Continued from Parts 1 – 3 ….from the Scotsman, Tuesday 23rd October 1877…..
The weather during Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st was extremely boisterous and wet, and the sudden fall in the barometer was exceptional. There was during Sunday, it is understood, an unusually large flooding of water in both pits, due alike to the downpour on the upper surface, and to the steep barometric gradient.
As was usual under such circumstances, the workmen descended into the pits a few minutes before midnight on Sunday for the purpose of setting the pumps agoing. So far as is known, these men found the workings perfectly clear of any foul gas, although this fact was not duly or officially recognised and reported until the firesman and underground manager descended the pits at four o ‘clock [am] on Monday morning for the purpose of examining all the workings previous to the arrival of the miners.
So far as No. 2 pit is concerned , it is , alas to be feared that no statement will ever be given of the clear character of the workings, and the thorough and free course of the ventilation, for the simple reason that those who were responsible for these are amongst the dead but it is so far fortunate that a perfectly satisfactory report can be, and has been, given by the men whose duty it was to make a preliminary inspection of the works in No. 3 pit.
It perhaps would be well to give the words of the man who himself had a miraculous escape from the sudden and awful death which so many of his fellow-workmen have met with . Alex M’Call firemaster at No. 3 pit, says : — “I descended into the pit at a quarter past four o’ clock in the morning along with John Little and the underground manager, John Pickering. We explored the whole of the workings thoroughly, and found them all right, and the ventilation free. The men commenced to come down the pit at half-past five in the morning, and all were down a few minutes past six o’clock. The total number, according to the justiceman at the pit-head , including ourselves, being 107.
Fires had been duly lit previous to this, and the men commenced to work as usual about halfpast eight, or between that and twenty minutes to nine. Little, Pickering and I left the levels and came to the pit month for the purpose of ascending the shaft, in order to take breakfast. We reached the pit-head, and were engaged in putting a , double decker on the low side of the cage, when at ten minutes to nine o’ clock we were put into terrible confusion.
At that time there were about twenty men at the pit-head some drawing the hutchs from there to the waggon coups, and others attending to the various duties which they find at the pit-head . Suddenly we were startled by a report like the firing of many cannons, but louder than the loudest thunder I ever heard. This was followed by dense volumes of smoke ascending the shaft, and then a vast sheet of flame rolled up with a hissing noise from the pit, succeeded by showers of wood and dirt and stones, like what I have read comes from a volcano. Among the debris to our horror was the mangled limb of some unfortunate boy.
This eruption was simply appalling, and lasted from four to five minutes.
Then all was quiet.”
From the forthcoming Blantyre mining book, “Hollow Earth & Hardship” by Paul Veverka.
To be continued.