On the day after the 1877 Pit disaster, the Glasgow Herald reported. This account is the third and final part of their first account and follows on from Parts 1 and 2 earlier this week:
Meanwhile, steps had been taken to gain access to the pit by No. 3 shaft and a temporary lowering apparatus having been erected three experienced pitmen were lowered. By dint of careful working they were able to descend to a depth of over 100 fathoms, but their further progress was stopped by an obstruction consisting of wood brattice work and earth.
As all that had to be conveyed to the surface in small quantities this operation extended over several hours. By three o’clock however, the men, who were working in repeated relays, succeeded in reaching to within thirty fathoms of the bottom of the pit, where a very serious obstacle barred the way. The mid wall — the wooden partition which separates the two divisions of the shaft into up and down cast — was found at this point to have been forced across the down shaft and the brattice work which supports the wall was so seriously damaged as to give evident indications of falling inwards. While the men were endeavouring to make a way through this obstruction they were encouraged by cries heard repeatedly and with distinctness from below, but being unwilling to raise hopes in the breasts of the imprisoned miners which might not speedily be realised, they did not respond but continued to prosecute the work with untiring energy.
The news of the catastrophe attracted people from all parts to the scene. Many could be seen wending their way from Cambuslang, Newton, Uddingston, Hamilton and even more distant places — some to ascertain if perchance some old friend or near relative was amongst the dead or missing, others to learn the extent of the disaster, while others again were animated solely by the desire to lend what aid they could to their unfortunate and distressed fellow-creatures.
As the day advanced the crowd grew to vast proportions which fluctuated from pit to pit as rumour spread or anxiety waned or grew. Thanks to the efforts of the parish priest, the Rev. Father Donachy, the excitement amongst the Irish, which at one time assumed a painfully alarming aspect, was greatly allayed in the course of the afternoon and a quiet and more resigned air was displayed by the bereaved. These, in their community of grief, went about in companies of threes and fours, weeping piteously, and bewailing in tones which must have touched the most callous heart, if there were any such on the ground, the fate of the near and dear ones, who, in very many cases, in all the bloom of youth had parted with them but some few short hours before.
Around the house where the bodies of those recovered lay a band of heart-sore relations hung despairingly, anxious to be admitted, but very considerately, they were refused permission to look upon the frightful sight. One young maiden appeared to feel the denial to look upon the face of her dead brother as a cruel act and with tears in her eyes, and on her knees, she begged for one last long look at her dear partner in orphanhood.
A woman named Mrs Burns seemed to go beside herself in her great paroxysm of grief. On learning that her husband’s body had been recovered she became livid with excitement, and then grasping a shawl which she wore, tore it from her shoulders and rent it into shreds, and it required the interference of a number of powerful men to prevent her doing herself bodily injury. But there were many similar cases. Some old men mourned, as they had too much reason to fear, the death of sons and grandchildren; young children sorrowed for the loss of only parents and mothers grieved for their only sons. Every house was a house of mourning, where last night the patient waiters watched out the weary hours, with little hope, we fear, to relieve their great sorrow. Sheriff Birnie, Captain McHardy, Mr Dykes, the Procurator-Fiscal, and a number of other officials were on the ground during the day.
As the night closed in the large crowds who had collected in the neighbourhood of the pits gradually dispersed, a fierce blast of sleet and rain which fell about this time causing all who had been attracted only by a morbid curiosity to hurry homewards. But cowering under hedgerows, or whatever slight shelter they could obtain, many anxious ones continued to hang about the scene, eager to receive any scrap of intelligence that could be gathered as to the prospects of the imprisoned men being released. In the long rows of houses occupied by the colliers the scenes presented were of a still more heartrending character.
From almost every household in the locality one or more of the members were among the list of the entombed. The long period of suspense had deadened the first burst of anguish on the part of those earliest on the ground; but from Glasgow, Coatbridge, Larkhall, and other mining districts, friends and relatives of the men were hourly arriving, and the sounds of weeping and wailing were everywhere to be heard. Shortly after six o’clock a report was circulated that the explorers who had been down No. 3 Pit had heard voices of men from the bottom of the shaft; but experienced miners were of opinion that this was an impossibility. The obstruction, it was said, was at a point some 30 fathoms from the bottom of the shaft, and it was alleged that the human voice could not be heard for so great a distance. Still, the mere hope that the men might still be alive led those in charge, as well as the working parties, to redouble their exertions, and a hope was for a time entertained that in a few hours communication would be re-established.
But about eight o’clock it was found that this would be a work of no little difficulty. From the friable nature of the strata in the neighbourhood of the ell coal, the shaft, it was found, was rapidly collapsing, and one of the exploring parties, who had ventured on making a considerable descent, themselves made a very narrow escape from being entangled in the falling debris. Still efforts were continued to preserve the opening so far as it existed. In the meanwhile, as the work was advancing so slowly at No.3, it was resolved to resume operations at No. 2 Pit.
A company of volunteers was readily found to descend the shaft — indeed, the difficulty was to make the proper selection, so many were forward to offer their services. The first task of the explorers was to beat back the choke-damp, and this they accomplished by means of damp sheets and other appliances. Bratticings were then erected around the bottom of the shaft, and something like a free current of air having been re-established, the work of re-opening communication with No. 3 Pit was begun. In prosecuting this task the explorers came upon a number of bodies of men who had succumbed to the fatal influences of the after damp or who had been killed by the explosion. But as the work of rescuing those supposed to be alive was of so pressing urgency they contented themselves with bringing the dead to the bottom of the shaft till an opportunity occurred of having them conveyed above the ground. About 9 o’clock last night it was reported that the explorers had come within about 150 fathoms of No. 3 Pit; and it was expected that the imprisoned men would be reached by this means, should the efforts being made at No. 3 shaft result in failure, by an early hour this morning.
With respect to the cause of the explosion all is involved in mystery, and unless some of the entombed men are rescued alive it will in all likelihood never be ascertained. The pits, as we have said, were well ventilated; indeed it was considered there were none better in the neighbourhood, and no later than last week a party of managers from some other pits in the district were present inspecting the mine with the view of adapting some of the improvements there in operation. It is conjectured by practical men that a quantity of foul air had accumulated in the exhausted portion of the workings previously described, and that by some means it had come in contact with an exposed light. Exposed lights, it is reported, were frequently used by some of the miners who were induced to this carelessness by the freedom from danger which was believed to exist on account of the excellent system of ventilation. The foul air on being liberated naturally rushed in the direction of the up cast, whence the main current of air came, and having by some means been ignited, the explosion as a consequence followed.
Among those on the ground taking an active part in superintending the operations were — Mr Logan, managing director of the company; Mr Ralph Moore, Government Inspector of Mines; Mr Simpson, C.E., Glasgow; Mr Austin, manager of the Cadzow Colliery Company; Mr Ferrie, of the Monkland Coal and iron Company; and Mr Reid, of the Provanhall Coal Company; Mr Rankine, mining engineer; and Mr Austine, coal master, remained over the night along with Mr Dixon’s staff.