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John Meadows (1858–1889)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

John Meadows (1858-1889) entombed miner

Baptised: on 2 December 1858 in St Andrew’s Anglican chapel, Maghull, Lancashire, England, son of Henry Meadows (1803-1858), farmer and blacksmith, and his second wife Jane, née Sumner (1817-1864). Unmarried. Death: about 30 June 1889 in Hamilton mine, near Merewether, Newcastle. Religion: Anglican. 

  • Father died from injuries received falling from a bridge at night while intoxicated a month before John’s baptism. Two older siblings — a brother, also named John, born in 1852, and a sister Catherine, born in 1857 — had died as children. His mother died in May 1864 from tuberculosis.
  • John and his brother Henry boarded with local families in Wavertree, Lancashire, where he worked as a labourer in 1881; his sister Alice was brought up by an uncle in Maghull.
  • Arrived in New South Wales about 1883. He was employed as a shiftman at the Australian Agricultural Company’s Hamilton mine in Newcastle from 1885.
  • On 22 June 1889 he was removing a pump from the pit with three colleagues, James Hodson, George Beaumont and Alexander Grant when the roof fell in. They were among eighteen miners engulfed in the disaster. Seven were rescued. Eleven men died. The other victims were Thomas Banfield, Daniel Masson, John Peate senior and his son John Peate junior, Herbert Pettit, David Proctor and Jabez Roberts.
  • The volunteer rescuers found Pettit’s body first, on 2 July, but mine management then halted recovery efforts because of danger to the rescue team. The search resumed on 2 August when Peate junior and the lad Banfield were recovered. On 11 August Peate senior and Masson were found and, on 25 August, Roberts.
  • It was not until 4 September that Meadows’s body, along with those of Beaumont, Grand and Hodson, was recovered. Nearby was found Meadows’s water tin on which he had scratched, faintly with a pin, “John Meadows, 30 years, seven days starvation.” This “message from the dead” revealed that these men had survived the rock fall but had died in the dark, waiting to be rescued. According to Dr Harris’s initial evidence at the subsequent inquest, the men “had died from the effects of foul air” that is, suffocated from lack of oxygen. However, he later modified this view and conceded they “must have died from starvation”.
  • Meadows was buried with the other three victims in Sandgate cemetery with Anglican rites on 5 September 1889.
  • The last body to be recovered was Proctor’s on 8 September.
  • Like two other men who died with him, Meadows was a member of the Star of Merewether, No. 61, lodge, Independent Order of Oddfellows. It paid a benefit of £20 to his brother Henry, an engine-driver in Wavertree, near Liverpool, Lancashire.
  • Two coronial inquests were held. The second, centering on James Hodson, found that death was caused by the culpable neglect of the overman, James Sharp, and his deputy, Hodson, in not withdrawing the men, and criticised the mine management for the lack of larger pillars and for failures in the rescue plan.
  • The provision of financial relief from the A.A. Company for the victims of the tragedy was lengthy and contentious.
  • Eventually, the Miner’s Accident Relief Act passed in 1900, provided for financial relief to dependents and injured miners in mining accidents.
  • The Hamilton mine closed in 1901.
  • Meadows’s name is included in the Jim Comerford memorial wall of miners who lost their lives in the northern district coal mines. In 2022 the wall included 1792 names.

Clive Beauchamp, ‘Disaster at the Australian Agricultural Company’s Mine, Hamilton NSW, 1889’, in Journal of Australasian Mining History, Vol. 12, 2014. Frank Maxwell and Elaine Sheehan (compilers), Nineteenth Century Coalmining Related Deaths, Hunter Valley, NSW (Newcastle Family History Society Inc., Adamstown, September 2004), pp.131 & 229-238.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Meadows, John (1858–1889)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


Lancashire, England


30 June, 1889 (aged ~ 31)
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

mining accident

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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