Nursery Pit Kilmarnock 17 August 1900

6 men killed by explosion:

  • John Gemmell, sen, age 47, married, died at scene
  • John Gemmell, jun, age 23, died in hospital on 18 August 1900
  • Andrew Johnstone, age 36, married, died in hospital on 17 August 1900
  • James Turnbull, age 40, married, died in hospital on 17 August 1900
  • John Todd, age 35, married, died in hospital on 19 August 1900
  • Boyd Cummock, age 21, single, died in hospital on 24 August 1900

Newspaper Reports

Explosion in a Kilmarnock Pit - One Man Killed and Eight Injured
A serious explosion, attended with loss of life, occurred yesterday afternoon in a portion of the workings of one of the coal pits near Kilmarnock. The accident took place shortly after midday, and in common with the majority of pit casualties was due to the accidental ignition of accumulated fire damp. The scene of the disaster was the Nursery Pit, belonging to the Portland Coal Company. The pithead is about half a mile from Kilmarnock, but the workings extend for long distances underground. The explosion occurred about a mile from the shaft and almost underneath the farm of Struthers. Fortunately this portion of the workings is detached from the rest, and only the comparatively small number of nine miners engaged at the spot during the morning suffered from the accident. It is customary in the pit to use naked lights, but there are several old workings in the vicinity which had been abandoned some time ago where there was some danger of gas collecting in considerable quantity, and the whole of the party, with one exception, used the ordinary miners' safety lamp. The miners had, in the usual course, been using dynamite for blasting the coal and it appears that one of the charges was the cause of the disaster. Shortly after noon a loud report was distinctly heard by miners working at some distance away. Fearing that something serious had happened, several of them hurried to the spot. They were confronted with a shocking spectacle. Eight of their companions were found lying near the scene of their labour. They were unconscious and at first it was thought that they had all been killed outright, the injured miners being so fearfully burned about the face as to be almost unrecognisable. The ninth miner, named Alexander Dunlop, who had been working apart from the others, although severely injured, was able to walk home. Medical aid was promptly summoned on the news of the disaster reaching the surface, and Dr John Robertson, Kilmarnock and Dr Baxter, Hurlford, were quickly in attendance.

The victims of the explosion, after being brought to the pithead, were carried into the engine-house where their injuries were examined and temporarily dressed Two of the sufferers were father and son and shortly after they were brought to the surface, the father, John Gemmell sen.. Robertson Place, Kilmarnock, expired from his injuries. The others were in a precarious condition. and it was found imperative to remove them to Kilmarnock Infirmary. and ambulance waggons. were brought from the town for that purpose. One of the most seriously injured is Andrew Johnstone, Arbuckle Street, Kilmarnock the assistant manager. The others are:- John Gemmell jun, Rickarton Road. Hurlford; John Higgins jun., East Shaw Street, Kilmarnock; James Turnbull, fireman, Crooked Holm; David Clark, oncostman, Mauchline Road, Hurlford; John Todd, oncostman, Cadgers Road, Hurlford: Boyd Cumnock, drawer, Gilmour Street, Kilmarnock.

The news of the accident produced a large amount of excitement in the district. A crowd of some hundreds soon collected at the pit-head, and during the afternoon and evening large numbers of the residents visited the pit. There was, of course, nothing to be seen above ground to indicate what had occurred. Mr Gilmour, the manager, was absent in Kilmarnock at the time the explosion occurred, but he was immediately apprised of the accident, and assisted in the care of the injured. By seven o'clock last night two of the colliers had regained consciousness, and were able to speak, but the others remain in a dazed state, the condition of several of them being regarded as serious.

Alexander Dunlop, who resides at Picken Street, Riccarton, was able to give an account of his experiences to a representative of The Scotsman last night. Dunlop had suffered severe injuries to his face and arms, which were completely concealed by bandages. His statement was as follows:-

"I started work in the pit with other 9 miners at 6 o'clock in the morning. We were working towards the Wellington pit, which is about a mile from the Nursery Pit, and we had reached a point about 20 yards from it. I was in the inside position, farthest from the entrance to the working. We were all working with safety lamps, with the exception of myself. About quarter past twelve, I heard two very loud reports. I said to myself, "There's something wrong here" and immediately afterwards I saw a flame a bit off, cutting me off from the others. I at once made right through it and joined the others, my face and hands being badly burned as I passed through the burning gas. The other miners had stowed their clothes in a safe place, and they went to get them ,while I proceeded to the pithead. There must have been another explosion after I left. If the others had gone straight with me up to the pithead, they would have been all right. I suppose it would be a shot of dynamite that caused the explosion. We blast regularly with dynamite in working the coal pit, and both they and myself had been using dynamite immediately before the accident."

John Gemmell sen., whose injuries terminated fatally soon after the explosion, is about 45 years of age. He leaves a widow and family, two of whom resided with him, the youngest child being only two months old. Turnbull was formerly a well known player in Hurlford Football Club, but retired from the game some years ago. Hitherto fatalities in Ayrshire mines have been more frequently due to flooding then to gas explosions, from which they enjoyed a comparative immunity. A few years ago an explosion occurred in the same pit, which resulted in the death of a miner named Higgins, uncle of the collier injured in yesterdays accident.

About 100 men are employed at the Nursery Pit, who reside in Kilmarnock and the villages of Riccarton and Hurlford. There was, consequently, a large amount of anxiety caused in the neighbourhood on receipt of the news of the explosion. Captain Hill, of the burgh police, was early on the scene of the accident with a staff of constables, and assisted in the disposal of the injured, in addition to preserving of order.

Two More Deaths - Our Kilmarnock correspondent, telegraphing early this morning, says James Turnbull, the fireman of the section, and Andrew Johnstone, the manager, succumbed to their injuries in the Infirmary before midnight, Turnbull, who was about forty years of age, has left a widow and a large family. He was a noted football player some fourteen or fifteen years ago. Johnstone, who was about thirty-six years of age, has also left a widow and family. It in only a few months since he gained his certificate as a manager. He was a native of Galston, and resided for a long time at Hurlford, where he interested himself in friendly societies and temperance work, being chief Ruler for some time of the Hurlford Tent of Rechabites. This makes three deaths from the disaster. The other men are still in a critical condition. [Scotsman 18 August 1900]

The dreadful explosion which occurred in Nursery Pit, Kilmarnock, on Friday afternoon, has proved far more disastrous than was at first anticipated The death roll has now increased to five. Three deaths were reported in our issue of Saturday, and other two have occurred since. John Gemmell, jun., collier, Riccarton Road, Hurlford, died at 3 o'clock on Saturday morning, and John Todd, oncostman, Cadgers Road, Hurlford, died about 2 o'clock yesterday morning. Gemmill's father was also a victim of the catastrophe, his death having occurred immediately after he was brought up from the pit bottom to the surface. Young Gemmill whose eyes had been terribly burned, was about 23 years of age. He was a native of Hurlford, where he was well known and much respected as a well doing and industrious young man. Todd, who was 35 years of age was also a native of Hurlford. For many years he resided in Dreghorn, and it was only on Whitsunday last that he returned to Hurlford. He has left a widow and two children and he had a child buried only a few weeks ago. It may be mentioned that Todd was badly hurt in a pit accident at Dreghorn several years ago. The injured men who still survive - namely John Higgins jun., East Shaw Street Kilmarnock; David Clark, oncostman, Hurlford; and Boyd Cumnock, Gilmour Street Kilmarnock - remain in a very critical condition, the last named being probably the weakest of the three.

In most of the churches in the district yesterday sympathetic reference was made to the sad occurrence. The Rev. Mr Reid of Hurlford Free Church, who visited the injured men in the Infirmary, informed our representative that they recognised him and addressed him by name, but were not able to say anything else. The Hurlford Tent of Rechabites have convened a meeting for the purpose of arranging a public funeral for the two Gemmills [Scotsman 20 August 1900]

The three survivors of the explosion at Nursery Pit, Kilmarnock - John Higgins, jun., David Clark, and Boyd Cummock - were a little better yesterday, though still in a critical condition. The funeral of the two Gemmills - father and son - took place yesterday afternoon from the father's house in Robertson Place, and was attended by several hundreds, including many miners from Hurlford. Deceased having been Rechabites, the members of the Order turned out with their regalia. The route to the cemetery was thickly lined with sympathising spectators. The coffins were covered with beautiful wreaths. Colonel Denny, M.P. for the Kilmarnock Burgh, has sent, through the Provost, a message of sympathy for the sufferers, which has been left with the matron at the Infirmary [Scotsman 21 August 1900]