Cornhill Magazine,  5 (1862), 426–37.

Fire-Damp and its Victims

[John R Leifchild]




Mining, Industry, Public Health, Gas Chemistry, Monographs, Amateurism, Force, Display, Lecturing, Experiment, Light

    Complains that in 'a country containing the first scientific men of the age' the lives of thousands of miners are still taken by a 'terrible and unconquered foe—this fearful Fire-damp'. It is 'a hydro-carbon, known as light carburetted hydrogen gas [...] highly explosive [...] according to its predominance in the atmosphere', and 'Chemical books inform us of its chemical nature and relations, but we very soon exhaust the little any one can say about it'. In fact, the author notes that beyond giving details of Humphry Davy's experiments to test 'the inflammability of different proportions with a common candle [...] and mere chemical technicalities, all the books in chemistry we have seen are unsatisfactory'. This 'silence', however, does not 'much discredit the authors or compilers, since a man must necessarily have observed and studied in and around gaseous coal-pits before he can acquire any satisfactory information on so obscure a subject'. Indeed, it is the 'local observation and reflection upon ascertained facts' by mining operatives such as the 'late Mr. T. J. Taylor—(from whom we have learnt more respecting this gas than from any other man)' that has provided most scientific information about fire-damp in 'recent years'. (427). Also praises the 'ready ingenuity' of a miner who knew that by 'keeping his head near the ground he inhaled less gas' and thereby saved his life during an outburst of fire-damp (431). Notes that 'most people have seen [the atmosphere's] crushing effect exhibited by lecturers in experiments with the air-pump; such effects would require to be multiplied four and a half times in order to display the force of this gas: in philosophical phraseology, its force is that of four and a half atmospheres' (430).

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