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Bottalack Disaster 1863


Fearful Accident At The Bottalack Mine - Nine Lives Lost


We have this week the painful duty of recording the saddest accident which has happened in connection with the mining enterprise of the neighbourhood in which it occurred. The hazardous labour of extracting minerals from the earth constantly claims its victims; at one time it is the premature explosion of a hole; at another a treacherous slip of ground, which makes some home desolate; but the case is isolated, and the dropping of lives at intervals does not shock like a full catastrophe such as that we have to describe.  By it, in one minute nine men and lads were hurried into eternity. Their weeks labours ended, husbands were on the point of again meeting their families, young men their companions - one of them at least to gladden the eyes of a widowed mother  - and lads released from their grim toil were on the point of enjoying themselves in the cheerful daylight, when by the snap of a single link, all were dashed to pieces - a cruel death, which yet was merciful in its freedom from many pangs. The scene of this disaster was Bottalack -  a mine renowned throughout all the world for its metallic treasures and its romantic situation. Worked under the sea from time immemorial, Bottalack has always had an interest for us as a hive of submarine industry.

"Beneath the deep Atlantics' spacious bed.

On either side its cavern'd paths are spread."

Its romantic situation - its machinery lashed by the waves of the Atlantic - and the specimen it has afforded of industry and perseverance  successfully battling against the inert obstacles of Nature, have always made it a favourite resort of the tourists. Henceforward a gloomy association must cling to it, and the tourist will gaze awe struck and saddened down the mouth of  a shaft where on Saturday last the life was suddenly crushed out of nine poor bodies, and health and vigour were transformed into death and miserably maimed corpses.

To describe minutely the causes of this calamity,  it will be necessary to speak of a gigantic piece of recent engineering work on this mine. Approaching the cliffs from the manor-house of Bottalack, passing, (and at every step gradually descending) by account and store houses, thundering stamps and busy floors, with mining tackle and erections of wood and stone every here and there, the edge of the cliff is at last gained, and you look down at the lowest engine house - the Crowns ; so called for its proximity to three rocks of compact hornblende known as the Crowns. This is by the water margin, on your left. In your downward pathway stands a newer edifice. It is a winding engine house. There is powerful machinery inside, with a system of leverage by which the winding process may be checked or stopped promptly. As you skirt the side of this house you percieve a massive cage, round which in many coils rests an iron chain, which hangs across one of the numerous coves the waves have here fashioned, and enters a wooden framed orifice in the opposite cliff. You may pass over this 40fm. indent in the rocks by a platform of massive beams inclining from one precipice to another at an angle of 22 1/2 degrees, and you then pause before a square tunnel of uninviting aspect.          

Down this darksome passage- its sides dripping, and a faint stream of exhalation constantly emmitted from its throat into the open air you now enjoy - many a visitor, impelled by a love of the new, as well as by the facilities it gives for penetrating the earth, has passed. Prince Albert and his suite, their merriment roused by the grotesqueness of their garb, slid down here last year: three weeks since Lady Falmouth and her daughter made the same plucky venture; and the laughter of the ladies and gentlemen is now no uncommon a sound, as at tis place they say good bye to the merry sea and sunshine, and are hurried into the long and sinuous tunnel, which by a uniform angle throughout pf 32 degrees, and in a direction of 10 degrees west of north passes you (in 14fms.) under the bed of Neptune, and carries you a distance of 400fm., and a depth of 192 fms. into earths recesses. This is the Boscawen diagonal shaft. You may explore it afoot, but why weary yourself? Just below the cage and its burden of chain is a skip, or tram carriage, one end attached to the series of iron links which bandage the cage. It is long and low, and its seat will hold just eight persons. It is 2ft. 6ins. high, but the shaft is 6ft. high, and there is no need to fear of knocking your head. Its low wheels promise immense strength  and enough speed. It is made of cast steel, you need not distrust its power, it carries 16 cwt. comfortably. Nor need you doubt the chain which binds you to the engine. The first 200 fms. are of links of best  charcoal iron, 1/2 inch in diameter; its next 100 fms. are of 9-16ths. and its last 100 fms. the whole being 3 tons in weight, are 5-8ths of an inch thick, the entire length being welded and prepared by the Messrs. Holman, at their busy foundry near. But less a link should part, see this ingenious contrivance to check our steel carriage instantly. A spiral spring of immense power is fixed under and at the back of the skip. It communicates with  a lever which rises like the engine of a beer engine in front of the wagon; also with two immense claws, their inner edges serrated, which run one on each side of the rail, which rails are 2ft 71/2 inches  apart. Your conductor releases that lever from a catch, and holds it in his hand. Supposing he felt that your course was too impetuous, he would let go the lever wholly. It flies towards you with a clang. Each rail has been caught by the crab like nippers with a giants wrench. Your car is fixed. For this safeguard you are indebted to Capt. J Rowe, of this mine. It is ingenious, and over and over again, experimentally and in emergency, it has not failed. So now trusting yourself to all this strength and precaution, away with you, down the shaft. Nine angles will you turn as you follow the former bed of the copper load which lay once between the blue killas and the red decomposed killas, but has made room for this veritable underground railway. There is a clank of chains and a rush of air -  sometimes chilly, sometimes warm - as you descend, but on the whole you glide smoothly downwards until you have 1100 ft. of rock between you and the boulders of the seabed.  You can alight and inspect the wonders of the mine.          


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Last modified: Thursday May 22, 2003 .