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ART. IV. (1.) Third and Fourth Reports from the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Accidents in Coal Mines, 26th July, 1853, and 26th June, 1854.
(2.) Our Coal and our Coal Pits-the People in them, and the Scenes around them. By a Traveller Underground. (Longmans: 'Traveller's Library.') London. 1853.
It is a singular fact, that many of our great commercial undertakings only attract public attention in what may be termed their abnormal condition. While all things proceed smoothly, and the expected results are obtained, the public knows little or nothing of them; but when some, terrible catastrophe occurs, then every man seeks to ascertain something about the concern even during its normal state. Who, save the shareholders and directors, knows anything of a joint-stock bank, until it breaks? Who knew anything of the management and responsibilities of such concerns, until of late years one unfortunate bank after another has broken down under the frauds or faults of those connected with it? So, too, in coal mines: Who amongst the people at large had any idea of them, until one accident and explosion after another had been described in the journals of the day, and statements of the causes of such catastrophes had been put forth, or rather, buried coal-deep in the mine of parliamentary blue-books?
Now, it is our intention in the present paper to present to our readers a view of the ordinary condition of our great coal mines, and the extraordinary causes of, and circumstances attending, accidents and explosions in them. The frequency of explosions of the most destructive character has invested the subject with a dark and painful interest, and the information connected with this subject is not accessible to the general reader. To become acquainted with things so remote from the eye of ordinary men, the inquirer must himself study underground, and, like the writer of these lines, creep and crawl, and thread his doubtful way, perhaps a thousand or twelve hundred feet underground, with Davy lamp in hand, subject to all the pains and penalties and perils which await subterranean travellers. Having sojourned for some considerable period amongst the blackamoors of the mines, and having ourselves perambulated at least a score of miles underground, in the deepest and most dangerous recesses of the great Newcastle pits, having, moreover, conversed in their own homes with some hundreds of the pitmen, night after night,-heard them recount
Depth of Pits and Extent of Coal.
their hardships, hair-breadth escapes, and dismal experiences, we think we may offer our services in the capacity of a guide to the coal-pits. We will only add, that if depth of descent be any qualification, we have descended, and fully inspected the celebrated Monkwearmouth pit, near Sunderland, the shaft of which is as deep as the Monument of London would be high when piled seven or eight times upon itself. Having the curiosity to add our Newcastle descents together, we find that we have descended there twelve coal-pit shafts, the depth of which in the aggregate, one shaft added to another, would be eleven thousand seven hundred and eighty feet. If we ever cherished any vanity after such exploits, one glance at the glass upon our ascent to the open day was sufficient to dispel it all; and of the writer in such a condition it might have been said
'He was a man as black as any other;
And tho' warm water washed away the stain,
When asked-'And is that you now, or your brother?'
We must assume that our readers are acquainted with the elementary geology of coal and coal-fields. They know that coal is confined to certain localities. A glance at any geological map of Britain shows that certain places are coloured in dark hues, to indicate coal districts. So we mark the great Northumbrian and Durham coal districts,—the most important, productive, and most largely mined of any in the world. Then we notice the Yorkshire and Lancashire coal-fields, and those of Staffordshire and South Wales, not to mention several minor patches of dark colour. Although all these districts agree in geological character, to some extent, they differ much in the thickness of the seams of coal, their value and marketableness, their depths from the surface and accessibleness. Newcastle coal of the best quality is seldom above five or six feet in thickness in the seam, while Staffordshire has a noted ten-yard seam.'
Unfortunately, it is difficult to obtain good statistical statements of the extent and produce of British coal-mines, and hence few persons are aware of the vast value of this mineral to the country. Forming a conjecture from the data at present known by various researches, we may state that there are in Great Britain and Ireland fifty-one coal-fields, and that the area of the whole of these coal measures (as they are technically termed) is 11,859 square miles, or 7,589,760 acres. In the year 1845 there were raised from these coal-fields 31,500,000 tons of fuel. But this production has largely increased, as will be seen by the subjoined
The production of British collieries was in the year 1854 no less than 64,661,401 tons, and in 1855, 64,453,070 tons, being a decrease of 207,331 tons for that year.
To descend from the whole country's production to the consumption of the metropolis. In the year 1700 the consumption of London was 470,000 tons; it now exceeds 4,000,000 tons. The Great Northern Railway alone now brings to London about half a million tons per annum. **
To afford an idea of the coal trade between the northern collieries and London, we notice that the following quantities were shipped from the chief northern ports for London in October, 1852:
As respects foreign trade, during 1852, a total of 1054 tons of vessels sailed from Newcastle with coals to 311 foreign ports, in different parts of the world; and from January 1 to June 30, 1852, the total exports of coal from the river Mersey to foreign countries were 128,205 tons.
For our present paper, no other coal-field than the northern claims our attention. Its magnitude, and the magnificence of its mining establishments take precedence of all others. Its area cannot be given as more than 837 square miles, being 243 square miles for Northumberland, and 594 for Durham. This is the great source of our domestic coal, and that of several other countries. In 1854 the coal produce of this district was no less than 15,420,615 tons. A question of curiosity has often been asked-viz., How long will this source answer to the increasing demands upon it? To reply to this question is by no means an easy matter. Some eminent men have attempted to
The total weight of coals brought from, and distributed amongst, various districts on the Great Northern Railway, in 1854, was 804,683 tons. The coal consumption of Manchester and Salford is, in round numbers, above 2,000,000
Duration of Supplies of Coal.
The scientific men have
reply, and have materially differed. given a much shorter lease to us and our posterity than the practical miners. Dr. Buckland only allowed 400 years, but he thought there was no coal beneath the limestone, and has now been proved in error. Mr. Hugh Taylor's calculation is scarcely entitled to attention, when he gives us 1720 years of fireside comfort. Subsequent calculators have made a closer reckoning, and allowing ten feet of available coal, after all deductions, and supposing this to extend over 924 square miles, they say the produce would be 9,107,000,000 tons of coal; subtract from these, 2,000,000,000 tons, as already excavated, and then we have a remainder of 7,107,000,000 to come. Assuming the present annual consumption from this field to be 15,000,000 tons, then the time in which we should exhaust the supply would be 500 years. The fear of failure of coal is, however, ridiculous, for, even should the northern field be exhausted, the other coal districts are now sending to market very tolerable domestic coals, which, though inferior to the famous Wallsend, are yet no bad substitutes. It may be worth while to add, that Wallsend is the name of a colliery near Newcastle, and that the produce of the real Wallsend pit is a mere nothing to the quantity bearing its name, a name now indicative of quality, and appended indifferently to all best coals.
The great northern coal-field was worked under royal charter in the thirteenth century, and despite of some curious prophecies of the evils to be apprehended from 'filling the air with noxious vapours from the filthy mineral fuel,' the pits were made deeper and deeper, and in 1615 the coal trade employed 600 sail. Under Charles I. it monopolized one-fourth of the sailors of the kingdom. The first rude steam-engine north of the Tyne began to work in 1714, and in 1772 not less than 5585 colliers sailed from the Tyne, carrying 330,200 tons of coal, in necessarily small vessels. Now, if we take our station in Tynemouth Priory when the wind has changed, after long-continued easterly gales, we may observe many hundred fine collier ships putting to sea, and rejoicing in their freedom. On one occasion about 300 vessels, all coal-laden, were seen making sail together in a single tide, and distributing themselves over the ocean with their prows turned in almost every direction-all sinking deep into the waters, and weighed down with their mineral burden of far more worth to us than auriferous sands or Mexican mines.
The first steam collier entered the Thames in September, 1852, having run the distance from Newcastle in forty-eight hours. A company has been formed for the increase of steam colliers, and should screw steam-ships be found practicable for this trade,
many benefits will accrue to the London consumer. The screwsteamers can sail three feet to one of the lumbering collier brig; but the railways seem to be endeavouring to rival even these, and can convey coals at one farthing per ton per mile, free from vexatious dues and duties, privileges, monopolies, &c.
A very useful summary of information respecting the northern collieries is found in the following concise table for 1843:
It will surprise most persons to hear that we estimate (according to the best conjectures) the total amount of capital invested in the entire northern collieries to be about ten millions of pounds. The lessces of coal, as well as the proprietors, who work their own royalties, are very wealthy, and the capital employed in 'winning' and working the three largest concerns, is not less than 500,000l. for each. These concerns may each comprise from six to twelve separate mines, and all the respective engines, wagons, horses, &c. The winning' (or opening to the coal) of a single colliery, will cost (all things included) perhaps from 50,000l. to 80,000l., and even as much as 200,000l. in extreme cases. These figures would apply chiefly to the great partnerships, and to the grandees of the coal trade,-as Lord Londonderry's trustees, the Countess of Durham's executors, the Hetton Coal Company, &c. In these and the other chief colliery establishments, we should think that the capital sunk, with cost of machinery and plant, could not be less than 500,000l. These first-class concerns will often extract different descriptions of coal from six, or ten, or twelve pits, situated several miles apart. The establishments of the second rank, as Wingate Grange, Thornley, &c., probably have invested in them 200,000l. and upwards. The third class concerns work commonly from single collieries, with invested capitals of from 40,000l. to 60,000l. each. The fourth, and most numerous class of enterprises, are generally engaged to supply the coasting trade, and the local manufactories, and the London market with steam-coal,' or coal for steam engines. These