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Rough Hills Colliery Disasters (Messrs Aston and Shaw), January 1861
John Yates was killed on the 14th of January 1861 by the explosion of a boiler at Rough Hills Colliery, owned by Messrs Aston and Shaw. Joseph Elwell was the head engineer.
To summarise the Inquest on the 17th....Stephen Thompson, boiler maker of Bilston, said his men had repaired the boiler in the previous October, but he had not examined it. Mr ET Wright, Engineer, had examined the boiler that morning and confirmed that the boiler was very old and worn out. Such a boiler would burst at a very moderate pressure. It had often been repaired, and was a worn out boiler.
Mr Baker, the Mines Inspector, remarked of the desirability of boiler makers sending competent persons to examine boilers when they were called in to repair, and upon the need for organised inspection of boilers. The Foreman of the Jury said that a regular inspection by competent persons was recommended by Mr Wright several years before in that very house; yet the lives of people continued to be placed in jeopardy from want of such inspection.
The Jury returned the verdict of death by explosion of the boiler and added a censure to the proprietors, or persons in authority, for having worked a boiler which, according to Mr Wright’s evidence, was quite worn out. The Coroner, in communicating to Mr Aston the verdict of the Jury and their censures, said that it was fortunate circumstances for him that no complaints were made respecting the state of the boiler after the new plates were put in, otherwise he might have been placed in a very serious position, and the coroner in the most painful one. As it was, however, the accident would have to be added to the many others in which boilers had exploded through being worn out. It would be well for Mr Aston, and every other owner of a boiler, to allow the accident to be a warning to induce them to keep their boilers is constantly examination.
On the 22nd Joseph Elwell (head engineer) and John Legge were killed, and John Evans wounded by a boiler explosion at the same colliery. The Coroner had to go to the house of John Evans for evidence as it was doubtful if he would recover. Evans had observed that the boiler was leaking, and he had told Elwell. The next day they examined and cleaned it, and Evans found a crack on the right hand side and asked Elwell to send for the boiler maker, but he would not do so. Elwell placed a knife through through the crack, got some wooden wedges and some hemp, and with them he mended the crack. Evans objected but Elwell went on and ordered him to fill the boiler.
Ultimately the Jury returned a verdict to the effect that Elwell had lost his life in consequence of his own neglect and carelessness; and in the other case returned a verdict of manslaughter against him.
The Deputy Coroner remarked that when he called on Evans he found that he was scarcely provided with the common necessaries of life. He was not even able to obtain the food that he was recommended by the surgeons.
It seems logical that Elwell was not the right person to hold the position of Engineer, but he was employed by Messrs Aston and Shaw; they who would surely know his credentials? Does the Coroner's observed conditions of the state he found Evans to be living under give some idea why risks were taken? To complain, or not toe the line, could easily lead to the loss of a job.
So can we learn anything of Messrs Aston and Shaw by events after the explosions?
August 1962... Messrs Aston and Shaw summoned and fined £5 and costs for not giving notice in the required time concerning a loss of life at the Colliery.
February 1864...Good period for coal prices, attributed to the extraordinary make of iron. Dissatisfaction felt by Colliers who are offered 3d per day extra, they claim 6d, and in many instances was complied with. The men at the extensive Colliery of Messrs Aston and Shaw refused to work unless an immediate increase took place...."11 men were brought before the Magistrates for neglect of work, their defence being that in adjacent collieries the advance had been given...They were asked by the Bench whether they would return to work at the pay they were receiving, allowing the costs of the summonses to be deducted from their wages, or go to prison, and after some hesitation they agreed to the first alternative and there the matter for the time ended."
March 1864...sudden falling to ruins of a furnace due to having been built upon an old colliery where the bottom coal had been found only 17 yards below the surface.
July 1866...it transpires that Messrs Aston and Shaw are in difficulties...liabilities will probably reach £35,000
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