1812 Felling Colliery

25/05/1812 - Felling Colliery - Explosion / Coal Dust Explosion, Methane Explosion

An Account of the Accident, and of the Recovery of the Bodies of the Sufferers.

About half past eleven o’clock on the morning of the 25th May, 1812, the neighbouring villages were alarmed by a tremendous explosion in this colliery. The subterraneous fire broke forth with two heavy discharges from the John Pit, which were, almost instantaneously, followed by one from the William Pit. A slight trembling, as from an earthquake, was felt for about half a mile around the workings; and the noise of the explosion, though dull, was heard to three or four miles distance, and much resembled an unsteady fire of infantry. Immense quantities of dust and small coal accompanied these blasts, and rose high into the air, in the form of an inverted cone. The heaviest part of the ejected matter, such as corves, pieces of wood, and small coal, fell near the pits; but the dust, borne away by a strong west wind, fell in a continued shower from the pit to the distance of a mile and a half.

In the village of Heworth, it caused a darkness like that of early twilight, and covered the roads so thickly, that the footsteps of passengers were strongly imprinted in it. The heads of both the shaft-frames were blown off, their sides set on fire, and their pullies shattered in pieces; but the pullies of the John Pit gin, being on a crane not within the influence of the blast, were fortunately preserved. The coal dust, ejected from the William Pit into the drift or horizontal parts of the tube, was about three inches thick, and soon burnt to a light cinder. Pieces of burning coal, driven off the solid stratum of the mine, were also blown up this shaft.

As soon as the explosion was heard, the wives and children of the workmen ran to the working-pit. Wildness and terror were pictured in every countenance. The crowd from all sides soon collected to the number of several hundreds, some crying out for a husband, others for a parent or a son, and all deeply affected with an admixture of horror, anxiety, and grief. The machine being rendered useless by the eruption, the rope of the gin was sent down the pit with all expedition. In the absence of horses, a number of men, whom the w.sh to be instrumental in rescuing their neighbours from their perilous situation, seemed to supply with strength proportionate to the urgency of the occasion, put their shoulders to the starts or shafts of the gin, and wrought it with astonishing expedition.

By twelve o’clock, 33 persons, all that survived this dreadful calamity, were brought to day-light. The dead bodies of two boys, numbers one and four, who were miserably scorched and shattered, were also brought up at this time: three boys, viz. numbers two, three and five, out of the 33 who escaped alive, died within a few hours after the accident. Only thirty persons were, therefore, left to relate what they observed of the appearances and effects of this subterraneous thundering. One hundred and twenty-two were in the mine when it happened, and eighty seven remained in the workings. One overman, two wastemen, two deputies, one headsman or putter, (who had a violent toothache) and two masons, in all eight persons, came up at different intervals, a short time before the explosion.

This accident claimed the lives of 92 people.