This is the transcript of a booklet published in 1893 by or on behalf of W. Herbert Thomas. Many thanks to Michael Kiernan for a copy of the original.
The Flooding of Wheal Owles
Tellee about Wheal Owles,
sir—the flooded Cornish mine!
’Ow the waters chuck’d the levels where the sun don’t never shine;
’Ow the twenty men are lyin’—stark, lifeless, lumps of clay,
Where the rushin’ torrent wash’d thum when the rock-wall brawk away.
Tellee about the blastin’, and the frantic climb to
Iss, sure. I’ll try to tellee ’ow the whole thing cum to pass;
Tho’ you knaw I aren’t a schollard, cause my school was Wheal Owles bal, (b)
An ’my pen was a three poun’ hammer, an’ my books some stones to spal.
Ef you look across the valley, past the crafts an’
You can see the ’count-house standin’ top the hillside brown an’ bare,
An’ the shaft es by the cliff, sir, where the restless ocean rolls,
An’ under the sea some levels was drove from old Wheal Owles.
Ef you went down at Botallack, or Levant p’r’aps
you’ve heard tell
’Ow above your head the boulders would haive with the billows’ swell;
An’ you’d hear them gratin’, runblin’, ’bove the forty-fathom end,
An’ you’d clemb the ladders quicker than you managed to descend.
But I’m mixin’ up my story, as I fear’d I
shud ’ave done,
For my head is mizzy maazy fer sence this whistness(d) ’ave begun,
An’ you wudden feel quite fitty(e) ef you met Death faace to faace,
An’ weth roarin’ drownin’ waters you ’ad a fearful chaase’
Aw, sir, I caan't set quiet, fur the gasldy thing do
Every drop of blood within me, an’ I’ll tellee plainly, sir,
Tho’ they said my nerve was steady an’ head level through et all,
I dream of a Hell of water, which in thunderin’ floods do fall:
It happen’d a Tuesday mornen, this awful
We were all ave us forenoon core, sir, an’ w’en from home I went
I took my crowst(f) from the missus an’ gov her a parten kiss,
An’ we knaw’d no more than the dead, sir, ’ow things wud ’ave gone amiss.
I wus haaf way down the valley w’en I found I’d
Thouse(g) my under-groun’ clothes—for Monday, at St. Just, es washin’ day:
So I started back in a hurry, an’ got to the cottage-door,
An’ said ef I stay’d more’n a minute I’d be late for the forenoon core.
My under-groun’ suit was ready, but my wife looked
fine un queer;
An’ I says, “W’y wass the matter!” and says she, “I’ve took a fear,
For you knaw tes allus unlucky to come back when goin’ to work,”
An’ she looked as white as a witch, sir, an’ cold as that blacken’d churk.
It gave me a bit of a twingle, but I laugh’d to aise
An’ I aren’t so superstitious as some men you may find,
But the fear come back, she told me, as soon as I was gone,
An’ the fearful thing that happen’d was worse than she thought upon.
At the bal we met the cappen—I main Cappen Tom
As straight a man as a mother cud ever have an’ rear,
An’ we got our strings ave candles an’ fuse an’ dynamite,
For to blast the ground down under, an’ to have a bit of light.
Then we all clemb’d down the ladders, about forty men,
An’ up through the shaft to daylight we sung, an’ the sound uproll’d,
For we had some brae fine (h) singers from the Bible Christian choir,
An’ we like to tuney below, sir, or around a blacksmith’s fire.
We sung “In the sweet by-an-bye,” sir,
’bout the beautiful golden shore,
Where we hope we shall some day gather, an’ never to part any more;
But we never thought Death was waitin’ to beckon us over the tide,
An’ that mornen haaf ave our number wud cross to the other side!
So we clembed to the lower levels of the damp an’
Where the candles smoked an’ sputtered, an’ the tin an’ copper es found;
An’ we went to the stopes an’ winzes an’ ends where the lode ave ore
Es blasted an’ rulled in the waggons by miners every core.
I’ad shut one hole an’ was usin’ the
hammer an’ pickers there,
When a sound like ten thousand thunders broke out through the heated air,
An’ I heard the rush an’ the roarin’, like the burstin’ of a tide,
An’ “Water! The mine is flooded! Run for your lives!” I cried.
My comrades were stunned with the horror, an’ I might
’ave stood there too,
Like a lump of lead or a statue, an’ not knaw’d what to do,
But I well remember’d the floodin’ of the next bal, old Wheal Drea,
When the water of East Boscean broke through an’ wash’d me away.
As quick as a flash of lightnin’ I hurried the men
Into the empty waggon; an’, urged on by the noise
Of the roarin’, risin’ water that swamped the works below,
I pushed the load through the level so fast as my legs would go.
One lad fell out of the waggon, down eighteen feet to a
But Jim bent down as he clemb’d up, an’ the boy’s hand quickly caught,
An’ hualed(j) him up so aisy, did that fear’d excited man,
As ef but a pound of candles, or awnly a onion stran.
Then on to the shaft we rumbled, while a lad who run’d
Shriek’d lest the waggon should crush him, as it onward madly tore,
An’ dodgin’ the rocks out-juttin’ by one candle that kept alight
In the rush of the wind, we managed to reach the shaft all right.
Up through the shaft came wailin’ the cries of the
Strugglin’ in darkness with torrents that roll’d down again an’ again,
Till the gashly an’ helpless bodies sunk down like lifeless stones,
An’ the roar of the hungry water swallowed their dyin’ groans.
By the skin of their teeth some escaped, sir, by climben
chains hand over hand,
An’ some, who took the wrong turning, near went to the sperrit land,
Some were haaled up by the winches, an’ some who fell off the way
Were helped again on to the ladders or would not be living to-day.
Down below is a rever of water, a mile an’ half long,
Through three mines’ deep under-ground workin’s, an’ p’r’aps a good many more,
For a pare(k) of our men was drivin an’ cut into old Wheal Drea,
Where the thousand-tons water was pressin’, an’ burst through Cargodna that day.
A blunder? Ah yes, ’twas a blunder, for our plans
shawed solid ground
Where the men at the sixty-five level a hollowed-out place must have found:
You see, sir, they worked for metals in our bals in days of old,
When Solomon decked out es Temple with tin an’ with jewels an’ gold;
So we’re hedged in with scals(l) of dangers, an’
tes little enough we get
To keep body and soul together, but we aren’t the sort to fret
W’en we come up to the sunlight an’ can in our homes abide,
But ’tes hard when homes are waitin’ for bodies beneath the tide.
So that es the awful story of the floodin’ of Wheal
Thas ’ow the blinds are lowered an’ the Church-bell sadly tolls;
The mine is now a grave-yard, an’ the levels are the graves,
An’ the miners’ dust there slumbers near the wild Atlantic waves!
W. HERBERT THOMAS
On Tuesday, January 10th, 1893, nineteen men and a lad were drowned in the Cargodna part of Wheal Owles Mine, St. Just, Cornwall, by a pare of the forty miners having, it is believed, blasted and tapped the accumulated and connected water in the abandoned workings of Wheal Drea (in Wheal Owles sett) and East Boscean; the pool of water now extending a mile and a half from St. Just Churchtown to thirty fathoms under the Atlantic ocean. This was the most terrible mining accident in Cornwall since the waterspout, or tremendous waterfall, which burst over East and North Wheal Rose Mine, in the Newlyn East district, on the 9th of July, 1846, when fifty-three men were drowned and others injured by the flood carrying a portion of a burrow, or waste-heap, into the shaft.
The miners drowned in Wheal Owles were—James Williams, Richard Williams, M. Taylor, William Roberts, Louis Wilkins, W. J. Thomas, John Grose, Thomas Grose, Peter Dale, James Rowe, J. Taylor, T. Ellis, J. Olds, Edward White, Charles H. Thomas, James E. Trembath, Thomas Allen, William Eddy, James Thomas, and W. J. Davey. [see the newspaper reports for a discussion regarding the actual names.]
Twenty other miners, who were working in shallower levels or nearer the shaft, had an exciting race to the ladders and climbed up before the water could over-take them. Some would have been drowned but for the heroism of James Hall (popularly known as “Farmer” Hall), who pushed some of his comrades in front of him in a tram waggon, and afterwards went back to guide others who were going in the wrong direction; and of James Bottrell, who stopped and pulled up Michael Harvey and Thomas Angwin by a winch from a winze in the 45 fathom level, after clearing the rope which had become jammed in the timber, and by the light of one candle that was not extinguished by the rushing wind, reached the shaft and hurried to the surface. These intrepid miners, by waiting several minutes to save their comrades, were closely pursued by the uprising flood of water, which nearly reached the 30 fathom level by the time they had climbed out of danger.
But for the bursting of a pump in another part of the mine, causing a little delay, Captain Tom Tregear and John Leggo would have been in the lower levels inspecting the ground, and, would doubtless, have shared the fate of the submerged miners.
A strong endeavour will be made to form a Limited Liability Company, with a capital of £20,000, to work the three connected and flooded mines, which would revive the declining industry in St. Just parish. [this never happened]
A relief fund in aid of the widows, orphans, and other bereaved and dependent relatives, was promptly opened, and the responses have been so generous that the £3,500 which the Committee estimate they will want to meet these particular cases have already been subscribed. In some instances a lump sum of £50 will terminate the liability: but in most cases widows will receive 6s per week, and 2s per week for each child until it reaches the age of fourteen. There will be an annual revision of allowances. If widows re-marry or misconduct themselves, only their children will receive relief. About £350 will be expended in the first year, and, in addition, the miners thrown out of work by the disaster receive £100 from the County Miner’s Distress Fund.
Mr. Joseph Martin, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Mines for this district, saw that this was an appropriate time for organising a County Miners’ Benevolant Fund. His suggestion was first published and approved by “The Cornishman,” and was sympathetically received in the Camborne and Redruth district, as it will provide for the sufferers in single accidents, which happen only too frequently in our mines, and which occasion as intense individual distress as a calamity involving a large number of persons.
Committees were formed at Camborne and Redruth and met the St. Just Committee at Penzance on February 2nd, when it was resolved that any sum received in excess of the £3,500, be transferred to the County Fund, and if experience proves that the £3,500 will not be exhausted in relieving the Wheal Owles sufferers, any surplus will also be added to the County Fund.
It is to be hoped, therefore, that the friends of the miners, especially the landlords in receipt of mine dues, other wealthy persons, and Cornish miners who are receiving higher wages in foreign countries than the meagre earnings of their Comrades in Cornwall, will continue to forward whatever assistance they can afford, knowing that it will be judiciously expended in relieving suffering occasioned by the hazardous nature of our mining industry.