Drummond Colliery Disaster, 1873
Pictou County, Nova Scotia GenWeb
Halifax, N.S., May 17, 1873
The Drummond Colliery, Westville, Pictou County, was the scene of a frightful
calamity on Tuesday last. The men had been on a strike for some
days, and went to work again this week. It is supposed that an unusual
amount of foul air had accumulated in the mine. On Tuesday fire
broke out in the mine in consequence of a blast. All efforts
to extinguish the fire proved vain. The alarm was given, (says one
account), and Mr. Dunn (manager), with others went down the slope and
endeavored to extinguish the fire. About 12:15 the pit exploded,
and nearly all the men and boys under ground perished. After about
an hour spent in endeavoring to rescue some who were near the mouth of
the shaft, burned and suffocated, the cries of some were heard at an air
pit, some two or three hundred yards from the main shaft. Four men
volunteered to go down and endeavor to save life; they brought to the
surface three, two of whom have since died, and the other is not expected
to recover. When the brave men who were thus endeavoring to save
their comrades were in the pit, there was a tremendous explosion, which
seemed to be all through the Works. Three of the four will never
be seen: the other man, Burns, was blown out of the pit high into the
air, and came down a charred and blackened mass. The explosion blew
out of the slopes, air-pit and the old Campbell pit an immense amount
of timber, stones, coal, &c. The scene was terrific. The
debris was thrown to a height of five or six hundred feet, while thick
volumes of sulphurous smoke filled the sky. The timbers and stones
falling on the buildings went crashing through the roofs as if they were
Another account says: All through the night there were explosions. At intervals these were preceded by rumbling noises resembling thunder. The weary watchers, who remained around the pit's mouth and the air shafts and labored incessantly to subdue the flames, were obliged to seek shelter in the adjoining woods, as the stones, debris, etc. emitted from the pit's mouth at each explosion were being scattered around in all directions, and threatened instant destruction or injury to every one within reach.
About two o'clock on Wednesday these explosions were followed by one which, for terrific violence and destructive force dwarfed all the rest. All the wooden work in and about the main slope was instantly destroyed. Stones, wood, and burning embers, were driven high into the air; the smoke, flame and horrible noises accompanying the explosion, giving the beholder a vivid idea of volcanic eruption. Those who witnessed it described it as resembling, more than anything else, the mouth of a crater.
The earth for miles around was shaken with the violence of the explosion. The people living at Westville and Stellarton were very much frightened, as they knew not how far the disaster would extend, or how soon another such explosion would occur. Since two o'clock this a.m. the fire has continued to burn; flames are issuing from all the air shafts, although not so intense as they were last evening. Labourers are now energetically at work, filling up the shafts with clay; by this means they have so far succeeded in subduing the flames, that hopes are entertained that the worst danger is over unless another explosion takes place. One of the air shafts is now drawing the air, and this fact renders the situation very precarious.
The scenes in and around the village are saddening. Westville, and the village at Drummond Colliery are in mourning. The shops are closed. No work is being done. Men and women wander around in groups, their saddened countenances betokening the great grief that has fallen upon them. No pen can correctly picture the harrowing scenes of Tuesday, when the terible truth was conveyed to the mourning wives, sisters and friends of those who were so suddenly hurled into eternity. People rushed frantically towards the scene of the disaster. The utmost excitement prevailed, and for hours it was impossible to ascertain who were or who were not in the mine. The women, many of whom had husbands, brothers and sons working in the Colliery, made the air dismal with their crying. About forty-five of the men lost were married men, all of whom leave families to mourn their sad fate. It was the first day in the mine for some of the unfortunate men. Several of the unmarried who had lately commenced work belonged to Cumberland County.
Everybody here speaks in the highest terms of the bravery displayed by the Manager, the late Mr. Dunn, in descending into the mine after the first explosion, and thus sacrificing his life to save the lives of others. Much sympathy is expressed for his bereaved wife. The land, indeed, may be said to be filled with lamentation and mourning. Nearly every family here lost some relation or friend by this terrible calamity.
The following is a list of the lost:
James Dunn, Manager, Philip Dunn, John Dunn, Thos. Glenwright, Joseph Richardson, (underground manager); John Bowen, Gaffer E. Burns, Geo. Burns, John Emery, Keneth Cameron, Archb. Cameron, John T. Elliott, Robert Duncan, Oliver McLeod, John Sinclair, James Cumming, Tim Howett, J. McKitchin, Alex Purvis, Jr., James Ramsay, D. McRae, D. Shaw, John Fraser, D. Halliday, D. McNeill, Hugh Gillis, J Campbell, Samuel Hall, Donald McDonald, John McDonald, Duncan McDonald, John McDonald, W. O'Brien, H. Freeman, J. McNeill, C. Nicholson, H. McGilvray, H. McDonald, A. Guy, Angus Smith, J. Ellis, Matt Loyle, Mathew Manning, Frederick Jones, J. Webb (colored), J. Delacy, Alexander McDonald, T. George Stewart, Finlay Stewart, W. Rogers, Andrew Fraser, Alex. Murray, Harvey Campbell, Colin McDonald - in all 59. The following, being saved, were dangerously injured: Robert McLeod, John Bennett, Roderick McCharles.
Very strenuous efforts have been made to suppress the fire, and all possible aid was rendered by Pictou, New Glasgow, and all the neighborhood.
There is about thirty thousand tons of coal at the pit head, which will be saved. At the price coal is now selling it is worth about $70,000. The company was in a flourishing condition. Shares rose within the last year from twenty to twenty-five per cent.
The four men who, after the first explosion, volunteered to go down the air shaft to those below, were Edward Burns, Abraham Guy, John Dunn and Thomas Glenwright. The second explosion blew them into the air and killed them.
Three died instantly and the other soon afterwards. There are many visitors here from Pictou, New Glasgow, and the surrounding country, but most of them are afraid to approach the mine. The men from all the neighboring mines are hard to work turning streams of water into the pit and filling the shafts with earth. Mr. Poole, the Government Inspector of Mines, arrived this morning and is directing the work.
The Coroner's Inquest held on the body of John Dunn, one of the victims of the Drummond Colliery fire, came to the following verdict:
"That John Dunn came to his death on the 13th day of May inst., from an explosion of gas in the Drummond Colliery, caused by the derangement of the ventilation of the mine, arising from a fire in Robert McLeod's bord. The jury consider that care was exhibited in the management of the mine, but express regret that powder was permitted to be used in the bord worked by the said Robert McLeod.
Money is being raised in aid of the sufferers. We hope Halifax will not be behind. Mr. Drummond of Montreal is now on the ground. The fire is nearly extinguished.