Thomas Bolton 1861-1877 & William Bolton 1864-1877

On this anniversary of the Blantyre Pit Disaster, we remember two more individuals, brothers no less who both lost their lives on 22nd October 1877. Not to be confused with another pair of Bolton Brothers (their cousins) who also lost their lives.

This is the story of Thomas Bolton and his younger brother William, one of the youngest victims of the disaster.

Pictured are young boys employed as pit pony drivers

Thomas Bolton was born in Hamilton in 1861, the son of John Bolton and Elizabeth Shields. In 1877, at the age of 16, he came to Blantyre with his younger brother William (age 13 b09.11.64) and gained employment at High Blantyre at Dixon’s Pits. It was a move of the most awful fortune, for just a few weeks after coming to Blantyre, both young brothers would lose their lives.

The teenage brothers lived together at Auchinraith near to the pit. Thomas was employed as a drawer and in official records, young William’s profession was not noted. However, I have discovered that he was a pony pit driver, finding a description of how his body was found from a newspaper of the era.

At 8.45am on the morning of 22nd October, the Pit exploded at number 3 in High Blantyre, the blast felt along to Pit 2. Both brothers had started their respective shifts only a few hours earlier and were underground.

William Bolton was one of the youngest victims of Blantyre Pit Disaster. At thirteen years, he was one of 10 boys that age who died (but not forgetting there were three boys aged 12!)

It seems barbaric to us now, but it’s easy to forget that there were ponies being used in the mines and they too were victims of the Blantyre Pit Disaster. Such animals had underground stables, living life under the ground and would surely have been blinded by sunlight if they ever came up.

Looking after the ponies was usually a job for boys and unfortunately, boys of a very young age, sometimes as young as 12 or 13. We’re reminded of this when looking at events on Day 1 of the attempted rescue of the miners on that tragic day 22nd October 1877.

Several bodies had been brought up that first afternoon, but one particular visit back down by rescuers that day had a particular horror that would never be forgotten and it was in that endeavour that young William’s body was found.

The search party took a different direction and arrived in those dark tunnels to a place near the underground stables, where the pit ponies were ‘looked after’.

There, the sight was gruesome. Three more bodies were observed and recovered by one of the fist gangs of explorers. The bodies were of young boys. The pony drivers.

Those children were aged between 12 and 14 and this presented just as much as a shocking sight for those on the surface when they were brought up no 2 shaft, as it had been for the search party finding them. They were literally encased in mud; the faces were blackened and charred, and the arms, from which the clothes had been torn, were chiefly stained with blood.

The poor little fellows had evidently had a fearful, but at the same time, speedy death. Two of them, named Bolton and Henry, were pony drivers, and they were discovered lying cradled beside their dead animals who they previously had charge of. A third lad was identified as the son of a man named Gilmour, whose body was removed from the same pit at an hour earlier. The names of the three boys were Joseph Gilmour  (13), Robert Henry (14) and William Gardiner Bolton (13).

The body of Thomas Bolton (16), his brother was brought up on 7th November 1877 once some of the obstructions had been cleared at the adjacent pit 3.

Their father John Bolton, a fire inspector signed their death certificates. The boys were buried together in High Blantyre Cemetery in Section D, Lair 315. Thomas and William Bolton, whose young lives never had a chance to start properly, are remembered here today in this article.

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