Thanks to George Park who sent me this newspaper clipping from the Evening Telegraph, Wednesday September 14th, 1892. It tells of the death of one of the heroes who was part of the search party who went into the Dixons Pit in October 1877 to see if any men were alive.
I’ve transcribed the cutting and illustrated it with a sketch of Robert Peel.
“Death of a Blantyre Hero – a reminiscence of the Explosion of 1877 – Intelligence of the death of a Blantyre hero, in the person of Robert Peel, has just reached that village from Maryland, US , America. Mr Peel, who only a few months ago left this country was one of the 3 brave men, who at the risk of their lives, descended he shaft of Blantyre Colliery after the great Explosion of 1877, and did much to preserve the lives of the men entombed. At the time, his name was in every mouth and he was important enough to be the subject of a sketch in the Illustrated London news at that date. The cause of his death is unknown but must have been sudden as only a short time ago, from communications received, he was in good health. He was about 60 years of age and has left behind him in the new country, a large grown up family. He was predeceased by his wife.”
So who was Robert Peel, this forgotten hero of Blantyre? I wanted to know more and did some brief “digging” a little further.
Born in Ireland in 1842 Robert is first noted as being in Blantyre in the 1871 census. Being a rescuer at the Dixon’s Pit, he most likely worked for Dixons and is noted as being a collier. That year, Robert Peel, an Irish Immigrant was 29 years old and living in Blantyre at 68 Stonefield Road with his wife Jane, who was a year older along with daughters Jane (5) and Ellen (3). With them was a lodger James Woods (29). His house would have been small, for the census reveals it only had one window.
Next, they appear in the 1881 census. By that time the family had moved to nearby 5 Park Street, in Dixon’s Rows. That year, 4 years on following that terrible pit disaster, daughters Jane (15) and Ellen (13) were both working as weavers. We see an anomaly in the 1881 census as Robert, who would have been 39 by this time, is noted in the census as being 36, indicating the census got wrong.
In 1882, the family moved to 2 Park Street, only 3 doors up. On 21st May 1882, Robert’s wife, Jane died, the death certificate confirming she was 37 years old, again making the 1881 census age incorrect. Robert Peel put a “x” as his mark on her death certificate indicating he could not read or write, even as he approached 40 years old.
In the 1891 census, his age is corrected back to 48 and he’s still in Blantyre. Now a widow, and with his girls grown up, he was employed as a coal miner, as was his 19 year old son, Thomas. Perhaps since his family were grown up, he felt the call to go to America the next year and did so in 1892, taking them with him, perhaps to escape the Lanarkshire mining industry and the ghostly horrors of Dixon’s Pits, once and for all.
(c) Blantyre Project