Seaham Colliery Disaster of 1880

On the fateful evening of Tuesday September 7, 1880, Joseph Birkbeck (or Birbeck), choir master and organist at Christ Church (New Seaham), slept through his ‘knocker’ at his home at 19 Post Office Street and thereby missed his shift and of course forfeited his pay. The decision, conscious or otherwise, was to save his life and enable him to live until his nineties. His father and namesake (17 Mount Pleasant) was not so fortunate.

Corporal Hindson (22 John Street, Seaham Harbour), the crackshot, had a premonition of his own death. Three times he started out for work on that dreadful night and twice he returned home. The third time he did not return.

John Hutchinson (15 Post Office Street) went to work even though he was poorly because he knew the financial result of any failure to attend. His condition deteriorated however and he felt obliged to return home before the end of his shift. He abandoned his place of work in the Maudlin seam minutes before the explosion, leaving his marrow Pat Carroll (Cooke Street) alone, but had to sit down for a rest on his way back to the pit shaft. He actually fell asleep and was roughly awoken by the prodding of a stick by the overman Walter Murray who told him to go home if he was unwell. At the shaft bottom Hutchinson talked for a while with Laverick the onsetter whilst waiting for the cage to descend. He had barely stepped from the cage at the surface when the pit blew. The ground shook, waking up people in the neighbourhood. The sound of the explosion was heard on ships in Seaham Harbour and as far away as Murton Colliery and the outskirts of Sunderland. Some men saw a great cloud of dust blown skywards out of the shafts. The Marquess heard the noise at Seaham Hall and was among the first on the scene.

The explosion of Wednesday September 8, 1880 took place at 2.20 am in the Hutton and Maudlin seams, the middle of the three levels at the pit.The highest level was the Main Coal Seam, the lowest was the Harvey. Both shafts were blocked with debris and it was twelve hours before a descent could be made. Even then the rescuers had to use the emergency kibble (an iron bucket) for the cages were of course out of action. The cage remained out of action at the Low Pit for nine days. In the pit the engine house and stables had caught fire and many of the ponies were found to have suffocated. The hooves of some of them (complete with shoes) were preserved as souvenirs, polished, inscribed and adapted to various uses, such as stands for ink-wells, snuff-boxes and pin-cushions. Fifty four ponies and a cat survived. Further on the rescuers found debris and mutilated human corpses. Body after body was then located in the dark tunnels. Nineteen survivors from the Main Coal seam were brought up the Low Pit shaft which was not blocked at the level of that seam. The main rescue work was done from the High Pit shaft where it was also possible to use a kibble. Forty eight more survivors were brought out this way. Of the 231 workers only 67 had thus been rescued by midnight of the first day, leaving 164 unaccounted for. None of these survived. Some 169 men and boys had been working in the affected seam – only 5 of these survived and were rescued.

The roads into Seaham were completely blocked by people in the next few days. Most of these were simply morbid sight-seers who obstructed the way for the rescue teams despatched from other collieries near and far. Special trains from Sunderland to Seaham for the Flower Show (now cancelled) were instead packed with these ‘spectators’. The families of those dead or missing were unable to get anywhere near the colliery. The crowd round the pit reached an estimated 14,000 on the Wednesday night (the day of the explosion). By Sunday there were an estimated 40,000 people in the vicinity to see the first mass funerals. After that the interest wore off and the crowds gradually drifted away to other entertainment. The bereaved were at last left alone waiting for news, any news, of their loved ones.

164 men and boys were dead. The flower of the village had been wiped out.There were 13 dead from Seaham Street alone. California Street lost 12, Cornish Street 11, Australia and Hall Streets 10 each. Every single street in the village lost at least 2 men or boys. Some of the bodies were recovered fairly quickly, the rest only after long and painful delays. Fires had to be extinguished before rescue work could continue. There was no artificial breathing apparatus available though it had recently been perfected. 136 of the 164 bodies had been recovered by October 1. Then the Maudlin seam caught fire again and the management decided to seal off that portion of the mine to deny oxygen to the flames, to the horror of the kinfolk of those entombed who still clung to the faint and irrational hope that their loved ones were still alive. The seam was not reopened until the following June when breathing apparatus and Fleuss’s patent lamp were used by explorers. The last of the bodies was not in fact recovered until almost exactly a year after the explosion.

The workmen in those parts of the pit over which the force and flame extended were all found dead at the places where their work required them to be, as if death had been instantaneous. But the miners far away from the shaft had lived on, some badly injured or burnt and others unscathed, in small and remote air pockets, for many hours or even longer, and left evidence of this in their writings. They eventually died from suffocation in the depleting air. The oil in some of their lamps was found to be exhausted, showing that they had continued to burn for some hours, possibly days, after the explosion. A note was found pinned to one of the bodies:

“September 8 1880
E.Hall and J.Lonsdale died at half-past 3 in the morning.W.Murray and W.Morris and James Clarke visited the rest on half-past nine in the morn and all living in the incline,
Yours truly,
W.Murray, Master-Shifter”

A piece of brattice-board about 2.5 feet long was found with the names of four men on one side and on the other this message:

“Five o’ clock, we have been praying to God”.

Near to the board were the four dead men. Another board had two messages written on it in chalk.The first read:

“The Lord has been with us, we are all ready for heaven – Ric Cole, half past 2 o’ clock Thursday”.

The second message, much fainter, read:

“Bless the Lord we have had a jolly prayer meeting, every man ready for glory. Praise the Lord. Sign.R.Cole”

Another man, Michael Smith, who had left his dying infant son to go to work, wrote a love-letter to his wife on his tin water-bottle with a rusty nail:

“Dear Margaret,
There was 40 of us altogether at 7am. Some was singing hymns but my thoughts was on my little Michael that him and I would meet in heaven at the same time. Oh Dear wife, God save you and the children, and pray for me…Dear wife, Farewell. My last thoughts are about you and the children. Be sure and learn the children to pray for me. Oh what an awful position we are in ! Michael Smith, 54 Henry Street”

By a sad coincidence his son Michael did die on the same day as the disaster. The bottle survives to this day somewhere in the Midlands in the possession of a descendant of Michael Smith.

Of the other victims John Southeran (or Sutherland, 12 Australia Street) left a widow and 9 children. Crackshot Corporal Hindson (22 John Street, Seaham Harbour) was carried shoulder-high again – this time in his coffin. His arms and legs were blown off by the blast and identification was based on his flamboyant beard. There was no Volunteers band at his funeral at St.John’s for it had lost five of its best musicians. The Hendersons of 10 Cooke Street lost the father Michael and three of his sons. Thomas Hutchinson (18 Seaham Street), survivor in 1871, was not so lucky this time. The Durham Chronicle reported:

“One of the first of the bodies recovered was claimed by his widow to be that of Harry Ramsay (or Ramshaw). At home (20 Vane Terrace) the pet dog refused to approach the corpse, barked ceaselessly and was ill at ease. The body was duly buried. A few days later the real Ramsay was found and positively identified by the army boots and straw belt which he always wore at the pit. This time the dog showed every sign of recognition and even licked one of the dead man’s boots….the unfortunate widow had to pay for a second funeral and needed to be advanced money for the purpose by Vicar Scott.”

The only thing wrong with this story is that according to the 1881 census Harry Ramsey was a single man living with his parents! Another enigma we shall never get to the bottom of. We now know, from very recent research that one of the victims, Henry Turnbull, aged 23, was actually Henry Bleasdale. He was a ‘marked man’ who had previously given trouble to colliery owners and had already masqueraded as one of his in-laws, Ben Wright, at Hetton Colliery. He had been detected there and so moved back to Seaham Colliery (where he had been brought up) and this time masqueraded as one of his half-brothers who were called Turnbull (his mother had married twice). After he was killed his widow Jane came clean to the authorities and his death certificate has Henry Turnbull crossed out and Henry Bleasdale substituted by the Registrar. Henry’s descendants live in Seaham and elsewhere today and have only recently become acquainted with his remarkable story.

Initially at least the Seaham Colliery disaster excited national interest and sympathy. Queen Victoria telegraphed from Balmoral, and the Home Secretary came to Seaham. As a result of the explosion there were 107 widows, 2 mothers and 259 children without their breadwinners. A Relief Fund raised over £13,000. The Queen chipped in £100. It is not clear whether or not the Londonderry family contributed to the sum. Probably they did not (at least not publicly) for this would have created a dangerous precedent both for them and other coalowners. In fairness it should be pointed out that the 5th.Marquess had already contributed to the Northumberland & Durham Miner’s Permanent Relief Fund over the previous three years a sum equal to one fifth of that contributed by the workmen at Seaham and his other collieries. Londonderry and his heir Castlereagh also had the decency to attend one of the mass funerals. Had the disaster occurred just four months later, after the passing of the Employer’s Liability Act (which became law on January 1, 1881), then the widows and other dependents would have received at least some compensation automatically if an inquest jury had decided there had been negligence on the part of the proprietors.

Of the total sum of £13,000 raised, £7,500 was invested with the River Wear Commissioners for ultimate needs, and over £4,000 was paid to the committee of the Northumberland and Durham Miner’s Permanent Relief Fund for them to administer by way of current relief in Seaham. The inquest was held at the Londonderry Institute at Seaham Harbour. Verdict – Accidental deaths. The locally-drawn jury might have been afraid of upsetting the Londonderry family or their agents who ran all of Seaham’s affairs and thus made no recommendations or remarks regarding safety at the pit.

Then things changed. Typhoid fever, possibly contracted from handling the bodies, broke out in the village by the end of September. Yet more deaths were caused by this pestilence. Bitterness was expressed when only 1 shilling (5p.) a week was granted to disaster widows, plus 3 pence (1.25p) for each child of school age. Even Vicar Scott protested. Ten of the widows felt compelled to march into a meeting of the Permanent Relief Committee to state their grievances. They asked for 2/9d (14p.) per week for each widow, 1/- (5p.) for each child and a sum of £5 for each family to enable clothing to be bought. The Committee remained unmoved and the rate of relief remained unchanged, which is probably the reason why there apparently is still money in the Fund to this day, 115 years later.

Greater bitterness was caused by the decision to brick up the Maudlin seam before all the bodies were recovered, because fires were still raging underground. Months passed and the resentment led to riots and strikes. In November 1880 coal working was being gradually resumed on the management’s promise of increased pay and an undertaking that the Maudlin stoppings would soon be withdrawn but early in December, when it became clear that these promises would not be kept, the strike began in earnest. Despite the deteriorating weather the workforce were still out at the end of January but a few, a very few, had broken away. The DMA paid out 7/6d (37.5p) per week in strike pay. During February the first blacklegs were brought in from outside the village and were attacked. Daily and under police protection they had to run the gauntlet of the miner’s wives, jeering and banging pokers on ‘blazers’. Any blackleg spotted on his own was given a good hiding. On more than one occasion the strikers and their families massed at the pit and prevented a particular shift from going down. More blacklegs were brought in under cover of darkness. Spies in Sunderland somehow reported their imminent arrival at Seaham Colliery station and there was usually a reception committee waiting to give them a warm welcome. Eventually police had to be billeted at the pit and these were put up in the Volunteer Drill Shed.

In February 1881 a special ‘court’ was held at Seaham Police Station to deal with charges in connection with the disturbances.The Reverend Angus Bethune was the presiding magistrate. The other magistrates were Colonel Allison and Captain Ord. Colonel White, Chief Constable of the County, also occupied a seat on the bench. Bethune made all the decisions, primed no doubt by his ‘associates’. This far from saintly individual, who now rests in St.Mary’s churchyard, was in fact little more than a Londonderry family retainer. He lived into his 90s and was one of Seaham’s leading citizens for 60 years, christening three generations of Londonderrys (usually in London not Seaham). I leave it to my readers to decide whether or not this was a kangaroo court. Watching the entire proceedings (and taking copious notes for future reference no doubt) were the new manager of Seaham Colliery, Barret, and his boss the Head Viewer of all the Londonderry coal concerns Vincent Corbett. Over 50 men were summonsed. Five men were charged with assaulting an alleged blackleg William Scott of 41 California Street. For this offence one Simeon Vickers (8 Cornish Street) got two months hard labour, the others (Thomas Morgan, William Aspden, Robert Dunn and Thomas Lannigan) got 1 month hard labour. Vickers was further convicted of an additional three assaults on the alleged blacklegs William Shipley, William Harrald (sic) and an individual called Roxby. He got another three months hard labour for these incidents. Jonathan Wylde was given 14 days hard labour for assault. A great mob of supporters outside the closed court were held back by police. The constabulary were also needed in force to enable the convicted to be escorted to Durham Gaol the following day.

By the beginning of March the strikers were at the end of their tether. A ballot was taken and there was not the necessary two thirds majority to stay out. It was agreed that work would be resumed on condition that all hands were re-engaged. However Vincent Corbett, Supreme Londonderry Lackey in Seaham, was having none of it. He named 26 ‘marked’ men, above and beyond those jailed, who would not be taken back on. These were of course the leading union men, intelligent and therefore dangerous. In this tense stand-off, rumours proliferated that candymen were to be sent for to commence evictions. On several occasions in early March reports reached the village that their arrival was imminent and mobs of men went to meet them. All of these however proved to be false alarms. During the adjourned hearing of some of the intimidation cases at the Police Station in April a crowd of miners left the precincts of the court on hearing that a ‘special’ train was expected at Seaham station containing both police and candymen. This report too was unfounded. By the end of March 1881 the strikers were obliged to negotiate with the management. The list of marked men was reduced to just 10, the leading unionists.

The DMA had to advise the Seaham Lodge to accept that the 10 men must become ‘Sacrificed Members’ who would give up their colliery houses within a month. Four of these – Thomas Banks (President of the Seaham Lodge), Thomas Brown, Thomas Burt (cousin of his namesake, the Liberal MP for Morpeth) and Robert Newham stayed put in their homes and were duly evicted on April 29 1881. The police arrived suddenly and in force at 10 am. The rest of the villagers could only stand in silence and watch. They were beaten and they knew it. The other Sacrificed Members were given £50 each by the union to start up again elsewhere. They would of course be denied work at every other mine in the Great Northern Coalfield. Some of the men and their families left the village. Some of these are reported to have been obliged to emigrate to America. At least one of them, David Corkhill, eventually returned to Seaham and his numerous descendants walk amongst us today, possibly oblivious of the goings on of a century and more ago. See below for more information about the Seaham Colliery Disaster.

Seaham Colliery finally got back to work in April 1881. All of the remaining bodies were removed by September 6 of that year. Those widows who were now bereft of colliery workers in their families were obliged to give up their houses and move elsewhere. The village gradually filled up again as new workers were imported. Fertile ground for Londonderry’s headhunters was found in the dying Cumberland coalfield. A swarm of mining families came from the Whitehaven area and there can be few Seaham residents in 1995 who do not have some of these as their ancestors. Another wave came from the north Midlands – Staffordshire and Derbyshire in particular. Some came from North Wales, others from Yorkshire, Cornwall, Devon and Scandinavia. Nearer to home Haswell and Usworth sent contingents too.

The Seaham Colliery Disaster – Facts & Figures

Of the 164 men and boys killed in the 1880 disaster, 32 were not resident at Seaham Colliery. 28 of these (William Barress, Thomas Cassidy, Richard Cole, George Dixon, Robert Haswell, Thomas Hindson, Edward Johnson, James Kent, Joseph Lonsdale senior, John Owens, Michael Owens, Mark Phillips, Edward Pinkard (or Burns), Benjamin Redshaw, William Richardson, John George Roper, James Slavin, Christopher Smith, Thomas Smith, Luke Smith, Joseph Walker or Waller, Benjamin Ward, Frank Watson, John Wilkinson, David Williams, John Whitfield, Thomas Gibson and John Hunter) lived at Seaham Harbour. Two (the brothers John and David Knox) lived at Seaton Village. One (John Watson) lived at Murton. One (Robert Wharton) lived at Sunderland.

This left 132 as officially resident at Seaham Colliery at the time of their deaths. Of these the families (if any) of a further 14 had left the village by the time of the census on April 2 1881, 7 months after the explosion. These fourteen men and boys were, apart from Alexander Sanderson, single men or widowers, or left only a wife. Some of them were undoubtedly lodgers in a colliery house. The 14 were: Wiliam Berry (14 California Street, left a wife); Joseph Bowden (8 Post Office Street, single); Patrick Carroll (Cooke Street, widower); John Dinning (11 William Street, widower); George Diston (47 California Street, widower); Lees Ball Dixon (23 California Street, single); Richard George (18 Doctor’s Street, widower); Dominic Gibbons (17 Vane Terrace, widower); John Grey (51 Doctor’s Street, left a wife); William Hancock (6 Doctor’s Street, single); James Hedley (52 Doctor’s Street, single); John Kirk (Cornish Row, single); Robert Graham (Butcher’s Street, single); Alexander Sanderson (16 Post Office Street, left a wife and 6 children).

Eliminating these 14 leaves 118 men whose families can be found in the census of Seaham Colliery in 1881. Following is a list of all these individuals in the order in which their families or host families occurred in the census:

Isaac Ditchburn, 18 Mount Pleasant
Joseph Birbeck (or Birkbeck), 17 Mount Pleasant
Samuel Wilkinson, 15 Mount Pleasant
George Brown, 15 Mount Pleasant
Nathaniel Brown, 15 Mount Pleasant
William Strawbridge, 50 Doctor’s Street
John Miller, 42 Doctor’s Street
Joseph Straughan, 35 Doctor’s Street
Robert Straughan, 35 Doctor’s Street
James Clark, 23 Doctor’s Street
James Clark junior, 23 Doctor’s Street
William Henry Taylor, 2 California Street
John Potter, 14 California Street
Robert Clark, 19 California Street
James Walker (or Waller), 34 California Street
Robert Lawson, 39 California Street
John Nelson (or Nilsam), 40 California Street
Thomas Grounds, 56 California Street
John Grounds, 56 California Street
William Moore, 59 California Street
Robert Johnson, 63 California Street
William McLaughlin (or McGloughlin), 54 California Street
John Short, 51 California Street
John Spry, 49 Australia Street
James Higginbottom (or Higginbotham), 48 Australia Street
Richard Defty, 42 Australia Street
William Bell, 35 Australia Street
William Spanton, 33 Australia Street (not 13 as in official list)
John Southern (or Sutherland), 12 Australia Street
William Crossman, 3 Australia Street
Thomas Cummings, 2 Australia Street
William Hall, 9 Cornish Street
John Mason, 10 Cornish Street
Joseph Cowey, 17 Cornish Street
Thomas Keenan, 20 Cornish Street
James Ovington, 22 Cornish Street
Thomas Roberts, 27 Cornish Street
Alfred James Turner, 32 Cornish Street
Thomas Foster, 36 Cornish Street
William Venner, 53 Cornish Street
Samuel Venner, 53 Cornish Street
William John Redshaw, 56 Cornish Street
Michael Smith, 54 Henry Street
Walter Dawson, 49 Henry Street
Anthony Scarfe (or Scarff), 35 Henry Street
John Riley, 32 Henry Street (not 22 as in official list)
Michael Keenan, 22 Henry Street
John Lonsdale, 10 Henry Street (not 2 William Street as in official list)
William Hood, 5 Henry Street
Anthony Greenbanks, 4 Seaham Street
John Jackson, 10 Seaham Street
William Roxby, 12 Seaham Street
Thomas Hutchinson, 18 Seaham Street
George Lamb, 30 Seaham Street
William Breeze, 32 Seaham Street
George Page, 36 Seaham Street
Matthew Charlton, 38 Seaham Street
John Thomas Patterson, 40 Seaham Street
Joseph Cook, 41 Seaham Street
Anthony Ramshaw, 46 Seaham Street
Robert Dunn, 56 Seaham Street
Thomas Wright, 57 Seaham Street
Joseph Lonsdale, 2 William Street
Robert Rawlings, 3 William Street
William Morris, 4 William Street
John Vickers, 10 William Street
George Shields, 17 William Street
James Best, 22 William Street (not 25 as in official list)
Joseph Lonsdale jun., 28 William Street (not 2 as in official list)
John Copeman, 3 Butcher Street
Joseph Clark, 8 Butcher Street
William Simpson, 13 Butcher Street
John Batey, 16 Butcher Street
William Sigh (or Sawey), 18 Butcher Street
William Wilkinson, 24 Butcher Street
William Fife, 5 Post Office Street
George Roper, 10 Post Office Street
Charles Horam, 10 Post Office Street
George Hopper, 20 Post Office Street
George Sharp, 4 Church Street, (not 2 School Street as in official list)
Henry Elesbury (or Elseberry), 6 Church Street
Thomas Hays junior, 14 Church Street (not 15 as in official list)
Joseph Theobald, 18 Church Street
Jacob Fletcher, 22 Church Street (not 23 as in official list)
Thomas Hays senior, 1 Hall Street
John Lock, 6 Hall Street
William Potts, 10 Hall Street
Thomas Alexander, 25 Hall Street (not 24 as in official list)
(His wife is called Elizabeth Ann in the census and not Isabella Ann as in the official list).
Thomas Lowdey (or Lowery), 36 Hall Street
Thomas Foster, 37 Hall Street
James Brown, 39 Hall Street
Edward Brown, 40 Hall Street
Robson Dawson, 44 Hall Street
Joseph Chapman, 45 Hall Street
Walter Murray, 4 Model Street
James Johnson, 5 Model Street
Silas Scrafton, 9 Model Street
Robert Potter, 15 Model Street
Charles Dawson, 20 Model Street
Anthony Smith, 21 Model Street
Thomas Greenwell, 2 Vane Terrace
George Norris, 19 Vane Terrace
Henry Ramsey (or Ramshaw), 20 Vane Terrace
Richard Drainer, 6 Cooke Street
Thomas Henry Williams, 8 Cooke Street
Michael Henderson, 10 Cooke Street
Roger Henderson, 10 Cooke Street
Michael Henderson junior, 10 Cooke Street
William Henderson, 10 Cooke Street
Joseph Pickles, 18 Cooke Street
Henry Turnbull (Bleasdale), 9 Bank Head Street
James Dodgin, 19 Bank Head Street
Robert Shields, 4 School Street
James Shields, 4 School Street
William Wilkinson, 12 School Street (not 14 Cornish Street as in official list)
John McGuinis or McGuinness, 12 School Street
John Weir (or Weirs), 23 School Street
Joseph Rawling, 26 School Street

The death toll in terms of streets in the census of 1881 was:

Mount Pleasant 5
Doctor’s St. 6
California St. 10
Australia St. 10
Cornish St. 11
Henry St. 7
Seaham St. 13
William St. 7
Butcher St. 6
Post Office St. 4
Church St. 5
Hall St. 10
Model St. 6
Vane Terrace 3
Cooke St. 7
Bank Head St. 2
School St. 6
Total 118

Newspapers of the time do not give the ages or addresses of the survivors, only names. Including John Hutchinson (‘the man who came out bad’) there were 68 survivors of the Seaham Colliery Disaster. 26 of them are missing from the census of April 1881 either because they ordinarily lived elsewhere or they had left the village because there was no work or, as in the case of Thomas Burt, they had been evicted. The 26 were: Ralph Marley; George Thompson; Charles Wilson; Richard Bell; William Kirkbright; William Telford; Robert Nelson; George Young; William Riley; Samuel Forsyth; Joseph Quayle; J.Cairns; P.Dillon; Thomas Henry; T.Greener; Gardiner (?); Alexander Kent; Thomas Dodds; Matthew Chapman; Matthew Muncaster; Thomas Smith; J.McKay; George Andrews; David Mann; Thomas Burt; Thomas Taylor. That leaves 42 men and boys who are mentioned in the census. Unfortunately some of the names are very common ones and two or more men in the village might have been the actual survivor. Where there is such doubt I have below put the names in bold.

In the order in which they appear in the 1881 census the 42 survivors in the village were:

Robert Procter, 60 Doctor’s Street
Robert Strawbridge, 50 Doctor’s Street
Thomas Dixon, 16 Doctor’s Street
Robert Procter, 13 Doctor’s Street
William Wilson, 5 Doctor’s Street
Mark Foster, 1 Doctor’s Street
Stephen Howe, 8 California Street
John Mason, 27 California Street
George Wood, 37 California Street
William Winter, 64 Australia Street
Robert Young, 46 Australia Street
Joseph Taylor, 36 Australia Street
Edward Smith, 25 Australia Street
William Cummings, 2 Australia Street
Edward Surtees, 6 Cornish Street
John Mason, 10 Cornish Street
James Northway, 16 Cornish Street
Edgar Crane, 21 Cornish Street
John Gatenby, 25 Cornish Street
Henry Pellew, 41 Cornish Street
Henry Lamb, 45 Cornish Street
Thomas Johnson, 26 Henry Street
George Wood, 20 Henry Street
Thomas Vickers, 16 Seaham Street
Robert Wilson, 48 Seaham Street
Henry Miller, 54 Seaham Street
Robert Osborne, 7 William Street
William Morris, 18 William Street
Jacob Steel, 38 Butcher Street
John Stephenson, 12 Post Office Street
John Hutchinson, 15 Post Office Street
John Turnbull, 23 Church Street
Robert Wardle (or Wardell), 10 Hall Street
Thomas Horsfield, 15 Hall Street
John Turnbull, 35 Hall Street
John Graham, 46 Hall Street
William Johnson, 5 Model Street
William Hartley, 8 Model Street
Robert Wilson, 16 Model Street
William Hunter, 4 Vane Terrace
Ralph Curry, 7 Vane Terrace
Robert Curry, 11 Vane Terrace
Thomas Wilkinson, 12 Vane Terrace
John Turnbull, 14 Vane Terrace
John Hall, 16 Vane Terrace
Robert Young, 18 Vane Terrace
William Laverick, 5 Cooke Street
William Cowley, 10 Bank Head Street
Robert Young, 10 School Street
George Brown, 17 School Street
Joseph Hall, 28 School Street
Joseph Turnbull, 32 School Street

According to Troubled Seams there were 10 ‘Sacrificed Members’ who were sacked and blacklisted across the Great Northern Coalfield for their part in the strikes and disturbances which followed the disaster. I can find only five of these in the census of April 3 1881.These were:

Thomas Banks, 4 Mount Pleasant
Ralph Pallister, 29 Doctor’s Street
Stephen Turnbull, 26 Doctor’s Street
William Turner, 32 Cornish Street
Thomas Brown, 39 Hall Street

The following five were not mentioned in the census of 1881: John Bell; Thomas Burt; David Corkhill; John Furness; Robert Newham.

According to McCutcheon, two of these five, Thomas Burt and Robert Newham, were evicted from their homes at Seaham Colliery on April 29 1881, i.e. 26 days after the census was taken. Therefore they should have been in the village for the census but for some reason they were absent. I doubt we will ever figure this one out. I suspect there are several inaccuracies in the ‘official’ list of the dead supplied by the Northumberland and Durham Miner’s Permanent Relief Fund.

— by Tony Whitehead