On Wednesday evening, 11 April 1877, as the miners were getting ready to leave the Tynewydd Colliery at the end of their shift, they heard the roar of rushing water. Although many managed to make it to the surface of the Greater Rhondda valley mine, after a head count, it was discovered that 14 men and boys were missing and presumed to be still underground. 1Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper – Sunday 15 April 1877 Word of the disaster quickly spread via the telegraph throughout the UK and beyond and the world followed along in the newspapers of the day as rescuers battled to reach the trapped men.

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geograph-2484591-by-Jeremy-Bolwell
Part of the former Glen Rhondda Colliery site, Blaencwm

Image Copyright Jeremy Bolwell. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licence.

The Rescue Begins

Volunteers descended the 92-yard-deep shaft and on arriving at the level of the workings, they could hear knocking sounds. They immediately began to cut through the wall and it was clear from the sounds that the men trapped on the other side were doing likewise. All through the night, a rotating shift of miners chipped away at the wall of rock.

On the other side, Charles Morgan, his father Thomas, his brother Richard along with Edward Williams and William Cassia were fighting for their lives and kept working, despite their fatigue.

Finally, at about six o’clock in the morning, Charles Morgan’s mandrill broke through, creating an opening in the wall. Immediately there was an enormous explosion and coal fragments rained down on the rescuers, cutting one man’s face badly and forcing the others back. When they approached the hole, it was found that Charles Morgan’s body had been jammed into the opening and that he was dead. Finally, just after eight o’clock, Morgan’s body was freed and brought to the surface and the other four trapped miners were led out of the mine.

Five miners were accounted for. Nine were still missing.

The search continued throughout Thursday, led by men, not only from Tynewydd, but from other mines in the area. I was about four o’clock in the afternoon when searchers heard some knocking ahead of them at a spot about a half mile from the shaft. Relief that at least some of the men were still alive was quickly tempered with the realization that they were located down an underground roadway about 300 yards long that was filled to the ceiling with water.

Pumping Out the Water

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Hydraulic Pumping Engine

British Journal Engineering June 1877

James Thomas, the manager of the Tynewydd Colliery, desperately arranged to begin pumping the water out of not only the Tynewydd mine but also out of the nearby old Haine’s pit from which it had been determined that the deluge of water had come. Water was raised from the Haine’s pit using buckets and the colliery engine while a large pump worked to move water from the Tynewydd pit. By Friday night, an additional pump capable of moving 13,000 gallons of water per hour was put into service but progress was almost imperceptible. The level of the water lowered by about two inches each hour and it was estimated that it would be at least midnight before it might be possible to breach the cavity in which the miners were trapped. The plan was to get food to the men to keep them going while the pumping efforts continued to a point where they could be rescued.

Divers Called In

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Underwater Diver

On Thursday night, a telegram was sent to the submarine engineering firm of Siebe and Gorman on Denmark-street in London, advising them about the disaster and requesting the assistance of divers and the company quickly dispatched three experienced men. Frank Davis, Thomas Purvis and Frederick Garnish reach Cardiff late Friday evening, bring with them all their diving gear. A special train was arranged to Porth and they arrived there at about one o’clock Saturday morning, descending into the pit immediately to assess the situation with a local diver by the name of Adams. A length of tubing 2,000 feet long was brought from London and the divers hoped it would be enough. Planning and preparation was crucial in such a dangerous rescue so it was not until late afternoon when they were ready to make their attempt.

Each of the divers dressed in a flannel undergarments before donning the India rubber diving suit, complete with a helmet fitted with a breathing tube. Pumping operations were ceased as Davis and Purvis entered the water. Moving with care down the incline of the twisting passage between the abandoned loaded trams, the divers struggled to see in the dirty water working their way slowly towards the first significant bend in the passage. There Purvis remained to feed the lines and hose while Davis went on alone, taking more than an hour to travel a distance of about 500 feet. In the end, blocked by floating timbers and other materials in the water, he could go no further and was forced to return.

Despite the heroic efforts of the divers, the diving experiment had failed and pumping was quickly resumed.

Morgan Inquest

On Saturday, an inquest was held into the death of Charles Morgan. Testimony was given by his father Thomas Morgan, who had been trapped with his son. Morgan spoke in Welsh and his words were translated in this eyewitness account:

The deceased, William Morgan, was my son, and we both worked together. On Wednesday, he had been working with Richard Morgan and me, in a stall in George Jenkins’s heading. About four o’clock, when we were just leaving work, had put our clothes on, and come a hundred yards away from the spot where we had been working, going in the direction of the drift, we were stopped by a rushing body of water, which came upon us with a great noise. We took but very little time to listen to it, for had we been half a minute later we should have been drowned. The water seemed a yard high. Near the place where we saw it coming was an old stall used as a windway. We went up from that to another heading called William’s heading, and Edward Williams and William Cassia were in there dressing to go out. Williams had said to his partner, ‘What is this noise? Is there a fire?’ When I went up Williams said I have been asking Cassia about the noise; isn’t there an explosion? I said, “No; it’s the water that has broken in. Williams said, “What water?” I said, I don’t know where it came from.” Then we all endeavoured (taking care of our lights, and we kept our lights with us almost to the last) to make our way through an old windway which led into the drift, thinking as that was higher that the water would not reach us at that height; but when we got there we were disappointed, for we found the water had arrived before us, and we could not get out that way. We then consulted together, and some of the men became very excited. I retained my presence of mind, and we considered what was best to be done.  We remembered that there was another way higher up approached from near the level where Mr Thomas had intended at one time to make an opening. We proceeded up that airway to the top, and we began knocking. We soon afterwards were delighted to hear someone knocking on the other side. Then we set to work to make an opening through. We worked all night long continually until about five o’clock y next morning. We found that a party were the other side, coming to meet us. From the other side, the master told us before we struck the hole to put the lights out, to keep out of the way, and to keep far enough back. By this time, we were working dark. As soon as a little hole was opened there was a fearful noise; so loud we could not understand one another. And we were very close to each other. Those who were working on the other side had made an opening through, and the air went through it with great force making a loud noise. We ran away. We were afraid that the water would catch us. It had been 15 yards from us at first, but now it seemed much nearer. We threw stones trying to find out where it was. The deceased then went forward to the opening. I said, you stand back, and they will scheme a way to get us out. But he failed to be quiet, and taking a chisel in his hand, went towards the hole. The person on the other side had been frightened, and had gone some distance. The air was so strong that it turned the deceased on his back in a minute. He never breathed. He was fast in that place, being forced against the opening. I failed to get him from there, I could not move him; he was jammed in. We were obliged to cut the coal away from him to get him out. The opening was enlarged by holes being drilled to let the air escape through, and thus I and the others escaped. I have no idea how the water came there.~ South Wales Daily News - Saturday 14 April 1877

Digging Begins

It was only by midnight Sunday, that the water level had been lowered enough that the men were able to begin digging through the gob 2Gob – The term applied to that part of the mine from which the coal has been removed and the space more or less filled up with waste. ~ Glossary of Mining Terms – Kentucky Coal Education. or waste heap that lay between them and the coal seam which trapped the miners. Four gangs of four men worked tirelessly, using the materials removed from the waste heap to form a dam to keep the water out until they reached the coal seam.

First shift: Isaac Pride, William Rawlins, Charles Oatridge, and William Morgan.

Second shift: Davy Davies, John Morgan, Thomas Rees, and Davy Minton.

Third shift: Davy Davies, Richard Hopkins, John Howells, and Thomas Jones.

Fourth shift: John Griffiths, Thomas Griffiths, Ioan Williams, and Thomas Thomas.

In the first three hours, about eight feet of coal was cut through and it was estimated that they would reach the miners on Wednesday morning, the pillar of coal being thought to be about 30 yards in width. As they worked, they continued to hear the knocking from the trapped miners, although it was thought that the sounds might have become fainter.

Plan of the Tynewydd Pit

It had been five days since the mine had flooded.

From the Illustrated London News – Saturday 28 April 1877

Work continued, with the rescuers digging tirelessly, miners Isaac Pride and Abraham Todd among them. As the thickness of the wall of coal decreased, the danger to those working increased. Finally, on Friday, 20 April at about one o’clock in the afternoon, Pride struck the final blow and broke through the wall. Todd jumped through to the other side and Pride followed him and found the relieved miners dressed in only their flannel shirts and trousers. Three were standing and two, John Thomas and David Jenkins, were sitting on a heap of coal. Todd later recounted:

Then I asked them ‘where are you?’ for I had no light, the managers having refused to give us lamps. George Jenkins then came on to me, and caught hold of me, and I then felt his arms around my neck, and he kissed me repeatedly. When he left me, Moses Powell did the same. I asked where the other men were, and they replied, ‘Behind.’ I then called my butty, Isaac Pride, to come in, which he did. I then went to where John Thomas was, and I caught hold of him. He was sitting down on a lump of coal apparently lifeless, with his head hanging down, and said to him, John, don’t you know me ?’ and he said, ‘Yes;’ and that was all I heard them speak.”South Wales Daily News - Saturday 21 April 1877

The group had been able to keep their candles going for the first two days of their confinement but eventually they had run out, plunging them into darkness for the rest of their trial. They had only a little dirty water to drink and nothing to eat save a little grease which dropped from the box containing the candles.They had attempted a few times to get out through the water but abandoned the attempt each time, finding it too deep, even with all the pumping efforts.

Despite their hunger, thirst and fatigue, two of the rescued, George Jenkins and Moses Powell, refused to be carried from the area where they had been trapped and insisted upon walking the sixty or eighty yards along the underground roadway to the pit carriage. Powell told the rescuers: ‘I can walk; I shant want that stretcher.’

News soon reached the waiting families of the safe rescue of four men and a boy from the Tynewydd Colliery.

The first of the miners to be brought up was the young boy, David Hughes just after half past two in the afternoon. Next out of the mine was George Jenkins, covered in blankets, coats and other clothing so that only his feet showed. Third to be lifted from the mine was John Thomas. Although his appearance was not as one would expect for a man who had been trapped underground with no food for a week, doctors later said that he was extremely weak and was in a bad state. The fourth man to be lifted to safety was David Jenkins. Finally, the last man, Moses Powell, was raised from below to the relief of his waiting brother.

All five men were quickly whisked off to the Tynewydd Inn that had been pressed into service as a temporary hospital to care for them.

Still Missing and Presumed Dead

Of the fourteen men missing at the time of roll call, 28-year-old William Morgan was killed during the earliest rescue when pressurized air escaped the cavity that he and his fellow miners were trapped in. The bodies of 35-year-old Edward Williams and young 13-year-old Robert Rogers were recovered from a flooded area of the mine shortly after the five entombed miners were rescued on the Saturday.

In the meantime efforts to recover the bodies of the men still missing—for long ago all anticipation of the men being got out alive has been considered a forlorn hope—were proceeded with diligently, and late in the afternoon were rewarded with success, the corpses of the lad Rogers and Williams being discovered and brought to the surface. At the time of writing there is little prospect that the other bodies will be got out for some time—perhaps several days. They are in a much deeper position, and the only means of arriving at the spot is by still further reducing the considerable volume of water even yet remaining in the pit. Pumping is going on vigorously, and no doubt before long a sensible diminution of the water will permit of the two remaining missing bodies being brought to the surface.South Wales Daily News - Monday 23 April 1877

The other two victims, 50-year-old John Hughes and his 18-year-old son William Hughes were in the lowest part of the workings when the mine flooded. The father’s body was recovered on 30 April and the son’s body was found the following day.

Plan of the Workings of Tynewydd Colliery

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Plan of Tynewydd Pit

Lancaster Guardian - Saturday 28 April 1877

A. Pit shaft (276 feet deep)

B. Main roadway level from the bottom of the shaft

C. Incline to lowest part of the workings

D. Point where the divers entered the water

E. Divers reached here

F. Thomas Morgan’s stall, where five men were confined for eight days

G. Heading cut by rescuing part through 108 feet of coal

H. Point from which rescued men fled to Thomas Morgan’s stall

I. Hole cut to rescue first group of miners and where Thomas Morgan was killed

K. Place where Edward Williams and Robert Rogers drowned

L. Place where John and William Hughes drowned

M. Old workings of Haine’s Pit where water broke through

N. Windways

O. Deepest part of workings, 50 feet below bottom of shaft

Albert Medals Awarded

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Albert-Medal
Albert Medal awarded to William Beith
THE TERRIBLE ACCIDENT AT THE TYNEWYDD COLLIERY. The Queen has been graciously pleased to express her Majesty’s desire that the Albert Medal, hitherto only bestowed for gallantry in saving life at sea, shall be extended to similar actions on land, and that the first medals struck for this purpose shall be conferred on the heroic rescuers of the Welsh miners. On Tuesday the Lord Mayor received the following communication from Her Majesty the Queen Windsor Castle, April 24. “My Lord-I have received the Queen’s commands to signify Her Majesty s intention to subscribe to the fund which is being raised for the benefit of the men rescued from the mine in South Wales and the miners who rescued them. I have the honour to be, my Lord, your obedient, humble servant, T. M. BIDDULPH. South Wales Daily News - Thursday 26 April 1877

The Heros

The following men were awarded the Albert Medal for their part in the Tynewydd Collier rescue.

Ablett, George, Collier Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class

Baynham, Charles, Collier Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class

Beith, William, Mechanical Engineer (Harrison’s Navigation), Tynewydd Colliery, 1st Class

David, Edward, Collier (Hafod Colliery), Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class

Davies, David, Colliery Owner (Pewihiwfer Colliery), Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class

Evans, David, Colliery Manager (Ferndale, Rhondda), Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class

Hopkins, Richard, Collier (Ynisher Colliery), Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class

Howell, John William, Collier (Ynisher Colliery), Tynewydd Colliery, 1st Class

Howells, Richard, Overman, Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class

Jones, David, Colliery Manager (Cymmer Level, Rhondda), Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class

Jones, Thomas, Colliery Owner (Ynisher Colliery), Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class

Lewis, Henry, Colliery Manager (Energlen Colliery), Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class

Morgan, William, Collier (Hafod Colliery), Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class,

Oatridge, Charles, Collier Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class

Pride, Isaac, Collier (Llwyncelyn) Tynewydd Colliery, 1st Class

Rees, David, Fireman Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class

Thomas, Daniel, Proprietor (Brythwynydd Colliery), Tynewydd Colliery, 1st Class

Thomas, Edmund, Colliery Owner (Llwyncelyn), Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class

Thomas, Isaiah, Colliery Manager (Brythwynydd Colliery), Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class

Thomas, Rees, Collier (Penriwfer), Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class

Thomas, Thomas, Colliery Manager (Ynisher Collery), Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class,

Thomas, William, Colliery Manager (Resolven, Neath), Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class

Williams, John, Collier (Pontypridd Colliery), Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class

Williams, Robert, Collier (Dinas Isha Colliery), Tynewydd Colliery, 2nd Class

References   [ + ]

1. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper – Sunday 15 April 1877
2. Gob – The term applied to that part of the mine from which the coal has been removed and the space more or less filled up with waste. ~ Glossary of Mining Terms – Kentucky Coal Education

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