WV: Animals In The Mines

Last night I found an old book among some of my Dad’s things in a tote.

This book was tagged as American Revolution Bicentennial 1776-1976. The dates coincide with bicentennial of the United States. There are only pictures (with notations of which mines are depicted but no dates whatsoever) in the book. No great detail of why it was written or if it was just to highlight coal’s presence in the formation of industry in the United States. I will post various pictures from the books in later blogs as I am curious about the various mines in Fayette and Raleigh. BUT for the the sake of this blog, I want to recognize the role of work animals in the mining industry.

Until I opened that book, I had no clue that goats were used in the mines. The pictures above are the only ones with animals included from the book.

The idea of placing a canary or other warm blooded animals in a mine to detect carbon monoxide was first proposed by John Scott Haldane, in 1913 or later. Well into the 20th century, coal miners brought canaries into coal mines as an early-warning signal for toxic gases, primarily carbon monoxide.

John Scott Haldane (2 May 1860 – 14/15 March 1936) was a Scottish physiologist famous for self-experimentation which led to many important discoveries about the human body and the nature of gases. He also experimented on his son, the equally famous J. B. S. Haldane (both for extending his father’s interest in diving and as a key figure in population genetics and the development of the modern synthesis), even when he was quite young. Haldane locked himself in sealed chambers breathing potentially lethal cocktails of gases while recording their effect on his mind and body.

Haldane visited the scenes of many mining disasters and investigated their causes. When the Germans used poison gas in World War I, Haldane went to the front at the request of Lord Kitchener and attempted to identify the gases being used. One outcome of this was his invention of the first respirator.

He investigated the principle of action of many different gases. He investigated numerous mine disasters, especially the toxic gases which killed most miners after firedamp and coal dust explosions. The toxic mixtures of gases found in mines included afterdamp, blackdamp, and whitedamp. His description of the way a flame safety lamp can be used to detect firedamp by the increase in height of the flame, and chokedamp by the dying of the flame, is a classic exposition in his textbook, Respiration. Although electronic gas detectors are now used widely in all coal mines, flame lamps are still used extensively for their ease and simplicity of operation. Electronic gas detectors rely on a catalytic chip which can be poisoned by atmospheric impurities.

He identified carbon monoxide as the lethal constituent of afterdamp, the gas created by combustion, after examining many bodies of miners killed in pit explosions. Their skin was coloured cherry-pink from carboxyhaemoglobin, the stable compound formed in the blood by reaction with the gas. It effectively displaces oxygen, and so the victim dies of asphyxia. As a result of his research, he was able to design respirators for rescue workers. He tested the effect of carbon monoxide on his own body in a closed chamber, describing the results of his slow poisoning. In the late 1890s, he introduced the use of small animals for miners to detect dangerous levels of carbon monoxide underground, either white mice or canaries. With a faster metabolism, they showed the effects of poisoning before gas levels became critical for the workers, and so gave an early warning of the problem. The canary in British pits was replaced in 1986 by the electronic gas detector.

By Albert Sidney Bolles (author of book ; autor del libro) – “Industrial History of the United States: From the Earliest Settlements to the Present Time: Being a Complete Survey of American Industries … Together with a Description of Canadian Industries …”, Henry Bill Publishing Company, 1889., Public Domain

The first known recorded use of ponies underground in Great Britain was in the Durham coalfield in 1750. Following the drowning deaths of 26 children when the Huskar Colliery in Silkstone flooded on 4 July 1838, “A report was published in The Times, and the wider British public learned for the first time that women and children worked in the mines. There was a public outcry, led by politician and reformer Anthony Ashley Cooper, later Lord Shaftesbury,” who then introduced the Mines and Collieries Act 1842 to Parliament which barred women, girls and boys under 10 (later amended to 13) from working underground, leading to the widespread use of horses and ponies in mining in England, though the Act did not end child labor in British mines.

Image result for draft animals in mines

Early U.S. coal mining used several types of draft animals. Mules bred from large draft horses were known as ‘‘mammoth mules’’ and worked in high coal seams or pulled heavy loads on track outside the mine. Oxen and Belgian horses also worked in the higher seams. Smaller mules were used in the lower seams. They sometimes worked at a crawl and did not panic when their ears touched a low ceiling. Miners also used Shetland ponies in the low seams to pull carts loaded with coal. Animals lived underground in some mines and were blind upon returning to the surface.

Oxen Pulling Coal Cart in an Underground Mine
Source: https://wvhistoryonview.org/catalog/002757

I could not find any reading material on the use of goats in the mining industry. I would welcome any reading recommendations on the subject.

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