"QUEST FOR THE BLACK DIAMOND"
'Twould ring the bells of Heaven
The wildest peal for years,
If Parson lost his senses
And people came to theirs,
And he and they together
Knelt down with angry prayers
For tamed and shabby tigers
And dancing dogs and bears,
And wretched, blind pit ponies,
And little hunted hares.
-- Ralph Hodgson, "The Bells of Heaven"
What Thomas Jordan, an English coal miner born in the reign of Queen Victoria, most remembered about his life below ground was the ponies. When they were old enough, the terrified beasts were trussed and lowered into the shaft, where they labored for years in the enveloping darkness, going blind for lack of exposure to natural light.
Thomas had not yet turned fourteen when he parted ways with school and, dressed up as a little miner in a blue flannel shirt, short breeches, and sturdy shoes, descended into the pit at nine o'clock on a cold January night. There he remained until eight the following morning, when he was relieved by another youth his age. During the intervening hours of nerveracking pandemonium, punctuated by staccato shifts in the strata overhead, "the quest for the black diamond," Jordan later recounted in his unpublished autobiography, "overruled sanity, order and grace."
He began work as a "trapper-boy," whose primary responsibility consisted of opening and shutting a door to allow the "putters," or drivers, to pass through with their ponies and