Colliery Trial continued


1930auchinraithhiresNewspapers on 27th November 1931 continued with reporting the trial and inquiry that happened following Blantyre’s disaster at Auchinraith Colliery in 1930. Pictured is the funeral procession for the deceased miners travelling past Auchinraith Primary School. As follows:

“When the trial was resumed in Hamilton Sheriff Court to-day, for the fifth day, of the former manager and under-manager of Auchinraith Colliery, Blantyre, there was a reasonable expectation that the concluding stages would be reached tonight. There was again big demand for the seats available to the public, and was the experience yesterday afternoon, hundreds of people, the majority of whom were mineworkers, were denied admission.

Interest was quickened in the final phases of the trial by the knowledge that the manager and under-manager were to be called as witnesses for the defence. The accused are David Chalmers Gemmell, formerly manager of Auchinraith Colliery, and now a manager in the Wemyss Coalfield, Fifeshire, and William Paterson, undermanager, who were the resposible officials the Blantyre Colliery when an explosion occurred on August 30th last year, when six lives were lost.

Accused denied the charge of failing, between May and August 30 last year, to carry out and enforce the provisions of the Coal Mines Act (1911) and the Explosives in Coal Mines Order (1913) in regard to the supervision of firemen and shot firers. There was an alternative charge against both Gemmell and Paterson of failing to see to the best of their power that a man who had been instructed to examine and report on the airways carried out these duties.

Successful Invention.

David Chalmers Gemmell, the first accused, deponed that he was appointed manager at Auchinraith Colliery on Ist January, 1925. The colliery was an old one, and his first duty was to get more modern plant installed. While at the colliery he initiated and developed certain original ideas with regard to support of the roof and sides underground. These methods and ideas were very successful, and had been highly commended by the mines inspectorate.

The invention had been adopted at mines throughout Great Britain, on the Continent and even in America. It was recognised that his idea had been of material advantage in contributing to the safety of coal mining. Witness had derived no financial advantage whatever from his invention. Indeed, the reverse was rather the case. Up to the time of the explosion in August of last year the colliery during his term of management had been strikingly free from accidents.

Low Death-Rate.

During his period of control the deathrate was 1.23 per million tons of coal raised. The average death-rate over Scotland was 4.56 per million tons of coal. During the two or three years he was in Blantyre not a single accident fell to be reported to the mines inspectors. When firemen and shot-firers were appointed he personally interviewed them and instructed them on their duties. There was never any shortage of material for the treatment of coal faces, and he that the staff were afforded ample facilities for carrying on their work in a satisfactory way. He was keenly interested in lamps and the lighting of mines. Indeed, his lamp cabin was more like a museum than anything else. Sometimes he had as many as 12 different types of lamps in his cabin.

Frequently Down Pit.

He was frequently down the pit, and he was always at the pithead before seven in the morning. He rarely left the office before five the evening, and there would not be more than 20 nights during the six years he was at Auchinraith when he did not return to the pit. Witness produced a diary which recorded his daily movements at Auchinraith during the six years he was on duty there. That book showed that in May of last year he was underground on no fewer than 17 occasions. The record shows that on 7th May there was a report of gas in Dunsmuirs section. He personally investigated that, and his diary showed that he had been underground before seven in the morning.

Support of the Roof.

In further evidence witness said he was sorry to hear the suggestion made in the course of the trial that he had possibly been paying too much attention to the support of the roof and sides, to the detriment of other duties. The fiscal intervened to say that he did not think any such impression had been conveyed. The Sheriff remarked that his view, too, was that a wrong inference had been drawn from certain questions put by the fiscal. Witness said he was glad to hear that, because it had given him much pain to think that he had been neglecting any of his duties from the point of view of safety.

“Not Perfect.”

Witnesses left Auchinraith Colliery on 30th September, and was thanked by Mr Domeney, the mines inspector, who was at the pit then, for his assistance. The mines inspector did not say anything at that time. He had not got the second airways book. There were always two books for keeping record of examinations of the airways, and he was positive on that point.

At Auchinraith he was well served by his under-manager, the second accused. Of course he had his differences with the under manager, and he had to correct him on occasion. Paterson had a good record of service with the firm extending over years, but he was not perfect.
The Fiscal —Let me take your last three words to the effect that the under manager was not perfect. You are not suggesting. I hope, that the manager was perfect?
Witness —By no means. Not one of us, I fear, happens to be that. Do you agree that prior to the explosion there was rapid firing of shots by the shot firers in Auchinraith Colliery That was necessary.

Shown the second book of the shot firers, witness admitted that on the 28th of August the deceased fireman Sprot used forty detonators. The total number of shots fired was 92 that day, and was distributed over three firers on the day shift.

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