Minutes Of Evidence Taken Before The Commission Appointed To Inquire Into The Condition Of Mines In Great Britain

Ashburton Thursday 28th May 1863

Mr William Hosking Examined

Of what mine have you charge?West Beam.
How many men are employed there?About 160 are employed underground and on the surface.
About how many underground?I should think about 110.
Is it copper or tin?It is copper and tin both, but principally tin. What we are returning now is tin. There are copper lodes in the set, in the property.
What is the deepest level at which you are working?The deepest level from the surface, from the engine shaft, is about 90 fathoms.
What is it from the adit?78.
How many levels are there working?We are working at present seven levels.
How many shafts are there?A great many shafts. We have seven or eight shafts altogether.
Are any of these shafts upcast and others downcast in the draught?Some are up and some are down. You will find the draught playing up in some of the shafts and in some down.
Are they constantly upcast or do they change according to the weather?They change sometimes. It depends upon the way of the wind.
Are there footways in the drawing shaft or are they separate?The principal footways are in the drawing shaft.
Are they bratticed off?Yes, we have put in a new footway all the way from the surface to the bottom in one shaft very recently. We have new timbered the shaft all the way from the surface and we have got in a new footway all the way.
Have the ladders 12 inch or 10 inch staves?Principally 10-inch staves; they are much easier for climbing than 12-inch.
How many shifts work in the 24 hours?Three.
What quantity of candles are the men allowed?Each man is allowed 2 lbs. a week.
What is the charge for the candles?8d. per lb.
How much for powder?The same.
What is the cost price of candles?It cost me about 7d. We pay a higher price for our materials here than they do in Cornwall. For timber and iron and everything, it costs us 25 per cent. more to work our mines than in Cornwall; the prices are different. The land carriage beats us here.
How far are you from a railway?West beam is about eight miles from a railway, and the road is rough.
Is the stuff carted?Yes, the mines further back in the granite towards the moor are nine or ten miles from a railway.
Are the men young or old men chiefly?The majority of them are what we should term middle-aged men. The men, roughly speaking, I should think would average something like 25 or 26.
Have you many boys?No, not a great many underground.
Are the women employed at the surface?Yes, what we term framing the tin.
Do they work under cover?Yes, all under cover.
Is there a changing house for the men when they come up?No, they change in the boiler house principally.
Have you had any accidents on the mine lately?No.
Have you had any from blasting?No, never one.
Do you use the safety fuse?Yes.
Have you any particular kind of tamping rod?The usual tamping rod.
What tamping do you use?The men select the safety fuse which they think best for the tamping; they select it underground from the different kinds of stone; we never have an accident from tamping, not from any blasting whatsoever. We generally give the best price for the best material of fuse, we find that answer best; we generally try to get the best material, so that the men shall have the less accidents.
Do you ever use copper tamping rods?No.
You think that an iron tamping rod is quite safe?We prove it so.
You say that the men are of middle age?Taking the average of the men, I should say that they would average about 25 or 26; I should say so, but I don't speak positively upon the point; we have no old men in our mine.
Your men are much younger than workmen generally?Much younger than the men in a great many mines in Cornwall.
They are a great deal younger than the men in other employments?I do not know that, I cannot say as to that.
At what age do you consider a miner to be an old miner?They vary a great deal in that aspect, I see some old miners eighty years of age.
At what age should you consider a man to be an old miner?At 70.
Is not a man of 50 an old miner?No, I am 50 years of age, and I have worked in a great deal of poor air and powder smoke in my days, and I think that I could go underground now to my labour as well as any.
Of course, your miners are much like other miners; are they decidedly less healthy, than above-ground labourers?They are very unhealthy men. You must bear in mind that our mines are generally shallow compared with those in Cornwall.
Are there any close ends?No, it is a well ventilated mine.
Have you any place where the candle will not burn well?No.
What is the depth?The deepest part of our mine is about 90 fathoms from the surface.
And many of the men work at a less depth than that, of course?Yes, a great many; there are not many men working at the bottom of the mine.
I understand you to say that you have no boys working underground?Not very many.
What is the youngest age?I cannot say exactly; I should think that the youngest is something like 16 or 17, what we call a boy; there are but three or four, I believe, that we call young lads, and I should think that the youngest of them is something like 16.
If a miner wished to take his son who was much younger than that, would you object?No, not at all, if it was a well ventilated place.
But they do not wish to take them younger?They would not wish to take their sons into foul air; they do not wish to take them very young; if they did we should not allow it. The boys go first on the surface to work, generally on the floors washing the tin, and when they come to be about 14 or 15 their fathers feel inclined to take them underground, and of course we don't object to that, because it is then time that young lads of that age should go underground.
You say you have not suffered from working in a mine?No.
In what mines have you worked?In some 35 in my day, I suppose.
Were they all well ventilated?No, some were very bad indeed.
And yet you did not suffer?There is no doubt that it did not do me any good; but I am 50 years of age now, and I enjoy very good health.
How long have you been a captain?I have been a manager of a mine now for the last 14 years, and I went to a mine to work first when I was 11 years of age.
Is there any medical man attached to your mine?There is.
What is his name?Mr. Bean.
How is he remunerated?By the men subscribing so much per man per month.
Is that for sickness as well as accident?Yes; every man who works in the mine pays 1s. a month, and then the medical man attends them in sickness and accident, and also their families, their wives and their children, for that money.
If they wish to see any other medical man, have they the option?Yes, they have.
Do they make use of that option?No, I do not know that they do. They are very well satisfied with the medical man that we have. He is considered a very skilful man, and attends to the men very well.
Does the fund only go to the one medical man?The fund only goes to the one medical man.
If they went to another man, they would have to pay him?Some of them live five miles out, and if they wish to have a medical man close at hand, they can have him, and he is paid by the funds as well as the others.
You are about 50, and you began mining at 11?Yes.
Out of the 40 years that you have been engaged in mining, you have been agent for how many years?14.
At what time did you begin to go underground?I went underground at 13.
What depth mine did you ever work in the bad air?In Tresavean, in hot weather, where the men were almost naked.
What depth was it?I think I worked at the 270 fathoms.
Where the large course of ore was?Yes; I worked there in Captain John Martin's time. It was before the man-engine was put in. I was not there when the engine was erected.
How long did it take you coming up?I cannot say now. I forget.
Were you very much exhausted when you came up?Yes; and very much exhausted when we came out of the levels to take the ladder.
It was so very hot?Yes. I have seen the candles in the clay turn down double from the heat of the ground.
Did you suffer in health then?Of course I did not have such good health as I have now.
Have you enjoyed better health as an agent than you did as a miner?I enjoyed very good health then, but I do not know that I was quite as well as I am now. I am in fresher air now. I am always in good air, and there is not so much powder smoke.
As I understand, the principal part of your work now is in the workings resumed by you, which were abandoned some time ago?There was a party working this property previously to our Company taking it.
Was there any intervening time between your taking it and their giving it up?No: the engine never ceased working.
What was the condition of the ventilation when you took the mine?It was not bad; the levels and some of the shafts were in a very bad state of repair, but there was a communication from one to the other.
There was a good draught and good ventilation?A capital ventilation.
How long has this been a mining district?That I cannot tell you; for ages past.
Do the miners dwell in cottages of their own or in lodgings?Some of them rent cottages ans some of them lodge just the same as in other districts.
Do those who rent cottages let out to lodgers a great deal?No, very few.
Did you ever have occasion to visit the dwellings of the miners here at all?If a man has a fever, or is dangerously ill, or anything of that sort, we generally go to see him.
Then you are able to judge of the size of the rooms in which they sleep?They have plenty of rooms here.
You have been in Cornwall a good deal; there, I suppose, you may have seen them rather thick?They are rather cramped up in Cornwall compared with what they are here. Miners are not so plentiful here as in Cornwall.
What is their average pay?Tutwork men will average about 3l. 10s. a month.
What do the women get?One shilling a day.
Do your miners here live as well as the agriculturalists or not?They live better.
On the whole they live well?Yes.
Taking them as a body are they a careful body of men?Yes: taking them as a body we have a very good staff of men indeed in our mine.
Do you work principally on tribute or on stopes?Principally on tribute.
You say that you do not allow boys to go down when the air is bad; are there any places where at times the air is bad?Not in our mines.
Not where you are driving?No. We have say, two levels, one over the other, with ten fathoms between; after we have extended the level so many fathoms, if there are any symptoms of the place being close, we put up a rise or sink a winze to ventilate those two levels.
Till that is put in is the air never close?No; we don't allow it to go that distance to become foul.
You have been near Penzance and near Helston?Yes.
Have you been farther east in Cornwall than that?Yes; I worked in Tresavean mine; that is about Redruth.
Have you been anywhere near St. Austell?I worked, at one time, a little while in Charlestown United Mines.
You have been in all parts of Cornwall?I have been about a good bit.
Have you been in any other parts of Devon than this?Yes, on the Moor in Dartmoor; I worked at the Birch Tor mine six years.
Then you have been in the exposed part of Devon and in the sheltered part of Devon?Yes; the Birch Tor mine was the worst mine I ever worked in in my life.
What from?From cold damp and poor air.
What do you call cold damp?That is a damp arising from the rock. It settles in the level.
Can you breathe in that cold damp?Of course.
Will a light burn in that cold damp?Where it is very bad it will not.
When you have been in that cold damp, have you ever been down close to the rock?Yes.
Could you breathe then?Yes. I worked in that mine about twenty-seven years ago; it was a very rich mine when I was there, and they had but one shaft, and in the summer time the air was very bad. I have seen the time when we could not carry in a light below the six fathoms from the surface in some parts of the season, and I being in an end I have seen my comrade in that end working, and I have gone back and have sat down, and I could see the shadow of the man but not the man; that was caused by cold damp; and if a man put some tobacco in his pipe and the candle to smoke, directly he took away the candle from the tobacco he could not draw any more smoke, the pipe would go out.
Is that mine at work now?Yes. I do not wish to speak of Birch Tor mine now for I do not know anything about it.
Have they two shafts there now?I believe so. I have never been down the mine since I left it in those days.
Seeing that you have had much experience in various parts of Cornwall and in various parts of Devon, in the high lands and in the low lands, have you in all those districts observed any marked differences between the health of the agriculturalists and the health of the miners?The health of the miners about Ashburton, I would say, is equally as good as that of the agriculturalists.
At Birch Tor, where there was that bad air, do you recollect how the miners were?It killed scores of miners.
Take the Tresavean, and all those deep mines and the shallower mines in some parts of Cornwall; was there, in your opinion, a marked difference there between the agriculturalists and the miners?Yes, I should say so, owing to the miners climbing the ladders, the mines being so deep.
From your experience, what do you think, is the most injurious part of the miner’s occupation; is it climbing, is it smoke, or is it the chill when they come up?Climbing deep and bad air; a man has no business to be chill when he comes up, he should take it leisurely and change directly.
But they do not do that?But that is their own fault. I think that climbing very deep is very injurious to the constitution.
How are the children of the miners educated in your district; have you any national school?We have a great many free schools. I do not think there is a better place in the county.
Are they connected with the Wesleyans or with the Church of England?Some with the Wesleyans and some with the Church of England.
How are the schools supported?By people giving at their decease the rents of estates for the benefit of free schools. Ashburton is a capital place for that.
And the miners take advantage of it?Yes.
At what age do the children begin upon your works?It varies.
At about what age?I should say about nine or ten.
How many hours do these children of nine or ten work?They go to work at seven in the morning and leave work at five, and they stop for one hour in the middle of the day for dinner.
After they come upon your works those children have not much time for education, I presume?No.
Do they attend evening schools?Some of them do; they work in our mine the same as in all mines in the two counties.
Do you find that the children in your mines can read and write?They all can read, but they cannot all write.
Do you find that the miners themselves are pretty well educated?Some of them are pretty well educated, and some are rather plain; you could not prevail on some of them to learn to write if you were to do whatever you possibly could do.
Your mine is not worked on Sunday?No.
What distance are your miners from a place of worship, generally speaking?The principal part of them live in Ashburton.
Do they attend service either at church or at chapel?The principal part of them at chapel.
But they attend?Yes, very well indeed; they are a very steady lot of men, very good men.
Are they Wesleyans?They are principally Wesleyans.
There are two sets of Wesleyans?Yes.
Are they the old sect or the new?The old sect are here and what are called the Independents.
Of which are there the most?The Wesleyans, I think.
What proportion, do you think, cannot sign their name, out of the number which you have?I do not know; there are some who cannot.
You said that miners suffer from climbing and from bad air?In very deep mines.
What other causes do they suffer from?I do not know. I should think that a medical man would be able to state that.
What do they complain of besides that?When men have been working in very deep mines for many years and in very foul air, you will see them go away in consumption.