Tale of Blantyre Explosion – Final Part 3

The concluding part of the story by Keir Hardie. Published in a Labour Newspaper from 1909, it tells a story around the Blantyre Pit Disaster of 1877. In this final part, continued from Parts 1 and 2, Keir writes about a rare rescue:

“Meanwhile the scene on the pithead was one of woe and desolation unutterable. Mothers, fathers, wives, sisters, sweethearts, and even children, crowded round the pithead, rending the air with their cries. They had not yet had time to realise the full extent of the disaster, and, though each feared the worst, there was still a gleam of hope in each breast.

Old men’s faces had a strange, far-off expression of grief as they thought of sons in the depths below, probably charred and blackened ; while the women, for the most part, many of them with children tugging at their breasts, found vent for their inward feelings in tears. Happy those who can weep. The old men could find no such relief, and the elderly women could only croon as they rocked themselves to and fro.

Maggie Johnstone was there, but not among the crowd. A little way apart she stood with her head buried in her father’s bosom and wept. Save her father, all she held dear on earth were below. Jock, the first love of her young maiden fancy, and Tam, the boy to whom she had stood as a mother. No wonder she wept, poor thing, and that betimes, so great was her grief, there could no vent be found for her sobs and she would faint in her father’s arms.

In an incredibly short space of time a band of volunteers had been formed to go down the pit, facing danger and death in their noble efforts to save life. Foremost among these was the manager, who distinguished himself on the occasion by his cool bravery, and a number of officials, including the colliery doctor, and ordinary workmen. The downcast shaft was found free from obstructions, and four men volunteered to go down this. Down, down, they went, and for a time the women forgot to weep as hope filled their hearts. Perhaps, after all, their dear ones might be alive.

Slowly the minutes sped, and then, hush! The signal strikes three, then one. They are coming up. The people crowd round the pit’s mouth, despite the efforts of the policemen to keep them back. Maggie Johnstone is now pressing forward with the others. Her eyes are dilated, her whole figure strained. Slowly the cage comes into view. Two men are standing on the cage supporting a burden. Who is it? Love’s eyes are quick, and Maggie was the first to discern that the figure between the two men was Jock, and that to his breast he clasped her brother Tam. But were they alive? The cage stops, and the two rescuers are seen to lift the others off. Maggie has been pressing forward, and Jock Jamieson’s slowly returning senses is conscious of seeing Maggie’s face wild and ecstatic, hearing her wild, exultant cry of ” Oh, my God !” and then seeing her fall at his feet.

The rest of the story is soon told. The rescue party, on reaching the bottom, had found Jock lying with Tam in his arms. The corner against which he had struck his head was the bottom stoop, and at the moment he fell the cage with the rescuing party was already descending the shaft. Jock soon regained his strength, and went down the pit again at once on the merciful errand of seeking to save others, till he himself had to be carried out for the second time, overcome with damp, whereupon he was buried for a time in the earth to draw the poison out of his body. The other rescuers did their duty nobly, as is always the case on such occasions; but despite their efforts nearly three hundred human lives were sacrificed to the company’s greed for dividends. (Actual figure was 215).

Ten months afterwards, on a beautiful August Sunday evening, Jock and Maggie, now man and wife, found themselves again at the old Priory. The Clyde swept on stately and slowly, while the leafy elms gave shelter to scores of feathered songsters who made the glen ring with their music. ” Eh ! Maggie,” said Jock—now, by the way, a tenter in the mill,—” I winner whit ye seed in me tae mak ye tak me. Love, they say, is blin’, an’ truly it maun be sae when ye took me, as I’m no hauf quid eneuch for ye.”

” Wbeisht,” said Maggie, playfully laying her hand on his mouth ; ” love is blin’ tae fauts, but his a wunnerfu’ gleg ‘ee for virtues. What yer fauts may be I’ve yet tae learn, but ye’ve mair virtues in ye than a’ ither men I ken.” Jock’s answer to this was to take her in his arms and kiss her soundly, whereat Tam, now quite recovered and an apprentice in the Greenfield Foundry, laughed out : ” Here, you twa, behave yersels afore fouk.”

1877 Pit Disaster Print (purchased by PV)

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