James Clyde, the youngest victim b1865-d1877

This is the story of the youngest victim of the Blantyre Pit Disaster, young James Clyde, aged only 12.

There is nothing more sad about the Pit Disaster of October 1877 than hearing of the death of children and no more so to hear of children working and losing their young lives underground, not even teenagers yet.

James Clyde (Junior) was actually a Hamilton child. Born in Hamilton in 1865, he was the son of James Clyde Snr, a miner and Agnes Cornfield. His parents had moved from Ireland prior to their marriage in 1863 and young James would have four siblings, (three other boys and a girl) all born in Hamilton between the years 1863 and 1870.

The 1871 census shows Agnes & James and their children William aged 7, Marryanne 6, James 5 and John 3 living at No.4 Low Patrick Street, Hamilton.

Like many miners seeking employment, parents James and Agnes brought their young family to Blantyre around Summer 1875 and young James would only have been around 9 or 10 years old when he arrived in the town. He may have found himself attending one of the new Blantyre schools that year. This was a young boy robbed of some of his childhood, for by the age of 12, by the time James finished school in July 1877, he had started working in Dixon’s Pit beside his father and brother William, aged 14.

His father would have been quite used to leaving home at 44 Dixons Street in Stonefield and walking with his two young sons to the nearby pit in High Blantyre. James Jnr was employed as coal miner, though some accounts have him as a driver (pit pony driver).

On the morning of 22nd October 1877, a terrible explosion caused by fire damp rocked High Blantyre Pits 2 and 3, wiping out the lives of 215 men and boys in an instant.

James Clyde’s death was registered on 7th November 1877 when together with the body of his father, he was brought up to the surface that day, some 2 weeks after the disaster. The fact they were brought up together would suggest they were near each other when they died. William’s body would not be recovered until 22nd November 1877, a full month after the explosion.

I cannot imagine the horror of the rescue party in finding the lifeless body of such a small boy and I’m sure this would have been hard hitting for all involved at the pithead that day.

Finally, we have to spare a thought for Agnes Cornfield, the mother of James. She would have to bury not only her young son, but also another son, William (14) and her husband James Snr.

Rest in Peace James.

Picture: For illustration only


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  1. Thank you for this post, to remind us about the loss and terrible conditions children endured in this period. I have recently discovered my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Reid lost six grandsons in that disaster, the youngest was 13 years old. I believe they had all traveled to Hamilton to work in a mine they thought maintained good conditions.

  2. So so sad Paul, thank you for sharing this story.

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