1878 Dixons Pit Disaster

Just 1 year after the Blantyre Pit Disaster of 1877, William Dixons Ltd suffered another terrible below.Putting a more personal insight into this, Mr Thomas Murdoch had died in 1877 in the explosion, then his brother and father died a few months later in the following incident. We can only imagine how the rest of the family would have felt or coped after that year.

On 5 March 1878 at their No. 3 Pit, six men were killed when the cage they were in was drawn up past the top of the pit and 32 feet (9.8 m) into the pithead wheels. (Amongst them were 2 of the Murdoch family.) The cage was wrecked and overturned, throwing six men to the bottom of the 150-fathom (900 ft; 270 m) shaft.

A seventh man (James Gerrity) managed to hold on until he was assisted down and except from being shaken, was unhurt.

At the time of the accident Mr J T Robson (Assistant Government Inspector for the district) and Mr Robert Robson (his assistant) were in the colliery office with Mr Watson, the manager. Robert Robson descended number 2 pit and went to the bottom of the number 3 shaft to supervise the recovery of the bodies from a flooded sump. Meanwhile, several men descended number 3 pit in a “kettle” to examine the shaft for damage.

The shaft being undamaged the bodies were recovered that way. The engine keeper, Arthur Cleland, stated that “something had gone wrong” with the indicator to the colliery engineer, James Patterson, was in the vicinity at the time of the accident. Patterson examined the indicator, which showed the cage’s position and found it registered 40 fathoms (240 ft; 73 m) from the pithead, about a quarter of the shaft’s total depth. Cleland was advised to stay but left shortly afterwards. After going home to clean up and change Cleland was observed heading across the fields towards Glasgow but was overtaken by a policeman and arrested.

After helping down Gerrity, Patterson had returned to the engine house and seen that the indicator now showed 7 fathoms (42 ft; 13 m) although the cage had not moved in the meantime. Cleland was charged with culpable homicide and tried at the High Court in Glasgow on 24 April.

At the trial Patterson said that when he touched the indicator it was “very loose. He had never noticed it so loose before”. Two engineers called for the defence at the trial also criticised the method of attaching the indicator as “not proper” and “not … to be the best mode known to engineers”. Michael Flanagan, a furnaceman at the pithead, reported that Cleland said “the indicator was wrong” and Flanagan observed that the indicator was further down than it should have been.

The manager, Watson, admitted under cross-examination that it was the duty of the oversman to examine the indicator but he did not do so. Most witnesses also gave Cleland a good character reference. After a short retirement, the jury returned a verdict of not proven.

Thanks to Alex Rochead for providing the Murdochs death certificates.

On social media:

Anne Mackie what a dreadful time for these people xxxxx

Joy McLennan Watson family name. Thomas the father, Joke Alec then William b. 1888…sisters..Jean ,Agnes,Ann…ma. a Thompson…all men were in the mines…Fa ended up being a mgr…most likely late 90.s. Interesting and hard times… prob.not the same Watson as here..but, it touches my heart!!

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