Peter Carmichael, b1860 – d1877

Early 19th century coal miner working a narrow seam, c1868. The miner, stripped to the waist, is lying on his side and, with a pickaxe, is holing out or scuffling coal. This work is being done by the light of a naked flame which could cause an explosion by igniting coal dust or fire damp (methane). From Mines and Miners by L Simonin. (London, c1868).

Peter Carmichael was just 17 years old when he died in the Blantyre Pit Disaster on 22nd October 1877. A single man just starting out in life as a miner, he had been living at nearby Auchinraith.

Peter was the son of Peter Carmichael, a carpenter and Jane Welton. Born on 8th January 1860 at Anderson, Glasgow, he came to Blantyre sometime after 1875, and in a very short time, fate had played its part. Killed by the fire damp explosion in the terrible accident in 1877, his death was certified by Blantyre doctor William Grant.

The Dundee Courier Newspaper on Thursday 25th October 1877 on Page 3 has a reference to Peter made by a reporter on the scene. That day, a reporter said, “I attach myself to a group of seven men who are talking about mining affairs in general; one of them goes away, and it is remarked after he is gone that his brother’s body has not been recovered yet. By and by it comes out that another member of the group has lost his brother and his nephews by the explosion. The brother, James Sneddon, besides his own two boys, had an orphan lad who worked and lived with him who is killed also. It occurs to some of the men that it would be as well if the name of the latter was advertised, as he has a sister living in Glasgow who may not be aware where he was working, and so might here learn his fate.

Peter Carmichael is the orphan lad’s name. The collateral effects of his accident are beginning to be thought about now. “His mother will be in an awfu’ state,” is a remark that is suggestive enough; but how widely is the radius of the suffering extended by the rejoinder which was made in our hearing to this remark, Ay, and his brother that’s been lying for seventeen months.” A stranger joining the group his heard the last remark, and asks, “Is he a brother of yours!” “No; he’s a brother-in-law,” is the reply. Thus out of this small group of seven we have a brother and two nephews, one a brother, and another brother-in-law. But it is becoming swiftly apparent that the great calamity is but the beginning of wretchedness in many households.”

It would take some time for Peter’s death to be registered, indeed it didn’t happen until March 1878, some half a year later. It was noted by the reporter that Peter was an orphan, but his aunt, when finally traced in Glasgow registered that the father was still alive, and it was only Peter’s mother who was dead, so perhaps he was NOT an orphan but merely estranged from his father? It is certainly unusual that a young man of only 17 was working in the village without other family there.

The man he was staying with, James Sneddon was not in Blantyre in 1875, again lending itself to the suggestion, Peter came to Blantyre after that date. Seventeen is no age at all. A lifetime denied by tragedy. Peter Carmichael is remembered here.

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