Scotsman Reports Disaster – Part 8

Continued from Parts 1 – 7….from the Scotsman, Tuesday 23rd October 1877…..the day after the disaster describing events in detail of the tragic day before…..here the account of rescuers finding bodies is described, which may make for upsetting reading.

Mr McFarlane described the scene in the workings, so far as they could, penetrate, as something terrible.

One man he saw lying against a stoop with his arm broken and the shoulder – bone sticking out , while his face was burnt to a cinder. Another had fallen on the road on his back, his clothing torn, and his body charred. Still another was bruised and bleeding, but lifeless, pitched against the side of the working. Two men, an ostler and a pulley drawer, had evidently been sitting together, having a smoke and a chat, when the explosion occurred. Their death had been instantaneous, one being thrown a mangled corpse to one side, and the other in the opposite direction; and so on through a fearful list.

Joseph Gilmour, the oversman, who had spoken to Sharp when the latter attempted to restore ventilation by creeping to the ‘big dook’ door, was found, near the engineroom with his leg broken. He had thus been unable to crawl with the others in the “North Dook” to the pit month, and had been killed by the after damp.

About three o ‘clock , after some fourteen bodies had been recovered, the “choke-damp” became so great in No. 2 pit that it was determined to close this pit altogether and direct the main efforts to the restoration of ventilation in No. 3 pit, and, if possible , attempt the rescue of any men who might be alive there. Accordingly, all the rescue parties proceeded to the latter pit-head. Here , it will be remembered , M’Call and his party had not intermitted their efforts to get to the bottom. By three o ‘clock they had so far cleared the down shaft as to have reached within 24 fathoms of the workings.

Here , however they found their further downward progress thoroughly obstructed by the wreckage of the mid-wall and also of the slides and it became necessary to ascend the shaft for the purpose of obtaining saws, axes, and other instruments for clearing the wreckage, while the bellgear had still farther to be repaired.

Gang after gang of noble and brave men descended in the “kettle” and with insecure footing worked with a heroism worthy of all praise. Now and again the choke damp coming up in fitful gusts, and almost overpowering them. They had cleared a considerable distance, and had almost reached the bottom when I left the scene of operations. Latterly , however the cries of the men below  which had been heard earlier in the day , when the cage first descended with the “kettle” had ceased , and the gravest fears were entertained that the poor fellows had either succumbed to the choke damp, or found relief from their agony in insensibility.

No definite explanation is yet forthcoming as to the cause of the accident , but a shrewd guess has been given by one of the underground managers . He supposes that a party of miners were working in No. 2 pit , about halfway between No. 1 and No. 3 , taking out the standard pillars which support the roof. During this process he thinks a fall of the roof must have taken place, and that a rush of explosive gas followed from some crevice. It is understood that the removal of the roofs should be accompanied by the light of Davy safety lamps , but it may have happened that on this occasion some naked lamps were employed, and an explosion was sure to ensue.

Mr Phillip Moore, Inspector of Mines for the West of Scotland , was present at the colliery during the day, and no doubt he will make a rigid inquiry into the cause of the accident  It is agreed on all hands that the explosion was something like a salvo of artillery, succeeded by a rumbling noise like that of “distant thunder!” The report was heard over a wide district of the country, and gave warning to only too many households of an event which was to prove so disastrous and create so many desolate hearths.

In a very short time, a stream of women and children were seen issuing from the “rows” adjacent to the colliery, while from the village of High Blantyre and further afield groups of men and maidens , old women and youths , many but scantily attired , and all with blanched, scared faces, came with hurrying footsteps towards the pits.

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According to their knowledge of the whereabouts of their friends and relations , these groups and streams wended their sorrowful way to No. 2 or No. 3 pits , surrounded the shafts, and inquired for fathers and brothers, for sons and husbands.

Though those at the pithead assumed a cheerfulness which found but a hollow echo in their hearts, and bade the anxious petitioners wait with patient expectation of the happy arrival in life of those they held dear, hope seemed from the first to be crushed within these poor souls.

Often piercing shrieks were heard of— “Oh my puir faither , let me hae my faither ;” “My man, my bonnie man, bring him ‘ to me ” “My dear wee laddies, what am I tae dae withoot them. ” ” My John , will ye no bring John” and so on.

Strong men shed tears or wrung their hands in silent agony . Others looked round silent, with faces bearing traces of internal agony. Women were there too, whose looks of stolid misery betrayed inexpressible emotion. In the course of the early hours of the afternoon the harrowing spectacle acquired its most mournful and melancholy aspect, for then the efforts of the exploring parties in No. 2 pit were beginning to have some result. The tow rope moved, and in slow succession the cage was drawn to the surface, bearing as its freight the mangled or bruised remains of some poor wretch, who but a few hours before had descended to his hard task in the pride of life and fulness of hope.”

Pictured. Crowds start making their way to Pits 2 and 3 to hear news of their loved ones as news spread throughout Blantyre that first day. To be Continued….

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