Brown Family, Pit Deaths, 1877

This article explores three males of the same family who died in the Blantyre Pit Disaster of 1877.

It’s thought James Brown and his wife Elizabeth Mackie came to Blantyre with their family between 1875 and 1877. They took up residence at 11 McAlpines Land on the north side of Glasgow Road and should not be confused with other Brown family members who were living at McAlpines Land, who may have been related. (Nor should James be confused with the brave Captain James Brown who died in WW1).

James Brown Senior was 43 years old in 1877 and gained employment at Dixon’s Collieries as a coal miner. With him were 2 sons James Jnr (14) and John (18).

On the morning of Monday 22nd October 1877, they set off whilst still dark to High Blantyre to Dixon’s Pit 2. The Glasgow Herald would later confirm on 29th October, that incredibly this was the first time these three folk had ever been to Dixon’s Pit 2.

As the descended into the pit that terrible day for the first time, it was also to be their last.

Of course James Jnr was still only a boy, at mere 14 years old, it is thought this was also his first time in the Blantyre pit. A frightening and difficult experience even in normal times. The family members were working together, judging by the later position of where their bodies were recovered in Pit 2.

The Glasgow Herald on 29th October, a week later still has their bodies still missing at that date, but did publish later on 10th November, that they had since been recovered, identified by Joseph Hamilton, the cousin of the boys and nephew of James Brown Snr. The bodies were the 156th, 157th and 158th to be brought up from the pit.

James Snr, James Jnr and John were buried in High Blantyre Cemetery on 10th November 1877 in Section A, lairs 1012 and 1013.

The tragedy of this story isn’t just the fact these family members died together, along with over 200 others. We have to be mindful also of Elizabeth Brown, the wife of James Snr. That tragic day, she would have learned that not only her husband had died, but also two her seven children. The widow was left with five remaining children and unlikely to have supported her family from a mere widow’s pension. It is telling, she is not in the 1871 census in Blantyre.

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