Page images

sically, from the rest of the world, that they are far from obtaining their fair proportion of our sympathies. But, independently of higher considerations, the world is now too enlightened to require being told that it is unsafe to possess a class in our population, reckless of their lives, and, consequently, of the duties for which men should desire to live.* The Select Committee appointed by the House of Commons in 1835, to inquire into Accidents in Mines, reported tenderly on the conflicting claims of pecuniary profit and human life. After referring to the fact that, since the Davy lamps had been introduced, accidents had rather increased than diminished, because coal was now worked under circumstances of danger in which it would never have been ventured on before; - These facts,' they add,

• led your Committee to a serious part of their inquiry — how

are these calamities to be prevented for the future? They • desire fully to recognise the undoubted rights of property,

enterprise, and labour. They acknowledge their conviction • that the public interest has been served by the opening of the more dangerous mines, and the competition their working has created ; they do not overlook the anxious care alleged to 6 have been maintained to diminish the attendant risk; but they deem it their duty to state their decided opinion, that the interests of humanity demand consideration; and they would gladly put it to the owners of these mines, how far any object of pecuniary interest or personal gain, or even the assumed advantages of public competition, can justify the continued exposure of men and boys in situations where science and mechanical skill have failed in providing anything like adequate protection.'

We now treat such questions more boldly. In the last session of Parliament was passed the act already alluded to "for Inspection of Coal Mines in Great Britain.'† Some such

[ocr errors]

* It is an instructive fact, that in Scotland colliers were slaves down to so late a period as the year 1775; and part of that selfishness, which coerced their services for the wealth of their owners, has ever (though it may be decreasing) tinged the connexion between employer and employed in this large department of useful labour. So little better off were the coal districts in England, that the Pretender is said to have reckoned, in '45, on a rising round New. castle. The Legislature were extremely unwilling to do anything which would touch the profits of the miner, though, in 1846, a Committee of the Commons reported that, during the past twenty-five years, there had been at least 2,070 deaths from explosions, and that the mortality was then proceeding at the rate of 100 a year.

† 13 and 14 Vict. c. 100.


Reports of Mining Commissioners.


measure could not be delayed much longer. These subterraneous workshops had forced themselves into notice; though the doors were closed against inquiry. The Commissioners on the Employment of Children in 1842, reported of North Durham and Northumberland :- In this district the sub-commissioner

experienced unusual difficulty in obtaining an approximation 'to the true number of the accidents. In general, the medical

men connected with the collieries either directly refused to 'give any evidence on the subject, or evaded inquiry : while, at the collieries, the persons whose office and employment * rendered them best acquainted with the facts, were equally

reluctant to afford information. In other districts a similar callous neglect was indicated by such scraps of evidence as these, - Mr. Thomas Bishop, overseer at Polkemmet, testified: • We have no record of accidents ; nor is it customary to keep

such, not even of accidental and sudden deaths.' So, another witness, whose brother had been killed and brought home

coffined :'-No one came to inquire how he was killed they * never do in this place.' Dr. Alison, of Edinburgh, said, " I am pretty sure about fifty people under my care, and connected with collieries, have lost their lives in consequence of accidents occurring in the works around Tranent; and I do not remember of an investigation having been made by the sheriff in more than one instance. The act of 1850, which requires a return to be made to the Home Office, and in Scotland to the Crown Prosecutor, of every fatal accident within twentyfour hours after it occurs, coupled with the authorised system of inspection, may be expected to remove this dismal obscurity. It is most important to notice in these Reports how many of the minor accidents which cause individual deaths may be obviated, if it be the interest and the desire of the person in charge to obviate them. This is not the proper place for an inquiry into the respective merits of the butty,' or contract, and the doggy,' or stipendiary system of management: but the information on which Mr. Tancred, in the First Report of the Mid• land Mining Commissioners, supports the latter against the former, contains strong evidence of the extent to which dangers are avoided by a conscientious system. Thus: “As to the

imputation against the butties, of recklessness in exposing ' workmen to danger for their own interests, there is the direct 'evidence of a coalowner, who does not himself employ butties, “ exemplified by what I have seen in his own pit :' and then he quotes the evidence of Mr. Raybould: “Butties force men into

* Commons' Papers, 1842, xv. 150.


[ocr errors]

danger sometimes, so that I am sure our system is much safer. You saw the coals which were ready cut to come down as soon as the spurns are cut away. Now sometimes the coal in the night will have given token,” i.e. shows it is ready to come down, and then is very dangerous. Now our doggy goes the first thing of a morning to examine all the coal before any man is allowed to enter, and he can tell in a moment if the coal has given token, by rapping it, and, in that case, he has it thrown with the greatest caution.

This cannot be made piece-work by the butties, so it is done by them in the cheapest way; they set men to do it for 1s. or ls. 6d., and

they do it in the readiest way, and throw their lives away.? A working witness drew his distinctions in his own way: • After a fall of coal, it's worse than a field of battle full of sol

diers to be forced to go to draw the coals before it's settled and made secure; and perhaps the doggies (qu. butties) will say, “Go in, we must bave these coals drawn out.” That man you were with in our pit is as worthy a man as ever trod in shoe leather, and would not put a man to work in a place he did not know was safe, for anything.'

In one sense it cannot be said that the state of the miners is neglected by the members of the Legislature in this country. Reports on their condition are voluminous enough; it has been more written on than the privileges of the peerage. The great difficulty has been to communicate a feeling of responsibility to those who have immediate control over them. Perhaps this may be effected by the arrangements we have just been considering for inspection and for the reporting of accidents. Since, for factories, at all events, we have no doubt that the inspection system has done much to reduce the sickening array of horrid calamities, falling chiefly on children, and arising from a gross sacrifice of their safety to a miserable economy. The difficulty, which the factory inspectors sometimes experience in getting dangerous machines effectually protected, is a painful proof of the necessity of the partial control

exercised by them. We find, for instance, in the latest Reports some instructive incidents con nected with the cleansing of blowing-machines in cotton-mills

. A blowing-machine, or scutcher, is used for cleaning cotton previous to the first manufacturing process. It may be described as a radius of blunt knives, revolving so rapidly as to make 1600 revolutions in a minute. Its extreme velocity makes it appear quite innocent; while, of course, it is only the more instantaneously destructive to any

portion of human flesh coming in

* Commons' Papers, 1843, xiii. 60.


Factories: and Factory Inspectors.


contact with it. The working of it is at the same time so simple, that the rawest hands are set to it; and thus it not unfrequently happened that the country youth, before he had a week's experience at the mill, had his arm torn off by the shoulder. "The beater, or radius, works in a case ; but the risk of accident arises from the necessity of cleansing it or removing obstructions; and there are holes in the case, through which the arm may be inserted for this purpose. Of course even the most ignorant person will not touch the beater when in gearing: the accidents have generally occurred from ignorance that the momentum acquired makes the wheel revolve after it is disconnected with the moving power. The remedy suggested by the inspector of factories was to report as dangerous any blowingmachine with a beater, which can be reached by the hand

through any opening, not having a cross-lid door, or other covering, secured under lock; the key being in the custody of

the manager, overlooker, or other competent person ; so that the beater shall not be reached by the hand while revolving.' This arrangement was resisted by those employers who think there is a legitimate profit in danger. They maintained that the works would be needlessly obstructed by it; but it obtained the sanction of eminent machine-makers. In one instance, where the inspector had served a notice to lock a blowing-machine, he received the following answer from the mill-owner : *If the markets do not improve, I shall not only lock the scutchers up, but the mill also ; and if any of the

humanity-mongers wish to take it, I shall be glad to let it.'* Soon afterwards there appeared in the surgical Report of the district, in reference to this very machine, the following entry, It related to a young woman : Fracture of the radius and

ulna of the left arm. Her arm was struck by the beater of a scutching-machine. She was attempting to clean the beater * before it had stopped,' &c. From some incomprehensible reason, on the penalty of the act being pursued for in this case, the justices did not levy it; but the same Report of the factory inspector which mentions this, gives satisfactory testimony to the penalty being levied in other instances.

With gregarious employment in manufactories, another department of our subject — the proper structure of edifices - is intimately connected.

The fall of a large mill at Manchester in 1824, which, crashing floor after floor, involved the slaughter of a large number

Half-yearly Report of Inspector of Factories, October, 1849, p. 32.


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

of work-people, was attributed by the newspapers to a flaw in the iron-work; and much dissatisfaction prevailed at the time in consequence of all investigation into the cause of the calamity being suppressed, the coroner’s jury returning a general verdict merely of accidental death. When a similar crash occurred at Oldham in 1845, killing twenty people, and maiming many others, the Government, with great propriety, appointed a commission to report upon it. It was shown, that the fracture of one of the iron beams would bring down a huge fabric just like a house of cards, (the very words in which a bystander described the late accident in Gracechurch Street): The Commissioners reported, Upon a careful examination of fragments of the beam,

we find the iron employed to be of fair average quality ; but portions of the beams are of that unequal crystallisation of parts -(the central portions of the longitudinal sections being more highly crystallised and of larger grain than the external)

which points to a much quicker cooling of such external parts than • of the internal : and we also observed cracks of an order appa

rently in like manner due to an unequal cooling of the mass, whence unequal contraction and separation of parts ensued.'* It was further shown, that this was directly caused by an economising practice of removing the iron red-hot from the sand, contrary to the view laid down by an eminent mechanician; who said, ' From my own experience I am satisfied that fire. proof beams should never remain less than ten hours in the • sand after they are cast; and for heavy castings thirty or forty hours, or more, are sometimes necessary to assist nature in a perfect, and consequently a strong and compact process

of crystallisation.' But this is a troublesome, and therefore an expensive process; and as the quickly-cooled bar, with the element of slaughter hidden in it, looks as well and as secure, it is sent out to do its work.

Thus we see, in a country of large and daring operations such as ours, in how many shapes death lurks under mere insufficiency of workmanship. Whenever it is developed by any great calamity, a proclamation is issued by all concerned, calling on the public to believe it an inevitable and inexplicable fatality,-' a visitation of Providence;'- the materials were all-sufficient;-every thing was done in the best and most efficient manner;- every official person did his duty, and something more. The good-natured press and the betternatured public, after a slight murmur of indignation, undergo a reaction and accept the vindication. Sometimes a bold front

* Commons' Papers, 1845, vol. xvi. p. 547.

« PreviousContinue »