Oakley, Fife January 21 1856

Newspaper Report

Explosion in a Coal Pit At Oakley, near Dunfermline - Four Lives Lost

On the forenoon of Monday, an explosion of foul air took place in a coal pit at the Forth Iron Works, about two hundred yards on the west side of Oakley near Dunfermline, whereby, we regret to state, four lives have been lost. It appears that an ironstone seam had been opened in the pit, about 33 fathoms from the surface; where, to enable the men to form the ironstone bottom, a scaffolding was placed; the coal seam being seven and a half fathoms under that. Three men were engaged in the pit when the explosion happened. The noise produced, as heard in the neighbourhood, resembled the sharp report of a cannon; and the force of the explosion at the mouth of the pit may be imagined when from such a depth, various missiles were seen projected into the air, and a girl, 15 years of age, who was at the mouth of the pit, was instantly deprived of life. The cause of the melancholy accident cannot be exactly explained, although there is a probability that it has arisen from some act of carelessness on the part of one or other of the three unfortunate sufferers. They were the only persons in the pit at the time, and were provided with suitable Davy lamps. One of the oversmen, named William Jamieson, was in the pit and the place where the accident happened shortly before, when there was no symptom of foul air. He states, indeed, that whilst he was there, a current of air was passing down one side of the pit. He, however, warned the men that danger might be apprehended, and counselled them to be extremely cautious. Some suppose that in trimming the lamp or lamps, the old wicks, not properly extinguished, had been thrown carelessly down below the scaffolding, and that as no current of air was there, that foul air might have collected. Another man, named George Drysdale, was along with Jamieson in the pit about two hours previous to the explosion. It is his opinion that the accident was caused by one of the men having lifted a part of the scaffold, and put a lamp under it for the purpose of fitting a conductor to convey water under the scaffold from a cut in the shaft above the ironstone. Immediately after the occurrence, the most strenuous efforts were made by the men in the works and the neighbourhood to recover the bodies of the men. Their remains were taken out about 2 hours after the melancholy occurrence. Their names are as follows:- James Erskine, who has left a wife and 6 children; Andrew Mitchell, who has left a wife and four children; Robert Martin, unmarried. The name of the female who was killed while standing close by the mouth of the pit, was Marion Drysdale, aged 15 years. The deplorable occurrence, as may be supposed, has occasioned a feeling of deep sadness in the village, and among the numerous men who are employed in the extensive works. The utmost anxiety was shown by those having the management of the works, and others, and no labour was spared after the explosion in extricating the remains of the unfortunate men. [Scotsman 23 Jan 1856]

Mine Inspectors Report

Robert Williams, Inspector of Coal Mines
Oakley near Dunfermline owned by Forth Iron Co.
The accident at Oakley, near Dunfermline occurred in a pit, newly sunk to the main coal, which produced a considerable quantity of fire damp. In this pit, which is 85 yards deep, there is a band of ironstone 15 yards above the coal. In commencing the working of this ironstone, a scaffold was fixed in the pit; but being put there to serve a temporary purpose, no care was taken to make the joinings of the planks air tight which composed it. There was also an opening made in the partition (or midwall) where this scaffold was fixed, which would allow the downcast current of air to pass through it, into the upcast division of the pit, leaving that part of the pit under the scaffold, and the opening in the partition unventilated, which showed a great want of of consideration or judgement on the part of those under whose management these operations were conducted, in not either having the joinings of the scaffold made airtight or the space underneath it ventilated, particularly when i was known that the coal at the bottom of the pit generated a quantity of firedamp. By what means the carburetted hydrogen gas was ignited is unknown. The 3 men that were on the scaffold were found dead at the bottom of the pit, and a young woman who was on the pithead at the time was killed by a piece of wood falling upon her, which was thrown out of the pit by the force of the explosion.

Persons Killed:

  • James Erskine, collier
  • Robert Martin, collier
  • Andrew Mitchell, collier
  • Marion Drysdale