Shields Daily Gazette, 10th July 1903
SAD CALAMITY AT HEBBURN
HEAVY SUBSIDENCE AT THE NEW DOCK
MEN BURIED ALIVE
THE SEARCH FOR THE DEAD
An accident of an alarming character occurred at the new graving dock, Hebburn, yesterday afternoon, when a considerable quantity of earth fell upon some men who were working in the excavation.
There was a gang of at least ten men working in the caisson chamber, when the fall of earth occurred. Two of them are known to have escaped, but the others were all buried beneath the debris.
With commendable promptness gangs of navvies under the direction of Mr. Smith, the manager, set to work to rescue the poor fellows, after a considerable amount of clay and rubbish had been removed, Jeremiah Moriarty, 29 years of age, who resides in Cuthbert Street, was dug out, and, happily, was found to be alive. Dr. Walker, who was present, found the man suffering badly from shock. He was removed to his home.
The depth of the chamber which was filled with earth was 27 feet, and more than 15 feet of clay was removed without any of the other men being reached.
It was stated that when Jermeiah Moriarty was rescued two other men, Dennis Coffey and John Moriarty, the brother of Jeremiah, who were in the chamber, were known to be alive.
Endeavours were made to get fresh air to the men by means of pumps.
During the afternoon a very considerable number of men were put on to work in and around the chamber clearing the soil from the entombed men. Owing to the fact that a number of massive beams were fitted into the workings, the earth which slipped was in a sense divided into sections as it fell into the chamber. This was fortunate for the men who were imprisoned, as they seem to have become fitted into places where the beams are preventing the debris from closing in upon them.
They were up to four o'clock alive, but it was not certain what the exact number of men was. Father Ryan, the Catholic curate, was early at the dock side, as most of the men are Irishmen and Catholic. He was permitted to descend amongst the workmen, and he succeeded in holding a conversation with John Moriarty, and he discovered that at the east corner of the chamber three men were together and were all still alive. One of the men named Coffey was removed some distance from these, his position being about the west corner of the chamber.
In conversation with the engineer our representative was informed that the accident in no way be accounted for. To all appearances the place was absolutely safe.
The affair naturally caused a great sensation in Hebburn, and the women relatives of men working at the dock during the afternoon were gathered in large numbers along the low road waiting eagerly for information as to the condition of the men from persons who came out the dockyard.
Up to 4.30 the entombed men had not been reached, but some of the workers were able to carry on a conversation with one of the men, and up to that time they continued to suffer little inconvenience other than the want of fresh air, which, of course, was being continually pumped to them.
The hope is then almost certain that three men would be rescued alive, but in regard to Coffey, hope had almost been given up. He was known to be at the west side of the chamber, but it was thought that he had been completely covered by the rubbish.
A MAN RESCUED ALIVE
Shortly after five o'clock another man was rescued from the caisson chamber. His name is James Lyne, and he is about 27 years of age. He it was with whom the rescuers were in conversation at intervals during the afternoon.
When he was brought out of the hole he presented a most extraordinary appearance. His head, face and shoulders were covered with a tank coloured slime, and as he was hoisted in the ballast tub he stared about him in a dazed way. He had been entombed in a cramped position leaning over a barrier for nearly eight hours, and was much exhausted in consequence. The moment he was landed on the high ground above the caisson chamber he was taken in hand by Dr. Walker and an ambulance corps, and after receiving preliminary treatment was removed to the Infirmary. At first he appeared to be very well, but later he became unconscious at intervals and had, evidently, sustained a severe injury to his side. Father Ryan was at the poor fellow's bedside and in a few moments of consciousness he said three of his mates were struck by a fall of timber during the afternoon, and they were buried, so that he could not see them again although they were quite near him. When the accident occurred Lyne was thrust into a corner, and in this way he was saved, as a large beam in front of him proved a protection.
It was not known definitely last night whether there was still four or six men in the chamber, and their names could only be guessed at, this being due to the fact that the men employed at the new dock are of a migratory class, and are practically strangers to each other. The exact number of men buried in the debris will only be known when the officials have time to go over the books, or when the chamber is cleared and the whole of the bodies recovered. The work of clearing the place, which was of a very difficult nature, was rendered more so by the appearance of water at about seven o'clock.
AN UNVERIFIED RUMOUR
A man named Michael Griffen was subsequently named as having been got out of the place alive, but about this there was much uncertainty.
THREE DEAD BODIES RECOVERED
By ten o'clock three dead bodies had been brought out, and they were identified as those of Dennis Coffey, said to have resided at Jarrow;__ Kelly, and John Foley. Two of the bodies were removed to the mortuary at the Infirmary, and one was placed in the contractor's office.
It was thought that John Moriarty, a married man, and Michael Hefferman, and probably a third man are still in the dock, and it was decided to continue the search until the chamber was cleared.
BODIES FOUND THIS MORNING
Early this morning the search party succeeded in recovering another four bodies, which brings the death toll up to the time of writing to seven. The names of the last four are Thomas O'Brien, James Hefferman, John Moriarty, and James Griffen.
A STORY OF DIFFICULTIES AND DISASTERS
HEAVY DEATH TOLL
The full tale of disaster in connection with the terrible subsidence at the new graving dock at Hebburn was known this morning, when the last of the bodies of the entombed men were brought out of the caisson chamber. As has been explained the dock is to be the largest on the Tyne, and in its construction difficulties which have almost baffled those in charge of the work have been met with. Tank gasses, shifting sand, and inrushes of water have hindered the contractors and the loss of life has been considerable prior to the addition of seven lives lost in yesterday's subsidence. When the embankment slipped there were eleven men in the chamber, and of these two escaped uninjured. Jeremiah Moriarty, who was the first extricated, was not much worse for his terrible experience, and this morning it was reported that James Lyne, who was entombed for eight hours, is making satisfactory progress. The complete list of the men who perished is as follows:-
John Moriarty, 23, married, Cuthbert Street, Hebburn
Thomas O'Brien, 22, single, Cuthbert Street.
Michael Sufferance, 30, single, Cuthbert Street.
Dennis Foley, 27, single, Cuthbert Street
Dennis Coffey, 28, single, Cuthbert Street.
James Kelly, 38, single, said to have resided at Jarrow.
The body of John Moriarty was removed to his late residence, and the other six bodies are lying at the mortuary.”
The article continues with a survivor's tale and that the inquest would begin that evening.