Rebecca’s Object of the Week
My object of the week is a Haldane Canary Cage, which is currently on display in the museum’s ‘The Story of Coal’ exhibition.
The use of canaries in mines was introduced by John Haldane, a Scottish physiologist, in the late nineteenth century. Following the 1894 mining disaster at Tylorstown Colliery in which 57 men died, Haldane was asked to try to work out the reason for the explosion. His experiments led him to conclude that carbon monoxide was the cause. From previous work he knew that canaries were more sensitive to toxic gases than humans. He therefore created a cage that miners could use to carry canaries into the pits. To test for gas the glass door was opened to let air in. If the bird showed signs of distress the miners were alerted to the presence of carbon monoxide. The door was then shut and a valve opened to let in oxygen to revive the canary. This method saved thousands of lives across the world.
In Britain, most mines and all Mine Rescue Centres bred their own canaries. The birds were popular with miners, and they were often treated as pets. Following the introduction of electronic gas detectors in 1987, British mines phased out the use of canaries.
Today, the National Mining Museum Scotland has thirteen canaries and they are unsurprisingly very popular with visitors!