Wednesday 24th July 1901 started like any other day in Blantyre that decade. The menfolk set off from their houses , mostly to the pit. Blantyre residents James McGurk and Henry Tennant were no exception. They made their way to Auchenraith Colliery belonging to Messrs Merry and Cunninghame.
James and Henry collected their mining gear from the workshop and headed over to the pit shaft, squeezing into the tight cage with 6 other men. The signal was given for the cage to descend into the ground. The cage the men went down in would have been exactly like this one pictured from the same era. Not a lot of protection and only small bars from waist height upwards.
To everyone’s horror, near the start of the descend one of the ropes suddenly and violently slipped out of the shackles and the cage immediately tipped over horizontally. James McGurk was thrown out the cage and fell to his death, a considerable distance. He would have died instantly at the bottom of the shaft. As the men held on to the cage for their dear lives, Henry Tennant wasn’t so lucky. He slipped between the space of the railings and was hanging on the side of the cage, now facing the bottom of the pit. His grip was weakening and with all other men trapped in horrific positions, he knew his hand was slipping. Not being able to carry his own weight, and dangling from the cage, he lunged forward and with one hand grabbed a boy, who responded by trying to hold the man with his both hands. To no avail. Knowing that his efforts and the boy’s were in vain, and to avoid the possibility of dragging a boy to the bottom, he had no option.
Henry stared into the boys eyes, as his grip slackened and looking upwards as he felt himself slip, quietly and calmly said “I’m away then”, falling to the bottom and his tragic fate. The other 6 men in the cage had a horrific ordeal but were eventually rescued and hour and a half later. It’s with respect we stop for a second tonight to marvel at the bravery of Henry and indeed any miner for the hardships they had to endure.
Source: Evening Telegraph 24th July 1901