A report in the Weekly Gazette Stockman, Reno, Nevada, USA [Posted to Cornish-L by LaVelda Faull 30 Sep 2003]

12 Jan 1893


By Cable and Associated Press

London, Jan 10. --- At Penzance, Cornwall, this morning, the water suddenly rushed into one of the mines, cutting off the retreat of the miners at a distance from the main shaft, and thirty were drowned.

This is a classic example of a foreign paper getting the story slightly wrong. The accident occured at Wheel Owles in St. Just, not so far away to someone in the USA but another country for a Penzance man! and, although 41 were down at the time, 20 were killed. Here is the story as reported by the Cornishman of Thursday, 12 Jan, 1893 and a narrative provided by Sandra Pritchard.

“19 men and a boy died in the watery darkness of Wheal Owles, at St Just in Penwith. A terrible roar was heard by the 40 men and boys working deep underground at Wheal Owles mine”

On the morning of Tuesday January 10 the miners had broken through into the workings of the flooded neighbouring Wheal Drea. As the torrent rushed into Wheal Owles it pushed the air before it, creating a great wind which blew out all the lights, plunging the terrified miners into absolute darkness. Those working on the upper levels narrowly escaped with their lives. Nineteen men and a boy were never seen again.Their remains are still entombed in the flooded workings. There is a memorial to the men who died “at grass” nearby.

The report in The Cornishman of 10 Jan 1993,when a centenary service was held at Chapel Street Methodist Church, St Just listed those drowned at Wheal Owles in 1893.

[level 65]
William DAVEY : [a young man,native of St Just, recently returned from the north of England], William EDDY, James ROWE, William ROBERTS, .John TAYLOR & Mark TAYLOR [brothers], James Edwards TREMBATH, Edward WHITE

[level 75]
Thomas ELLIS, Peter DALE, James THOMAS, James WILLIAMS [2]

[level 85]
Thomas ALLEN, John GROSE & Thomas GROSE [father & son], John OLDS, William Stevens THOMAS, Charles Hichens THOMAS, Lewis Blewett WILKINS, Edward WILLIAMS

Quote taken from The Cornishman 10 Jan 1993

Five miners were saved by the efforts of one “Farmer” Hall who had been working with two boys at a stope in the 55 level. When he saw the sides shaking and gravel falling he realised the water had broken through fron the old workings he called to the 2 boys to follow him and shouted a warning to two men working a short distance away. Hall found a tram-wagon, put one of the boys in it & told the others to hold on to him and each other and headed off at speed into the darkness. They overhauled another miner on the way and Hall told him to run on before them. To make matters worse, the boy jumped out of the wagon and fell down an 18ft cavity. He climbed up the side and when within reach was grabbed by one of the other miners, James Williams [1] and pulled out. With the others scaling the shaft- side ladders , Hall went to see if he could find anyone else. He briefly spoke to others some distance away and below him. But then there was silence from their direction. “Farmer” Hall was the last man to leave Wheal Owles.

The [Off Site]Geevor web site had a list of all men underground [no longer on the site—41 not 40 as the paper reports]. This list slightly differed from the 1893 list in that at the 85 level the paper listed Edward Williams and James Thomas not Richard Williams and John William Thomas. Which the correct I [Sandra] could not say & also at Level 60 James Edward Trembath is given as James Edwards. This is not correct. James used his middle name of Edward and a child was born poshumously to his wife [see Sextons diary 27 Feb 1894]

The Geevor web site also had this to say about “Farmer” HALL

One of the men, James ‘Farmer’ Hall, who worked at the 50 fathom level, had been involved in an incident nine years to the day earlier when the flooded workings of East Boscean Mine were breached. Hall helped his colleagues get up the shaft, and, on realising that men were still missing, made an attempt to go back underground but was forced to retreat in the face of rapidly rising water. The youngest person killed, William Davey, had been sent to St Just from the north of England to work; in his first week as a miner he had been in the 65.[level] James Hall did not survive his comrades for very long; on July 8th 1895 he succumbed to the ‘miners disease,’ one or more respiratory problems, possibly complicated by silicosis, brought about by his work underground. [see Sextons diary 2 Aug 1895]

None of the bodies were recovered and the mine never re-opened, despite several attempts to float it as Wheal Owles and Boscean United.

Other pages on this web site are worth a look at for their mining history, photographs of mine buildings and records from 1842–1914 of deaths in mining at Geevor Mine & its constituant parts laterly known as Wheal Maitland, Wheal Carne and North Levant.

Such large scale loss of life was infrequent although there were many accidents causing injury and death. The Wheal Owles tragedy was second only to that at Levant Mine in 1919 for loss of life. [Off Site]Names of all those who lost their lives there and a contemporary photo

The effects on surviving family members after such accidents were less well recorded. Trauma counselling was unheard of then. Family or friends offered shoulders to weep on and male family were expected to assist financially the widows and orphans wherever possible The loss was shared with others who often found themselves in the same circumstances.

For a contemporary account of the disaster in dialect verse see The Flooding of Wheal Owles.

Interestingly, although many miners left St Just for a better living elsewhere fate would still seek them out: THE MINING GAZETTE of Houghton County, Michigan Tuesday 14 Jun 1904

Charles Thomas, a miner employed at the Kearsarge mine, was drowned yesterday morning in the Kearsarge dam. He and four companions, Peter Pittala, Jacob Itala, Thomas Tippett and Victor Johnson, went to the dam for a swim and the others did not realize Mr Thomas was in any trouble. He was 20 years old and had been in Calumet for 20 months. He was born in Cornwall, England. Twelve years ago his father drowned in the Wheal Owles mine in Cornwall. He was a brother of William Thomas of the Osceola mine. The funeral will be tomorrow and burial will be at Lake View cemetery, Calumet. [Father either Charles Hichens Thomas/William Stevens Thomas]

When we look back at the hardships our ancestors endured we can but admire their faith in their God: their hope for a brighter future and their love and support for one another.

There was a mine offshore at Penzance and Pat Banks describes it thus: Wherrytown mine was out in Mounts Bay, just off Wherrytown which is between Penzance promenade and Newlyn. Believe it or not the shaft was sunk in the bay, in the reef that can be seen offshore from Laregan River, and approached from land by a wooden causeway although it could be reached along the beach at low tide. Anyone who has seen the storms that come into Mounts Bay and hit Penzance from time to time will marvel at the idea.

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