Tag Archives: Franklin Coal and Coke

Explosion in the Mine

“No Hope for 20 Men Entombed in Mine Afire,” declared the headline in the September 29, 1918 edition of the Chicago Tribune.1

Sadly, 21 men died in the gas explosion on September 27, 1918 in the mine of the Franklin Coal and Coke Co. in Royalton, Illinois.  On the preceding night a fire had been discovered and the firefighters sealed off two of the rooms. They had nailed a door shut but an employee pried it open and ignited the fire with his naked light. He was blown back and he survived until the next day and was able to explain how the explosion happened.2

My great-uncle, John Hynd, a mine examiner, died in this explosion. He was forty-nine and had three young children.3

Rescue operation after Royalton explosion, courtesy of Wayne’s World of History and Genealogy

John came from a long line of coal miners and was born at the Wellwood Colliery in Dunfermline, Scotland. This means that his parents lived on the site of the mine. John’s father, also John Hynd, was illiterate and signed his son’s birth registration with an X.4 Most sons of the miners in the colliery also worked there and started at a young age.

Parliament in the U.K. established the Children’s Employment Commission in 1842 to investigate the conditions of children in mines and factories. With respect to the Wellwood Colliery, James Spawort testified that “the age at which children are taken down depends on the circumstances of their parents, if they are destitute, they are taken early. “ The schoolteacher, William Craig, further testified that “there is no hope of the children being better instructed until some stoppage is put to the practice of working infants in mines. “5

While conditions were still grim, John, born in 1869, had better employment circumstances than his father and forefathers. As a result, the Mines and Collieries Act arising out of the Commission inquiry prohibited girls and women to work down the mine, and ruled that males could only start working at 10 years of age. The work day for any child under 13 was limited to twelve hours.6

The 1881 census shows that John was already working in the mine at the age of 13. He was a doorkeeper in a pit.7 Ten years later, John had been promoted to coal miner. His brother, James was also working at the mine by then and his sister, Mary, was a pit head worker at the mine in Cowdenbeath, Scotland.8

John Hynd arrived in the U.SA. in January 1905. He arrived with a friend.9 He probably came to the U.S. looking for work in a mine. Mines in the U.S. needed qualified workers and hired employment agents in the U.K. to attract workers. It was also usual to advertisement on public bulletin boards. Perhaps this is how John knew about opportunities for miners. 10 While he travelled only with a friend when he arrived, his wife, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Milne and child also immigrated. 10 He possibly settled in Illinois because of the many opportunities for employment in the coal mines and he was living in Benld, a small village that happened to have a coal mine. However, at the time of the census it says that John was working as a bartender. His brother, William was also living with him and working as a miner. William had arrived in 1908 and had also been a miner in Scotland.12 U.S.A. naturalization records show that John’s two other brothers, Andrew and James also immigrated to Benld and probably worked in the mine.13

By 1918 John is back in the mine working as a mine examiner at the Franklin Coal and Coke Co. in Royalton, Illinois, about 130 km away from the village of Benld.  This was a supervisory job that meant he was responsible for assessing the risk of danger in the mine, such as gas leaks and fires. It is not clear whether he lived in Royalton at the time of explosion or he traveled for work. He was buried close to the village of Benld, in Gillespie.14

After John’s death, Elizabeth did not stay in a small village in Illinois. As she had three small children to take care of, she would have had to work. The 1920 USA census tells us that she was living with her three children and working as a confectioner in St. Louis, Missouri.15 Elizabeth died 43 years later in 1961 and was buried beside her husband, John.16

John’s death was the third tragedy in the Hynd family in three years. His father, John, had to bear the burden three deaths. John Hynd’s (senior) wife, Euphemia, died in 1916 of abdominal cancer.73 Then his daughter, Mary Hynd, my great-grandmother, died of liver cancer in 1917.18 And then John’s shocking and tragic death in 1918.

  1. Clipping from Newspapers.com, accessed May 22, 1921.
  2. Wayne’s World of History and Genealogy: History, Genealogy, Coal Mining in Illinois, https://hinton-gen.com/coal/disasters3.html, accessed May 23, 2021.
  3. Death certificate for John Hynd, issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health on April 12, 2021.
  4. Scotland’s People, Statutory Registration of Births, John Hynd, accessed May 1, 2020.
  5. Scotland’s Mining Website, Children’s Employment Commission 1842, Wellwood Colliery,http://www.scottishmining.co.uk/89.html, accessed May 22, 2021.
  6. Wikipedia, The Mines and Collieries Act 1842, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mines_and_Collieries_Act_1842, accessed May 22, 2021.
  7. Scotland’s People, 1881 Census, Mary Hynd, accessed April 27, 2020.
  8. Scotland’s People, 1891 Census, Mary Hynd, accessed August 14, 2020.
  9. Family Search, USA arrivals, John Hynd, accessed May 23, 2021.
  10. Immigration to the United States, Labor, Coal Mining, https://immigrationtounitedstates.org/438-coal-industry.html, accessed June 16, 2021.
  11. Family Search, 1910 U.S.A. Census, John Hynd, accessed May 23, 2021.
  12. Idem.
  13. Illinois Department of Commerce and Labor Naturalization Service, Circuit Court, Seventh District, Macoupian County, Illinois.
  14. Death certificate for John Hynd, issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health on April 12, 2021.
  15. Family Search, USA 1910 Census, Elizabeth Hynd, accessed May 24, 2021.
  16. Find a Grave, Elizabeth Hynd, accessed May 25, 2021.
  17. Scotland’s People, Register of Statutory Deaths, Euphemia Wallace, accessed May 24, 2021.
  18. Scotland’s People, Register of Statutory Deaths, Mary Hynd, accessed April 20, 2019