We’ve updated our Terms of Use to reflect our new entity name and address. You can review the changes here.
We’ve updated our Terms of Use. You can review the changes here.

Plate 4: Job (29 June 1910)

from Penallta Colliery: Sound Pictures [album] by John Harvey



The composition alludes to the upright man in the eponymous book from the Hebrew Bible and Old Testament, whom God tests mercilessly almost to the point of destruction. Since Puritan times, many Christian parents have named their children after biblical characters. The well-known Welsh preacher Seth Joshua (1858–1925) was doubly blessed by a forename and a surname with sound scriptural pedigrees. The name ‘Job’ is uncommon, perhaps because it held hostage to bad fortune – as proved to be the case for one Job Rossiter.

He was one of the first workers at Penallta Colliery and a hardgroundsman. That is to say, a collier who cut into the subterranean rockface. On the 29 June 1910, aged 25, Job received a lethal electric shock from a poorly insulated lighting cable. I wanted Job Rossiter to represent of all those who had died at the colliery in its lifetime.

What the ‘first sound pictures’ neither show nor tell, however, is that the Powell Duffryn Company – which owned Penallta Colliery prior to Nationalisation – had earned itself an appalling reputation as an employer. The cost of coal extraction was kept low because the wages the company paid the colliers were poor, as were their conditions of employment and safety at the workplace. The South Wales Miners’ Federation published an excoriating report to this effect in the same year as the newsreel was released.

While the colliery never suffered a disaster (defined as an incident causing five or more fatalities), Powell Duffryn’s dismissive attitude regarding the colliers’ welfare may have contributed to at least 23 deaths between 1907 and 1914 alone (of whom Job Rossiter’s fatality was one). The Mines Inspectors report for that period record deaths caused variously by: runaway drams; derailments; roof-fall due to weakened timbers; electric shock; inferior materials; inadequate training; and tiredness brought on by overwork. For these reasons, the colliery was known among the workforce and their families as the ‘slaughterhouse’.

The composition is centred around a 50Hz hum that is emitted by electricity passing through the coils of a step-down distribution transformer. I had an uncle who was chief electrician at Beynon’s Colliery. He gave me access to the engine room, where that hum seemed to vibrate the very air. The composition evokes my acoustic memory of the colliery’s Winding Room also. These source sounds, other than the 50Hz hum made by a transformer in my locality, are derived from the newsreel’s soundtrack.


from Penallta Colliery: Sound Pictures [album], released July 31, 2022


all rights reserved



John Harvey Ceredigion, UK

I’m a practitioner and historian of sound art and visual art, and Emeritus Professor of Art at the School of Art, Aberystwyth University, UK. My research field is the sonic and visual culture of religion. I explore the sonic articulations of the Christian religion by engaging visual, textual, and audible sources, theological and cultural ideas, and systemic and audiovisualogical processes. ... more

contact / help

Contact John Harvey

Streaming and
Download help

Report this track or account