"The 180fm end is now North of Wheal Button Shaft about 325fms, and expence of sinking the Sump Shaft and driving deeper levels so far North will be very considerable, and we shall then only be at the 195fm level. Now suggest sinking a Diagnonal Shaft so as to reach the present end (of the 180fm level) ddistance about 360fms We think it can be done at less expense than sinking Sump (Shaft), and will be of great benefit to working the mine in the future"
The above is taken from an agents' report, dated Feburary 1858, and explains the state of the then burgeoning undersea venture, and the necessity to consider the logistics of accessing this remote environment.
Warrington W. Smythe - Mineral Agent to the Duchy of Cornwall, and concerned with assessing revenue from submarine mines - wrote of the Boscawen Shaft on 23rd August 1858:
I suggested, last year, that it was time to commence sinking below the 180fm level; but to obviate the loss of time and expense of the usual method, the lessees have commenced an inclined plan, to be carried down as evenly as possible, from the extremest rocks seaward down to the deepest point of the mine at its farthest extent under the sea. They had already, on the 5th instant, completed 20 fathoms, and were about to attack it from sevel different levels simultaneously - so that it will now be important to economine the little ore left in the extreme workings, until the inclined shaft is finished.
We can assume sinking of this shaft - possibly the most famous in Cornwall - began on the 1st August, 1858.
Just 5yrs later, the tragic accident occured for which the shaft and Botallack mine is so famous.
On 18th April 1863, the miners had successfully decended the shaft by the wagon and by 2pm were waiting to return to surface in a similar fashion. Cyril Noall provides the best summary of the incident as it was then said to unfold:
One group came up safely, and the carriage descended for another. The normal load was eight men, though sometimes a boy was accommodated as well. On this occasion, eighteen miners were waiting, two or three of them boys. It was decided the carriage should first convey eight men and a boy, and then return for the remainder, who, after the skip left them, sat down and awaited their turn at the 165. Suddenly these miners heard a sound similar to a gunshot, and something rushed past them down the shaft, but so quickly that they saw nothing but a few sparks. As soon as they had recovered from their fright, three of them descended to find out what had happened to their comrades. About three fathoms above the 190 they discovered the boy lying dead with a fractured skull; he appeared to have been violently jerked from the carriage. A fathom below they came upon a man, also dead, his chest crushed and ribs broken. Next they found a father and his son, both lifeless, under the carriage, which had struck the shaftsmens brace, forcing it back some distance. It had then stopped about eight feet from the bottom, where it got across the rails. One miner was still inside with his head hanging out, while all the remaining occupants were discovered lying upon one another at the bottom of the shaft, where they had been thrown. None had survived this terrible fall, and some of the bodies were shockingly mutilated.
A hymn published in a contemporary boardsheet elucidates these gruesom details:
Each one was injur’d fearfully,
Bruis’d, broken, smash’d and dead;
A sickening spectacle! for some
Had lost part of the head.
Noall, goes on to account further:
Some effects of the accident were immediately observed in the engine-house; and Capt. John Boyns descended with a party of men, who found that a 9jl6 inch link in the chain had broken about 70 fathoms above the 165 fathom level. They connected the broken rbain by a rope, and shortly before midnight five of the bodies were sent up in a waggon, and after that the other four. They were taken to the account-house, where their underground clothes were changed. The bodies were then washed and cleaned and taken to their homes on boards. Their names were: John Chappie, married, Nancherrow; John Chappie (his son), single, Nancherrow; Thomas Wall, married, North St. Just; Richard Wall (his son), single, North St. Just; Michael Nicholas, married; John Eddy, single, Botallack; Peter Eddy (his cousin), single, Nancherrow; Thomas Nankervis, single; and Richard Williams Nankervis, aged 12.
John Chappie lost his life by doing a good turn to another miner. According to the rules, he had been entitled to a seat in the carriage at the time of its first ascent. He took his place, but resigned it at earlier to attend a neighbour’s funeral. Among the group at the 165 who sat awaiting the tram’s return was Thomas Nankervis, of St. Just. He had just put his little brother, Richard Williams Nankervis, into the carriage as the ninth “extra” passenger; but a few minutes later heard the vehicle roar past to destruction. Recovering from first search party—“to go and see after those I knew to be killed”— and so found his brother’s body a few fathoms below the 190.
Over the next few months, an official enquiry was held, prompting a report by Captain R. E. Tyler who recommended the iron chain used to tether the tram be replaced by a wire rope, if men were to ride the wagon.
By June of 1863 - only 2 months after the accident - the shaft was again sinking, and in October the chain was replaced by the recommended wire, making this the first wire-wound mechanism for delivering miners underground in Cornwall.
The shaft today can still be accessed and its flooded portion examined, just beyond the reach of daylight.
Data courtesy of Ben Sum, Helston (1/9/20)
Noall, C 1972 "Botallack" Bradford