Overwinding Inquiry 1878

Following on from the 5th March 1878 overwinding accident at Dixons Pit 3, an inquiry took place. The report as follows:

From Hamilton Advertiser   Saturday 27th April 1878
The Blantyre Overwinding Accident

Arthur Clelland was accused of culpable homicide, having been employed as an engineman at No 3 Pit, Blantyre Collieries, belonging to Wm Dixon, Ltd, and on 5th March last, set the engine in motion, and failed to stop it so as to set down the cage at the proper landing place at the pithead, and by means of the engine drawn the cage containing seven miners, into violent contact with a pulley and the cross-beams, 32 feet above the landing place, whereby the cage was broken, and six of the men were thrown off the cage, and fell to the bottom of the pit, a depth of 155 fathoms whereby they were mortally injured.

Panel, who was defended by Mr Mackintosh, pleaded not guilty.

James Brannigan, bottomer, the first witness, deponed that in March last he was working in the splint seam of No 3 Pit of Blantyre Colliery. On the afternoon of 5th March last he remembered seven men going on the cage to ascend on the rise side. He gave the usual signal of three stokes on the bell, and the engineman signalled back that all was right. He then gave the second signal — one stroke on the bell — when the men were on the cage. The cage was then raised, and he first knew of an accident having happened when the cage came down with more than usual violence to the bottom of the dip-side. He afterwards saw six of the bodies taken out of the sumps.

James Gerrity, miner, said he went on the cage along with six men between three and four o’clock on the afternoon in question. There was nothing unusual in the speed at which the cage ascended the pit, and he only thought there was something wrong when it neared the top. He could not express his fear. When the cage arrived at the landing place, it didn’t stop, but went right up as far as the pulleys until it came violently into contact with cross-beams. The top part of the cage was broken and the cage turned on her side emptying out the other six men. For himself he clung to the smashed cage until he was relieved.

Cross-examined by Mr Mackintosh — Witness stated that there was no cross-bar on the cage. If there had been one he believed the accident would not have happened. He never was in a colliery at which the cages had not a cross-bar except Dixon’s.

David Eglinton was on duty as pitheadman on the day of the accident. The depth of the shaft was somewhere about 150 fathoms. The men usually came up between the hours of two and four o’clock. 95 men were in the pit that day, of whom about 38 had come up before the accident happened. From the landing place to the pulleys the height would be about 32 feet. Until the accident that day nothing had gone wrong as far as the pithead was concerned.

By Mr Mackintosh — Witness never examined the indicator of the winding apparatus. It was not his duty to examine that or anything inside the engine-house.

James Paterson, engineer — He had charge of the machinery of the pits belonging to William Dixon, Limited, at Blantyre. He engaged all the enginemen. He engaged panel about the middle of December last, and in January last he put him in charge of the engine at No 3 Pit, and he continued to work that engine up to the time of the accident. (Witness read the rules applicable to enginemen, and explained by a model how the cages were stopped by the working of the indicator.) There were marks on the indicator, where steam should be shut off; but steam could be shut off sooner or later according to the weight of the cage. When the accident occurred he saw the cage at the cross beam, and a man clinging on, and he went to rescue him. He went into the engine-room to get a rope, and saw panel standing at a window in the engine-house. He asked him what had gone wrong, and he said something had gone wrong with the indicator.

He observed that the pointer did not stand at the place where it should have stood. He did not examine the indicator but went and rescued Gerrety. Eight or ten minutes would elapse between his first and second visits. Prisoner was there alone and he asked McMillan who went in with him, what was the extent of the accident. When informed he said he would go, and having gone for his coat, witness advised him to stay and face the consequences, but he went out. On examining the indicator found that it represented the cage as being 7 instead of 30 fathoms from the top. The engine had not moved between the times of witness’ visits, and it was impossible the indicator could have moved. While it might have been tighter, it was quite tight enough to do its work in his opinion. So that they might get down the cage he undid the screw and put the indicator in proper position. The bodies of the men were brought up by this cage, and the indicator then, as afterwards, worked properly. He never knew or heard of it having gone wrong. It had been in operation about two years, and was considered a good one of its kind. Did not consider it possible that the indicator could have been pushed round unknowingly while the dial was being cleaned. The standard was a little shaken, but there was nothing to hinder the indicator doing its work properly.

Cross-examined — Had never had occasion to find fault with prisoner — he was, so far as he saw, a steady, sober man. Prisoner had the hollers to look after, as well as the winding engine and a donkey engine. The Wyper shaft was between the engineman and the indicator. There was some vibration on the floor, and after the accident a joist was put in; while another change was in the figuring. Formerly it was by chalk marks on the dial that the engineman knew where the cage was. A new block had been put on the brake since the time of the accident. Complaints had been made as to the condition of the brake by prisoner’s neighbour, Forsyth. He intended to make some alteration on the indicator after the trial, while the pinion wheel had already been altered. He was not bred an engineer; his experience had only been the taking charge of engines at pitheads.

Re-examined — The reason why the indicator was not marked was that it was painted while the pit was being sunk, and the depth was not known. The dial was never figured, the distances being only marked with chalk. He was never asked to mark the indicator.

By the Court — The chalk marks were as safe as paint; but in his opinion paint was better. Paint marks could not be shifted without being scraped out, while chalk marks could.

By Mr Mackintosh — About six months before the accident libelled the cage had been overwound, but the engineman owned the mistake, and admitted that the fault lay with him and not with the indicator.

Michael Flanagan, a furnaceman, residing in High Blantyre, deponed that he was putting coal in one of the furnaces at the time the accident occurred. He heard a crash, and ran out to see what was wrong. The prisoner was standing at a window, and he asked him what was the matter. Prisoner replied that it was the indicator that was wrong, and he did not know whether the cage contained men or coals. It occurred to witness that the indicator was further down than it should have been.

By Mr Mackintosh — Paterson came back to the enginehouse after his second visit and remarked that the handle of the indicator was lower than before. He had known the cage being overwound so as to strike the cross beams three times previous to this accident.

John McMillan, engineman, Miller Street, Stonefield, deponed that at the time of the accident he went to the engine-house along with Paterson, and heard the engineman say it was the indicator that was wrong.

By Mr Mackintosh — When Paterson touched the indicator he noticed it was very loose. He had never noticed it so loose before.

Andrew Forsyth, engineman, Hamilton, deponed that he worked one shift at the same engine as prisoner. A new block was required. The vibration on the floor caused by looseness of the brake often altered the indicator, but he could not say how much.

By Mr Mackintosh — He had been working at the engine about six weeks. No accident ever took place, but the working by the indicator was all guess work. The alteration of the depth of the pinion wheel, which had been made since the accident, seemed to him to be a very necessary one. Though he had complained about the brake, his complaint had not been attended to before the accident.

Re-examined — He had worked the engine the shift before the accident happened, and he had noticed nothing wrong with the pointer.

James Watson, manager of Blantyre Collieries, deponed that at the time the accident happened he was in the office, along with Mr Robson, assistant inspector. He went to the spot at once, and gave instructions to have the cage taken down. He went to the engine-house ten minutes afterwards, along with Paterson. When he went in his attention was drawn to the indicator, and he found the pointer indicated seven fathoms from the top. He noticed Paterson move the indicator backward and forward, and he did this to show him it was a little slack. It took a considerable pressure to move it. It did not seem possible to witness that the indicator could have fallen down itself. The statement in the “Complete Colliery Report Book,” for March 5, to the effect that the external state of the machinery was in a satisfactory condition was made by the prisoner.

By Mr Mackintosh — According to the rules, it was the duty of the oversman to inspect the indicator among other things every 24 hours, but in point of fact, he did not do so.

Re-examined — Notwithstanding these rules, it was the duty of the engineman to examine and report on the state of the machinery every day.

Evidence for the defence was then led.

James Dunlop, engineer, Greenfield, deponed that he came to the conclusion that it was very likely to go wrong from the nature of its construction. He thought it might get slack on the spindle, the end being fixed with a pinching pin. In his opinion that mode of fastening was not proper, and would lead to loosening. It was the usual mode to put in a pinching pin. When there was a great deal of vibration, the tendency of an indicator such as he found at Blantyre was to loosen. Its tendency would be to loosen without being noticed. If an engine were to set to work after such a loosening, it would go alright until it came to the bottom, but it would slip back in coming up the other side. It would not surprise him were the engineman deceived by such an indicator as to the position of the cage in the shaft.

Alexander Gillespie, engineman at Eddlewood Colliery, deponed that he had been an engineman for twenty years. He examined the indicator at Blantyre and the machinery connected with it, and the mode in which the handle was fastened to the spindle did not appear to him to be the best mode known to engineers. He had known the prisoner for seven or eight years and he had always borne a good character.

William Paterson, an engineman with Messrs Baird & Co., also testified to the good character of the prisoner.

That closed the case and the Advocate-Depute and Mr Mackintosh having addressed the jury, Lord Mure summed them up.

The jury, after a short absence returned with a verdict of “not proven.” The prisoner was accordingly discharged from the bar.

Accompanying this article are 3 stills from a short NCB film in 1947,a couple of which possibly feature Dixons Pit 3.

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