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Moira Colliery - Shocking Colliery Accident - Aug 1845

Thanks to Lynda Litchfield for the Information

Jacquie Maxted
14 March 2013
Moira Colliery Accident 1845 killed three of my ancesters
I have found your website extremely informative and have been backwards and forwards to it on numerous occasions.  I am doing my family history and all my ancestors are from the South Derbyshire area and were mainly employed in the Mining industry.  I came across an article in the British Newspaper Archive referring to an accident that occurred in August 1845 at Moira Pit which resulted in 3 fatalities as far as I can make out. 

I noticed the accident listed on the Fatalities section of this year on your site but there was no information attached to the incident.  I have attached a transcribed copy of the article for you to have a look at and hopefully it will be of some use to you. 

The three killed were all my direct ancestors and I was very moved by the account given by the witnesses at the Inquest. 

I have lived in Perth, Western Australia for 25 years but still come back to South Derbyshire on a regular basis. 

Kind Regards

Lynda Litchfield

Although the article implies that a Father and son lost their lives, on reading it I think this was incorrect. 

Jesse Dennis and Thomas Dennis died and later on in the article it refers to Henry Finch.  He was 23 years old. I sent for the death certificate of Henry Finch and he did indeed die of the burns he sustained at the accident.  Both Thomas Dennis and Henry Finch were cousins and both were my direct ancestors.  Jesse was another cousin to them and still an ancestor but not my direct line and I found his Father on the 1851 census so this is why I think the opening paragraph is misleading. 

It must have been a terrible thing in the village and you can't imagine what it was like within the family to lose 3 people. 

I do have another newspaper article that refers to 5 young boys taken to court for the misuse of safety lamps in 1870 if you would like me to forward that also.  Please let me know. 

Regards,  Lynda

Those who died

John Dennis and his son Jesse Dennis aged 10

Thomas Dennis aged 13

Extract from Leicester Journal - 15 August 1845

Shocking Colliery Accident
One of those awful occurrences which, unfortunately are but too frequent in the colliery districts and not seldom, it must be admitted, owing the carelessness of the colliers themselves, occurred on Saturday last, at the Moira Collieries, by which a father and son have lost their lives, and a third sufferer has since died.   On Monday last, an inquest was held at Moira when the following evidence was adduced:-

Sarah Dennis deposed
I am the wife of William Dennis.  Thomas Dennis, was my husbands brother and of the age of thirteen years; he worked at the Bath Pit of the Moira Colliery; went to work on Saturday morning last, about 5 o'clock; between six and seven he was brought home dreadfully burnt  over almost all of his body to his knees; I heard him say he saw the fire coming and ran away but that it overtook him; he had four doctors to see him, but he died the next morning about half past eleven o'clock.”

[1841 census. Thomas, 10, coal miner. Son of Joseph, son of William Dennis 1754
[(4xgt gdfather).] [Buried Donisthorpe, St John's 13 Aug 1845.]

Andy Dennis

Mary Gilbert deposed – She was the wife of Zachary Gilbert and lived at Ashby Wolds; 
I knew the deceased Jesse Dennis aged 10 years and the son of John Dennis, a collier; went to see the deceased about half past eight o'clock yesterday morning, when he was suffering under dreadful burns about his chest, bowels and body generally; I continued with him until his death which took place at half past ten o'clock.  Never spoke during that time.  There were four surgeons with him.

[1841 census. Zachary Gilbert, 45, Ag Lab, wife Mary, 40, 2 children.]
[1841 census. Jesse Dennis, not at Moira. Closest, age 5, with father John Collyer, and family at Oakthorpe.] [Buried Donisthorpe, St John's 13 Aug 1845.]

Andy Dennis

Joseph Dennis stated –
I am a collier and work at the Bath Pit, Moira Colliery; I am the father of the deceased Thomas Dennis; went to work in the pit about half past five o'clock on Friday morning and continued to work until about 2 the next morning; was at work at the far end of the pit; there were several others at work at the same time; the pit appeared quite right all the time; never perceived the least  appearance of sulphurous or foul air; work constantly by candlelight; can generally tell whether there is any alteration in the air by the appearance of the candle;  we have always lamps at hand, called Davys lamps, to light when we perceive anything wrong, which we light and extinguish our candles; it is not a very common thing to have this foul air or sulphur in the pit; my son went to work in the same pit after my return; when we perceive the air wrong we try it with a lamp, if it be very bad the flame of the lamp will rise and we leave that place and go to a different part of the pit, it will disperse in time; never perceived a better air in the pit in my life than there was on Friday night; we stated to each other what a good air there was.  Have worked at the Bath pit for more than 30 years.  The lamps produced and are what we use and are called Davy lamps; the parts of the pit where the deceased were afterwards burnt was near where I had been at work; we were about a quarter of a mile from the shaft of the pit as near as I can guess; never knew so serious an accident as the present since I have worked there.

[1841 census. Joseph Dennis, 45, coal miner, wife Sarah (Wileman) and seven children, including Thomas, 10. 1851 census. Joseph, widower, 58, coal miner, five children, including Elizabeth, 16, housekeeper.]

Andy Dennis

Thomas Hogg deposed that he was a collier and had worked at the Bath pit for nearly 20 years.  Met the last witness coming towards the shaft to come up as he was going to his work on Saturday morning last; it was between 2 and 3 o'clock.  Knew where the explosion of sulphur took place.  Dennis came through that part; it was about 100 yards nearer to the shaft than where he was at work .  Witness passed through the part with a naked candle; there appeared to be no sulphur whatever then.  Went down to the way head where the coal is getting and where Dennis had been at work and then went down to the far end of the works.  Witness had been at his work nearly three hours when he perceived a tremendous wind which put all the candles out but his own, and knowing something must have happened, proceeded towards the part with his candle, and on getting to the place where the last witness had been at work , found Henry Finch who was very badly burnt; he had been burnt by an explosion of sulphurous air; he had a Davy lamp lighted in his hand; he said “ come here kinsman, I am almost burnt to death”, he was a relation of witnesses.  While witness was with Finch, a number of men and boys came running up who had been driven by the explosion,  and they took a different way and went quite round where the explosion had happened and came up the wind head to the gate road, and then to the shaft.  

After witness had been at the shaft a short time, six, including Finch were lead up; all severely burnt; the two deceased had been taken up before.  Ten more were afterwards taken up, all much burnt;  William Farmer, the ground bailiff was one of the number.  The individuals all burnt were all within a space of 50 to 60 yards of each other when the explosion happened.  There was a free current of air in the part and witness cannot at all account for the foul air collecting in that, more than any other part of the pit.  Farmer was sent for by the men at that part.  No one that witness knew or could give any account how the explosion occurred, except those who were burnt and they were all unable to give evidence.  Had never known any such explosion before.  Was sure that every precaution was taken by the Agent, Mr Woodhouse, and all having authority, to ensure the safety of the workmen and the workmen themselves seemed careful also.  Witness felt quite satisfied that the present misfortune was one that could not have been prevented.  Had never heard any of them say how the explosion happened; they all appeared in great distress.

[1841 census. Thomas Hogg, 65, Ag Lab, next door to William Hogg (jnr).]
[1841 census. Henry Finch, 35, coal miner; family includes son Henry, 11. Another Henry Finch, 15 (possibly baptised 1822), but father 55.] [Buried at Donisthorpe St John's 14 Aug 1845, ages 39 and 23.] [A Henry Finch did die of burns, though father / son not specified –]
[My inclination is to conclude that from all of the evidence available the news report is incorrect; the men named Henry Finch were not father and son, but some other relationship; first cousin looks right.]
[William Farmer. Not found 1841 census.] [Buried Donisthorpe St Johns, 18 Aug 1845.] [Mr John Woodhouse.

Andy Dennis

William Hogg deposed that he was a collier, and had worked at the Bath pit upwards of twelve years.  He went through that part of the pit where the explosion afterwards occurred on Saturday morning; it was about three hours before.  I had a naked candle in my hand.  There was no one at work there then; the air seemed perfectly pure and free from sulphur.  I continued on with my work; foul air will collect in the space of half an hour sometimes; it is owing principally to the atmosphere above.  If the wind is in the South we are more likely to have collections of foul air; it was in that quarter and rained heavily on Saturday morning before the explosion occurred.  We always burn naked candles unless we perceive foul air collecting and then we light the Davy lamps and try whether there be any danger.  I went through that part twice yesterday with a Davy lamp.  There was no foul air then.  I never knew anyone to be burnt to death before.  I made every enquiry but cannot ascertain that the explosion occurred through any neglect, but appears to have happened entirely through accident.  The pit is well ventilated and there was an excellent air in the pit when we went down that morning.

[1841 census. William Hogg, 55, coal miner, Mary Hogg, 55, Catherine Bird, 30, Elizabeth Bird,5, William Bird, 1, Ann Hart 8, Thomas Ward, 2 – previous tragedy?]

Andy Dennis

John Woodhouse deposed that he was the Viewer of the Moira Colliery and first heard of the accident about 5 o'clock on Saturday evening, being then at Burton on my way home.  As soon as I arrived home, I prepared myself to go down in to the pit to make an examination, and proceeded down without loss of time.  I went to the part and found but very little indication compared with what might be expected, after such an explosion having happened.  I looked well through the pit and returned and went down again this morning at four o'clock.   I saw Farmer, the bailiff, and all the men who were hurt.  From the information I have obtained and the view I have made, the misfortune is, to the best of my belief, as follows: -

In consequence of the low state of the barometer during the night of Friday last, an extraordinary quantity of hydrogen had exceeded from the workings and gathered in the roof.  The roof in the part in question is broken and is supported by timber.  The pit in that part had fired at one mans candle, at 3 o'clock in the morning;  and Farmer had in consequence been sent for.  Contiguous to the part is a dam made of clay, which is a material generally used to stop up the old workings.  I believe the impression Farmer would have, was that the dam had failed which is confirmed by him having passed the place where the explosion occurred and gone forward with two or three other men to examine the dam.  In such conclusion, he was wrong as the dam is perfectly sound and has yielded no gas since.  The gas escaped through the cracks in the roof  and filling the open spaces between the timber, fired or exploded at the candle of a man named Bradford who was engaged in filling;  he is dreadfully burnt  and very ill.  The effect of the explosion was to warn every man and boy, amounting in the whole to 18 within reach of the flame.  At the time, the general state of the ventilation was good, which prevented the remaining part of the men from being suffocated, by sweeping out the after damp; there were about 20 more in other parts of the pit at the time.  They are now engaged in putting the pit right again.  He is connected directly or indirectly, with every colliery both in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, in addition to the Moira Colliery and asserts that the latter colliery is as perfectly ventilated as any of them, no expense being spared to make it so.

[1841 census. Bradford. One family, William, 65, Thomas, 19, James, 17, William 15, all coal miners.] [William jnr buried Donisthorpe St John, 18 Aug 1845, age 19.]

Andy Dennis

Thomas Wayman deposed:  I am employed on the bank at the Bath pit; I saw Finch on the bank a few minutes before Farmer went down on Saturday morning; he went down the shaft with seven others in about an hour afterwards; heard of the explosion having happened.

Verdict:  Accidental death

Extract - 28 January 1871

At Ashby de la Zouch Petty Sessions on Saturday 21 January, before G. Moore (chairman) and H E Smith esqrs : Joseph Wright, Thomas Dennis, Jonathan Jones, Henry Ford, Edward Goacher and William Dennis, colliers, all of Moira, were charged with having, on the 21st ult,  at Moira, while at work in the New Field Pit, unlocked and unscrewed their safety lamps. 

The defendants (who are boys employed with the horses in the pit), pleaded guilty to the charge. 

J.T. Woodhouse esq., the general manager of the Moira collieries, produced and explained a plan of the workings;  he also stated that a little time ago there was an explosion in this pit and he at the time, went down, and after examination, ordered that no naked lights should be used in that part of the pit where the defendants were accustomed to work. 

Stephensons safety lamps were at once given out to the workmen, including the defendants, who, on the morning in question were supplied with lamps properly locked, these they tampered with and at the same time they did so there were some fifty men and boys at work in the pit and if an explosion had taken place it would have been impossible to have saved their lives.  The offence being such a serious one he felt it his duty to summons the defendants before the magistrates;  he did not ask for a heavy punishment but would leave the bench to deal with the case as they deemed best. 

The Chairman told the boys that they were liable to be sent to gaol for 3 months with hard labour but on account of their youth and in consideration of Mr Woodhouse not wanting to press the case against them, a penalty would be inflicted upon each of them of 20s and costs or fourteen days; but it must be distinctly understood that all similar cases in the future would be severely dealt with and any persons brought before the bench on a like charge will most probably be sent to prison without the option of paying a fine. 

The fines were paid.

Stephensons safety lamp

More about Safety Lamps

Historical Context

The boys William Dennis and Jonathan Jones are both my ancestors and I have worked out their ages as 16 and 14 respectively. 

The Thomas Dennis referred to could be one of two Thomas Dennis' living in Moira both aged 14 and 15 so I’m not sure which one it refers to. The same goes for Joseph Wright and Edward Goacher (there are 2 of each in the 1871 census of the right age).  

Glad you have found this information useful and if I come across anything else in my research, I will forward it on. 

Most of my ancestors worked in the pits in the South Derbyshire area, including my Husband, Dad, Uncles, Cousins and so it goes on.

All the best,  Regards,  Lynda

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