That First Night


By the evening of Monday 22nd October 1877, the scenes at the pithead at number 3, were such that would leave a deep impression on anybody who witnessed them.

By contrast to the rain and clouds so prevalent during the daytime rescue attempts, when the moon arose, it illuminated everything it seemed in the District.

The fires in the great iron braziers threw a ruddy, red glow over their immediate surroundings, over grimly silent men, whose faces conveyed their determination to proceed on their mission of mercy. At every corner, the moon shone off groups and crowds of people, often large crowds, eager eyed but also mostly silent in the night, except for the wails and occasional groans of women as wave after wave of futility hit them.

By ten o clock, the rain had returned. A pitiless rain, driven by a strong wind but it was not putting people off, as more crowds continued to relentlessly arrive on the scene. An hour later, the rain was off but had left people soaked and cold.

It was around that time that word arrived that some men had been found alive and were to be brought up from the pit, a dark place which was now being regarded as a “tomb”. News came from from leaders of the search party Mr Charles Thomson one of the partners, Mr Frederick Duncan General Manager, Mr Gilchrist late manager of Calder, Mr Robert Thomson, Mr John Smith civil mining engineers and Mr Fergus Manager of Carfin. The men extended themselves in a line so they could be safer, the idea being if the choke damp got to any of them, each would be able to see it. News was passed upwards that three men and a boy were alive. Their names were not known when the information got to the surface.

By 11.30pm, those four people had been reached putting hope in the minds of every person in the vicinity. On hearing the news Dr Grant of Blantyre descended into the pit (which must have been terrifying for any non miner, and more so under those circumstances). The glad news of four people alive spread like wildfire around the homes and at once blankets started arriving at the pit as donations.

Down in the pit, the rescue of the four people alive continued in the dead of night. As those alive were assisted towards the shaft, the spectacle that awaited them was grim and sickening. In those dark, dangerous tunnels, along the sides of the gallery were two strings of multiple dead bodies which were to be left untouched until those alive were helped to the surface.

The four alive were McDonald, Charles Gardner, William Gemmel and a boy. They were all very much bruised having been dashed against the wall of Number 3 pit. By Midnight, they complained of cold and were taken to an [underground] stable where they lay for some time amongst hidden wrappings. By 12.30 in the morning, not an hour after coming up, they had all shown signs of improvement, except the boy who gradually grew worse.

Sadly, around 1am as they approached the shaft for extraction, the boy died. The three surviving men and the body of the boy were carried underground with great tenderness and all removed to the surface. All had been terribly burned around the face. Gardner was not expected to survive, his condition most serious.

Photo: For illustration only. (Not Blantyre)

Words from the book, “Hollow Earth & Hardship” by Paul Veverka


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