As you may be aware by now, every year around the week of the Blantyre Pit Disaster, I’ve been publishing the stories of the miners who died in that terrible accident. My goal no less, is to eventually tell the story of every single person who lost their lives, an aim well underway.
Today is the story of Thomas Baxter.
When Thomas Baxter was born on 2 December 1855 in Auchterderran, Fife, his father, Charles, was 31 and his mother, Isabella, was 27.
This was a big household, their Fife roots going back several generations. He was a middle child and had six brothers and two sisters.
In 1865, when he was 9, his younger brother James died only aged 4. Sadly, this would not be the only child to die in this family.
By the time Thomas was 15 in 1871, he was still living at home at Fife with parents, had left school and was like his father, a coalminer. They family lived at Rose Street in Auchterderran. The following year in May 1872, his younger brother Robert died, aged 6 and the following year in 1873, his older brother William died aged 19.
Suffering so much tragedy in the one household and now being almost 20 years old in 1875, Thomas left Fife and came to Blantyre upon hearing of William Dixon Coalmasters sinking their pit in High Blantyre. Dixon’s were looking for many miners and with the job came a tied home, in Thomas’s case at Priestfield Rows, right next to the pit. It was the opportunity for a single man to create his own way in the world and unfortunately fate would put Thomas on a terrible path.
Priestfield Rows were brick built single story, terraced homes, where now the grass verge is in front of Hamilton Technology Park. Today they would have been directly opposite the entrance to Priestfield Cemetery. Safe to say, Thomas simply had to cross the road to get to his work. Even in 1875, the area would have been bustling with industry, dirty and grimy.
I don’t think Thomas was in Blantyre for even 2 years. He was a single man, not married, nor any children and likely still finding his bearings by the time of the Pit Disaster.
When the explosion occurred on the morning of 22nd October 1877, Thomas was in the pit working as a coalminer. The firedamp which ignited, like over 200 others, took his life.
Thomas Morris Baxter died in Pit 3 at 8.45am on 22 October 1877 in High Blantyre, Lanarkshire, at the young age of 21.
The location of his body was difficult to get to and it took a full week for rescuers and search parties to access his body and bring it to the surface. We know that Charles, his father travelled from Cowdenbeath to be in Blantyre that week, naturally worried about his son, for he was present to sign the death certificate on the day of Thomas’s funeral on Monday 29th October.
The Glasgow Herald the next day, told of how Thomas’s father identified the body at the mortuary at Dixon’s Pit 3. Several policemen were in attendance as relatives looked through the coffins, some marked carefully as a warning. Women were not permitted in at that time given the nature of some of the injuries. Some bodies only identified by items of clothing.
The arrangement for interment was as soon as the relative had identified the body, it was removed from the mortuary, transferred to the hearse and followed on foot by relatives to the graveside.
That was a particularly sad day with many burials. The busy streets of the previous week of reporters, onlookers and visitors were replaced by parades of funeral coaches, the slow progress to bereaved houses or the cemetery was respectfully watched by people from their doorways in silence. Rev Stewart Wright of Blantyre Old Parish Church walked behind each hearse as a mark of respect.
The day was particularly gloomy, the rain falling harder than in a long time, making the roads, a muddy mess.
In High Blantyre Cemetery, which had only been open for 2 years, two long, mass graves had been opened up running parallel to each other. The first on the day of Thomas’s burial, had already had 30 foot of its 80 foot length filled. The other trench excavated but empty, a solemn reminder to everybody about what was still to come.
Dixon’s Pit 3 is pictured, now the site of Redburn Farm Inn. Thomas Baxter is remembered here in this article.