Greenfield Colliery 9th April 1874

This accident was the result of a boiler exploding - an engineman and three children were killed:

  • John Millar, engine-keeper, age 31, married, Orchard Cottage, Blantyre
  • Robert Maxwell, age 8
  • Jeanie Moffat, age 7
  • John Hailes, age 4

Inspector of Mines Report

There was one fatal boiler explosion at Greenfield Colliery. The boiler was one of a range of five, which had been working for ten years. It was egg-ended, 30 feet long, 5 feet diameter, and the plates were 7/8ths of an inch thick. It burst into three pieces ; the central part flattened out, and the two ends kept their shape. One of the ends, about 20 feet long, was blown a distance of 150 yards, tore off the roof's of five workmen's houses, and finally landed on and fell through the roof of a school-room where about 30 persons were assembled. Three children were killed and several persons injured. One of the enginemen was killed, his name appears in the " list." I had the assistance of Lawrence Hill Esq., in investigating this accident. We did not detect that the boiler had been short of water; it seemed to us that it had leaked about the water line, was a good deal corroded, and thoroughly worn out. At our suggestion the owners took out the whole range, and replaced them by double flued boilers.

It is satisfactory to find that in most of the new fittings double flued boilers are used, which are capable of being safely worked at 50 to 60lbs. on the square inch. [Ralph Moore, Inspector of Mines, Eastern District of Scotland]

Newspaper Reports

Fearful Boiler Explosion at Greenfield Colliery - Three Lives Lost.  A sad accident occurred shortly before eight o'clock last night at the above colliery, belonging to the Hamilton Coal Company. At the time in question one of the boilers burst, the force of the explosion throwing the boiler some 100 yards distant over the roofs of a row of houses, tearing off some of the roofs, and eventually falling through that of the school-house, which was at the time full of people attending a missionary meeting. Three children, named John Hailes, aged 5 ; Robert Maxwell, aged 8 ; and Jas. Moffat, aged 7 were killed, and some 20 to 30 other men, women, and children were more or less injured. Most of those people received their injuries in the school-house, and two of the worst cases, Morgan and Millar, enginemen, were sorely hurt at their posts. Prompt assistance was rendered by five medical officers who did all that it was possible to alleviate the sufferings of the wounded. The cause of the accident has not been ascertained. [Scotsman 10 April 1874]

Disastrous Boiler Explosion At Greenfield Colliery
On Thursday night an accident of the most appalling description occurred at Greenfield Colliery, the property of the Hamilton Coal Company, by which four lives have been sacrificed, and twenty-eight persons more or less severely injured. The pit in question was opened some 10 or 12 years ago, and in consequence of the depth at which the coal was obtained - some 120 fathoms or so - and the great flood of water in the mine, it was found necessary to provide machinery of novel construction and great power. To supply this machinery with steam, no fewer than six enormous boilers are required, and it was owing to the bursting of one of these boilers that the melancholy accident occurred.

Greenfield Pit, says the Herald, is about two miles distant in a westerly direction, and is sunk within 100 yards of the Caledonian Company's line of railway. The six boilers to which reference has been made lie alongside of each other east and west, three, as it were, on either side of the high stack. Within a distance of 20 yards from the western extremity of the boilers a neat row of miners' cottages extends father to the west, and there are continuations of dwellings to the north. On Thursday night, between seven and eight o'clock, a prayer meeting was being held in the schoolroom, at the western extremity of the village, under the superintendence of Mr Edgar, of Chapel Street U.P. Church. While the service was going on, the assemblage was terrified by a heavy booming sound, and ere anyone in the meeting had time to stir, one-half of one of the large boilers came crashing through the roof, and buried nearly everyone present in the debris. As may naturally be supposed, the utmost consternation prevailed not only in the school-house, where the accident had proved so disastrous, but also in four or five of the houses which had been unroofed by the boiler as it swept on with irresistible force. The large number of visitors from Glasgow had attracted many of the male villagers to Hamilton, and those who remained were principally women and children. The terrible report, whoever, which succeeded the explosion, and which was heard for miles around, speedily brought assistance from every quarter, and in a short time there were hundreds of men upon the ground, able and willing to render every assistance to the suffering congregation and paralysed villagers. So astounding had been the report that it was some time before those who were uninjured were able to go to the assistance of their less fortunate neighbours; but the screams of the half-suffocated people in the school-house, while they appalled the timid, nerved the brave to the painful task of relieving those who has escaped unhurt, and tending to those whose injuries in many instances, it was to be feared, pointed to a fatal issue.

Before referring more particularly to the scene at the school-house, it may be well to speak for a moment of the position of the boiler, and the course which it described in its fatal flight. As we have already stated, there were six boilers in use at Greenfield. The one which exploded was the second from the north end. Of course it is impossible to say at present what led to the explosion. Many conjectures were mooted by the semi-practical amongst the crowds in the neighbourhood of the pit on Thursday night, but it would be unfair to those who had charge of the boilers to give them publicity. Suffice it to say, therefore, that the boiler parted almost in the centre, and that one half was driven west and smashed in the school house, and the other half was driven in a northerly direction towards the railway, cutting the telegraph wires and doing much injury to the permanent way of the railway to Hamilton as to cause considerable detention to the Glasgow trains. By the force of the explosion the boiler on the extreme north was hurled in an entire condition from its seat to a distance of 20 or 30 yards. The two halves of the boiler, each at least 15 or 20 feet in length, and 6 feet in diameter, were hurled in opposite directions 100 yards. The part which went westward, and which committed such havoc in the village, did not pursue a direct course. It glanced over the top of the house at the north-east corner of the row; then, as it neared the end of the village, it bounded from house to house on the opposite side of the row, smashing in roofs in its progress as if they had been composed of match-wood until it reached the school-house, where its propulsive force being expended, it settled down with a terrible crash, and buried beneath it many of the unsuspecting worshippers. While, no doubt, the consequences have been painful in the extreme, it is yet matter for wonder and congratulation that so many escaped scathless; but this is attributed to the fact that one end of the boiler, after coming through the roof and smashing down the southern gable wall to within four feet of the floor, rested there, and the great weight of the iron was supported to a large extent at the opposite extremity by the cross beams of the roof. Those of the congregation seated along the north side of the school-house beyond the terrible fright which they got, escaped without injury, but it was different with those on the south side. Men, women, and children were in a moment buried beneath the wood, slates, and lime, and, over all, the tremendous weight of the boiler. As the boiler fell with that part along which the flames of the furnace ran down, the intense heat of the iron added to the sufferings of the unfortunate worshippers, and as it was a long time before they could be relieved from their perilous position they endured intense pain. Three children - a lad named Hales, said to be about 5 years of age; a boy of the name of Maxwell, nine years of age; and a girl named Moffat were known to have been killed on Thursday night.

Many narrow escapes were made, both in the school-house and in the vicinity of the boiler. The girl Moffat was sitting beside her parents, both of whom have been badly injured. She was taken out dead, but here is no mark on her body to indicate the cause of death. The boy Maxwell was also taken out dead. The lad Hales was standing in front of the furnace when the explosion took place. When he was discovered he was still alive, and a most affecting scene occurred. On the men proceeding to dig him out of the debris by which he was partly buried he bitterly cried, "Oh, save my wee brother!" When asked where his brother was, the lad answered, "He is standing ahint me." No trace of him, however could be found.

The other half of the boiler, as we have already indicated, was blown in a northernly direction, and did considerable damage to the telegraph wires and the main line of railway; but the damage thus caused was speedily remedied, and the ordinary traffic resumed. On Thursday night, the village presented a mournful sight. It was impossible to walk along the unlighted street, except where a solitary miner's lamp helped to make the gloom deeper, without tumbling over bricks and displaced beams of wood. Under the uncertain light of oil lamps, mourning relatives were doing the last sad offices to the dead, or alleviating the sufferings of the injured, while sympathising people looked don, or gave whatever assistance outsiders were capable of rendering. Those whose houses had been unroofed were collecting such of their household goods as had not shared in the accident, and were busy removing them to other quarters where temporary accommodation had been provided fr the people who had thus been rendered roofless.

From later details it appears that the service in the school-room had only newly begun when the accident occurred. Mr Edgar had given out the hymn, "Jesus is mine," and had commenced to read the second verse, when the boiler crashed in among the audience, which numbered between 50 and 60. A young student from California, who had been on a visit at Greenfield was to have given the address, and he had risen from his seat - the very spot where the boiler fell - to take his place beside Mr Edgar. A minute or two later, and he would in all likelihood have been numbered with the dead. A portion of the school-house ceiling and other debris knocked over Mr Edgar, who was the only person standing in the room. With some difficulty he succeeded in crawling, along with others, out of one of the windows, and, in doing so, fell with considerable violence, receiving severe cuts and bruises about the head and back, and his nervous system sustaining a severe shock.

The number of deaths by the explosion was yesterday increased to four, the engineman, John Miller, having expired in the morning from the effects of his injuries, at his residence, in Low Blantyre. Miller wrought on the night-shift, and his neighbour, James Morgan, who was employed during the day, happened to go to the pit in the evening, when he narrowly escaped his companion's fate, as they were both standing near the engine-house door when the explosion occurred. Although Morgan was very badly burned and otherwise injured in various parts of the body, he was, up till last night, progressing favourably. Among the other more serious cases may be mentioned that of Mrs Moffat, who was very severely cut about the head, and remains insensible. The Maxwell family were all at the prayer meeting, the mother having in her arms a child four months old. They were with difficulty got out with slight injuries, with the exception of the boy Robert, who was among the killed. It is said that this lad had been averse to going to the meeting, but latterly was induced to attend, and, taking a Bible in his coat pocket, went with the others, and was brought back dead. An old woman living next door to the school-house was in bed when the accident occurred; and though she was in in such close proximity to the scene of the disaster, and surrounded by the falling debris, she escaped unhurt. In another house two or three friends were at the time sitting together enjoying a quiet cup of tea, when a shower of bricks, &c., fell almost above them, inflicting but a few slight bruises. The escape of two children was still more remarkable. They had been sitting near the top of the boiler-seat when the explosion occurred. The boiler darted over their heads into mid-air, and naturally, the youths were greatly terror-stricken, but only one of them presented the appearance of having sustained the slightest injury. About a score of other children were playing at rounders in the colliery rows, and they also, with one or two exceptions, escaped unhurt. A portion of the boiler was thrown a distance of nearly 100 yards cutting through between two waggons which were standing in the colliery siding, and [.......] the buffers at a considerable further distance off into a field on the opposite side of the railway fence. The pointsman at the siding, George Wilson, on hearing the crash of the explosion, instantly turned to the railway clock to see how the trains stood, and put on the block-signals to prevent the possibility of accident. Immediately thereafter, he conveyed information to Mr Kirkpatrick, the stationmaster at Hamilton, who at once proceeded to the spot and made arrangements for working the traffic on the single line between Hamilton and Blantyre, the other having been rendered unsafe owing to the railway sleepers, chains, and rails, &c., being destroyed by the boiler. Mr M'Arthur, inspector of permanent way, with the assistance of a large body of men, succeeded in having the damage repaired, and at 10.30pm the trains were run as usual. Considerable credit is due to the railway officials here for the prompt measures taken, especially in view of the extra work caused by the large number of Glasgow Fast-day passengers in town, numbering no fewer than 2979. Had the 7.30pm train from Hamilton started five minutes earlier than the advertised hour, the consequences must have proved disastrous, because the portion of the boiler which darted across the line must inevitably have cut the train in two. The medical gentlemen who were in attendance on the sufferers included Drs Naismith, Marshall, Robertson, and Craig, in addition to Mr James Ballantyne, medical student, Glasgow University, who happened to be in the neighbourhood at the time of the accident.

Yesterday, Mr James A Dykes, P.F., accompanied by Chief Constable Mackay, and Mr Ralph Moore, Government inspector of mines, were at Greenfield, in connection with the accident, which will form the subject of the strictest investigation. The cause has not yet been definitively ascertained.

The following is a list of the killed and injured:-

1. John Hailes (aged 5), son of Joseph Hailes, miner.
2. Robert Maxwell (8), son of Robert Maxwell, underground manager.
3. Jeanie Moffat (7), daughter of George Moffat, miner.
4. John Miller, engine-keeper, Low Blantyre- leaves wife and young family.

James Morgan
(28), engine-keeper - severely cut and burned about face, hands, arms, and legs.
George Moffat, miner, Mrs Moffat, and two children - injured, the parents severely, and two children slightly.
Janet Kerr or Rennie, wife of Alexander Rennie, fireman - cut severely on head and bruised on body.
William Hailes (12), son of Joseph Hailes, miner.
Robert Maxwell, sen., Mrs Maxwell, and child four months - injured, not severely
Elizabeth Rennie, wife of Wilson Rennie, fireman -  injured on right leg.
George Robertson
(14), son of Archd. Robertson, miner - injured on back.
Wm. Davis, miner, and Helen Davis, his wife - the former injured about leg, and latter (who is in a delicate state of health), bruised about body.
Margaret Marshall, wife of Gabriel Marshall, miner, and two children - slightly injured.
Helen (16), John (11), Janet (9), and William (5), children of Mr Hastie, manager - also slightly injured.
Charles Edgar, missionary - cut and bruised about head and back, and severe shock to nervous system.
Henry Wilson (12), son of Robert Wilson, roadsman - slightly injured on leg
James Struthers (18), son of Thomas Struthers, collier- cut severely about head, and bruised about back.
David Wilson (7), son of Thomas Wilson, miner - cut on head and face.
Martha Seaton (14), an orphan, residing with George Johnston, miner - cut on back of head.
Janet Maxwell or Muir, wife of Robert Muir, fireman - severely bruised on left limb, and all over the body.
Andrew Foyer (10), son of William Foyer, engineer - cut on head, bruised on leg, and slightly bruised on head and face.
[Hamilton Advertiser 11 April 1874]

The Boiler Explosion at Greenfield - There are no further details from the boiler explosion at Greenfield Colliery, Hamilton, although three of the sufferers are still in a precarious condition. These are Mrs Moffat, who was dug from underneath the boiler, which was pitched into the school-house ; Mrs Davis, who had been in a delicate state of health, and was bruised severely and the engine-man, James Morgan, who was struck down, beside his neighbour, Miller, It has now been ascertained that no fewer than 30 were more or less severely injured by the accident. The scene was yesterday visited by at least 4000 persona, many of whom came a distance of several miles. During the day three different lay preachers addressed large gatherings of people in the Square at Greenfield, and took the sad event as the theme of their discourse. Wooden boxes were placed at different points for the reception of contributions in aid of the sufferers, and by nightfall a considerable sum was realised, as the nucleus of a fund on a more extensive scale, which will be opened this week. Miller, the engineman, has left a widow and three children unprovided for, and the Moffat family, consisting of three boys and two girls are in a similar pitiable position. The mother is still unconscious, of the loss of her child, and the father is so much hurt that some time musts elapse ere he is able to work for his own or his family's support. The funeral of the three children killed by the, explosion took place on Saturday, the boy Maxwell being interred in Rutherglen, and the girl Moffat in Old Monkland Churchyard, while the remains of the lad Hailes were buried in Hamilton Cemetery [Scotsman 13 April 1874]

The Greenfield Disaster
The funeral of the three children, killed by the late boiler explosion at Greenfield Colliery took place on Saturday, the boy Maxwell being interred in Rutherglen, and the girl Moffat in Old Monkland Churchyard, while the remains of the lad Hailes were interred in Hamilton cemetery. The funeral of the enginekeeper, John Miller, took place on Tuesday at Blantyre. It is now ascertained that the parties injured number thirty in all - Mrs Moffat, the engineman James Morgan, and one or two others rather seriously; but happily all of them are expected to rally by dint of careful treatment. The scene of the disaster was visited on Sunday by several thousand people from all quarters, who contributed their mite in aid of the sufferers, wooden boxes having been placed at different places for that purpose, but the sum collected was but a tithe of what would no doubt have been cheerfully given, had the object of the collection been previously intimated. The widow of John Miller is left with three young children, almost wholly unprovided for, and George Moffat, who will be unable to work for some time to come, has a family of five, only one of whom is able to earn a little towards his own support. A committee has been formed at Greenfield, to aid the sufferers by the catastrophe, by whom, as well as by Mr Hastie, the manager, subscriptions will be gladly received. [Hamilton Advertiser 18 April 1874]