New Indicator 1878


1902 cage descentShared here by Gordon Cook is a picture taken in 1902 of miners descending in a cage. It is basically a cattle grid with chains, there is nothing to hold on to, and they were not slow in rising or descending either!

Gordon told me, “Just a week after the overwinding accident of 1878 happened at No. 3 pithead, a new safety measure was displayed at Auchinraith Colliery. It was a “Colliery Shaft Indicator” patented by Mr George William Smith, and was said to ensure this sort of accident could not happen again. All the locals (and not so local) mine owners were represented, and they must have been well impressed, because during a lavish luncheon at the colliery afterwards, Mr Smith was severally toasted by the gentlemen present”

The Scotsman   Monday 11th March 1878 page 3 covers the story.


“On Saturday afternoon a large number of gentlemen connected with the mining industries of Scotland assembled at the No. 2 Auchinraith pit, High Blantyre, belonging to Messrs Merry & Cunninghame, coalmasters, to witness a series of experiments with a new signalling indicator for colliery shafts, which has just been patented by Mr George Wm. Smith, O. and M. E., Glasgow.

The company included Col. Austine, of the Cadzow Colliery Company; Mr Anderson, of Messrs Merry & Cunninghame; Mr Baird, Mr Dixon, of the Bent colliery; Mr Forgie, of the Allanshaw colliery; Mr Hastie, of Greenfield colliery; Mr Main, of the Carnbroe Iron Works; Mr Morton, of the Langloan Iron Works; Mr McNeil, Mr Whitelaw, of the Dalzell collieries, Mr Smith, the patentee, &c.

It may be mentioned that the object of the indicator is to guard against two fruitful sources of colliery accidents — mistakes in the signalling between the “bottomer” and the engineman, and unprotected pit bottoms or seams opening into the shaft. The present method of signalling is usually by means of an ordinary signal bell or gong within the engine-room or by a hammer striking a piece of boiler plate outside — both signals being worked by levers at the pit-head and bottom connected by a wire passing up the shaft. The signal under the old method is left entirely to the ear of the engineman, and numerous accidents have been the result of the misinterpreting of the signals.

The second source of accidents is at present provided against, where two or more seams open into one shaft, by each entrance being merely guarded by a gate, the closing of which is left pretty much to chance; while where only one seam has been opened, there is generally no protection whatever. The object, then, of the new system of signalling is to introduce a self-registering and locking signal into the engine-room, the mechanism of which will at the same time ensure that every entrance into the shaft is closed before the signal “to lift” can be conveyed by the “bottomer” to the engineman.

The apparatus consists of an indicator about 33 inches high, made of light cast-iron, at the base of which is fitted a gong and hammers, and moving in a vertical slot, on the face of the indicator, two indices work, one behind the other, the outer being red and the inner white. When a signal is made by the “bottomer” these indices mount together to a figure corresponding with the number of bells rung, the red index being exposed. On the protection bars, which are placed at the entrances of the various seams to the shaft, being put down, the red or danger signal is dropped, and the indicating or white index is left behind at the number signalled. The whole of the protection bars being connected with the same wire, every bar in the shaft must be down — making the different entrances safe — before the signal to “lift” can be given, and the indicator thus becomes a locking signal. It will be seen that the “bottomer” in this way registers his signal to the engineman till he cancels it himself after the work has been performed, and as the red signal is always against the engineman when any entrance to the shaft is open, no work can be performed till it has been removed, and the entrance to the shaft secured.

Of the advantages claimed for the invention the following are the most important :— That only one signal can be given at a time; that the engineman is shown not merely the work to be done but the time to do it; that in the event of an accident the white index affords evidence against the man who made or read the signal wrongly; and that the signal is worked on the locking system.

The experiments made in the engine-house and in the pit were of a highly successful character, and fully demonstrated the practical nature of the invention. It may be added that the indicator has been adopted in this No. 2 pit, and it is found to work admirably.

The inventor, Mr Smith, was, on the completion of the experiments, entertained to luncheon at the colliery works. The chair was occupied by Mr Anderson, and Mr Baird acted as croupier. The Chairman, in proposing “The Inventor” characterised the invention as a thoroughly workable mechanism, calculated to protect both life and property. Mr Smith, in the course of his reply, mentioned that he received the first hint of the indicator from Mr Ralph Moore, Government Inspector, many years since, in a Loanhead mine. On a number of other toasts having been honoured, the company separated.”

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