Nanaimo, BC Mine Explosion Disaster, May 1887

Marker where the Mine Entrance Was Located






Nanaimo, B.C., May 5 -- (Special). -- Men have been working all night fighting the fire in the mine. Powerful streams of water are being pumped on the fire, and it will be got under control by this evening. Until the fire is entirely out no effort can be made to clear the mine of the after damp, as it would drive it on the fire, and a more frightful explosion that before would occur. Thirty-six bodies were discovered in one heap this morning. These will be brought up soon. Twenty-four are white and twelve are Chinamen's. It is almost impossible to conceive the misery of this city. Aid will be badly needed, as most of the families are left destitute. There are 47 widows and 147 fatherless children left.
A strange incident in the mine was that of fourteen mules found in the stables; every alternate one was killed, leaving every second mule alive. They were all quite close together. If the fire is got under control large gangs of men will be put down to clear the debris, and air will be sent through and the foul gas cleared out and all bodies will be recovered. Picked and thoroughly experienced men are down working and directing affairs. Should another explosion take place which, however, is not anticipated, all the rescuers would perish, and the town would probably cave in, as the whole place is undermined and the explosion would extend through the entire mine. One old miner who worked in the mines 26 years, conversing with your correspondent, said he confidently believes they can get the fire under control within 24 hours, and save fifty men alive. He has a son in the mine who was to have retired from work and settle down to farming this month. One young wodow, married just a fortnight ago, lost her husband. Major GIBSON, overman of the mine was miraculously saved by hearing a mule neigh and following the sound. He had completely lost his way and had given up all hopes.

Nanaimo, B.C., May 6. -- (Special) -- 2:40 p.m. -- All of the 36 bodies discovered this morning were brought to the surface by one o'clock. They were all killed by after-damp and presented a horrible appearance. The scene around the shaft while body after body was brought up and identified, was harrowing in the extreme. E. P. PRIOR, MPP, mining engineer, nobly volunteered to go down the fatal shaft and assist in the dread work of recovering the bodies. He stated the bodies were found three-quarters of a mile from the shaft and rescued with the greatest difficulty.
The men had to pack the bodies on their backs through a quarter of a mile upslope climbing over fallen pillars, broken shafts, etc. Of the men recovered 24 are white men and 12 Chinese. Four Chinese had to be left, as the men were completely exhausted and had to return to the surface. Another gang has gone down to try and explore in a different direction. It is expected more bodies will be recovered before night. MR. PRIOR states the explosion must have been terrific and the force extended throughout the mine. He says it is absolutely impossible that any can be alive. The fire is almost under control now.
The exploring party that went down the main shaft at 6 a.m. consisted of JOHN BRYDEN, manager of the Wellington colliery; ARCHIE PECK, Government inspector of mines; J.K.M. W. McGREGOR, cerificated manager of the Victoria Coal Company's mines, and FRANK LITTLE, Wellington collery, and MR. PRIOR, M.P.P., an experienced miner. They report as follows:
"Went down the main engine plane nearly as far in as No. 3 north level, where there was supposed to be 25 white men as work. Found a lot of heavy lumber knocked out and some small caves. Just before they got to No. 3 level they found there were some very heavy caves, and they crawled over the top of two of them. There was just room to get through. They crawled on the top of the third cave and could not get through. They found, owing to after-damp-, lamps could not burn, nor the men breathe. They came back a little way and crawled through a small hole stepping into the air course. The first man found was ANDREW MUIR, foreman, and just behind him 22 white men and twelve Chinese lying all withing five and ten yeards of each other. MUIR had evidently been guiding the way out and the men following his lead evidently tried to get into the slope, but found they were caved in, and had to retrace their steps to the air course. Just as they had come into the slope of the air course, the after damp struck them and all succumbed. The DAVEY brothers were found kneeling down, with their arms around each other, and had pulled coats over their heads to shield themselves. There were no signs of burning. They had been simply killed by after-damp. The fire had not gone into the after damp. All evidently died soon after the explosion. As soon as the bodies were found they sent for a relief party, who bore the bodies to the shaft, and wrapped them in canvass and sent them up in the cage. Two others, WOOBANK, father and son, were a few yards behind the others, and could not be got at. THey could see them six or eight feet around the corner, but the wall of damp was between. The men rushed in, however, and secured them. Lights would not live in the damp. ARCHIBALD MUIR was not found. He was an old man, and probably could not get along as quickly as the others. At one p.m. all came up completely exhausted, fatigued and worn out. ROBERT SCOTT, foreman of the Wellington mines, in charge of another exploring party, then went down and got into No. 1 and penetrated nearly into the stall and found two bodies, THOMAS WAKELIM and THOS. COYNE. They had suffered badly from damp, but were brought to the surface and rescuscitated by DR. WALKEM. The bulk of the men are in the damp and cannot be recovered tonight. MR. McGREGOR has gone down and will try to get men in No. 5, which was tried today below No. 4, where they were stopped by damp. Subsequently the two bodies of ANDREW HUNTER and JOSEPH FORREST were found. They worked in No. 1 level. The latter is the only one of the men so far found who is bruised. He has his leg broken and is somewhat disfiigured. Nearly all the others look as if they went gently to sleep. The first man found was probably half a mile from the main shaft. Further exploration is now proceeding. The arrangements for the dead are perfect. After coming up from the shaft the bodies are cased in canvas, ticketed and laid on a bier covered with white cotton and then placed in wagons and taken to the _______ house. Here all are washed, dressed and placed in coffins, and conveyed to their society rooms. Late in the afternoon JOHN MEEKIMS body was discovered, and three Chinamen taken out later on.

The Death List.
The following, compiled by the Nanaimo Free Press, is a complete list of white men in the mine and the recovered bodies, with age and place of nativity as far as known.
No. 3 level North:
GEORGE, old native of Penzance, Cornwall, aged forty-six years, wife and one child, body recovered.
ABRAHAM T. LEWIS, native of Brymbo, near Wrexham, North Wales, 47, wife and one child, recovered.
JOHN WOOBANK, Leeds, Yorkshire, Eng., 41, wife and children, recovered.
COPLEY WOOBANK, Rothwell, Yorkshire, 18, son of John Woobank -- mentioned above, recovered.
THOMAS EVANS, Llwynpin, Rhonda Valley, Glamorganshire, South Wales, 40, wife and four children, recovered.
EVANS JONES, Llanarham Yu Tale, Late Dog and Partridge, Denbigshire, North Wales, 40, recovered.
WILLIAM DAVEY, White haven, Cumberland, 33, single, recovered.
JAMES DAVEY, White haven, Cumberland, 36, single, recovered.
JOHN HENRY, Westfeldt, Holland, 43, wife and five children, recovered.
ARCHIBALD MUIR, Ayrshire, Scotland, 57, wife and three children, body not yet recovered.
HENRY LEE, Rothwell, Yorkshire, England, 48, wife and ten children, recovered.
HUDSON LEE, son of Henry Lee, Rothwell, Yorkshire, 22, single, recovered.
ROBERT STOVE, Nanaimo, 23, wife and one child, recovered.
WILLIAM RIDLEY, Gileon, near Worthington, Cumberland, Eng., 27, single, recovered.
JOHN MORTON, Lanarashire, Scotland, 32, wife and one child, recovered.
ANDREW MORTON, Lanarashire, Scotland, wife and one child, recovered.
GEORGE SMITH, Bertrate, Yorkshire, Eng., 37, wife and three children, recovered.
HERBERT BEVILOCKWAY, Nanaimo, 25, single, recovered.
WILLIAM LUKEY, SENIOR, Cornwall, Eng., wife and five children, recovered.
WM. LUKEY, JR., Wisconsin, U.S., 27, recovered.
JAMES HAGGEN, Cape Breton, 21, single, recovered.
JAS. BYERS, Warkington, Cumberland, England, 21, wife and one child, recovered.
JAMES ISBISTER, Nanaimo, 17, single, recovered.
Sinking Shaft:
WM. DAVIS, Ruthin, Denbighshire, North Wales, 36, wife and one child, recovered.
JOHN LINN, Ayrshire, Scotland, 34, wife and one child, recovered.
JOHN SMITH, Scotland, 21, recovered.
WM. LINKIN, Cochrane, stepson of J. Craven, Nanaimo, sincle, recovered.
FREDERICK MATTESON, Sweden, 30, single, recovered.
No. 1 Level:
JOSEPH FORREST, Longhurst, Northumberland, Eng., 28, married but a few weeks, recovered.
JOHN LASKIN, SR., London, Eng., 57, wife and nine children, a pioneer resident of this city, recovered.
ANDREW MUIR, Ayrshire, Scotland, 45, wife and six children, recovered.
ANDREW HUNTER, Nanaimo, 15, recovered.
New Slope:
WM, HAY, Sydney Mines, Cape Breton, 21, wife and one child recovered.
Still In The Mine.
The balance of the men are still in the mine. They are as follows:
No. 1 level:
GEO. BOWDEN, Cornwall, Eng., 31, widower.
GEORGE SIMMONS, London, Eng., 35, wife and one child.
JOHN STEVENS, Iowa, United States, 23, single.
THOMAS MARTIN, Nanaimo, 23, single.
DAVID ELLIS, Rothwell, Yorkshire, Eng., 48, wife and four children.
ARTHUR ELLIS, 21, son of David Ellis.
BENJAMIN POPPLEWELL, Mothley, near Leeds, Yorkshire, Eng., 28, single.
JAMES THOMAS, Wales, 35, single.
JOSEPH WATSON, Woardale, Durham, Eng., 30, single.
EDWARD JOHN, Duluth, Minn., wife and large family.
DAVID MORGAN, Cowbridge, Glamorganshire, South Wales, 27, single.
EDWARD WILKING, Cowbridge, Glamorganshire, South Wales, 26, single.
EDWARD BENTON, Rothwell, Yorkshire, Eng., 35, wife and six children.
JONATHAN BRAMLEY, JR., Rothwell, Yorkshire, Eng., 36, wife and four children.
JAMES CAMPBELL, Midland County, Eng., 39, married, no family.
JOHN MALCOLM, Nanaimo, 32, single.
ROBERT BAFFINGTON, Washington Territory, 20, single.
JOHN BRALLEN, Michigan, U.S., recently from California, about 30, single.
JAMES MILTON, Indiana, U.S., recently from California, about 36, single.
WILLIAM BONE, Pennanco, Cornwall, England, 42, wife and three children.
WILLIAM GILBERT, Goldsothney, Cornwall, Eng., 43, wife and four children.
JOHN RICHARDS, Birmingham, Eng., 45, wife and no family, except a son in England by his first wife.
JOSEPH THOMPSON, Peltonfell, Durham, Eng., 37, wife and three children.
WM. R. CAMPBELL, Sydney Mines, Cape Breton, 28, single.
J. J. SMITH, Liverpool, Eng., lately from Australia, 25, believed to be single.
New slope:
DANIEL DAWSON, Cletermore, Cumberland, Eng., 28, single.
WM. BURNS, Scotland, about 35, single, BURNS was a soldier in the Eygptian campaign and received a silver medal.
THOS. PERRY, Backworth, Northumberland, Eng., wife and four children.
ROBERT NICHOLSON, Northumberland, Eng., wife and two children.
JONATHAN BLUNDELL, Maryport, Cumberland, Eng., 33, wife and five children.
GEORGE BIGGS, Nanaimo, 27, single.
THOS. DAWSON, Cletermore, Cumberland, Eng., 32, single.
THOMAS HUGHES, Buckley, Flintshire, North Wales, 30, wife and two or three children.
CHARLES DRAKE, Sweden, 27, wife and three children.
CATON WILLIS, formerly of California, 40, wife and three children.
WILLIAM HAGUE, Oldham, Lancastershire, Eng., 23, wife and one child.
JAMES LYONS, Ireland, 44, wife and one child.
JOHN THOMPSON, Maryport, Cumberland, 32, single.
ALLEN SMILEY, Glasgow, Scotland, 34, wife and one child.
WILLIAM MORRIS, Missouri, U.S., 30, wife and three children.
JOHN MYLES, Ridding, Sterlingshire, Scotland, 39, single.
ALEXANDER McDONALD, Pictou County, Nova Scotia, 23, single.
WM. SCALES, New Westminster, B. C., 27, single.
FRANK TULLY, California, 28, wife and child.
WM. HENRY STEPHENSON, Macon County, Missouri, 18, married, no children.
ARTHUR MEAKEN, Nanaimo, 19, youngest son of J. Meaken, Sr., who is also in the mine.
THOMAS GORMAN, Middleton County Cork, Ireland, 24, single.
A. JOHNSON, Sweden, 31, wife and four or five children.
No. 5 Level - old slope:
MICHAEL CORCORAN, County Kerry, Ireland, recently of Sydney Mines, Cape Breton, 46, wife and six children.
MALCOLM McLEAN, Sydney Mines, Cape Breton, 31, single.
PETER DUCCA, farmer, Italy, single.
JOHN ZERMANIMATTE, Parma, Italy, 38, wife and three children.
ANDEROTI FILLIPPEA, Genoa, Italy, 28, single.
NICHOLAS JOHN CORNWALL, England, 26, wife.
RODERICK MacDONALD, Nova Scotia, 38, wife and child.
JOHN W. MORGAN, County Down, Ireland, 23, single.
SAMUEL H. MEYERS, Ireland, 20, single.
THOS. ALLEN, Bristol, Eng., 24, single.
ARIVED B. JURNING, a Swede, 30, supposed to be single.
This ends the list of white men in the mine. Fourteen Chinese have already been taken out. Sixty are still in the mine.
MICHAEL LYONS, whose father is in the mine, was taken out Thursday a.m., by the exploring party. The body was found at half-way switch and was badly burned about the head and hands, aged 15. This young boy was a general favorite in the city, and strong men shed tears when his disfigured body was brought to the surface.
Forty-seven widows are left and a large number of children are fatherless. Assistance is urgently needed and it is hoped those more happily situated will open their hearts and give of their abundance to the poor suffering bereaved people who are left destitute in this city. About 170 men were killed in the mine. Of these 105 are white and the rest Chinese.
HUDSON was buried at three p.m., REV. MR. GOOD, the Oldfellows and Masons, performing the ceremonies. There is no hope of saving any more.

Thursday's Scenes.
The following special despatch from our correspondent was received too late for publication yesterday morning:
Nanaimo, B.C., May 5. -- This is indeed a sad city today. The city is in sackcloth and ashes, hardly a person in the city but has lost near relatives or friends. One lady lost hosband, father and brother, being all the male relatives she had. She has quite given up all hopes, and says all she wishes is to see her dead husband's face once more. He had recently purchased a bycicle and was to have taken a holiday that day and gone off on the machine. The day set in rainy and he postponed the ride, and went down into the fatal pit never to return alive. One gentlemen who had just arrived from Victoria has five brothers and an uncle all trapped by the deadly gas. These are only two instances of the horrors of the disaster. There are 101 white men and about 50 Chinese still in the mine. Forty-seven of the whites are married men with families. Some of the young wives with small children are almost frantic with grief, standing or sitting, worn out by long watching around the mouth of the fatal shaft. Others too much dazed, with fountains of tears dried up by weeping, silently watching the cage, as it ascends from the depths below where their dear ones are entombed. ALl the works above the air shaft were burned and the immense new fan was completely destroyed. The iron work being twisted like wires by the intense heat. Dense volumes of coal smoke continue to ascend from this shaft. The cage shaft is all right. This shaft escaped blocking by a miracle. Two cages go side by side 700 feet down the shaft. While one is ascending the other descends. The cages were just midway in the shaft when the explosion occurred. Had one been at the bottom the flying timbers would have blocked it so as to make it impossible to work the cages and not a soul in the mine would have been saved. A large gang of men,l principally sailors, are now down this shaft fighting the fire. Should the fire not be got under control there is no immediate prospect of recovering the bodies of those in the mine. It is hoped the fire will soon be under control. One thousand five hundred feet more fire hose is being sent by special train from Victoria, which will be let down the cage shaft and salt water pumped down. Two bodies, horribly mangled, were recovered today. WM. CAMPBELL and a boy, MICHAEL LYONE, the latter was discovered 700 yards from the shaft, and in the midst of the fatal after damp the men rushed in at the risk of their lives and bore it out. Another body was seen a little further on but could not be reached. The men are working in 4 hour shifts, and all that is possible is being done. It would be madness to attempt to penetrate the mine in its present state, as another explosion might occur. The mine extends for a mile under the harbor, and looking at the peaceful water it is difficult to imagine the frightful catastrophe enacted a few hundred feet below. The worst has yet to come, when the bodies are brought up. The people seem hardly to realize yet the dreadful catastrophe that hs blighted the city. The mouth of the shaft is eagerly watched hour after hour by an eager crowd of men, women and children, Chinese and Indians, all too much terrified to even talk about whispers. The city council of Victoria immediately after the news, appropriated $1,000 for the relief of the bereaved. This will probably be supplemented by popular subscription.

Winnipeg Free Press Manitoba 1887-05-07