“During last night Thomas Rosewall and his comrade were tamping a hole underground in Consols Mine, when the hole unexpectedly blasted and Rosewall as so severely injured that he died shortly after he was taken to his home. He leaves a widow and six children. The other man was burnt a little about the face”
This entry from the diary of John Tregerthen Short of St Ives encapsulates a tragedy that was a frequent occurrence and illustrates the dangerous and lethal work of hard rock Cornish tin mining. A details added by the report in the Royal Cornwall Gazette tells us that Rosewall's mate was a man called Ellis who came from Zennor and was badly burnt on his face.
Thomas Rosewall was only 42 at the time of his death. He was baptised in St Ives on 6th January 1801, son of Thomas and Catherine Rosewall. Listed in the 1841 Census as a tin miner living in Rosewall, Towednack he and his wife Prudence have six children, all under eleven, with the youngest only four months old. Details of miner’s lives are difficult to come by but sometimes we can uncover the motives and morals of the owners. In Cyril Noall’s account of St Ives Consols Mine in his study of The St Ives Mining District he describes the political ambitions of a Mr James Halse, a St Ives solicitor, and owner of St Ives Consols. Mr Halse lost his parliamentary seat in 1830 and, in order to regain it, proceeded to build Halsetown to house his miners who, were then under an obligation to vote for him and dealt severely with any who didn’t; there being no secret ballot at the time. In 1832 two miners, Thomas Rosewall and Richard Curnow, who supported Mr Halse’s opponent were committed to Bodmin gaol for a month on the grounds that they had ‘broken their contracts to work at his mines’. It seems likely that this was the same Thomas Rosewall.
St Ives Consols was located at the top of the Stennack where today the B3306 joins the B3311. The modern Ordnance Survey map still shows Consols Farm and a number of shafts. As the name implies, Consols (Consolidated) was an amalgamation of a number of old pre-existing setts and it proved to be a rich mine.
Turning now to the accident which killed Thomas Rosewall – the procedure for blasting the drilled holes in the rock was extremely dangerous. The miners would drill a number of small holes in the rock to be blasted which were then filled with gunpowder, a pointed rod called a ‘needle’ was then inserted and clay packed round; it was then ‘tamped’ down with a wooden rod and a fuse inserted. Tamping was the dangerous part as the gunpowder could easily explode with any sparks or when the fuse, often a straw or quills were lit and set to the hole.
Unfortunately for Thomas Rosewall the mine was not using the ‘Safety Fuze’ invented in 1831 by William Bickford and patented in September of that year No 6159. This fuse was a tube of gunpowder covered by jute yarn cross woven and then varnished in tar making it waterproof. This fuse would burn at 30 seconds a foot so that an accurate time for the igniting of the explosive could be calculated. This invention saved the lives of countless miners.
A newspaper report of the death of Thomas Rosewall can be found in the Royal Cornwall Gazette Friday July 7th.
1841 Census which can be consulted free of charge at Freecen.
Cyril Noall, The St Ives Mining District Vol II, Dyllansow Truran, 1993