A sad tale unfolded on Sunday 23rd March 1913 at the Village Mills, Blantyre.
A tragic double drowning took the lives of two people, one of them only a boy.
Some boys had been playing near the edge of the River Clyde which was flowing higher than normal due to Spring rainfall. To everyone’s horror, John Morran or Reilly of Cross Row, Blantyre , aged 11 fell from a high retaining wall between the lade and the river and was carried away in full spate.
The alarm was raised and immediately nearby was John Gray, a miner residing at Shuttle Row. Without any thought for his safety, and not even stopping to remove any clothing, John plunged off the wall into the dark and murky flowing water.
He caught hold of the boy and was in the process of swimming back to safety, when his aches and pains of his mining profession played a cruel twist of fate, encompassing him with cramps. Witnesses commented on the difficulties he appeared to be having with his arm and leg, which was forcing both man and boy under the water. In panic, Little John tried to clamber on top of the miner as people on the shore could only look on helplessly. To screams of shock and horror, both man and boy fell below the white water rapids and each were carried away, drowned.
John Gray was 31 years old, was married was married with 3 children. He was also a reserve soldier with the 93rd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. This brave Blantyre man had given his life to try to help the boy. It was later reported that Gray had previously rescued somebody in similar circumstances.
Fundraising around Blantyre commenced almost immediately. On Wed 2nd April 1913, a public meeting was held in Blantyre Masonic Hall, Mr. W.H Lamond attending. The attendance was large.
A special postcard was commissioned in memory of John Gray costing 3p (about £3 in today’s money). Proceeds of the car went to John’s widow and their three children. An open air concert was held and even a local sponsored football match, all for the man who was dubbed “The Blantyre Hero”.
This tragedy occurred immediately outside of the Mill, down the river bank from Shuttle Row, the birthplace of David Livingstone.
Not forgetting little John too, Elizabeth Grieve emailed me in October 2015, saying, “Paul. I was reading the story on the site regarding the double drowning in 1913 involving the miner and the 11 year old boy. On a recent visit to the High Blantyre Cemetery, I found the grave marker, bought by public subscription and both man and boy are buried in the same lair, naming them as John Gray and John Reilly.”
I found this interesting as the boy was named John Morran in the newspaper reports and I wondered if perhaps he was fatherless and either the reporters or the people responsible for the public marker stone used his mothers maiden name.
Here are the death certificates and other family certificates relating to John Gray and John Morran.
On social media:
Charlie Fleming I used to swim in the deep side of the damn in the summer when it wasn’t overflowing but actually scares me to think how dangerous it was to swim there
The Blantyre Project really, really dangerous. In times of faster flowing water, the water pouring into that part, flows at such force, it would keep pushing a person downwards, unable to get back up, and looks as though it would be very hard to break free. I cant even begin to tell of the dozens of people who have drowned at that exact spot over the centuries.
Charlie Fleming I used to stand on damn and look down at the long green reeds swaying about in the current and I used to dive down and try and grab them god I’m luck to be alive