Lead Mining Accidents

This section contains newspaper reports on selected accidents. Please check the indexes in the Accidents Section for details of Inspector of Mines reports and other accidents covered on the site.

1 March 1817

A melancholy accident occurred in the lead mines belonging to Messrs Horner Hurst & Co., Leadhills on the forenoon of the 1st inst. Occasioned by the air being rendered impure from the smoke of a fire engine, placed about 100 feet underground. As soon as the danger was ascertained, 2 miners and the company's blacksmith descended to the relief of their neighbours below, when unfortunately the two miners perished in the humane attempt. The smith escaped but is still dangerously ill. Many of the miners who were at work at the time were violently affected, almost to suffocation, but are now out of danger. We have since learned that in all seven lives have been lost in this accident. Five at least of those who perished have left widows and large families, some of them 8 to 10 children. The following are the names of the sufferers: - William Austin, Peter Blackwood, John Bain, James Alston, Robert Hamilton, Thomas Thomson and a man from the north. [Glasgow Herald March 7 1817]

Five of the seven miners who were suffocated by the smoke of the steam-engine at Leadhills, have left widows, and in all thirty fatherless children to deplore their loss. As soon as Mr S. Laing, agent for the Wanlockhead company, heard of the melancholy accident, he generously transmitted one guinea to each of the widows, in aid of the expenses of her husbands funeral. [Caledonian Mercury 13 March 1817]

Account of the fatal Accident which happened in the Leadhills Company's Mines, the 1st March 1817. By Mr James Braid, Surgeon, Leadhills. Read before the Wernerian Society 7th June.
On 1st March last, I was sent for, about 7 o'clock am, to try if any thing could be done for a number of men, who were found in the Leadhills Company's mines, who appeared to be suffocated.

On the 30th December 1816, a young man, who kept a fire- engine, nearly 600 feet below the surface, was found dead, and the air where he was, not to be at all agreeable:- the usual modes of resuscitation were tried, but without any good effects.

On 24th of February 1817, there were several men very severely affected from the bad state of the air, but, by giving them gentle laxatives, and keeping them quiet, they got pretty well again in the course of a few days.

On the 1st of March, none of the men had got to bank, when I arrived, except a few who had been down only a very short time, and returned upon finding the air so bad. By and bye, a number of those who had been down for a short time, at 25 fathoms, were brought up, and most of them quite furious. Some were disposed to fight, - others, supposing every one they saw disposed to lay hands on them, made efforts, under the most extreme terror, to escape, - others, quite listless, appeared to take no notice of what was going on around them. Some were singing, and some praying. Many were as if intoxicated with ardent spirits:- those who had seen them in that state assured me their actions were very much the same.

Many of them vomited, and others had the inclination, but could not do so. Some evacuated the contents of the rectum, and others had the desire, without effect. The pulse was different:- in some, remarkably quick and feeble, - in others, slow, feeble, and irregular. Most complained of insufferable headache, which was somewhat relieved after vomiting. To those who had a desire to vomit without effect, I gave an emetic of sulphate of zinc, and to those troubled with tenesmus, a laxative glyster:- both were followed by an alteration of symptoms.

In the course of two or three hours from the time they were brought to bank, the pulse was greatly accelerated, and hard. I prescribed a brisk purgative, after the operation of which they found themselves greatly relieved, and, by enjoining a cooling regimen, most of them got pretty well, in the course of a few days, without any other medicines. Upon inquiring at the men how it affected them, they said, they first felt a difficulty of breathing, and had frequent involuntary deep inspirations, - then a violent pain and beating in the head, with ringing of the ears, - the inferior extremities became weak, and very painful immediately above the knees, and they could, with difficulty, support the body, - the heart palpitated violently, - great anxiety, and in some followed by vomiting. They now became giddy, and lost all recollection, and were, as has been remarked, affected as if they had taken a large dose of ardent spirits.

There were four men, however, at 25 fathoms, who were irrecoverably lost through their own imprudence of going to work at irregular hours. Though six o'clock am was the proper hour, two had gone before four, and other two a little after, in order that they might get out so much sooner. Such practices are not sanctioned by the masters. When they came to the bad air, they had thought to force their way through it, expecting it to be better below; but it had soon produced its deleterious effects upon them, so as to make them unable, either to go further, or to retrace their steps; and then, unable to support themselves, they had fallen, and remained amongst the bad air till assistance came too late. Animation must have been gone two or three hours before they were brought to bank, for they had been down not less than four hours. Had they not gone till the regular shift, when the air was found to be so bad, they would not have proceeded so far; and if one or two had fallen, the others would have found some means to have rescued them, before they had been irrecoverably gone. It is presumed, the accident happened from a quantity of smoke escaping from the chimney of the engine under ground, into the way-gates, about the 25 fathoms, and so contaminating the air in the workings, from the quantity of sulphurous acid gas which the smoke contained, such as to render it unfit to support animal life, or rather, highly deleterious. The men described the air to be the same as where sulphur is burning slowly, and consequently, sulphurous acid gas forming.

At the time the accident happened, the atmosphere was foggy, and there was a want of a proper current of air in the workings, and, in consequence of the stagnation, the air in that part of the way-gates, where the smoke was escaping, became so contaminated, by sulphurous acid gas, as to render it highly deleterious to animal life. A trap-door being opened, in order to save those who were still alive, about the 25 fathoms, (that is, those who went at the time for a regular shift, the four who had gone in before were dead when these men went to them,) and to enable others to give them assistance, with safety to themselves, the bad air immediately rushed down to the lower workings, and began to exert its deleterious effects upon those at 80 fathoms, who were effecting their escape by another shaft. All who were any length of time in this situation were violently affected in the manner already mentioned, and three (two of whom went down to save others) perished at the 80 fathoms, from the air all below the 40 fathoms becoming so bad, as to render it imprudent, or rather impossible, for any person to go down to their assistance; and by this time, they were unable to assist themselves. Those in this situation were drawn up by an engine, and the last who got on the rope, from the others, either, by this time, not being able to secure him properly, or not having time to do so, from him giving the signal too soon, fell from the rope, after he was within 20 fathoms of bank, and was thrown into the landing-box of the water engine, which threw the water from the landing-box (which is situated at the 50 fathoms) to the bottom of the shaft, so that it had 40 fathoms to fall. Water was also thrown from the top, with buckets, before the engine water was diverted by this poor fellow tumbling into the landing box. The water, by falling down the shaft, caused a circulation of air, and likewise, by absorbing the sulphurous acid gas, improved the air so much, that one who had lain at the side of the shaft, in an insensible state, for more than an hour, was restored. Other two, who were only at a very little distance from him, but were by so much further from the shaft, and consequently where the air could not be so much improved by the waterfall, were brought up immediately after him; but, though the usual modes of resuscitation were tried, neither of them could be restored. One of these last had had a very florid countenance. I took away a considerable quantity of blood from the jugular vein.

Those of a plethoric habit were much sooner, and more violently affected, than those of a spare habit, and, from what I saw, I make no doubt but one of a spare habit might remain in some degree active, whilst one of a very plethoric habit would be irrecoverably lost. When it becomes necessary for men to go into such situations, would it not be proper to take away a quantity of blood from those of a plethoric habit ? I shall certainly be disposed to try it, if ever the air shall again become bad.

The candles burnt, though faintly, where the men perished, which was generally considered as an extraordinary thing; and the only hypothesis which I can conceive proper to be advanced on the subject, is, that, in a mixture of sulphurous acid gas and atmospheric air, the acrid nature of the sulphurous acid gas prevents respiration, or rather produces peculiarly deleterious effects, which, continued a certain length of time, will destroy animal life; whilst it has no further effect on combustion, than merely mechanically preventing the more free supply of oxygen it would have from pure atmospheric air, and, consequently, causing it to burn more faintly. Leadhills, 3d May 1817. [Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, 1817]

1 August 1823

Early on the morning of Friday last, four men descended a mine at Leadhills, which, after a lapse of 24 years, had been re-opened only a few days previous. The workmen at first dreaded no harm; but ere long the roof began to yield, and by seven o'clock the whole fell in with a tremendous crash. Fortunately two of the poor men had time to see to a place of safety, but the others received no warning whatever, and were to all appearance buried in the ruins. Above ground the accident excited the greatest grief and consternation ; and ere many minutes had elapsed, 150 miners assembled on the spot, and began to dig, as they supposed, for the corpses of their friends. After the most unremitting exertions, they had the happiness of hearing their voices on Saturday morning; but still their task was one of great danger and difficulty, and it was not till eleven o'clock on Sunday that they succeeded in rescuing them from their frightful abode. The hands of one of the men are a good deal injured, and both, we believe lay immersed in water the whole time, and in such a position that the slightest movement might have proved fatal to them. — Edinburgh Star. [Morning Post 6 August 1823]

1 July 1825

A shocking accident happened at Leadhills mining village on Friday week. Two boys had gone up to Messrs Horner and Company's works there, and one of them, son of Mr Charles Weir, having come, by some means unknown, in contact with the machinery, was in an instant crushed to death. The distress of his parents, as may be conceived, is indescribable. [Caledonian Mercury 4 July 1825]

20 November 1826

An old man and woman, who are in the use of attending at fairs to sell ballads, &c. having been at the last Leadhills fair, came together from thence to Wanlockhead after dusk, and took up their quarters for the night in the ash pit of one of the steam engines there They had both, it is said, partaken somewhat freely of liquor in the course of the day, and the woman having gone to the toll-house, at a short distance, for an additional supply to keep them comfortable until morning, on her return, in the dark, unfortunately mistook the road, and fell down the shaft of one of the lead mines, to a depth of thirty-five fathoms, and must have been instantly killed. She was found at the bottom of the pit next morning, quite dead, by the workmen when they descended at six o'clock. - Her companion had no knowledge of the accident until told of it when the body was about to be brought above ground. [Caledonian Mercury 20 November 1826]

30 October 1844

Fatal Accident in a Coal Pit - On Wednesday a melancholy accident occurred in one of the mines at Wanlockhead, belonging to his Grace the Duke of Buccleuch. A party of miners had prepared to blast a piece of rock , and having lighted the match, retired to what they considered a safe distance. When the explosion took place , however, a large fragment of stone rebounding from the side of the mine, struck one of the party, named William Hislop, on the back, inflicting a severe wound. He was immediately carried home by his companions, and medical attendance procured ; but such was the nature of the injury he had received, that, after lingering in great pain for about thirty-six hours, he expired. The death of this young man, who was only in his 20th year, has spread a gloom over the whole village. He was an only son, and most exemplary for dutiful and affectionate conduct towards his parents. [Scotsman 6 November 1844]

3 January 1845

Fatal Mining Accidents - Three Lives Lost & Several Others Miraculously Preserved - On Friday, last week, a melancholy and fatal accident occurred at the mining village of Wanlockhead, Dumfriesshire, whereby Charles Stevenson, we regret to add, was deprived of life. From what we have learned, it seems that deceased and his neighbour having finished their day's labour, were about to return home, and while in the act of ascending one of the pits by means of ladders, a common, though at the same time a dangerous mode of ascent, one of the ladders gave way, and Charles Stevenson was precipitated to the bottom, a distance of 14 fathoms. His neighbour, David Jamieson, who was upon the same ladder, but nearer the landing-place, seized upon a plank across the pit mouth, and was thereby miraculously saved. The latter finding it impossible to aid his companion, ran to the nearest houses, about half a mile distant, for assistance, which was speedily rendered to the unfortunate individual, who was found at the bottom of the pit fearfully mangled, but still in life, though unconscious, he was conveyed home and attended by Dr. Watson, who did everything in his power to alleviate his sufferings, but he lingered on till about three o'clock on Saturday morning, when death terminated his sufferings. Deceased, who was about fifty years of age, was much respected in his sphere of life, and has left a widow and large family to mourn their untimely bereavement. The funeral, which took place on Tuesday, was attended by the whole of his follow-workmen, as well as the overseers of the mines, and a number of relatives. - Scarcely had the above lamentable intelligence been communicated to the inhabitants of the adjoining village of Leadhills, Lanarkshire, when they were visited by a more severe affliction. Six individuals, named Thos. Brown, sen., Jno. Haddow, and Wm. his son, Robt. Dobbie, Jno. and Jas. Patterson, who were employed opening up an old mine, went to their work on Saturday morning. They had not been long employed when the roof gave way, and fell upon John Haddow and Thomas Brown. The former was completely covered, and the latter, who was crushed to the earth with a "roof tree" lying across his shoulders, imploringly cried to his neighbours for help, and told William Haddow that "his father was gone, and he would soon follow him." Scarcely had he spoken these words, when there was another rush of earth which hid him from their view. The situation of the other four miners, almost deprived of any means of immediate escape and with two of their number buried beside them, may be conceived but can scarcely be described. William Haddow, who is an active young man, prompted by the ties of nature and the hopelessness of his own situation, climbed a pit of 21 fathoms (126 feet) and thereby got assistance for the others. When we add that the sides of this pit, not one of the smallest, was covered with boards from top to bottom, the effort must appear extraordinary - miners of extensive experience speak of his preservation as a miracle. Assistance having been procured the lifeless bodies of Brown and Haddow were got out in the evening. The deceased were both experienced miners, between 50 and 60 years of age, and highly esteemed. They were married to two sisters, who, along with large families, have, by this calamity, to lament the loss of husband, parent, brother, and uncle. At the time the above accident occurred, the Leadhills and Crawford curlers were engaged at their annual game. The sport was speedily put an end to, and each, with that friendly feeling for which the villagers are characterised, returned to render all the assistance they could. The above melancholy accidents have cast a gloom over both villages, and made the New-Year, with them - a season of festivities - this year one of sadness. We recollect of three men having been confined in one of the mines at Leadhills for three days, and got out after all in safety. In 1837 or 1838, two young men were killed by the falling of earth from the roof, and since then five or six deaths (not including the present two) have been caused by accidents. The mines at Wanlockhead belong to, and are wrought by, his Grace the Duke of Buccleuch. The Leadhill mines are the property of the Earl of Hopetoun, and leased by W. G. Borron, Esq. A good old custom once prevailed of giving widows, whose husbands died from injuries sustained in the mines, a small annual gratuity : in the above cases we hope the proprietors will imitate such a good example. Accidents like the above were once very rare; and, by the exercise of proper caution by the overseers or the men, might yet be almost, if not altogether, avoided. (In reference to the above, we are enabled to state on authority from Leadhills, that not the slightest blame or reflection can be attributed to the overseers there in connection with those unhappy accidents. They are not, we are assured, chargeable with want of caution, or in any other respect; but it is well known that accidents will sometimes occur in spite of every precaution and forethought.) [Glasgow Herald 6 January 1845]

19 June 1845

Melancholy Accident at Wanlockhead - On the morning of Thursday last, when George Hunter, miner, was in the act of descending one of the pits, 14 fathoms in depth, he lost his hold, and was unfortunately precipitated to the bottom, a distance of about 18 feet, by which his head was so severely injured that he instantly expired. He was a very worthy, intelligent, and inoffensive man, and much respected by the villagers for his exemplary conduct and unassuming piety. He was an elder in the Free Church, which office he had long held in the Establishment previous to the Disruption. He was in the 53th year of his age, and has left an afflicted widow and family to mourn their irreparable loss. - ln the neighbouring village of Leadhills, at three o'clock the same morning, William Haddow, while working with some other men in the mine, was struck on the back with a stone while blasting, from a shot which he had negligently fired, and so severely injured that his recovery is despaired of. It is worthy of remark, that his father, John Haddow, lately lost his life near the same spot. In this instance, his neighbour Thomas Reid had also a very narrow escape, the pipe which he was smoking at the time having been broken in his mouth by another stone from the same blast. [Dumfries and Galloway Standard - Wednesday 25 June 1845]

24 December 1857

Alarming Accident At Wanlockhead Mines - Near the hour of midnight, on the 24th of December last, when all but those who were preparing to go, or had returned from their work, were wrapt in slumbers, an alarm was raised that four men were buried alive in the mine. A father, Walter, with three of his sons - William, Charles, and James Scott - had gone under ground about four o'clock in the afternoon to work at picking out the remaining lead ore from the wastes left in the vein where the metal had been formerly extracted. This kind of work is at all times attended with danger for the miner, as what stuff he does not take out (consisting principally of stones) is either, by setting wood in a certain way, placed above where he is working, or is built up beside him. About eleven o'clock the relations of the four named miners began to wonder why they had not returned, and another son and a neighbour went underground to ascertain if anything had befallen, them. These found them in a most perilous condition. An hour after they had begun to work a wooden beam, supporting a balk on the east cheek of the vein gave way, when the balk, together with a quantify of debris, came in upon them, and left them confined and in the most dangerous predicament imaginable. Above their heads hung loose stones and pieces of old wood to the depth of 12 feet, only prevented from falling down by becoming keyed together by the force with which the mass came inwards. When they recovered from the momentary stupor into which they were thrown when the catastrophe occurred, it was to behold the wretchedness of their position. The failing debris had caught the two eldest sons by the legs, and a considerable stream of the cold mine water was pouring on one of them. On the north side was the hard vein rock, on the east and west sides were the harder cheeks of the vein, and on the south was a barricade of loose sticks supporting one side of the tottering mass which overhung them. They heard the foot-fall of some of their neighbouring workmen going or coming, and they called for assistance, but were unheard, and were only answered by the dismal rolling echo of the mine. The mine carpenters arrived at the spot about midnight to relieve them. When some of them asked the father how he was, the old man answered : "It's impossible for me to describe the feelings I have had for the last seven hours.'' A hole to the south, between two sticks, was fortunately discovered, through which provisions and spirits could be conveyed to the sufferers. The plan of operations was soon decided on by those in whose hand was entrusted the task of relieving their fellow beings; and with the greatest patience and perseverance did they cut down through this twelve feet of loose material without allowing a single fragment to fall on those below And very patiently did those, who hung suspended by a thread over the abyss of death, wait the result of the efforts of those who were trying to rescue them. One wrong stroke when driving the pollings - one incautiously lifted stone, or a foot heedlessly set down, and they were in eternity, At last, after many hours' hard labour had been borne by those who were working, and after many hours of awful but indescribable anxiety had been endured by those in jeopardy, about noon the following day the place was secured, and all the four set at liberty - having been in the position described for nineteen hours. Two of the sufferers, the father with the youngest son, were able to walk home; but the two who had their limbs entangled amid the debris, were severely bruised and chilled in every member, and had to be drawn up the shaft by a rope, and taken home in a conveyance. But it is now gratifying to say they are fast recovering. As examples of the interest felt by all for those exposed to the menacing dangers described above, one of the mine carpenters, who took an active part in the operations described, exhausted himself to such a degree, that when the work was done, and all the four were in safety, he had to be carried home. Some of the miners burst into tears when they beheld four of their fellow-workmen lying in so helpless a condition, confined in what appeared to be their tomb. [Glasgow Herald 4 January 1858]

5 February 1868

Accident in A Mine - A singular accident happened on Wednesday last to a lad named William Little, aged 17, employed in one of the mines at Wanlochhead. His duty was to watch the working of the pumping engine in the mine, for which purpose he had to go down the pit; while there early on the morning of Wednesday, feeling very cold, he left his post in order to take a walk to warm himself. At a distance of 50 yards from the engine, there is a “sump” or shaft 68 feet deep, which is descended by ladders. Little proceeded to go down this shaft, and stepping on to the top ladder laid hold of a crank suspended in the shaft for the purpose of drawing up materials from the bottom, when the crank suddenly turned in his hand, causing him to lose his balance, and he fell to the bottom of the shaft. Here he lay for three hours in 18 inches of water unable to raise himself; at length hearing some of the miners passing he cried out and was soon rescued from his unpleasant position. He was in a very exhausted condition, but must have been more frightened than hurt, because strange to say, on being examined by Dr Menzies, no bruises were found on his person, and the only serious injury he seems to have received was a fracture of the right ancle. He is progressing favourably. [Herald 12 February 1868]

25 May 1892

Leadhills – Miner Buried Alive At Leadhills – On Wednesday James Tennant, Flaxholm, Leadhills, was buried alive in Potato Lead Mine, Leadhills. The “happer” through which rubbish is put became choked, and while Tennant was on top of the heap the happer suddenly opened, carrying him through among the rubbish, and another fall of rubbish taking place he was buried alive. Every effort was made to rescue the unfortunate man, but when he was taken out Dr Barrons found life extinct. [Hamilton Advertiser 28 May 1892]

20 August 1903

LEADHILLS MINER KILLED. A miner named Andrew Harkness in the employment of the Leadhills Mining Company, has been killed in one of the mines there through falling down a hopper which is used for emptying ore from the higher to the lower seam. [Edinburgh Evening News 22 August 1903]

13 August 1925

Leadhills – Fatal Accident – On Thursday morning, 13th inst., while George Dalling leadminer, son of Mr Wm Dalling, Mossbank, was engaged at his usual work in the Wanlockhead lead mines, a violent explosion rendered him unconscious, when he was removed to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Shortly after admission he expired, never regaining consciousness. His remains, which were interred in Leadhills Churchyard on Sabbath afternoon, were followed by the largest crowd of mourners ever witnessed in the village. Much sympathy is felt for his widow and children, as well as for his father and mother. [Hamilton Advertiser 22 August 1925]

27 August 1926

Wanlockhead Lead Miner Killed - A distressing fatality occurred late on Friday night in the Wanlockhead lead mine, when Hugh Nicol (50), was crushed by a descending cage. He was engaged at repair work at the pit bottom when he was struck by the cage and killed instantaneously. [Scotsman 30 August 1926]