Bentinck Colliery sunk in 1895 suffered it’s worse mining disaster on the 30th June 1915 when the two cages in No. 2 shaft collided, resulting in the loss of life of 9 or 10 miners and 7 injured. A list of the 9 miners known to have died was published with an explanation that the body of the 10th was still to be identified. At an inquest held later it was reported that the carnage was such that, even then, there was still some doubt about the number of dead, was it 9 or 10?
It was said research into the accident proved hard to trace, as reports of the tragedy were squeezed into the columns of the “Free Press” between a First World War Obituary and complaints about censorship on the Dardanelles Front that occurred at the same time. The impact of the pit disaster at Bentinck made an impression at that time, but it is doubtful if it made a lasting impression, as events taking place in the trenches of Belgium and France overwhelmed any small loss of life at a local colliery. Army casualty lists were being released and published all the time, including lists of hundreds of men killed everyday.
The cage accident in No. 2 shaft was described at the time as the most serious disaster in the history of Bentinck Colliery. The accident happened at the end of the night shift and the start of the day shift, when the descending and ascending cages in No. 2 shaft collided. Reports at the time stated there had been 14 or 15 men in the descending cage. After the collision there were only 6 and 2 of these were corpses. The remaining 8 or 9 plunged 660 feet to their death at the bottom of the shaft. The bottom of the descending cage had been almost completely ripped away in the collision. There were believed to be 2 or 3 men on the ascending cage. A list of the 9 miners known to have died was published with an explanation that the body of the 10th was still to be identified. The figures given were 10 dead, 7 injured.
PHOTO Cage Disaster at Bentinck Colliery No 2 Shaft PHOTO
The tragedy was brutal and included the inevitable tale of a miraculous escape. One of the survivors Robert Walker, 24 years old, of Beighton Street, Sutton, described his ordeal as follows:-
“When the crash came we were all knocked about and dazed, and when I recovered myself I found that I was hanging onto a piece of iron by the bottoms of my trousers and was suspended with my head hanging down the shaft, I was swinging like this for about twenty minutes when at last one of my hands touched part of the iron rail on the bottom of the cage, I caught hold of this rail and by doing so saved myself. I then managed to pull myself into such a position that I could stand on the rail. Half of the bottom of the cage had been ripped away when the smash occurred and at that time I was standing on that part, and as I dropped my trousers caught the rail and only this prevented me falling to the bottom of the shaft. I recollect that there was another man besides myself hanging on the side, but I was told afterwards that he had died”.
One of the fatalities was only 14 years old, he was Harold Brown, of 78 St. Michael Street, Sutton. Another, William Bacon, 40 years old, of Selston, left a widow and seven children. The crash survivors were left in mid-air for over two hours before being rescued. Engineers finally lowered them to the bottom where they were put on stretchers and carried to the No. 3 shaft, from there to the surface to receive medical attention.
The onsetter at the bottom of No. 2 Shaft, Mr. Albert Suthern of Harcourt Street, Kirkby, described his recollections of the disaster as follows:- “The bottom cage had started to go up with two or three night shift men when there was a sudden bang. It sounded for all the world like a large gun going off. I waited for a moment, and expected to see the down cage alight in the usual way. I heard the whistling down of what I took to be the cage, but was horrified to see and hear body after body come crashing down into the pit bottom sump. It was terrible, I ran forward and could see the glimmer of the lamps which the men had been carrying, they were still burning. Two deputies who also heard the bang at once took steps to prevent the men waiting there turn to ride from rushing forward”.
An obituary appeared in the “Notts Free Press” from an anonymous correspondent which read “In Loving Memory of the men who lost their lives in the cage disaster at Bentinck Colliery 30th June 1915”.