(Letter undated, printed Feb 11 1862)
Matthew explains how coal mine accidents can be averted, and attacks the cold-heartedness of mine owners in not implementing them just in order to save a little money.
The letter originally appeared in the Daily Telegraph, before being reprinted here in the Fife Herald.
It’s not 100% certain that this is our Patrick Matthew, as his address is not given. However, the mixture of practical advice and disdain of money-grabbing mine owners (“the greedy selfish pursuer of wealth at any price”) certainly sounds like Matthew. There is also a family tradition that Matthew was involved in a silver mine in Spain in 1840 (see Wulf Gerdts’ unpublished family history Die Matthew Saga), although this is unsubstantiated.
COAL MINE ACCIDENTS.
Mr Patrick Matthew has the following observations in a letter of his published in the Daily Telegraph.—
“The prevention of these every-day occurrences (I cannot call them accidents) in our mines is only an affair of pounds, shillings, and pence. To diminish very much this destruction valuable life — chiefly the fathers of young families — whether blasted by explosion of hydrogenous compounds, suffocated, as in the present case, by poisonous carbonic acid, drowned in flooding torrent from old mine, or crushed by roof falls — requires only a sufficient outlay of capital to provide the necessary preventive means, but which the greedy selfish pursuer of wealth at any price does not care about making. Efficient ventilation of the explosive and deleterious gases and introduction of a wholesome atmosphere are always practicable by means of two or more shafts, and properly arranged communicating galleries; the constant removal of the air below being effected by fire immediately under the air emitting shaft, or better by a fan machine in constant operation in its mouth, driving out the air in a strong current, and thus causing a like strong entering current downward through the other shaft, the communication between the two shafts being so arranged as to sweep and ventilate the place where the working is carried on, and regulated to suit the health of the miner. Where the mouths of the shafts differ very much in level, a current of air naturally takes place, caused by the difference in temperature and weight of the outer and inner air. With a judicious arrangement of the various communicating passages and shafts, the ventilation would not only prevent at least nine-tenths of these accidents — these harrowing free-perpetrated murders (I can call them nothing else) — but also greatly improve the sanitary condition of the miner, and extend his working life almost to double the present short span. As things are carried on, the sole director is Mammon, without respect to human life or health. I have known a great employer take no account of fatal accidents or health, and declare that nothing was like getting on with the work — that success was everything, gave employment, increased the number of marriages and population, giving life to several for every one killed. This is convenient doctrine, and generally followed. New lamps for old may sound well, and is applicable enough to a supply of material tools of iron or steel, but rather too Malthusian when applied to the highest vital existence on earth — a being intellectual, rational, moral.”