Kinnedar 31 May 1895


  • Alexander Thomson, 31, fireman, married, died of burns May 31 1895
  • Alexander Sharp, 42, coal miner, married, died of burns June 1 1895
  • William McKenna, 42, coal miner, married, died of burns June 1 1895
  • Thomas Hunter, 41, coal miner, married, died of burns June 1 1895
  • George Ramage, 31, coal miner, married, died of burns June 1 1895
  • John Hunter, 28, coal miner, single, died of burns May 31 1895
  • George Bell, 28, coal miner, married, died of burns June 1 1895
  • Frank Sharp, 52, miner, married, fell down shaft
  • Thomas Sharp, 23, miner, married, fell down shaft [Frank & Thomas Sharp were father and son]

Extracts from Report of Public Inquiry:

By John Comrie Thomson & J. B. Atkinson


On the 31st May 1895, about 3.20 pm, seven persons were burned in the Jersey coal seam of No. 2 Pit, Kinneddar Colliery, situated near Dunfermline, in Fifeshire, and owned by the Fifeshire Main Collieries, Limited, by flame or hot air being forced upon them by a fall of material from the sides of No. 3 Pit, the wooden lining and fittings of which were at the time on fire. These persons all died from the effects of the injuries received within a day of the accident. Two other persons who were in the Jersey seam at the time, and who were not burned, lost their lives in the confusion that followed the reversal of the air by falling down .No. 2 Pit from the Jersey to the Splint coal seam, a distance of 11 fathoms.

Up to the day of the accident ventilation in the mine was produced by two fires in the Jersey seam at No. 3 Pit. On the day of the accident an additional fire was placed there, which, within a few hours of its being kindled, ignited timbering above it, and flame was carried forward to the No. 3 Pit, setting the woodwork in it on fire and flames soon reached the surface. At the time of the accident the ordinary workmen were out of the mine and underground operations were confined to measures for isolating, by the erection of stoppings, the burning shaft.

Narrative of the Accident

On the day of the accident 118 persons descended the mine at 7 a.m. on the morning shift, and all went on as usual until the shift was nearly over; the original furnace or cube and the fire lamp were in use, and, as already stated, a new fire was kindled. The usual precautions to prevent fire were taken; the bottomer from the west side of No. 2 Pit carrying water to the fires until 11 am, when, as he complained of the heat, the bottomer from the east side took his place. The bottomer usually stationed on the east side of No. 2 Pit in the Jersey seam, who was nearest the fires and attended principally to them, was not at work on the day of the accident; his place was taken by another person who had not previously attended to the fires; this person carried water to No. 3 Pit from 11am to 2pm on the day of the accident. The fires were replenished with coal by one of the bottomers about 2pm. No danger appears to have been apprehended from the timber above the new fire until about 2.30pm when three small flames wore observed in the cleading or packing above the bars. Attempts were made to extinguish these flames by throwing water on them from pails; as this was not successful, an effort was made to take down the timbering, and one leg was removed from below one of the crowns ; this latter operation was attended with no more success than the watering, and flame was carried forward to the shaft, the timber in which was soon in a blaze, and flame was not many minutes in reaching the surface, where the framework supporting the pulleys took fire, and eventually fell over to one side. The wooden building on which the winding engine for No. 3 shaft was placed was also consumed.

The fire having established itself in the shaft, the ordinary workmen were withdrawn from the mine and steps were taken to deal with the fire by the assistance of some of the workmen who were present.

The first operation attempted was the erection of stoppings in the passages leading to No. 3 Pit in both seams so as to cut off air from the fire and also to prevent it spreading into the seams. A screen-cloth stopping was first erected to cut off the air from the shaft, while a more substantial stopping or dam of stone, clay and sand was being built. The stopping in the cross-cut mine in the Jersey seam was 36 feet from the burning shaft; it was being erected where the roadway was 10 feet wide and 6 feet high ; the stopping itself was 3 feet thick. The other stopping in the Jersey seam was being erected where the roadway was of smaller size, being 6-feet wide and 3-feet high. Contemporaneously with this operation, an attempt was made to cover up the top of No. 3 Pit, but this was frustrated by the quantity of smoke and hot air ascending the shaft. The covering up of No. 3 Pit appears to have been suggested by the under-manager, and did not meet with Mr. Calderwood's approval. The water from the pit pond, which lay at a higher level than the top of the shaft, was run into it by cutting a trench, but this seems to have had no effect on the fire.

The only operation that was persisted in was the erection of the stoppings. While this was being proceeded with the manager and under-manager were moving from point to point, and while the former was at the stopping in the new passage through the bottom stoop in the Jersey seam, a reversal of the air took place and smoke was forced past the partially built stopping; the manager and the persons engaged there, Lockhart Blelloch, and two of the persons who afterwards lost their lives (F. and T. Sharp) were forced to retreat as far as the level; the smoke, however, soon cleared away, and work at the stopping was resumed. This reversal of the air was probably caused by the fall of the cage, which would be set free when the plank on which it rested was consumed. No evidence was given as to the effect of this reversal of the air on the persons engaged in erecting the stopping in the crosscut mine. The manager stated that when he visited them after it had occurred, no reference was made to it; the screen-cloth stopping erected there may have been sufficient to check the reversal. In the Splint coal it was felt by Cooper, the under-manager, and he stated he was blown over and felt hot air.

A short time after the first reversal of the air, a more serious reversal took place, probably caused by the fall of clay and loose material lying next the surface and above the solid metals, this debris was set free by the barring there being burnt out. The effect of this reversal was to force hot air, flame, and smoke over the persons in the cross-cut mine, and smoke actually reached the surface at No. 2, or the down-cast pit. The door between the pits opened to No. 2 ; it would be readily blown open and would offer no obstacle to the passage of the smoke, &c. from No. 3. After this reversal of air took place, it was observed that the screen-cloth stopping in the cross-cut mine was burnt out, and that the dam was about half built.

At the other stopping in the Jersey seam, smoke was also driven back, but apparently no hot air or flame, as Lockhart Blelloch, who was there and who survived, was not burned, and as already stated, the other two persons engaged there, F. and T. Sharp, lost their lives by falling down the shaft. This reversal of air did not apparently take effect in the Splint coal seam, where both the manager and under-manager were engaged when it occurred. The bottom of No. 3 shaft was then probably choked by stuff that had already fallen.

The persons engaged in the cross-cut mine were all able to reach No. 2 pit, and they ascended it; before Alexander Thomson, the fireman, had ascended, Lockhart Blelloch, who, with the two Sharps, had crawled out under smoke, had reached the shaft.

The bodies of the Sharps, who were following Blelloch, were afterwards found at the Splint coal, and they must have fallen down the shaft, but how this happened there was no evidence to show. Lockhart Blelloch reached the shaft and got on to the cage at the west side and ascended to the surface.

On examining the shaft after the accident, it was found that all the barring and timber above the Jersey seam was burned out, but no fall of solid strata had taken place except at a point 20 fathoms above the seam, where about 2 cubic yards had fallen out, but at the surface in the clay a large fall had taken place, amounting to many tons of stuff, and there is no doubt that the fall of this was the cause of the second reversal of the air. It was found that the barring below the Jersey seam was not burned.

After the accident everyone left the mine, the bodies of the two Sharps were found and brought to the surface, and the tops of the three shafts were closed. During this operation no further reversal of the air was observed.


In this case the direct and proximate causes of the deaths are not matters of dispute. The direct cause of seven of the deaths was burning by flame or hot air being forced into the passages in the coal seam from the burning shaft by debris falling from the sides of the shaft set free by the wooden barring or lining of the shaft being consumed. The direct cause of the remaining two deaths was falling down the No. 2 pit from the Jersey to the Splint coal in the confusion that followed the reversal of the air.

The proximate cause of both sets of fatalities was the new ventilating furnace setting fire to the adjacent timbering.

Dealing first with the proximate cause, we are of opinion that the erection of the new ventilating surface without taking precautions to prevent the adjacent timber being set on fire was an error of judgment on the part of the under-manager, John Cooper, and Mr. Calderwood, the manager, is not free from responsibility in the matter as we think he should himself have inspected the situation and character of the furnace before allowing a fire to be kindled on it; or if the fire was kindled without his authorisation he should have visited it as soon as he became aware of the matter. But while we say this, it must be understood that we do not think it was present in the minds of either the manager or under-manager that a fire due to the erection of an additional furnace was likely to cause such a catastrophe as followed. It should be borne in mind, however, that a fire in a mine almost always gives rise to a dangerous state of affairs. It was proved that fears were entertained of the original furnace or fire lamp setting fire to the slides in the shaft, or to a wooden fence across part of it, and the precaution was taken of throwing water over these parts as well as keeping full of water a sinker's kettle near the fires. It did not appear that these fires caused the accident, but we think they may have contributed to it in some degree in respect that they dried the woodwork near them and rendered it more readily inflammable. We think it a very improper arrangement to have woodwork so near a ventilating fire as to require the constant application of water.

We do not blame any person for the direct cause of the death of the seven persons who were burned. None of the witnesses could point to an accident of a similar character having occurred elsewhere, and although the possibility of danger from a reversal of the air taking place may have been present in the minds of the manager and under-manager, particularly after the first reversal, yet we do not think that the risk would appear to them of such a character as to make it necessary to withdraw the persons underground. With fires underground as on the surface there are risks attending the efforts made to localise them ; in this case we do not think the manager to blame for the steps he took in dealing with the fire.

The direct cause of two of the deaths was falling down the shaft from the Jersey to the Splint coal mine.

The Jersey seam was a mid-working, and two of the special rules in force at the colliery are as follows :—" (2.) Where a mid-working of a vertical shaft is not provided with an appliance which constantly acts as a fence, the gate fencing the shaft at every such mid-working, being a mid-working in use for the regular passage of workers, or the drawing of minerals from the mine, shall be connected with an indicator in the engine house, which shall indicate to the winding engineman whether the gate is open or shut, and the engineman is prohibited from moving the cage from said mid-working until the indicator shows that the gate is closed. Should the indicator show at any time that the gate is open when the cage is not at said mid-working, the engineman shall at once call the attention of the bottomer to the fact by signalling four."

"(3.) The bottomer at a mid-working in a vertical shaft not provided with an appliance which constantly fences the shaft, being a mid-working in use for the regular passage of workers, or the drawing of minerals from the mine, shall not open the gate fencing the shaft until the cage is stopped at such mid-working, and he shall not signal the cage away until he has closed the gate, and shall not permit any other person to open the gate while he is on duty."

The gate fencing the west side of No. 2 shaft at the Jersey seam was connected with an indicator in the engine-house, but that on the east side was not so connected. Such a connection had existed, but it was out of order at the time of the accident.

Whether the gate on the east side of the shaft was raised, leaving the shaft open, or not, at the time when the Sharps fell down the shaft, could not be proved. Even had the gate been connected with a signal in the engine-house, and had it been left open, it is doubtful if, in the confusion, any attention would have been paid to a signal four from the engineman. At the same time, the want of the connection was a breach of the special rule, and as it is certain that the Sharps fell down the shaft, and possibly because the gate was raised, this omission may have contributed to their deaths.

Evidence was led as to the superiority of fan over furnace ventilation, both as regards efficiency and safety, and it was admitted by the manager that the furnaces were only a temporary expedient, and that the erection of a fan was contemplated.

There is nothing in the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1887, forbidding the use of furnaces for ventilating purposes, and their use at the present time is not uncommon, nor are they dangerous if proper precautions are taken. We do not, therefore, think it necessary to make any recommendation on this head, beyond the obvious suggestion that where a furnace is employed, it should be placed in such a situation, and under such conditions, that adjacent inflammable material cannot be set on fire by it.