The Colliery that Flouted the Rules

William Hague was a deputy at the Carrhouse Colliery, who on Monday 27 February 1871 was employed as a ‘fire trier.’ This duty meant that he went into the workings before the other colliers, to establish if there was any presence of gas. Basically he had to make sure that it was safe or not for the men to start work. Instead of a safety lamp however, and against all the colliery rules, William took a naked flame in with him. Not surprisingly the result was an explosion, in which his young assistant, a boy called Thomas Hague was killed. Confusingly, although the two victims shared the same name, they were not related to each other in any way.

It was about 7 am when William went into the works with his young assistant, and he was carrying the lit candle. The pair had examined a large part of the colliery without any incident and were about 1,000 yards from the lift shaft when the explosion occurred. William, despite his injuries managed to crawl back to the shaft, where he raised the alarm and was hauled up to safety. When he informed the colliery steward that his young assistant had been killed, he and some men went into the workings to recover the boys body, which was later reported to be burnt and most disfigured. Thomas’s body was taken back to his home in Greasborough, and an inquest was arranged by the Coroner at the Prince of Wales Hotel.

However as the inquest was opened the following day, Mr Webster told the jury that although they would be taken to see the body of the boy, he could not proceed any further that day. He had spoken to surgeon Mr Walker who was attending to William’s injuries, who had told him that his patient would be unable to attend the inquest for another six weeks. Mr Webster told the jury that it was imperative that the enquiry should be adjourned until the deputy recovered, as his evidence was crucial to the inquest. Accordingly the jury inspected the body of Thomas Hague before the inquest was then adjourned to Tuesday 11 April 1871. Mr Webster was very aware at this point that taking a naked flame into any colliery was a profound infringement of the colliery’s rules.

Therefore when the adjourned inquest was re-opened, also in attendance was the Government Inspector of Mines, a man called Mr Wardell. The first witness was the surgeon who was attending to William, Mr Bernard Walker. He stated that after the explosion, he had carefully examined the body of young Thomas and that in his opinion that death had been caused by suffocation. He told the coroner that he had come to this conclusion, as the inside of the boys mouth and his tongue was badly burned. Mr Webster then told the jury that he would now invite the deputy to give his own evidence. However, he said that ‘he will be given the opportunity to refuse if he so desires.’

Then William Hague was brought into the room where it was reported that he still showed signs of his injuries. As a result of this, the witness was allowed to give his evidence from a seated position. Mr Webster told him:

William Hague, the charge is made against you of causing the death of this boy by neglect of the rules and regulations of the pit. It is a very serious charge, and you can please yourself whether you give any evidence or not. If you do give evidence, it will be used against you in case the jury decided to send you for trial for manslaughter.’

William nevertheless agreed to give his evidence and he told the inquest that one part of his duty was to ascertain whether there was any inflammable or dangerous gas in the pit, before the men went to work. He admitted that he went into the pit with a naked flame, which was contrary to the colliery rules.

The deputy then described how he and young Thomas had left their safety light behind and had walked about 23 yards from his lamp was before the explosion took place. He described how he had been badly burned and how the boy had been killed. William told the coroner how he had walked around the pit with a naked flame ‘scores of times before’ so he was absolutely convinced that there was not any gas in the pit at all. He told the coroner ‘I thought I was as safe down there as I am right now in this room. The witness stated that both he and the boy had safety lamps which they had got out of the lamp room at the pit, but he claimed that a candle gave out a better light. William said that no gas had been found in the pit for five or six months prior to the accident.

He described how the boy was standing close to him when the explosion occurred and how it had knocked them both down. Mr Webster cautioned the witness again and reminded him that he had, by his own admission broken several rules that day, to which William agreed. The Government Inspector, Mr Wardell intervened at this point and said that he had once before severely reprimanded William Hague for his violation of the colliery rules. He told him that ‘it was the practise of men thinking that they knew better than the rules, and acting in contravention of them, that had caused such explosions. The next witness was Mr John Mort the underground manager of Carrhouse Colliery.

He told the inquest that all the men working in the colliery were given a list of rules and regulations when they started their employment. The manager said that William Hague was well aware that he was breaking the rules, as he too had cautioned him the very night before the accident, and warned him to be very careful in his use of a naked flame. Mr Mort explained how it was usual to employ young boys as assistants, so that if anything went wrong at the bottom of the pit, he would be the one who could raise the alarm. The manager then stated how he had gone down into the pit to retrieve the body of the young boy which he found was still warm, before he was carried up to the surface.

George Milner of Greasbrough Road, Masbrough was an engine tenter at the colliery and told the inquest that he had worked from 8 am on the Sunday to 7 am on the Monday morning, a shift of 23 hours. Hearing this Mr Webster commented that it was far too long a shift and it was no wonder there were accidents at the pit. A man called James Bonser who had worked at Carrhouse for two years, then gave his evidence. He was closely questioned about the day of the explosion before he revealed something which shocked the coroner, the Inspector of mines and the reporters at the inquest. He mentioned another man who had been working that day called Joseph Sanderson and that on the Sunday before the explosion, he and Sanderson had actually taken both their wives down into the mine.

There was complete silence at this statement before Mr Wardell told him that was a serious contravention of the colliery rules. He reminded him that women had been banned from working in the mines since 1842, and that included taking women into the pit without permission. Bonser said he was aware that if a man wanted to take a woman into the pit, he had to get written permission from the colliery manager. He was therefore intending to ask Mr Mort for written permission, but one of the engine drivers, a man called Milner, had told him that he didn’t need a note and not to bother.

As if to add insult to injury the witness told the inquest that despite the underground manager Mr Mort’s claim that all men working at the colliery received a list of rules and regulations, that he had never, ever seen the rules and had no idea that women were not allowed to go down into the mine. There followed some discussion about some internal doors in the mine which had been left, propped open in order to ensure that air was circulated properly, before the coroner summed up for the jury. He told them to take note as this was a most important omission. Mr Webster told them:

The manager says that in consequence of those doors being thrown open, the air was sent out of its proper course, and therefore it could not reach the place where the explosion occurred. If they had been closed there would have been no explosion. That takes all the culpability away from the shoulders of William Hague. Therefore the man cannot be considered responsible for the death of the boy.

However he condemned the fact that important safety rules had nevertheless been flouted at the colliery and that as a consequence the company could be accused of gross mismanagement. The jury brought in a verdict that ‘Thomas Hague was killed by an explosion in the Carrhouse Colliery on 27 February last, and the jury are of the opinion that there has been gross mismanagement in the colliery.’

Sadly, whether this was of comfort to Thomas Hague’s parents was not recorded.

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