28 AUGUST 1880, Page 16

COAL-MINES INSPECTION.* PUBLIC attention is again and again drawn to

the subject on which Mr. R. Nelson Boyd has written, for not a year passes without the recurrence of colliery accidents of peculiarly dis- tressing character. No other mining operations are accom- panied by the fearful risks of being charred by burning gases, stunned by explosive shocks, and suffocated by hot, irrespirable air,—risks which are too often associated with the getting of coal. An enervating temperature, insufficient ventilation, irrup-

• Coat-Mines 'sweetie's: its History and RUSail. By B. Nelson Boyd. London: W. H. Allen and Co.

tions of water, accidents to shafts and machinery, and falls of roof, these evils attend the working of most mines, and justify that systematic and skilled inspection which the State alone can provide and make compulsory. But the working of collieries is in many, though not in all coal-fields, so excep- tionally hazardous, as to need exceptional legislative inter- ference. It is as a readable story of the gradual growth of opinion and of legal enactments in reference to coal mines, that Mr. Boyd's work has been compiled. The author, indeed, claims for his book a very modest place in the literature of the subject. But it affords something more than a mere series of ordered notes and digests. There is a connected narrative of events, but it is combined with a sketch of the causes, physical, social, and industrial, which have led to our present system of mines' regulation and inspection. The whole subject is considered, including the relations of the miners and the employers of labour ; the schooling of the boys working in collieries, the truck system and the modes of working, lighting, and ventilating the mines. Mr. Boyd has produced, in fact, a valuable contribution to the literature of a most important industry. His book is interesting as well as instructive, but its chief merit consists in its plain history of the difficulties, the aims, the limits, and the results of Government interference with the working of collieries.

It is strange that we should possess so few and such brief notices of our coal-works and coal-workers during the six centuries (preceding the nineteenth) in which carbons ntaris or sea sole is known to have been extensively mined. We cannot, for example, find any clear account of a colliery explosion till we turn to the Philosophical Transactions of 1677, and read. Mr. Roger Itostyn's paper on the fire-damp in his father's ,works at Mostyn, in Flintshire. It seems that the first mention of a "blast" occurring in the North of England coalfield dates no earlier than 1705, when more than thirty persons were killed ; four years after, another explosion, in which sixty-nine lives were lost, is noticed. The degraded condition of the colliers at this time, and even for many years after, is described, so far as our scanty literary materials permit, with some detail by Mr. Boyd. The first legislation directly affecting coal-workers in England occurred in 1736. It was then enacted that any person who wilfully set on fire any pit or vein of coal should, on con- viction, be adjudged guilty of felony, and suffer death. In 1747 and 1769, Acts were passed in which penalties were assigned for malicious injuries to collieries ; and again, in 1800, another similar measure, wholly in the interest" and for the pro- tection of coal-owners, became law. But Parliament had up to this time accorded no help to the poor colliers. Inquests on deaths in coal-mines were not customary ; women, girls, and even quite young children were employed in the roughest work, and under the cruelest task-masters, below ground; the men were paid their low wages in public-houses ; and the pernicious " truck " or " tommy-shop " system pre- vailed extensively. The evidence collected by private associa- tions of persons interested in the welfare of colliers, and the disclosures before Parliamentary Committees in 1829 and 1830, proved how extreme were the hardships to which persons work- ing in coal-mines were exposed ; their moral and physical condition was, indeed, deplorable. At last, mainly owing to the light thrown upon the subject by two exhaustive reports published in 1842, a measure was introduced into the House of Peers by Lord Ashley. It met with much opposition,—Lords Londonderry, Radnor, and Wharncliffe doing all they could to frustrate the efforts of Lord Ashley. Lord Londonderry even went so far as to say that " some seams of coal required the employment of women," and to promise that he would tell any Government inspector of his coal-mines, "You may go down the pit how you can, and when you are down, you may remain there !" But the Bill was finally passed, and received the Royal Assent on August 10th, 1842. By this Act it was provided that no women and girls were to be em- ployed underground, nor, for the future, any boys under the age of ten. Apprenticeships of boys of that age were not to be for terms exceeding eight years ; wages were not to be paid at or near a public-house; and lastly, Inspectors were ap- pointed. These moderate provisions of the Act, necessary as they were, did not prove acceptable to colliery proprietors and managers, and were not uniformly and honestly obeyed. But neither to masters nor to men can be fairly assigned the blame of all the strikes and riots which occurred subsequent to the passing of the Act of 1842. These disturbances were in part due to faults on both sides, but the " kitties " or middle-men were, in some instances, the most guilty. One of these con- tractors admitted, on examination, that in a few years he could "get all the marrow" out of a collier !

It was about this time that scientific advice was sought, in order to secure, if possible, some means of preventing the ex- plosions of fire-damp which were continually recurring, and which were so often accompanied with great loss of life. Messrs. Lyell and Faraday, Sir Henry de la Beche, Dr. Lyon Playf air, and Professor Ansted assisted in these inquiries.

• Their reports contained some suggestions of real value, which have been incorporated in subsequent enactments. But there was one thing that every investigation into coal-working brought to light, and that was the ignorance of the colliers, and, too often, of the overman and viewers, and even of the managers of coal-mines. Protection against the results of their own carelessness and ignorance was what these men needed ihost. This was accorded them by measures passed in 1850, 1855, 1860, 1862, 1872, 1875, and 1876. These Acts related mainly to the inspection of mines and the education of miners. Inspectors were increased in number, and their authority was enlarged. Interference with the actual working of collieries was not attempted, but breaches of the provisions of the Inspec- tion Acts were reported and punished. Correct plans of works, immediate notices of accidents, general and special tables of regulations for colliery working, efficient ventilation, security of sides and roofs, restrictions in the use of gunpowder and of naked lights, double exits to each mine,—these were amongst the points insisted upon in the later legislation on coal mines. To these must be added the granting of certificates of com- petency to colliery managers and to their subordinate officers.

It cannot be denied that the death-rate from colliery accidents, although it has been materially reduced since the Inspection Acts have been in force, may be still further diminished. For such improvements we must look not merely to official inspec- tion, but to scientific invention. Useful fire-damp and barome- tric indicators, as well as efficient methods of lighting the workings with a perfectly safe illumination, like that of Bal- main's phosphorescent paint, will in time be discovered. Yet it must be granted that, if all the Inspectors were at once learned and at the same time practically acquainted with colliery working, and thus were less dependent upon managers than is frequently the case now, a greater measure of success would attend their labours. But the staff of Inspectors would have to be largely increased, before they could possibly be in a position to anticipate and prevent casualties to any considerable degree. That there has been a marked and steady lessening of deaths by accidenfper mil- lion tons of coal raised, since legislative interference with colliery working began, is easily proved. In the decade ending in 1860 that yearly death-rate was 13-9, in the next decade it sank to 10-9, and for the five years ending 1875, to 8-7. In reference to the number of persons employed in getting coal, the death-rate by accident within the above 25 years has sunk from 4 to 2.3 per 1,000. The per-centage of deaths from explosions, when comp-ared with deaths from other casualties, has also diminished from 24.4 to 178 within the above-named period.

We must not linger any more over the contents of Mr. Boyd's laborious and interesting volume, although we feel that we have given a very imperfect notion of the wealth of materials collected and arranged by our author. But readers interested in coal, in collieries, and in the half-million of workers directly engaged in obtaining this fossil fuel for our use, will find in Mr. Boyd's ten chapters, and in his statistical appendix, precisely the digest of information which they need.