A Distressing Miner’s Accident part 1

OnePlaceTragedies for #Sticklepath on #OnePlaceWednesday

The British Newspaper Archive has become a key source of information for genealogists, often adding details and stories not available elsewhere, though the accuracy and potential bias of reports should always be considered. I share this transcript from the newspaper in full to show the amount of detail we can sometimes find of an event. This was clearly a very distressing situation. A man trapped in an adit and attempts to rescue him which ultimately failed. Note an adit is a horizontal passageway created in a mine for the purposes of access or drainage. Clearly many men rallied round to help with the rescue attempt. A number of Sticklepath residents were witnesses for the coroner, adding to their own personal stories. For the genealogist such an article should be examined in detail. Lots of questions arise which may indicate new avenues of research. Which Mr Hellier did Croote lodge with? Is Captain Jopling actually Captain Jobling? Why was a resident of Milton Abbot, North West of Tavistock, working near Sticklepath? These last questions may be partly answered in Part 2.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Saturday 15 April 1905 

MINE ACCIDENT AT STICKLEPATH. MAN KILLED. Thirty Hours’ Rescue Work.  

Fortunately, mining accidents do not often occur Devonshire, but during the past week one has happened at Sticklepath, near Okehampton, which resulted in the death of man under distressing circumstances. The unfortunate fellow was named Croote, a native of Milton Abbot, who was engaged in clearing an adit for the purpose of getting the water out of an old mine some distance away. Deceased and his comrades commenced work at the usual time Wednesday, and everything went smoothly until shortly after mid-day, when a fall of gravel and stone almost completely buried Croote, pinning him against a wooden beam. The other men, who were working close at hand, quickly realised the perilous position Croote was in, and set to work with their hands picking and scraping away the earth and gravel in the hope of relieving him.   

It was evident that deceased did not realise the great danger he was in, as during the time his comrades were endeavouring to take away the. accumulation, he remained calm, and told them not to use a pick. After working short time, it was thought hat Croote would soon be out of danger, but suddenly there was a second fall of gravel and stone, and the poor fellow was doomed.  

Croote remained alive for an hour and a half after the first fall, and fought desperately against death, but it was soon seen that the task of the rescuers was hopeless. Owing to the suffocating air men were unable to remain in the adit for any length of time. And all the time these men were working there was fear of water accumulating, and attention had to be given to  “Keeping it down.” More and more earth, gravel, and stone fell, and Croote was hemmed in tighter and tighter. For over thirty hours his comrades worked continuously to release the body.  

The adit was too small to use any large tools such as a pick and shovel.  Even had the men been able to do so, they would have refrained, as a few minutes after the first lot of stone fell Croote told them, that the use of a pick might be dangerous, as his legs were bent back under him. After a short time deceased’s legs and thigh were partially freed, but his head and shoulders became invisible and he literally “died by  inches”.  

The inquest was held at Sticklepath yesterday. Prior to swearing in the jury, the Coroner (Mr. Prickman) said he fell sure he would not be travelling outside his province if he expressed the great sympathy they all felt with deceased’s comrades. It was a great shock to lose one of their number in so tragic a manner. Not only did they sympathise with the relatives, but with all connected with the mine. That was the first time during the period he had held the coronership that such an accident had happened. It must be a great sorrow to his friend, Captain Jopling, the managing director of the Syndicate, who had been for so many years so well-known to them all, as was also his coadjutor, Mr. Parkin.  

In the midst of the tragic circumstances one could not but help there was a satisfactory element. Great gallantry and heroism had been shown in endeavouring to save the life the unfortunate man. Croote had met his death as a result of one of the unfortunate accidents which were almost bound happen as long  as men were engaged in such work.  

William Croote identified deceased as his uncle, who was 50 years of age, single, and lodged with Mr. Hellier, of Sticklepath. William James Newcombe stated that he had worked at Belstone about three years. Deceased, who was an experienced miner, had been engaged at the mine about 15 months. On Wednesday he was working with Croote and man named Ernest Cole. They were cleaning out the old adit, and were about ten fathoms underground. The length of the adit was over 200 yards, but they entered from the nearest air shaft. They commenced working about 7 a.m. Deceased was in front, witness second, and Cole third. They were taking out some “muck,” and about 1.30 p.m. Croote, who was using a pick, was suddenly partially buried by falling gravel and earth.  

The Coroner: How big was the adit there?  

Witness: About 2ft. 6in. wide at the bottom and about 1ft. 3in. at the top, and 4ft. 6in. high. Deceased and himself had cut out the old timber and were about to put in new. There was old timber over deceased. He tried to dig Croote out, but there was no room to work with tools. Witness uncovered a portion of him, when the “muck” again fell. Witness shouted to Cole, who was some 30 fathoms away.  

When witness was endeavouring to dig him out, deceased shouted “Mind, don’t use apick.” Croote also shouted for water. Other men came to the spot, and all did what they could. Deceased continued to speak to them for an hour and a half. He did not think any timber fell on the deceased. Three men could work the adit continuously, but when ten or a dozen men came they could only work about hour each without getting fresh air. Dr. Burd arrived about the middle of the afternoon and went into the adit. At that, time all but the head and shoulders of the deceased was exposed, and on examination the doctor pronounced life extinct.  

Deceased was behind a set (four timbers, consisting of a floor, two sides, and a cap The size of the adit was not so convenient as it might have been.  

The Coroner: Have you ever complained of the size of the adit?  

No. The second man who was with deceased, Ernest Cole, stated that he had been a miner for two years. He was working as described by the last witness, when Newcombe came to him, remarking that “his mate was buried up.” They had candles and tried to scrape back the “muck” with their hands. He heard deceased say. “Don’t use a pick.”  He considered the “muck” pinned Croote against the timber. Finding they could do no good, witness went to the mouth of the adit for help. They were there about a quarter of an hour before anyone came, when Albert and Henry Hellier arrived. They went in again, when deceased told them to keep the water down. Other helpers came, and by continued shifts of about an hour the work of rescuing continued all night and until 8 o’clock the following night. Witness was present when the body was released, a rope being fixed around it. They were obliged to do that as the fallen “muck” left no room to work in. Replying to Mr. Walker, who represented the Inspector of Mines, witness said he never heard Hellier, the captain, tell the men not to go beyond the new timber. John Hellier, the captain of the mine, residing at Sticklepath, stated that he had been working there several months. Deceased was instructed to clear and timber the adit. At the time of the accident he was in bed with a cold.  

On going into the level he found deceased was buried up. Deceased asked them to be careful, as his legs were doubled under him, and the hatchet was close to his feet. Croote did not complain of pain. They cleared the legs, when additional gravel and stone fell, which jammed him against the old timber on the left-hand side, causing him to die within a few minutes. Witness thought he had hold of deceased’s leg when he died. They were working for 30 hours before the body was rescued. Replying to Mr. Walker, witness said he had charge of the mine, and his duty was to go underground once a day. He was instructed by Captain Gorden to see the adit was cleared. There was always plenty of timber to hand, and on the very day of the accident Croote said him, “I believe we have got through the worst of it.” Deceased told him not to go in front of the new timber, but he considered Croote thought he was going through solid ground, and therefore, ran a risk.  

One of the deceased’s arms was broken. Albert Hellier, who had both his hands bandaged through injuries caused by endeavouring to rescue deceased, confirmed the statement made his brother. Mr. Davis, assistant, to Dr. Burd, said death, was caused by suffocation, and not through injuries. One of the arms was broken, but that, in all probability, was caused by pulling the body out after death. Captain Jopling, managing director of the Ramsley Syndicate, also expressed deep sympathy with deceased’s relatives. He had been interested in mining in the district for 30 years, and never remembered a fatal accident happening there before.  

The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental death, caused through suffocation.” 

(Name of deceased I believe was John Croote) 

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