Abbildungen der Seite

In 1851, Government Inspectors were appointed under the "Coal Mines' Inspection Act." In that year a Committee of the Commons, of which Mr. Cayley was Chairman, was appointed. This was the Steam-jet Committee, whose Report and evidence startled the viewers like an explosion of fire-damp. But this Committee is thought to have been exploded by its successor, whose Reports are named at the head of this article.

From 1851 to the present period, Inspectors have visited the mines; but the number of Inspectors (six) at present appointed is far too small for effective superintendence. The new Act will probably add to the labours of the present Inspectors, and to their number; and at present they will not receive assistance from subordinate officers. It is necessary that well qualified and gentlemanly Inspectors should be found to accept the office, the emoluments of which are, however, very disproportionate to the duties performed.

A few lines on the physical and moral condition of the Northern coal miners may be permitted as a conclusion of this article. The Northern coal miners, that is, those of Northumberland and Durham, are by far the most advanced and able of all British coal miners. They form a fluctuating body of men, their numbers depending on the demands of the trade. No public returns are made of their numbers, or, indeed, of any thing connected with their condition; but we were at considerable pains, in the year 1813, to obtain accurate lists of the colliers employed, and found them to be 25,770 persons, (men and boys,) engaged in 192 pits or collieries on the Tyne, Wear, and Tees rivers.

These persons dwell in colliery villages, composed of cottages built to contract, or order, by speculative builders or colliery Companies. The pit villages connected with many of the older collieries are dismal and filthy; while those connected with newer collieries are more tolerable, and, in a few instances, cleanly and neat. The cottages are commonly built in "rows,' and these again in pairs, the front doors of one row facing those of the other row. The space between each pair of rows of back doors presents along the centre one long ash-heap and dunghill, generally the playground of the children in summer,with a coal-heap and often a pigsty at the side of each door. The visitor of such villages is surprised at the remarkable contrast between the cottages with their outsides, and the furniture inside. Amongst several hundreds of pitmen's houses which the writer visited, there were few that did not exhibit this contrast. Outside, all is coal-dirt and gloom; inside, all is sprightly and showy, at least in the one best room, and in times of tidiness. The one best room on the ground-floor commonly contains an eight-day clock, a good mahogany chest of drawers, and a fine four-post bedstead, perhaps with carved posts of old

[blocks in formation]

mahogany. A newly married couple consider these articles as indispensable to matrimonial felicity; and they will begin life with a debt incurred for these luxuries, which they dearly discharge by instalments. Good living is no rarity with these people. A sufficiency of fat meat is found on their tables; a girdlecake, called a "singing-honey," from the simmering noise it makes in baking, is found at the fireside; and tea or beer appears on the table. All this is applicable to the one good meal a day after pit work, and to the Sunday dinners. Small coals are obtained for nothing, or a mere nominal charge, and large fires glow in the cottages, hot enough to roast a refractory master, or an exacting creditor, or an intrusive constable.

In the fine evenings of summer and autumn, the visitor may watch dozens of pitmen wending their homeward way after work, disappearing into cottages, then re-appearing with washed persons; and, having cast off all works and garments of blackness, forth they sally in cloth coats to the public-house, or to a neighbour's cottage, or, not unfrequently, to the Wesleyan chapel. Lads and boys, if not fortunately sleepy, are mischievous and pugnacious, which all stray dogs and donkeys discover to their cost. Sounds are heard to issue from musical instruments, and an amateur pitman may be heard scraping on a violin, or blowing at a flute. Look in at one cottage, and you will see half-a-dozen chubby children feasting upon childish sweets, and all promising well for the rising pit generation. Look in at another cottage, and you will find a studious collier poring over Euclid, or Emerson's Fluxions, while his wife or daughter may be consulting the "Dream Book," or "Napoleon's Book of Fate," or "The Little Warbler." An hour or two brings all these pursuits to a close, and persecuted dogs and donkeys, scraped violins, cracked flutes, noisy disputants, and eager politicians, all have rest and are silent; and the sleepers in the four-post bedsteads are soon dreaming of a rise of wages, or a fall of the roof in the mine, or a terrific explosion of fire-damp, with the horrible accompaniments of mutilated bodies, hairbreadth escapes, and funeral processions at the interment of the killed. Such, probably, are the visions which delude or disturb the slumberers until soon after daylight, when the "caller" goes his round through the village, and summons lads and men to get up, and go down and renew their labours in darkness.

The moral and mental condition of the pitmen is not what it should be and might be, but it is far better than it once was. The "march of intellect" has reached even to pit villages, and the "schoolmaster is abroad" even there. Although, while under ground, you can discern nothing appertaining to humanity but white teeth and red eyes in a mass of blackness, yet above ground you may meet with considerable intelligence in these very beings, when washed and clad

in a suit of black, on Sundays. Progress is measured by comparison; and to appreciate what pitmen are, one should listen to what the older men relate they were. Some fifty years since, the pitman of "canny Newcastle" was a very extraordinary personage, both in costume and customs. In these earlier and merrier days, as tradition makes them appear, the young pitman, when wishing to be gay, would wear his hair in curls over his temples, twining the hair round a thin piece of lead enclosed in paper; and these leads were only taken out at the end of the week. Tails of the longest hair, tied up with flowing ribbons, and differing in length and thickness, according to the fancy of the wearer, were at that period common to pitmen of all ages. But to return to the gay young pitman: he would next sport a very showy waistcoat, having striking flowery figures, and hence called his "posy vest." His nether man was clothed in brecches of either velveteen or plush, which were fastened at the knees with variously coloured ribbons, hanging down, or fluttering about in the wind. His stockings were ornamented with "clocks," and he was shod with stout shoes or laced boots. The head was covered with a round hat, which, on great occasions, had its flowing ribbons. Thus arrayed, the proud pitman would flaunt about, and boast himself of his physical powers, the might of which he was ready to prove in answer to any kind of challenge; and on "pay-day," once a fortnight, he was seldom content unless he had befooled himself with beer, and battered his foes with his fists. Such was the past; but all such displays have passed away, and pitmen are now known only as decent men in black.

With more orderly costume, more orderly manners are associated. Formerly donkey-races, and dog-fights, and cock-fights, were the amusements of Sunday in pit villages. Now you may discover in nearly every pit village a Methodist chapel and a Sunday-school. It is the general and very just opinion, that the Methodists have been the chief improvers of the condition, mentally and morally, of the pitmen. But after all their efforts, very much remains to be done. Sunday-schools are but half attended; and night schools for secular instruction are but poorly countenanced. Benevolent efforts made by owners and masters have not been heartily responded to by pitmen, and a rooted jealousy of the interference of the masters impedes progress. "Strikes" have been the bane of the men and the The strike of 1844 occasioned a loss of £300,000 to the pitmen in wages, and, in addition to the loss to the men, that to the coal-owners was estimated by themselves to have amounted to £200,000: thus making a total loss of £500,000 by that protracted strike. Nor is the spirit of strike extinguished; for the masters know not when it may again grow strong, and break out into open rebellion. One remark only will


[blocks in formation]

we add on the merits of strikes. It appears, from accurate inquiries, that, while the price of coals had been going down in the London market for twenty years by about 12s. per ton, the colliers' earnings generally were as high at the end of that period, as at the beginning of it.

We observed, at the commencement, that no public statements of the health and diseases of coal mines had been offered. Some recent inquiries, however, have been instituted by Mr. Mackworth, one of the Inspectors of Collieries, into this subject, which, in addition to our own, lead to the following conclusions. In the best ventilated collieries of the North, pitmen born and bred to the work do not feel much inconvenience, or suffer much illness; but inferior pits produce many physical evils. A large amount of disease is caused amongst miners by bad air, or "poor air," and by any serious deficiency of the vital element. Consumption is not common in the mines of the North, nor is asthma unusually prevalent. The coal-dust floating in the air of pits is often referred to as producing permanent injury; but more accurate observations have determined that melanosis, and other affections which may result from it, are also produced in other than coal mines, and are attributable rather to the carbon arising from the imperfect combustion of bad tallow or oil. This disease seldom, if ever, occurs amongst men working in coal-dust on the surface. It has not been thoroughly understood; but it prevents the free access of oxygen to act upon the blood, and, after a time, it appears as if carbon was actually formed in the lungs.

Oxygen being absorbed by the various chemical changes proceeding in mines, whether by breathing, combustion, or by the decomposition of vegetable and mineral matters, it is observed that a double deterioration is caused, increasing the proportion of nitrogen, in addition to that of carbonic acid, or other gases of a poisonous nature. The old workings of the pits are vast laboratories for the decomposition of minerals, timber, and animal remains. Their principal products are carbonic acid. gas, sulphuretted hydrogen, and mineral salts. From these and similar causes, there can be no doubt that the pitman's health is slowly weakened, if it be not really destroyed.

With reference to the other coal fields of England, much more deterioration of health, as well as mutilation of limbs, may be expected than in the well ordered and disciplined pits of the Northern counties. The rudeness of the men and of the mines, the deficiency of ventilation, and the insufficiency of pit machinery, in several of the colliery districts, prepare us to find that a collier's life is a miserable one, and his occupation highly dangerous. These truths can only be adequately represented by accurate statistical observations, which are yet to be made. Little, and very little, has been effected in this direction in any

district; and in most, absolutely nothing. In one locality, a fair and careful comparison has been made between the annual rate of general and of mining mortality; and this has been effected in Merthyr Tydvil, where the mining population (working in coal and ironstone) numbers 10,690 in a population of 41,425 males and 35,379 females: the town and rural population being about equally divided. A table of mortality shows that the noxious influences operating on these miners are sufficient to treble the destruction of average life between the ages of ten and twentyfive. A second table shows that, between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five, one third of the deaths arise from diseases of the respiratory organs, and that more than one third of the miners meet with a violent death. A third table shows that the mean after life-time of a miner or collier aged twenty-five is, in Merthyr Tydvil, 27.86; while in England generally the mean after life-time of a man aged twenty-five, is 36.6.

Mr. Mackworth has given particulars from which it may be inferred that 117 agricultural labourers do as much work in their lives as 174 colliers, as 194 iron miners, as 168 lead miners, as 183 copper miners, as 179 tin miners, or as 137 labourers of the general class.

Thus have we afforded all the information we could comprise within our limits, on "Life and Death in Coal Mines;" adding as much of the scientific as might be generally interesting, and as much of the descriptive as might relieve the scientific and technical. As the result, we trust that, in future, our readers will feel an increased interest in the coal mines and coal miners of Britain.*

ART. III.-Studies from History. the Fall of the Greek Empire. RULE. London: John Mason.

Vol. I. Mohammed II., and By the REV. WILLIAM H. 1854.

No department of historical study is more full of attraction and utility than that which is occupied with the contemplation of its great leading periods. It is a department which has absorbed very much of the historical talent and research of the age; and we think that to this may be mainly ascribed the place of commanding eminence which history assumes in modern literature. The tendency of modern times is to study it philosophically; to use the boundless materials which ages have stored up in the service of induction; to trace out and determine the great principles which have swayed and directed

*The new Coal Mines' Inspection Act has passed the Lords since the above was written. It is understood that a copy of Colliery Rules will be sent to and authoritatively enforced at all collieries.

« ZurückWeiter »