Nystagmus is a condition of involuntary eye movement, acquired in infancy or later in life, that may result in reduced or limited vision. Due to the involuntary movement of the eye, it is often called “dancing eyes”. It can be brought on by vertigo, or fear or confined spaces, and as such was often known as a colliery disease. The rapid movement of eyes was once considered incorrectly as being a possible sign of insanity. It was also brought on in this context, by the prolonged periods of working in the dark.
Mrs. Annie Hamilton Galbraith (nee Dewar) – of 4 Douglas Street, High Blantyre, during February 1931 tired, unsuccessfully to claim compensation for her husband who had committed suicide by drowning. He had been a shot firer working at Priory Pit belonging to Mssrs William Baird & Co.
She had claimed the suicide was caused by Nystagmus, which she claimed had driven her husband insane. The court found in favour of William Baird & Co, the charge not proven.
In a description by Ronald S Fishman, “Coal miners’ nystagmus was one of the first occupational illnesses ever recognized as being due to a hazardous working environment. It aroused great concern and much controversy in Great Britain in the first half of the 20th century but was not seen in the United States. Miners’ nystagmus became a significant financial problem for the British workmen’s compensation program, and the British medical literature became a forum for speculation as to the nature of the condition. Although new cases of miners’ nystagmus were rare after World War II, the condition continued to be discussed in textbooks through the 1970s, after which it abruptly disappeared without any authoritative summing-up, and thereby hangs a tale.”
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