Lletty Shenkin Pit Disaster 1848

Picture of Lletty Shenkin Colliery

Lletty Shenkin Colliery

Awful Colliery Explosion
Fifty-two Lives Lost

Grief bends the heads, and gloom darkens the features. of the inhabitants of Aberdare and Aberaman, in the Vale of Glamorgan, where a catastrophe, of horrifying extent, has just occurred, sufficiently startling and terrible to wear more the semblance of some dire convulsion of nature, than any previous calamity.

On Friday morning, the 10th instant, one hundred and twelve men, youths, and several mere children, went down into the dark depths of the Lletty Shenkin colliery, at Aberaman, and proceeded with their daily toil and ere the day had closed, no less than fifty-two of that number had been suddenly, without a moment’s warning, hurried into eternity, by the terrible explosion of that death-dealing element, “fire damp.”

There had been no fear, no thought, no calculation of danger resulting from this mysterious agency in the colliery mentioned, up to the time when so great a catastrophe occurred. Indeed, everything appeared here favourable to the success of the collier; and Heaven knows, his successes are hardly earned and richly deserved.

On the morning of the deplorable event, the usual precautions had been taken the inspector had gone through the subterranean passages, in search of fire-damp, and discovering slight indications, but almost too slight to deserve his notice, he considered, he placed the usual signals in the way and these, being duly regarded by the colliers coming after him, they avoided the indicated localities, and proceeded with their work in the more same quarters.

Throughout the whole of the day, the colliers worked in safety but with that indifference to danger so characteristic of the miner, they had thrown aside their safety-lamps, and worked by the light of candles “for,” said some of the survivors, to our reporter, “we can earn twice as much by that light; and what we could earn by the lamp would scarce buy us victuals.” Thus, to increase the means by which to support themselves and their families, these men ran the awful risk of sacrificing their lives by a sure and certain means of destruction!

Between five and six o’clock in the evening, just as Mr. Christmas, the clerk, was crossing near the mouth of the “four feet level,” a sudden volume of dense smoke, full of sulphur, and a large body of ashes, rose up around him; and, though there was no sound of explosion, the adjacent engine perhaps drowning all other noises, he knew at once that the fire-damp had ignited, and that the whole number of the poor fellows below might at that moment be dead or dying.

An alarm was immediately sounded, and the cry spread throughout the village like an electric shock, that an explosion had taken place. It would be hard to describe the immediate effects of this sudden cry. Down poured scores and hundreds of appalled and screaming women, daughters, fathers, sons, the whole population, in fact, swarming and crushing to- wards the colliery, to ascertain the truth of the fearful rumour.

A, number of brave fellows eager to answer the agonised inquiries of those who crowded around the mouth of the pit, descended at once, and, in the midst of smoke and sulphur, brought up the first dead body they found. This was the blackened and mangled corpse of a lad, named Thomas, aged 15, whose head was frightfully shattered; indeed, so much so, that the upper part of his skull was entirely blown off just above the ears, laying open the interior of the head, and scattering his brains around the pit. A portion of one of the poor lad’s legs was also blown off; and litis was the horrid spectacle that met his poor mother’s sight.

The next who was brought to the surface was but a child, aged about 11 years, and named Benjamin Sims. This unfortunate victim lingered in torturing agony for two hours, scorched and mangled fearfully.

Then others were brought up, and as each was discovered by a father, brother, mother, or sister, the cries of anguish were horrible to hear until there was no sound but agonising screams and cries of terrible lamentation on every side.

By next morning, fifty-two charred and blackened bodies were recovered from the pit; and on making calculations as to the number of those who had been brought up alive, it was thought that this was the total number of the dead. Of these, five were burned to death by the explosion; and the remainder perished of suffocation.

As well as could be ascertained by our reporter, who states that there was a number of strangers among the dead, whose names could not well be discovered, the following is a list of the unfortunate fellows who thus met a sudden and frightful doom:

Edward Llewellin, landlord of the Duffryn Arms, aged 50. This man’s two sons were at work by his side, but they miraculously escaped. He leaves a widow, two sons, and three daughters.
William Jones, a young unmarried man.
Llewellin Rees, a lad, aged about fifteen years.
Stephen Rees.
John Thomas leaves a widow and five children.
John Jones leaves a widow and two sons.
Edward Edwards, and his son, leaves a widow and four children.
Thomas Phillips, widow and one child.
David Davies and his two sons, widow and four surviving children.
David John, a single man.
William Davies, poor fellow’s wife bad been buried the previous week two orphans are left.
John Morgan and his two sons, leaves a widow and one daughter
John Jones, son in-law of the above-leaving a widow and one child.
Morgan David and his son, another son was working with him but “one was taken, and the other left.” Deceased leaves two orphan daughters.
William Griffiths and his two sons, leaving a widow and two daughters.
William Williams and his two sons.
William Williams and his two sons, leaving five orphan children.
Ebenezer Thomas, leaving a widow and four children.
Thomas Phillips was at work with poor Thomas and escaped.
Jenkyn Llewellyn was taken out alive, but died soon after, leaving a widow and three children.
Evan Thomas, a married man.
William Rowlands, a child about nine years of age.
Benjamin John, unmarried.
William Thomas, a lad ten years of age.
Rees Jenkins, unmarried.
Thomas Smith, a child, eight years of age.
Thomas Abrahams, unmarried, from Merthyr.
William Marks, his two sons were at work with him, and both escaped, and are left orphans, with three other brothers or sisters.
Evan Edwards, leaving a widow and four children.
William Jones, leaving a widow, living at Merthyr.
Thomas Edwards, widow, but no children.
Thomas Thomas, widow and several children.
Ebenezer Davies, a lad, fifteen years of age.
Joseph Davies.
John Morris, leaving a widow.
Nathaniel Phillips, unmarried.
Isaac Jenkins aged eleven years.
David Howells, a stranger.
Thomas Jenkins, a stranger.
John John, died at half-past eleven o’clock on Sunday morning, leaving a widow and two children.

Since the above list was put in type, we have been kindly favoured with the following official information, as to the number of killed, wounded, &c.

Forty-two were brought up dead.
Ten died after they were brought to the surface.
Fifteen recovered after being brought up insensible from suffocation.
Thirty-five were unhurt.
Twelve colliers were not down at the time.

This makes a total of the one hundred and fourteen belonging to the colliery. Those who were unfortunately down at the time, would have come up in an hour, according to the general rule. Several had left the dip, or lower part, and were about to ascend. when arrested by death. The official inquiry will commence on Friday (this morning).

The spectacle of the burial of the dead, on Sunday, was most solemn. Fifteen coffins, enclosing their lately-living and happy tenants, were borne away from the same spot together: eight in another group; seven in another, conveyed to Merthyr and three to Cefn.  Rev. John Griffith, and his curate, the Rev. Davies, read the funeral service over those buried at Aberdare; and thousands of persons were present to witness the sad and solemn ceremony.

Among other incidents mentioned at the interview our reporter had on Monday, at the colliery, with the agents and survivors, he was informed that poor Llewellyn, the first named in the list, had been absent  from work five or six weeks, and this was the first and the last day’s work he ever accomplished afterwards. Two men who volunteered to go down into the pit, after the explosion, “to put out the flue,” were so overcome by the sulphurous air, that they fell at the bottom, to all appearances dead and it was not until they had for some time been exposed to the action of the fresh air, that they were restored to life. John Morris, another whose name is among those of the dead, had been working at the tip for some time, and being dissatisfied with that employment, went below, where, after working two days, died with his companions.

Several colliers who were below at the time of the explosion, but at some distance, in their alarm, when they heard the report, ran into the midst of the “choke,” and, with difficulty, returned with their lives. Joseph Pollard and about twenty others, wen very near to the spot where the explosion took place and they, too. with great difficulty, escaped from the “choke.” or after damp. Eleven horses were below, at work, when the damp ignited. Six were killed; four living were got out immediately; but twenty-four hours after, when proceeding through the levels in quest Of the dead, the men came up with the fifth living horse, standing upright in his yoke behaving been there in that position about twenty-four hours, without food or water. The animal is now quite recovered.

The colliery is the property of William Thomas, Esq., of Abercanaid, Merthyr; and that gentleman, immediately on receiving intelligence of the lamentable event, hastened to afford every assistance to those who survived the explosion and the widows and children of those who were killed. The coffins in which the unfortunate men were interred, were provided at his cost; and nothing has been left undone, which might alleviate the anguish of widows, or the pecuniary distresses of those who have been so suddenly deprived of their supporters.

Every exertion that could be made, also, to assist and direct in bringing the dead to the surface, was exhibited by Mr. Sims, the agent; Mr. Christmas, the clerk; Mr. Faulkner, the weigher; and others, each and all having been almost exhausted by their efforts throughout Friday evening and night; and we are sorry to add, that while some of the men sat down lazily, and declined to assist, although men from the surrounding collieries poured in by scores to render aid, those selfish fellows actually insulted Mr. Christmas and Mr. Faulkner for refusing to give them any refreshments, which they did not deserve, by slandering and aspersing the character of those two zealous men characters, however, which could not be sullied by any such attempted defamation.

With regard to the cause of this unfortunate event, we fear it may he too justly attributed to the negligence of the colliers themselves but it would be premature to pronounce an opinion upon this matter, until more competent authority shall decide. A government colliery inspector, who is a gentleman highly qualified for his office, was to inspect the pits on Tuesday, should the immense masses of rubbish which have fallen enable him to do so, aided by other gentlemen; and on Saturday, when the deputy-coroner of the district, Mr. Morgan, opened an inquisition into the matter before twelve jurymen, at the Black Lion Inn, it was resolved, after the bodies had been viewed, and permission given for immediate burial, to appoint the three following gentlemen:

Mr. Dobson, Lord Clive’s mineral agent; Mr. David Williams, coal master, Ynyscynon; and Mr. John Smith, coal agent at the Abernant Works; who should visit and inspect the colliery, and report thereon next Friday (today), at the inquest; at which time no doubt the government inspector will also make some report of his official visit. While upon this branch of the subject, we cannot but regret, that Mr. Bruton’s invaluable new colliery ventilator was not in operation at the Lletty Shenkin Works, which has recently been proving itself so efficacious at Gelly Gaer, the colliery of Thomas Powell, Esq., of the Gaer, near this town. Had one of chose cheap and commodious ventilators been in operation at the unfortunate pit, it is quite within the range of certainty to state, that this sad calamity could never have happened.

The machine we have alluded to is without valves, or separate moving parts all the friction consists in that arising from a foot pivot working in oil; when at rest it offers no impediment to the air ascending from the pit; is not liable to derangement, and inexpensive. It may be driven he a steam- engine or water-wheel, and by it any degree of rarefaction, necessary to ventilation, is rendered certain, regular, under visible inspection, and certain control. The current may be greatly increased during the night, or other period when the pit is not working, and thereby prevent that stagnant and dangerous state of the air now so prevalent during suspension of work. It also possesses the power by which the atmosphere or a colliery can, in a quarter of an hour, be subjected to an exhaustion equal to half an inch of mercury, and thereby power, fully drawing out the gas from the coal, and from the wastes and goaf ponds during the absence of fire or light, and, consequently, of danger from explosion, and also the power of restoring the equilibrium, and clearing the colliery of fire-damp, before the men enter, by a more vigorous and energetic current of fresh air than has hitherto been attainable by the ordinary means of ventilation.

It is scarcely three years, since twenty-eight human lives were destroyed by an explosion of the same nature, near the same pit. What warnings for immediate improvements?

In concluding our narrative of this catastrophe, it will be right to state, that the colliers themselves now appear to be taking up the question of government interference, a meeting of about one hundred having decided on Monday to petition the legislature on the matter. It was suggested to them, we under- stand, that as the commissioner would be at Lletty Shenkin on the following day, a deputation had better be appointed to wait on that gentleman, to express the views of the colliers in relation to this important movement.

Considering the coroner’s investigation which will take place this day, in respect to the explosion at Aberaman, to be of vital interest to the mining population of South Wales, we shall next week present a full report thereof in the MERLIN.

Back to Cwmbach main page