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Electric Light in Collieries

Nature volume 24, page 383 | Download Citation



AUGUST 9, 1881, witnessed the first practical application in the United Kingdom of the electric light to the illuminating of coal-mines. The Earnock Colliery, near Hamilton, Lanarkshire, belonging to Mr. J. Watson, has been fitted with Swan's incandescent lamps specially arranged with outer lanterns of stout glass, air-tight, and provided with steel guards. The workings in which the lamps were fixed are 118 fathoms, or 708 feet below the surface. Twenty-one brilliant little lights placed at the pit-bottom, in the roads, and at the actual face of the seam where active operations were in process, supply an illumination of a very different character from the dismal glimmer of an occasional Davy. The electricity was generated by a dynamo-electric machine at the surface worked by a special 12 horse-power engine, and conveyed by two cables, first along telegraph poles to the pit mouth, then down the shaft to the workings, in one section to a distance of half a mile. The overhead wires are naked copper wires of ⅜ inch diameter, while those below ground are carefully insulated, and in the shaft are protected with an outer tube of galvanised iron. At suitable points of the circuit safety air-tight switches, the invention of Messrs. Graham of Glasgow, are inserted to afford control over individual lamps. The mine was visited two days after the installation of the light by members of the Mining Institute of Scotland, with whom was Mr. W. Galloway, whose remarkable experiments on the explosive effects of coal-dust will be remembered in connection with the more recent report of Prof. Abel. The party were photographed in the workings. An experiment was made with a lamp to test whether in the event of its being broken by accident a surrounding atmosphere of explosive gas would or would not be kindled by the strip of red-hot carbon before it had had time to cool. Into a box containing about three cubic feet of explosive gas a single lamp, removed from its outer protecting case of stout glass, was placed, and the current was turned on. The fragile bulb inclosing the incandescent carbon thread was then purposely broken, when the gas inclosed in the box immediately exploded. No such occurrence could possibly happen if the protecting case of stout glass is properly constructed. The risk of accident must be considered as immensely less than that of the ordinary Davy lamp, especially when it is remembered that with the brilliant light of the electric lamps they need no longer be carried in the hand or set down upon the floor near the actual spot where the coal is being got, but will be fixed overhead at a safe distance against the wall of the mine. The ease with which the light can be turned out during the firing of a blast is another point in their favour. The proprietor of the Earnock Colliery is greatly to be congratulated on the step he has taken. In 1880 the death-roll of the slain by explosions of fire-damp in Great Britain reached the figure of 499 persons. We venture to predict that the universal adoption of electric lighting in fiery mines would reduce this figure to one-tenth of its terrible proportions. How many years will it be, we wonder, before the adoption of electric lighting will be made compulsory by Act of Parliament? And how many colliery owners will discover, we would ask, when driven to this course by compulsion, that in the long run they effect an economy by discarding the clumsy and unsafe “safety”-lamp, which will so soon be numbered with the “flint mill” amongst the relics of the past?

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