The Demon Drink

Wilma Bolton sent me this article from Hamilton Advertiser. 19/7/1879. Page 2. Set at a time a couple of years after the Blantyre Disaster, it explores the “demon drink’.


Sir, Labouring, as I am, in the midst of this mining district to do the people some good, I have been wondering what could be done in order to make the late calamity a turning point for good. There is no class of men that need any sympathy more than the coal miner; their work is of the most laborious kind and their comforts few and far between.

Now, it is well known by every clergyman and mission worker that “goes” through the homes here, that drink is the greatest of curses to this community. It does far more continuous evil than an explosion every year. It makes brutes of the men, turns the little home into a very hell, and robs the family of every comfort worthy of the name of home.

The children must go in rags and they behold scenes every Saturday night of the most brutalizing description, as your own newspaper declared, that the very Saturday night after the sad disaster, there was more blood than tears shed.

Now, who is to blame for much of this terrible state of things? We must say the Magistrates, who have really the control of the licences. Look what a state the little poverty looking town of Stonefield is in by such a flood of cursed public-houses every few steps, and now another large double shop is being refitted and will soon open as another first-class whisky shop.

That the Magistrates in Hamilton can see such shameless work going on is a sad commentary on the immorality of our times. Besides the general poverty caused by the presence of the public-house in this place, the last explosion has left several families very destitute. “

The late 1870’s was certainly a time of expansion in Blantyre. New tenements on Glasgow Road and as the article suggests, many public houses. Nearby, tenements were also being established in Springwells and it would “not take a long walk” in either direction to find a pub.

William C MacDougall wrote his letter to the Advertiser following a further disaster in Dixon’s Pit, this time in Summer 1879 in Pit 1. Aged around 60 at the time, he was one of several clergymen who immediately attended the scene at the Pithead, offering comfort to those families awaiting news, or those who had learned tragic news of loved ones. William was  Free Church Missionary and would have known only too well what some living conditions were like for miners, as he visited homes around the District.

Mr McDougall is missing from any local census in 1881, so perhaps he moved away or maybe was disheartened by not being able to influence miner’s living conditions in Blantyre.

Photo: for Illustration only


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