them from opening doors. On the night before the accident, the foreman, James Edwards, received instructions from Mr. Dorman to see that there was no gas in the workings before the men went down and to look at the borings to see that they had gone the full distance.

The manager, Mr. John Graham, heard of the accident at 11 a.m. and went to the colliery to find that there was already water in the shaft to a depth of seven feet. This was about half an hour after the water first entered the mine. He ordered water to be drawn form the shaft as he thought that the men were on the rise side of the workings but the found that the water continued to rise up the shaft despite these efforts, it reached 96 feet in the shaft at 4 p.m.

John Dorman, the overman was down the pit at the time. On hearing the onrush of the water, he ran round the pit to get the men out but before he could get to the shaft the water had risen to the roof and he made several attempts to get through and he was washed away and was not seen alive again. The Inspector, Mr. Evans commented- “The courageous and manly conduct of this poor man cannot be spoken of in too high terms he preferred risking Indeed I may almost say sacrificing) his own life in attempting to save those of his unfortunate workmen, although opportunity was offered him of getting out uninjured.”

Some of the men and boys who were saved had lucky escapes. One boy saved himself by clinging to a horses’ tail. One horse reached shaft and instinctively jumped into a tub as it reached the bottom. Another horse did the same and a boy saved himself by clinging onto its tale. A man named William Taylor saved three boys while they were plunging about at the bottom of shaft and another man was seized just as he was about to sink below the water.

It was many months before the water was drained from the pit. Large and powerful pumps worked day and night and a water tank was fitted in the shaft and did good service. For many weeks the water remained at the same height and a stoppage was necessary to mend the boilers since due to dry weather the water from the shafts had to be used and this damaged the boilers. It took six months to clear the water from the shafts and when the pit was entered it was found the roads at the pit bottom were filled with rubbish which took a long time to clear before the bodies could be retrieved. The first body was recovered form the mine on the 23rd. September and they all were recovered except four. They were found close to the shaft on the east side about 800 yards from the point where the water was supposed to have entered.

There Is A Discrepancy Between Two Lists Of Victims

  1. The first is from the Gwent Family History publication ‘and they worked us to death’ and the
  2. The second was published in ‘The Cambrian’ 13th January, 1860.

Those who lost their lives were:-

  • William Abraham, left a wife and 7 children.
  • Joseph Batting, left a wife.
  • William David, left a wife and 9 children.
  • Benjamin Davies, left a wife and 7 children.
  • David Davies, single.
  • John Dorman, overman who left a wife and 9 children.
  • Llewellyn Evans, a boy.
  • David Griffiths, of Neath, left a wife and 4 children.
  • Rosser Hopkin, of Llansanlett, left a wife and 7 children.
  • David Jenkins, left a wife and 6 children.
  • Thomas Jenkins, left a wife and 6 children.
  • David John, left a wife.
  • John Jones, left a wife and child.
  • Thomas Jones, left a wife and 10 children.
  • James Lewis, left a wife and 3 children.
  • Timothy Lloyd, left a wife and 4 children.
  • Thomas Maddocks, left a wife.
  • David Morgan, left a wife.
  • David Morgan, single.
  • John Morgan, left a wife.
  • David Morris, single.
  • David Rees, single.
  • William Rees, left a wife and 4 children.
  • S. Reynolds, single.
  • Jospeh Wales, left a wife and 5 children.
  • Henry Williams of Melyncriddan, left a wife and 4 children.

List of victims from ‘The Cambrian’ 13th. January, 1860

  • Benjamin Davies aged 53 years of Bryncock, married. Found 23rd. September.
  • John Lewis aged 21 years of Bryncock, single. Found 25th. September.
  • David Morgan aged 19 years of Killybebill, single. Found 25th. September.
  • John John aged 21 years of Rhyding, married. Found 26th. September.
  • Rosser Hopkins aged 43 years of Llansamlet, married. Found 26th. September.
  • John Morgan aged 23 years of Sgullewydd, married. Found 28th. September.
  • David Jenkins aged 47 years of Penypound, married. Found 30th. September.
  • James Lewis aged 34 years of Tyllwyd, married. Found 30th. September.
  • David Griffiths aged 57 years of Pawlpenwern, married. Found 1st. October.
  • Joseph Batting aged 31 years of Mile-end-row, married. Found 1st. October.
  • Timothy Lloyd aged 56 years of Tyllwyd, married. Found 5th. October.
  • Robert Dorman aged 45 years of Bryncoch, married. Found 31st. October.
  • Llewellyn Evans aged 13 years of Pawlpenwern. Found 31st. October.
  • Thomas Jenkins aged 36 years of Mile-end-row, married. Found 31st. October.
  • William Rees aged 53 years of Pawlpenwern, married. Found 31st. October.
  • David John aged 24 years of Pawlpenwern, married. Found 31st. October.
  • Joseph Wales aged 42 years of Skewen, married. Found 1st. November.
  • David Davies aged 25 years of Skewen, single. Found 1st. November.
  • David Rees aged 22 years of Banwen, single. Found 1st. November.
  • Thomas Maddock aged 23 years of Neath Abbey, married. Found 1st. November.
  • Thomas Lewis aged 34 years of Neath, married. Found 11th. November.
  • Henry Williams aged 44 years of Mile-end-row, married. Found 11th. November.

Those who were not found were:-

  • William Abraham aged 47 years of Bryncoch, married.
  • William Davies aged 72 years of Bryncoch, married.
  • Thomas Reynolds aged 25 years of Pentwyn, single.
  • David Morris aged 28 years of Pentwyn, single.

The inquest was held by Mr. Alexander Cuthbertson, coroner at the Town Hall, Neath. John Graham (jnr) produced plans of the colliery and said he was aware that there were old workings nearby and he had instructed John Dorman to report to him daily when the drifts in the area were being driven. The two men had met the night before the inundation and Dorman told him that the borehole were satisfactory. The leading borehole was bored for 8 yards, the right hand one for 7 yards and the left one bored for 9 yards. Dorman had been ordered by the fireman, James Edwards, to bore the usual distance but they were bored at night and if a problem was encountered, there was no one in the pit to deal with the situation. From the information he received he thought that the right hand borehole had come into contact with a fault that made the coal ‘tender’ but no water showed for many hours afterwards. The ‘tender’ state of the coal meant that the borers could not plug it and water started to come through followed by the inundation.. The manager did not know the position of the old workings and had not seen a plan of them but he knew that they had been worked by his predecessor, Mr. Parsons.

The fireman at the colliery, James Edwards, in his evidence said that, following instructions from Mr. Dorman to see how the borings were going-

“I went to the place in the morning and asked them how they had got on. They said ‘middling’. I asked them if they had bored the holes and they said the left hole was eight yards. I found the front hole was six yards and the right hand hole was only three and a half yards. They told me they had struck up against a stone on the in the right hole. I took off my coat and helped Thomas Jones. I bored for half an hour until he broke the ‘tool’. As there was no drill to bore further, and the holes were not the proper distance, I sent the men out and went round the works and was out myself at half past five. I saw Dorman at six a.m. and explained to him how I had left everything and the left had hole was only three and a half yards in he said we would go and see it directly. There were ‘plugs’ at hand in case they were wanted. The water was coming from the holes about one gallon per minute from each that is more than the ordinary quantity made in this coal.”

Thomas Jones who had been a colliery at the colliery for eighteen years, told much the same story as did Francis Rodgers and Thomas Davies.

The Inspector concluded his report-
“Nothing more is known of the terrible catastrophe than appears in the evidence of the witnesses. It is much regretted that proper ‘plans’ of collieries, and especially of this one are not kept they would have known the exact position of the old works, and approached them safely.”