This graphic image is divided into two
sections - left and right. The left-hand portion of the image portrays
three scantily clad coal miners at work. They are illuminated by a lamp
placed beneath the standing figures. This source of light, in a darkened
shaft, illuminates the workers and their tools. The extreme left-hand
figure is kneeling and in action. His left hand is about to beat the chisel
that is poised at the wall. Behind him, a standing figure moves to the
wall with his pick axe. The light shines on their upper torsos, indicating
reasonably young men. A third worker pushes filled cart away from the
wall, the cart being on tracks. His body is bent to the weight of the
cart and he too is illuminated by the light beneath. Tools of the workmen
lie beneath the workmen and cart.
The right hand portion of the composition
is occupied with another drama. A young boy with a pony fills the right
hand portion of the print. The viewer sees the pony first, as the animal
is bathed in light from the illumination of the second lamp. The young
boy's face is illuminated as well. An older man stands behind the filled
cart and holds the lamp, while appearing to be in conversation with the
One gets the illusion of a closed and confined
space, as the background walls are dark against the illuminated figures.
The ground also appears darkened, focusing the viewer's attention on the
Images of the working class were often
romanticized in Victorian English painting. This image, an illustration
about the Durham coal miners, appeared in the magazine Graphic,
and made no allusions to the 'romance' of working class life. Lifelike
figures and compositions were often marked with contrasts of light and
dark - drawing the viewer's attention to the nuances of facial and bodily
characteristics as well as to the drama of the situation. The strong chiaroscuro
(light and dark) of this image relays the sweat and hard work of the miners
without any romantic allusions.
This image focuses on the aspect of the
conditions of the men and boys working in the coalmines. Scantily clad
men went deep into the mines to dig coal that could be brought to the
surface via pony drawn carts. The three figures on the left rely on their
own strength as well as the lamplight to guide them as they go about their
tasks. The darkened shape of the coal cart conveys its own weight and
is heightened by the fact that a miner is bodily pushing it. His tools
lie on the surface to the right of his foot.
The young boy and pony form a curious addition.
The pit boy is clothed, as is the other adult male in the composition.
The pony is hitched up with a harness while the boy holds a rod in his
right hand and looks as if he is about to hook up to the coal cart. The
second lamp illuminates these actions. The contrast between a young child
and strong horse highlights the brute strength of the miners themselves.
the policemen saw the dangers that the miners worked in they said -
"Why we would not work in such places for a pound a day." And the colliers
might get a pound a day if they liked - for the coal was the spring
of all commerce and industry, and a pound of it was worth more than
a pound of gold. They had to sell their labour, and it was duty to sell
it at the highest price. If all the colliers in the Kingdom were to
lay down their tools and demand a high price for their labour they could
by the Chief Constable of Staffordshire—Meeting of Colliers, 30