William Black was the Fire Inspector for Dixon’s Collieries in the 1870’s, about the closest person you could get in those years to any kind of safety inspector.
William was born in Stirling in 1839, the son of Alexander William Black (coalminer) and Isabella Stewart. He had four brothers and one sister. The family may have had connections to America.
He married Margaret Kirkland in Cambusnethan in 1867 and the couple would go on to have 5 children. The family moved to Blantyre in 1876 to a small brick, terraced house at Priestfield Terrace in High Blantyre, directly across from the pit.
William was one of four firemen at Dixon’s Pit 2. One surviving fireman Alexander Wood would later give his statement at the eventual inquiry. He survived by taking the decision to move north in the pit, whilst the other three would lose their lives by moving south.
William Black died in the Blantyre Pit Disaster at number 2 pit at 8.45am on 22nd October 1877. He was 38 years old, leaving behind a widow and 5 children and had been in Blantyre just under a year. His death certificate was signed by his brother in Burnbank.
During the initial disaster inquiry in Hamilton in November 1877, as you can imagine the subject of safety and gas came up often. Surviving miners told the inquiry there was no discipline in the pit. If they reported gas, they were sometimes told by management to “go to ****”. It was a general rule to get through the work by swearing.
One witness told the inquiry that on the Friday before the explosion he had heard William Black tell worker Peter Carlin to stop using (gun)powder as ‘there was a great danger beyond’. But Carlin continued for he wanted to get a higher price for his coal extraction. Black had witness an unlocked lamp in recent days before and had seen men light up pipes.
Despite this, the firemen’s books showed no reports of gas in the lead up to the explosion. Perhaps they knew the consequences of reporting this for what it would mean to men’s wages and considered the risk themselves?