1875 Accidents

We often tell the stories of historical mine disasters because they are an important, though sad, part of our history. They are also partly why the modern mining industry is so safety focussed - Nova Scotia's mining and quarrying industry has reduced its injury rate 90% since 1997.

However, most accidents in historical mines were not major disasters but small accidents, often involving just one or two people, when miners often paid a steep price for mistakes, breaking a safety rule or just bad luck.

The Department of Mines 1875 annual report offers examples, even though it was a relatively good year in terms of safety: “The number of fatal and serious accidents to be reported this year is happily small; wonderful to relate no fatality occurred underground at any of the collieries [coal mines].”

There were, however, four fatalities in three accidents that year:

On February 18, during the night shift, scaffolding collapsed in the Cross Lead gold mine in Montagu, Halifax County. The upper scaffold had ten feet of stone on it when it collapsed, falling 50 feet to the next scaffold which was 30 feet from the bottom. These two levels then fell on a third level of scaffolding and killed Michael Carrol (35 years old) and John Kennedy (21). Carrol was married with five children and Kennedy was unmarried.

The scaffolding had been strengthened the previous fall when the mine reopened after being idle for five years. The report said, “The cause of the giving way of the scaffold is not very evident. It was thought, however, that the previous steady and severe cold weather might have formed ice, and on a thaw occurring occasion the fall.”

The two other fatalities that year occurred on the surface at coal mines in Pictou County.

On March 6, Alexander Fraser (47) was unhooking the chain on tubs at the entrance to the Nova Scotia Colliery’s slope (decline tunnel). He was standing with his back to the rake (the train that carried miners in and out of the mine) when his clothing caught on the third tub.

According to the annual report, “He had the misfortune some years before to lose his left hand, and an iron hook did in part do duty for it, which probably made it the more difficult for him to disentangle himself.” (The report does not say whether the loss of his hand was work-related.) The rake dragged him and he was crushed against the post at the tunnel entrance. Fraser left a wife and five children.

On May 6, Hector Campbell (15) was moving loaded coal wagons at Stellarton’s Foord Pit when he slipped and was run over. (While child labour is shocking to us today, it was common in that era, in many industries. Learn more at https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/child-labour).

There were also a number of non-fatal accidents, both minor and serious, at mines in 1875. For example, two men had their legs broken when tubs ran over them.

At the Lloyd’s Cove mine in Sydney Mines, Samuel Hudson was removing temporary scaffolding. He picked up a plank and, “By a strange forgetfulness,” he stepped into the open space he had just created and fell 20 feet. He broke his arm and cut his forehead but recovered fully.

There were eight gas explosions in coal mines that injured a total of ten men. Most of the injuries were minor burns but a September 3 accident at the Acadia colliery was more severe.

A Frenchman named Casimer Martin had been working in the pit (mine) but was not employed at the mine when he “entered the pit without permission, or the knowledge of the deputy in charge, to look for some missing tools.” He went into an area that had been idle for several days and “his naked light ignited some gas that had accumulated. He was rather badly burnt, and being alone had some difficulty in making his way out. An action in the courts is now pending against him. The Mines Regulation Chapter only applying to workmen does not contemplate such a case, where a man, not at the time a workman, effects an entrance into a pit and exposes himself and others to danger. The action has been brought under some Dominion statute.”

Laying charges against a seriously injured man may seem harsh, but unsafe behaviour by one person can endanger the lives and livelihoods of many, and the philosophy was to crack down on anyone breaking safety rules. In this case, Martin was not even a miner at the time of the accident and had no business entering the mine.

Another seriously-injured man was shown mercy when a decision was made about whether to lay charges. On March 27, Henry Richart was injured at the Nova Scotia Colliery “through his wilful disobedience of orders; and had his injuries been less severe than they were, he would have been prosecuted for his misconduct,” according to the annual report.

Richart’s job was to load coal into tubs at the bottom of the mine’s slope. He got into an empty tub at the top of the slope to ride it down, which was forbidden for safety reasons. The brakeman stopped the tub three times and ordered Richart to get off, but he refused. The annual report said, “Then, as it happened, the brake lever broke, and Richart went to the bottom of the slope with the tub. A boy at the foot of the slope was struck by the tub, and had some ribs broken. He had been strictly ordered, so it is said, only the day before, to leave the bottom of the slope immediately after shifting the [railway] points, which is done as the tub leaves the bottom…A bench had also been placed for the boy in a safe position. On one of the men at the bottom hearing the tub coming, he seized the boy to drag him out of the way, but he getting frightened ran in front of the tub and so got injured.”

Today, Nova Scotia’s mining and quarrying industry is committed to continuous improvement in safety and its goal is to have zero injuries. We believe the most important thing to come out of a mine is the miner. Nothing is more important than ensuring our friends and colleagues get home safely to their families each night.