Coroner’s jury came down easy on popular mine engineer

His helper — irony of ironies — was the very F. Meyer who was supposed to have accompanied Hunter, and whose place poor Gregor had taken.

His helper — irony of ironies — was the very F. Meyer who was supposed to have accompanied Hunter, and whose place poor Gregor had taken.

As if cave-ins, explosions, rock falls and poison gas weren’t enough, other hazards to life and limb awaited Vancouver Island’s coal miners of old.

When Andrew Hunter and George Gregor stepped into the cage of Nanaimo’s Douglas Pit, in May 1876, the last thing they expected was for engineer William Reid to forget to put the elevator in gear.

Just the men’s weight was sufficient to start the cage downward.

Unable even to slow their descent, Reid shouted a warning — as the luckless miners plummeted 300 feet straight down, where only two feet of water broke their fall.

In one of those unaccountable vagaries of fate, Hunter survived with no more injury that a severe shaking up and a broken ankle. When poor Gregor, 35, and formerly of Pennsylvania, was brought to the surface he was, as a newspaper reporter succinctly put it, stone dead. His only apparent injury was a wound over one eye.

Not surprisingly, engineer Reid was reported to be “greatly exercised” over his role in the tragedy, his first accident in 14 years of operating the hoist. Those who knew him said that Reid was “the steadiest and safest engineer in the country,” to the point of becoming a “proverb among the miners”.

Edward G. Prior, then an employee of the Vancouver Coal Co. a future mines inspector and a future provincial premier, testified at the inquest that he’d ordered Hunter and F. Meyer to undertake some repair work in the mine, but Meyer had been unavailable. Hence the luckless Gregor being sent in his place and, as it happened, to his death.

In fact, Prior had been about to enter the cage, too, but had been called away.

Minutes later, he hurried back upon being informed of the accident. Engineer Reid was crying and, putting his arms about Prior, said, “Oh, Mr. Prior, it is all my fault.”

“Nothing of the sort, Willie, it will be all right,” Prior said he replied, and allowed Reid to go home.

Questioned as to operating procedures, Prior reluctantly conceded that the accident wouldn’t have occurred if the elevator had been in gear rather than in neutral which meant that there was nothing really holding the cage in position once the men stepped into it.

Henry Bolton, miner, told how he’d volunteered to help bring the injured men out. His helper — irony of ironies — was the very F. Meyer who was supposed to have accompanied Hunter, and whose place poor Gregor had taken.

Gregor suffered no broken bones in the fall, his death having been caused by a puncture wound in the forehead which had penetrated the brain.

Jury foreman William Flewit, upon asking if it was not customary in the Old Country for hoist engines to have brakes, was informed that the Douglas Pit’s machinery had been installed just as it had arrived from its Scottish builders — without brakes.

A petition signed by almost 200 VCC employees “setting forth in strong terms” the confidence they had in engineer William Reid was presented to the jury.

Those six worthies, after several hours’ deliberation, ruled that George W. Gregor met his death through “an accident which…would probably have not occurred had the necessary appliance of a break [sic] to the drum…been supplied by the owners of the mine”.

There you have it: the mine’s owners were at fault for not having fitted the hoist engine with a brake.

Not a word about engineer Reid’s starring role in the tragic affair!

Just Posted

Darren Campbell’s truck (pictured) was stolen when he stopped to check on a car in a ditch on Cowichan Bay Road on Monday morning. (Facebook photo)
Cowichan Bay man’s truck stolen in nasty trick

‘Try to be a Good Samaritan and my $20,000 truck gets stolen right under my nose’

Threads N Tails owner Lee-Ann Burke’s pet clothing has been featured on the cover of the June/July issue of Pet Connection Magazine. (Submitted)
Lake Cowichan business featured on magazine cover

Lee-Ann Burke hopes the extra publicity will increase sales

North Cowichan’s senior environment specialist Dr. Dave Preikshot (pictured) said there’s a wide spectrum of views on carbon credits. (File photo)
Carbon credits expected to be part of discussions around forest reserve

North Cowichan acknowledges wide range of views on issue

Blue Moon Marquee from Duncan will be featured at the 2021 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival on June 28. (Submitted)
Blue Moon Marquee to play Vancouver Jazz Festival

What’s coming up in the A&E scene

Sonia Furstenau, MLA
Proposed Health Professions Act would eliminate barriers, guide regulations

Is your doctor a member of good standing with the BC College… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Gabriola Island artist Sheila Norgate is promoting the Digital Innovation Group’s art impact survey. (File photo)
Vancouver Island artists get behind regional arts impact study

Artists urged to use their stature to help put arts and culture super-region on the map

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

Neighbours fight a small late-night bush fire with garden hoses and shovels in Cinnabar Valley on June 5. They couldn’t get help from local fire services because the fire was located in an area under B.C. Wildfire Services jurisdiction. (Photo courtesy Muriel Wells)
Neighbours on edge of Nanaimo city limits left to put out bush fire themselves

Cinnabar Valley residents tackle fire with hoses and buckets for two and a half hours

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

Creative handmade signs abound at the June 13 Tofino rally for old growth trees. (Nora O’Malley photo)
VIDEO: Tofino stands in solidarity for Fairy Creek Blockades

Over 150 supporters attend rally hosted by Friends of Clayoquot Sound

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

Most Read