The headline is from the Leicester Journal and Midland Counties General Advertiser 15 August 1845. The Thomas Dennis here is the same as in Childhood Misdemeanours. Personally, I don’t like to use the word “accident”, as many such incidents seem to be the result of bad practice and indifferent management; if they really were accidents, then they were waiting to happen. Today, many of us complain about health and safety regulations, but I know which I prefer!
On Saturday 9 August 1845 at about six in the morning Thomas Dennis, a boy of thirteen, had been working underground at the Bath Pit, Moira for about an hour, when he saw a wave of fire coming towards him. He turned to run, but was overtaken by the fire, and, according to his sister-in-law Sarah, “dreadfully burnt, almost over his body to his knees”.
His cousin Jesse, a boy of just ten, suffered similar burns. After terrible suffering and unable to speak, Jesse died the following morning about half past ten and Thomas died about an hour later.
In all eighteen men and boys were “considerably burnt” including Jesse and Thomas (above), six severely, including the ground bailiff, William Farmer. All were within fifty or sixty yards of each other. It could have been much worse as fire often draws in all of the oxygen, causing many more to suffocate.
An inquest was held on the Monday. Joseph Dennis, father of Thomas, who had worked there for more than thirty years, and had been at work until two that morning, said that the air quality had been particularly good and that gas was uncommon. In consequence they generally worked by candle light, but Davy Lamps were available in case they perceived anything wrong with the air.
Thomas Hogg said he had met Joseph Dennis as he was ending his shift, and that he had passed through the place where the explosion had occurred with a naked candle, so it appeared there was no gas then. Hogg said he had been at work nearly three hours at the far end of the works when he “perceived a tremendous wind, which put out all candles but his own”. Realising something had happened, he went to the place where Joseph Dennis had been at work and found Henry Finch, who was very badly burnt. He told the inquest that Henry Finch had said: “come here, kinsman, I am almost burnt to death”.
William Hogg had also passed through the site of the explosion with a naked candle some three hours before. No one was working there at the time, but the air was pure and free of sulphur. However, he said that foul air can gather in half an hour and its occurrence depended on the weather. The south wind, which blew that morning, made foul air more likely and it had rained heavily, too. It appeared the explosion was caused by accident. The pit was well-ventilated.
This was confirmed by John Woodhouse, the viewer, who was connected one way or another with all the pits in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, and said that Moira Colliery was “as perfectly ventilated as any”.
John Woodhouse explained the sequence of events. One (unnamed) man’s candle had fired at about three o’clock that morning and the ground bailiff, William Farmer, had been sent for. His initial reaction had been to examine a dam that he thought might have failed, though it turned out later to be intact. The low atmospheric pressure had caused an “extraordinary quantity of hydrogen” to exude into the roof. It fired or exploded at the candle of a man named Bradford.
The men and boys who died were:
Thomas and Jesse Dennis both died on the 10th.
It appears William Farmer died on the 10th or 11th.
On the 12th George Sharratt, Henry Finch (snr) and Henry Finch (jnr) died.
On the 13th or 14th William Bradford died.
All were buried at Donisthorpe St John between 14 and 18 August. Dennis relationships are shown under Black Death.
In their own words
I will round this off with the words of two witnesses at the Inquest as reported in the press:
Sarah Dennis deposed – Am the wife of Wm. Dennis. The deceased, Thomas Dennis, was my husbands brother and of the age of thirteen years; he worked at the Bath-pit of the Moira Colliery; went to work on Saturday morning last, about five o’clock; between six and seven he was brought home dreadfully burnt, almost over his body to his knees; heard him say, that he saw the fire coming, and ran away but that it overtook him; he had four doctors to see him, but he died the next morning about half past eleven o’clock.
Mary Gilbert deposed – She was the wife of Zachary Gilbert and lived at Ashby Wolds; knew the deceased, Jesse Dennis, aged 10 years, and the son of John Dennis, a collier; went to see the deceased about half past eight o’clock yesterday morning, when he was suffering under dreadful burns about his chest, bowels and body generally; continued with him till his death, which took place at half past ten o’clock. Never spoke during that time. There were four surgeons with him.
– Leicester Journal and Midland Counties General Advertiser 15 August 1845
– Leicestershire Mercury, Saturday, August 16 1845
– Leicester Chronicle Saturday 16 August 1845
Census 1841, 1851
General Register Office, including via Ancestry.co.uk.
Donisthorpe Burials 1838-1848 (online).
Healeyhero.co.uk; though I did write the original account.