We’re now on the run up to the next Anniversary of the Blantyre Pit Disaster and this week, as with previous years, we’re exploring some of the interesting stories of the Blantyre miners, retelling their life stories. Remembering them in our own unique way by adding to the growing archive which aims to exclusively tell the story of every man and boy who lost their lives in October 1877.
However, today’s story is a mystery and a strange one. It’s the tale of George Renwick or Rennick, a miner who appeared on the list of the dead, even to this day….but as will be revealed here, it’s very unusual for anybody to have TWO death certificates especially when they are dated 27 years apart!!
This mystery is put to all readers here and assisted greatly by the research of my good friend, Alex Rochead.
George Renwick was born in Ireland around 1829. The son of Richard Renwick, coal miner and Christina McGill, he married Margaret Kerr on 8 December 1865 at Baillieston in the district of Old Monklands. George aged 34 was listed as a coal miner and his interest in Blantyre came about in the early 1870’s after with the sinking of new pits in the area.
On the morning of 22nd October 1877 at approximately 8.45 a.m. an explosion of fire damp gas (methane) killed at least 215 men and boys at No. 2 and No. 3 Dixon’s collieries in Blantyre. To this day, still the worst mining disaster in Scotland and the exact number of dead may never be known. Many of the miners were injured to the extent that they could not be recognised and were only identified by means of some article of clothing worn by the deceased.
George Renwick (as was assumed) was the third body to be brought to the surface. He had lain unidentified for more than a week and when he was removed for internment it was stated.
“From articles found on the corpse it was supposed to be that of George Renwick, a married man of 48 years of age.” The statement does not give the name of the person or persons who identified the articles.
His death certificate recorded the cause of death as “Killed by an explosion of Fire Damp at No. 3 Pit Dixon’s Colliery, Blantyre”. His usual residence was listed as “Not Known”. The informant was Margaret Renwick widow, 69 Arrington Street, Shettleston, Glasgow. George and Margaret were estranged, not living together at this time.
A Register of Corrected Entries (RCE) recorded by the Procurator Fiscals Office in Hamilton on 16 March 1878 provided further official information and stated that George had been buried in Baillieston Churchyard.
A second RCE recorded on 6 December 1879 states “Cancel the whole of the contents of entry No. 376 in the Register Book of Death for the year 1877. The above correction is made under the deduction and by written authority of the Sheriff and in consequence of the Deposition (dated 2 December 1879) of Margaret Kerr or Renwick, the informant of the death, George Renwick, husband of the informant, John Renwick collier and George Harris Registrar, December 6th 1878 at Blantyre”.
The deposition of 2 December 1879 confirmed that body number 3 had been wrongly identified as George Renwick.
Margaret Renwick was born in Co. Down, Ireland in approx. 1837. Her parents were James Kerr, labourer and Mary Harper. Margaret and George had two children. Joseph born on 24 May 1867 at 26 Westmuir Street, Glasgow and Mary on 17 September 1870 at 37 Westmuir Street, Glasgow.
George was recorded as having deserted Margaret in October 1870, only one month after the birth of his daughter Mary. This was a marriage not going well.
The Poor House
The 1871 census shows Margaret a Licensed Hawker, living at 37 Westmuir Street, Glasgow with her two children Joseph and Mary but without George. Margaret is known to have been in and out of the poorhouse, being a single mother this may not have been a surprise for that era.
In 1877, following the disaster when Margaret was listed as a widow, she would have qualified to receive money from the relief fund set up to help the widows and their families. It is quite probably she started to receive that widow’s pension fund. Once George was declared alive in 1879, she would no longer be due any further income from the fund.
The following information was recorded for Margaret in poor law registers.
George Renwick’s wife Margaret Kerr “partially disabled” applied for poor relief in the Parish of Barony, Glasgow on 9 September 1867. She was living at Westmuir Street, Glasgow.
In 1871 Margaret entered the poorhouse for one month.
On 12 February 1892 Margaret Kerr Renwick per Mr and Mrs McDermott applied from 97 Alexandra Parade, 3 up, right. Certified with Cardiac Disease by Dr Wilson. Husband George Renwick, a coal miner has been “in desertion” since 1870. On 16 February 1892 Margaret was admitted again to the Poorhouse. A letter was sent to her son Joseph Renwick, ex soldier and miner resident at Broomhouse, Baillieston. He replied “In answer to the letter sent to me on 18th the only thing I can propose doing is for you to find out where my father is and in the first place I considerate it is his duty to be made to contribute towards the support of my mother. The last time I saw my father he was living with John Fullerton, 8 Hall Street, Cadzow Square, Hamilton”.
Margaret died a pauper on 5 April 1904 at Old Monklands Poorhouse. Cause of death was Apoplexy, 11 days. Informant was John Waddell, Assistant Inspector of the Poor. Margaret was buried in the Old Monklands Cemetery in lair X 248 in the common ground.
So Where was George all this time?
When Margaret was admitted to the Poorhouse in 1892, George Renwick was living with Elizabeth (Reid) Thomas. The 1891 census has Elizabeth Thomas, her daughter Ann and George Renwick, a boarder living with the Galbraith family at Allison Place, Blantyre. Elizabeth and George had three children together. John Rennick born on 11 January 1892 at 8 Hall Street, Lowwaters, Hamilton, James Robertson Rennick born 21 November 1894 at Allison Place, Springwells, Blantyre and Thomas Rennick born 12 September 1899 at 24 Allison Place, Blantyre.
George was listed as the father on each of the birth certificates and mother Elizabeth Reid with the comment “Wife of John Thomas, Pitsinker, who she declares is not the father of the child and further that she has had no personal communication with him since he left”.
George Renwick died on 8 April 1904 at 24 Allison Place, Blantyre. Cause of death was Bronchitis, Cardiac. Informant was Elizabeth Thomas “housekeeper”. He was buried in the Common Ground of Blantyre Cemetery, lair A 1164.
So next time you read the list of the dead miners, know this. The person listed as George Renwick ISN’T HIM, but instead an unknown miner.
There are many unanswered questions remaining.
- If George was recorded as working at Dixon’s Colliery on the day of the disaster in 1877, why did he not come forward sooner to show he was still alive? Where was he living or working between 1877 and 1879?
- Who is the unknown miner buried in his place in Baillieston Churchyard, a place likely with little to no significance for that person?