Lad falls to his death at Seaham Company Mine

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A number of deep alluvial mines were in operation on the Alma Lead in the 1870s, yielding large quantities of gold, and the Seaham Company mine was among them.

A 25 horse power steam engine was erected on its claim when it began in 1869 and promising yields were found from a depth of 93 feet.

Throughout the following years, good dividends were paid to shareholders.

According to records, the total value of gold returns from the Seaham amounted to £121,433.

In August, 1873 Francis Cusack, whose age was given as 15, suffered a fatal accident at the mine when he fell down the shaft from a skip.

District coroner, Dr Francis Laidman conducted an inquest at Hughes’ Hotel, Upper Alma and heard evidence from miner, John Whyte and fireman, Antoine Brabet.

John Whyte said he was on the claim at a quarter past eight that morning.

“Francis was there also, waiting to go down,” John recalled.

“As the skip was going up, Francis tried to get into it, but one of his legs was hanging over the side.

“The skip went up and Francis fell out, passing me in his fall, and went down the shaft, which is 160 feet in depth, almost immediately after,” John Whyte described.

“Antoine Brabet, the fireman, was with me on the surface.

“We both called out to Francis not to get into the skip, as it was moving at the time.

“I knew it was dangerous.” Whyte told the coroner the lad had no business to do what he did.

“Owing to his own recklessness, he got killed,” he said.

“All the men engaged on the claim receive their instructions from the manager.

“The claim is properly worked.

“It was larking on the deceased’s part that caused his death.”

John Whyte said there was none near enough to prevent Francis from getting into the skip and the manager was below when the accident happened.

“I identified his body,” Whyte said.

“He was about 15 years old.

“He was brought up the shaft a few minutes after he fell.”

Whyte said there was a braceman to look after the skip, and he was at the top at the time, but not near to the mouth of the shaft.

“The braceman’s name is Peter Machin, he was at his proper place at the brace, although I could not see him from where I was.

“I know he was at his post, from the knocker going as a signal for the skip to go down,” Whyte explained.

“Peter Machin could not see the deceased coming up in the skip, and knew nothing of the accident until he was told of it,” Whyte concluded.

Antoine Brabet said he was a fireman employed at the Seaham Company claim.

“I saw the deceased, who was employed as a trucker, a little after eight o’clock, trying to get into the skip when it was moving, rather slower than usual,” Brabet remembered.

“I called out to him not to get in and saw he had nearly got in.

“It’s very dangerous to attempt such a thing,” Brabet told the coroner.

“Almost immediately after I saw him fall out of the skip and down the shaft.

“Shortly after he was brought up dead.”

Brabet believed Francis Cusack met his death through his own carelessness, and disobedience to the general orders given by the manager.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death, to which they attached the following rider: “We suggest that in all mines printed rules for the guidance of the men employed should be placed in conspicuous places on the mine”.

Following the publication of the inquest, in the letter to the editor of the Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser, the writer suggested evidence at the inquest had been suppressed.

“Such has been the universal remark in this locality for the last two or three days; and on reading the account, I could not but think that if there had been a systematic intention to suppress all evidence, it could not have been more fully carried out.

“And on what grounds they can cast the whole fault of the catastrophe on the deceased, I fail to see.

“But in this instance I would ask, where is the manager’s report?

“What has the engine driver to say?

“Where was the bracemen, whose duty it is to give the signal to the engine driver when the men ascend and descend on the exchange of shifts?

“No, nothing of this appears; but this (so called) foolhardy boy is seen to rush to evident destruction by two of his mates, who appear to make no effort to stop him, or to give any notice to the engine driver to stop winding.

“His age is given at 15 (query, is not 13 nearer the mark) and such is the evidence given to the public.

“That there is culpable neglect somewhere is too evident.

“It is only in such cases as these, where lives are lost or limbs are fractured, that they come before the public.

“But if the mining manager had to keep a daily account or log, like the captain of a ship, then, Sir, I am satisfied the appalling escapes which are of so frequent occurrence in connection with the numerous casualties, would be the means of bringing the blame home to the right quarter.

“What wages was this child getting?

“Is this another instance of that grinding parsimony before spoken of in your paper, whereby another death has been caused?

“To what age have these boys got to attend school?

“These all are questions of importance to the miners at large, as the employment of this cheap labour may be the means of sacrificing their lives some day.

— Enquirer.”

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