The men who were already underground, rushed to the aid of their fellows, but found all ten men and boys to be dead.
A story found on a French website, tells how a collier performed a ritual called "Sin Eating", over the bodies, once they had been freed from the cage.
John Davies, the Overman lived at Red Lion Row, not far from the colliery. He was told the news and rushed to the site. By the time he arrived it was about 3:50am and the colliers had taken the top off the cage to remove the bodies. It is reported that although many had severely broken limbs and head injuries, none were in any way dismembered.
When news of the accident spread through the village, a crowd of people gathered around the mouth of the pit, trying to find out who had died. After the bodies were viewed by the police and officials of the colliery, they were taken to their respective homes.
We shall never know the whole truth of what happened. The evidence given by various witnesses at the Inquest and Prosecution case, is inconsistent. The opinion of the government inspector of mines, (the only independent witness) is that steam and gases emanating from the pit, had corroded and therefore weakened the rope at the point of fracture. Did the fitter miss the fact that the rope had narrowed and corroded at what was to be the fracture, due to there being grease on the rope?
It would seem that the mining company wasted no time in finding someone to blame; once it was disclosed that at the time of the accident, the keeps were being operated by a collier and not the trained banksman. This collier was arrested and had to endure a trial for manslaughter before being acquitted. They claimed that he had been tampering with the lever, thus causing a jolt on the rope when the cage caught on the fangs of the keeps. Other colliers testified that many other unauthorised men had worked the keeps.
According to an article in the "Colliery Guardian", one man who worked at the colliery, named George Bartlett, gave evidence that he saw the cage stop when nearly out of sight and heard a grating sound. He said that he didn't think that the engine had stopped, because the rope was going out.
From the same newspaper article; a man named Thomas Morgan stated that he could see the cage shaking and struggling in the mouth of the pit. He said that when the cage became free, the men screamed and there was a loud noise as the rope broke.
It was explained to the inquest jury, that if the cage had caught and the rope had run slack, then when the slack had been taken up as the cage descended, there would have been a terrific jerk. In one report, Joseph Jones, the engineman said that there had been no such jerk in the machinery. He added that by the time he had received the signal to stop, the engine was stopping of its own accord because about 6 or 7 feet of slack had run out.
The Government Inspector of Mines tested the keeps after the accident and found that if the bottom of the cage passed through, then the rest of the cage could not catch, even if the lever of the keeps were released. This raises two questions:
It transpired that the banksman who should have been working the keeps was elsewhere at the time of the accident and had been lowering men down in an unauthorised cage, which the colliery manager, John Hay, had prohibited for the use of transporting men. The reason for this was that one of the wires of the rope had been found to be broken!
The miners were unhappy that a horse door, which had been fitted to one side of the cage, would catch against one set of fangs of the keeps, which did not always recede fully. This fact was held back and not disclosed until near the end of the inquest. After the accident, the collar board was cut back to enable the fangs to recede further, though it was claimed that this was done only to satisfy the miners and had no safety value.
The Factory and Workshop Act of 1878 consolidated and extended the previous Factory Acts to all trades. This included the Factory Act of 1850, which set the hours of a working day for women and children under 18, to between 6a.m. to 6p.m. in the summer and 7a.m. to 7p.m. in the winter. This meant that the Garnant Colliery Company acted unlawfully by permitting the four boys to start work at 4a.m. on the morning of the accident. Despite legal action being brought against two colliers, no case was brought against the Company.
Hearsay tells of a sinister side to the story. Although no official claims were made, it was said by some local people, that the unqualified miner working the keeps at the time of the accident, had a grudge against one of the men in the cage. It was claimed that one of the victims had been having an affair with the miners wife and that he had seized the opportunity to take revenge on his victim, taking no heed of the fact that nine other souls would also perish. It should be noted, however, that at his trial, no claim of this nature was ever made by any of the witnesses and that his acquittal was met with approval from many of his fellow workers. How many of these would have welcomed his release, if they held any serious belief that he had murdered ten of their colleagues?
Mr R.C. Fisher, an eminent mining engineer, who examined the site on the Saturday after the accident, collapsed and died while waiting for the train at Garnant Station. The cause of death is supposed to have been heart disease. This is yet another sad event associated with the Garnant Colliery disaster.