Coal Mining Deaths recorded at Old Wallsend Cemetery in the 19th Century

Coal mining was a dangerous occupation in the 19th century; deaths and injuries through heavy falls of coal were common. Among the deaths recorded in Old Wallsend Cemetery were many fatal crush injuries. William Adamson died after a large piece of coal fell and crushed his abdomen in 1868 at the Lambton Colliery.1 David Adamson, aged 17, was buried beneath a fall of coal while filling a skip in October 1869; he was the first fatal accident at the Co-operative Colliery.2 In 1873, brothers David and James Baird were also victims of an accident by a fall of coal; David was fatally wounded and James was injured at Wallsend Colliery.3 James Brown, 43, died from a fall of coal which crushed his chest in 1878, he left a widow and eight children.4

Mining related injuries and deaths also occurred with mine workers above ground. James Williamson was 28; he had only arrived from Scotland two weeks before his accidental death. While working at the Wallsend Coal Company at Dark Creek as a tree feller the limb from a tree being felled by another worker fell and hit him on the top of the head, he died instantly. He was a Freemason and was buried with full Masonic honours; the Wallsend Brass Band played the Dead March in Saul.5

An explosion of gas killed two miners on the 12 March 1873, William Syme and John Mitchell, both aged 42, were burnt from the waist up. They were naked at the time and died of their injuries when gas exploded in the Wallsend Colliery.6 Joseph Merchant died in 1871, when he was run down by a skip; he was only intending to work for a few more weeks before going into business for himself.7

In an early morning accident at the Wallsend Colliery in 1886 four skips loaded with bricks broke away from the banks killing a horse, the driver making a narrow escape. Later on the same day Thomas Leach, aged 19, had just finished work and was leading his horse out of the tunnels with three young boys riding in his empty skips when the four skips from the previous accident broke away again and ran into the group. The horse was killed instantly, the skip upended and Thomas died when he was crushed against the roof. The three boys were bruised but not seriously injured.8

At B Pit Wallsend in 1865, a 12 year old boy was killed when he was crushed between coal wagons when the support he had placed between them to stop them bumping too hard against the others standing at the siding gave way. He was employed at the pit top to move the full wagons out of the way so the empty ones could take their place under the screen.9 George Ebenezer Green was 15; he had already been employed at the colliery for two years greasing wagons when he was crushed by wagons at Wallsend Colliery, shortly after the pit started for the day, he was the son of Alderman Green.10

Other deaths were related to working in coal mines and resulted in death when medical treatment could not be found in time. Thomas Archibold, 23, was working at the Co-operative Colliery, he was suffering from lung disease and 'burst a blood vessel while eating lunch at work', work mates were unable to stop the blood flow.11 James Hall, aged 32, was working at the New Wallsend Colliery at Catherine Bay when he was seriously injured. He did not survive despite the bravery and determination of his workmates to take him to hospital. As there was no doctor at the Colliery "ten of his mates decided to bring him to the Newcastle Hospital via Wallsend and after making a litter carried him between them, a distance of about 30 miles".12

The wives of children of miners often lost more than one relative in mining accidents, such as Sarah Gillons who was widowed twice due to mining accidents, or the Peate family who lost a father and son in the Hamilton Pit disaster in 1889. Families often relied on charity when a family member was lost in a mine accident, or were helped by sickness and death benefits provided by Lodges or Friendly Societies if the victim was a member.

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 Postcard showing Wallsend Colliery, NSW, Australia [n.d.]

Newcastle & District Historical Society Collection.

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Co-operative Colliery, Wallsend, NSW, [12] June 1897 

Ralph Snowball, Norm Barney Collection

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  1. "Local Items. Melancholy Accident at Lambton." Newcastle Chronicle 15 Jan. 1868
  2. "Wallsend Lamentable and Fatal Accident." Northern Chronicle 7 Oct. 1869
  3. "Fatal Colliery Accidents." Newcastle Chronicle 18 Feb. 1873.
  4. "District News. Wallsend." Newcastle Morning Herald 31 Aug. 1878
  5. "Fatal Accident at Wallsend Coal Company's New Tunnel." Miners Advocate and Northumberland Recorder 5 Jun. 1875
  6. "Local and District." Newcastle Pilot 22 March 1873
  7. "A Shocking and Fatal Accident." Newcastle Chronicle 25 Feb. 1871.
  8. "District News. Wallsend. Fatal Accident." Newcastle Morning Herald 30 Jul. 1886
  9. "Wallsend." Newcastle Chronicle 27 May 1865.
  10. "Wallsend Fatal Accident." Newcastle Morning Herald 2 Feb. 1891.
  11. "Sudden Death at Plattsburgh." Newcastle Morning Herald 14 April 1893.
  12. "Local Intelligence. Wallsend & Plattsburgh." Miners' Advocate and Northumberland Recorder 3 Jun. 1874.


Newcastle Family History Society. Old Wallsend Cemetery New South Wales 1863-1896. Adamstown, NSW: Newcastle Family History Society, 2000. Print.

Text © M. Sherwin, 2013.