Auchenharvie 2 August 1895


  • Duncan Gallacher, 30, married (brother-in-law of Glauchans)
  • John Glauchan, 30, married
  • William Glauchan, 28, married
  • James Glauchan, 22, married
  • Henry Glauchan, 19, single (4 brothers)
  • Robert Conn (or McConn), 17, single
  • John Magee (or McGhee), 13
  • James Mullen, 19, single
  • Peter Mullen, 12 years 8 months (2 brothers)

Inspector of Mines Report

Accidents caused by irruptions of water are of rare occurrence in the district, but unfortunately a very serious outburst of water from old workings took place at Auchenharvie Colliery, Ayrshire, and resulted in the loss of nine lives. This colliery belongs to the Glengarnock Iron and Steel Co., Limited. Mr. R. Main is the agent, and Mr. John Marshall is the manager. Nos. 1 and 4 Pits are the only shafts sunk to the main coal, the former being 75 and the latter 73 fathoms in depth to that seam. The accompanying plan of the main coal workings is taken from a plan supplied by the owners [click here to view plan]. The rise working extend to a distance of 600 yards north of No. 4 Pit, and are reached by two self-acting inclines or "cousies." The first of these, marked A on plan, extends from the pit bottom to a distance of about 230 yards, and has an inclination of one in six. The second, marked B, extends from the top of A to a distance of about 330 yards at an inclination of 1 in 9, and is made in the strata above the coal, 12 ft. of solid strata being between it and the waste workings beneath. The Dook D, leading to the dip workings, extends south of the shaft to a distance of 750 yards, and dips with an inclination of 1 in 6 in the upper, and 1 in 8 in the lower part. The colliery is bounded on the east side by a well-known whin dyke or " gaw" named the Capon Craig Gaw, which forms the boundary between Auchenharvie Colliery and the abandoned workings of Stevenston Colliery. This "gaw" was supposed never to have been cut from either side, and the mineral tenants on both sides thereof were prohibited by their leases from penetrating it.

It appears that about 3 p.m. on the 2nd of August an outburst of water suddenly took place in the working place E of a miner named William Jackson, who with his two sons worked in the extreme rise of the pit. It rushed;with great velocity and force down the drawing roads, the inclines B and A to the shaft, and thence down the Dook D. All the persons employed in the rise workings succeeded in escaping either down the cousies to No. 4 Pit, or by the escape road FF to No. 1 Pit, with the exception of five. One boy, John McGhee, worked at the top of the cousie A, and he appears to have run past No. 4 Pit bottom, and down the dook, where his body lies somewhere. The men working in the dook workings all escaped with the exception of eight, who worked at the points indicated by their names, but where their bodies lie no one can tell with certainty.

Efforts were at once made to rescue the missing men, but for a long time the rush of water prevented any access to them either down the dook or up the cousies from No. 4 Pit, or by the communication roads from No. 1 Pit. By midnight the rush of water had so far abated that several explorers managed to reach the point A on the cousie B, where they encountered a block which it was impossible to pass, and which evidently damned back a considerable body of water. As it was dangerous in the circumstances to attempt to clear the obstruction by redding, charges of dynamite with long fuses were resorted to. Two shots were fired in this manner without any apparent effect. By noon on 3rd August the water behind this dam had pined off, and relays of men were at once started to redd through the obstruction, which apparently had originally been caused by a "race" of hutches blocking the road and forming a nucleus for the stones and silt carried down by the water to settle upon. By 11 am on the 4th August the barrier had been penetrated to a distance of over 30 yards without any signs of the top end being reached, when knocking by the imprisoned men was heard, and about 1 pm a communication through which a person could crawl was made, and the five prisoners were released.

Renewed efforts were then made to find any of the missing men in the dook, who might possibly be imprisoned above the level of the water accumulated in the lowest workings; but, after every accessible place had been carefully searched, all hope of any of them being alive was abandoned. On 5th August Mr. Mottram and I, along with the manager and others, after some difficulty managed to reach the point E, where the water broke out, and we found an opening 10 1/2 feet wide by 4 1/2 feet high into old "stoop and room" workings G ; but owing to a fall of roof we were unable to penetrate any distance into these workings.

On the east side of the Capon Craig Gaw, about 800 yards distant from the point E, there is an old pit named Deep Shank, 30 fathoms deep to the main coal. Previous to the accident the water frequently ran out of the mouth of this shaft, but when the irruption took place in No. 4 Pit it at once commenced to fall, and continued to do so until the top of it had sunk 11 1/2 fathoms from the surface. Several fresh "sits" of the surface in the vicinity of this shaft also took place shortly after the outburst occurred. This conclusively proves that the Capon Craig Gaw must have been cut at some former time if it continues to extend northward from E, or that it has run out and the coal was worked on until the workings extended to G. The "gaw," so far as I can learn, has never been laid bare on the west side, and it is improbable that a large volume of water would cross it through natural fissures. An old pit p is shown on the plan near the point E, but there is nothing to indicate its presence by an inspection of the surface. An old surface plan shows the existence of a shaft at this spot, but it neither indicates its depth nor the seam to which it was sunk, while the owners were not aware until after the accident that a shaft was supposed to have been sunk there. Another old pit p' was opened up by the manager three years ago, and was found to be 15 fathoms deep to the Ladyha' seam and free of water. No one seems to have had the slightest suspicion that there were any old workings near the point where the water broke out.

Newspaper Reports

Terrible Colliery Disaster - A Pit Flooded - Great Loss of Life - A terrible colliery disaster, the like of which has not previously occurred in the district, took place on Friday afternoon at No. 1 Auchenharvie Colliery, situated about midway between Saltcoats and Stevenston, the property of Messrs Merry & Cunninghame. Some old workings, of which the men were not aware, had been broken in upon, and set free the water which had accumulated there. About three o'clock the pitheadman at No. 4 pit became aware that something had gone wrong below by the men signalling from the bottom to be taken up. The first one who came up reported that the water had broken in upon them, and the pit was being rapidly flooded. The men were got out with all the expedition possible. At the time of the accident there would be about ninety men and boys in the workings, and most of these managed to get out by No. 3 pit; but a number who found their return to the pit bottom cut off by the inrushing flood made their way to No. 1 shaft, which is situated on the shore, about a mile from the other opening. Here they were got out, and immediately began to form search parties to go down and help as far as possible their less fortunate comrades. The water seems to have broken in at the highest point of the workings at No. 4, and to have rushed downhill to No. 1, carrying everything before it. The men in the upper parts had time to escape, but those engaged in the dook, or lowest part, were speedily hemmed in. The water went rushing through the workings like a mill race, and it was with the utmost difficulty that those well acquainted with the roads made their way to the bottom. In one or two cases those who escaped came to the surface literally naked and in an exhausted condition. So strong was the run of the water, that several could not contend against it, and in seeking to find an easier way of escape they got hemmed in. One young fellow was making his way out with his younger brother, when the latter became incapable of going further. The elder took the younger brother on his back, but had not proceeded far when he had to slip him down, and make his way to the shaft bottom alone. It was in this place that matters assumed a most serious aspect. It was soon ascertained that about a dozen men were still in the dook, and a few more in the "Cousie" Brae. Every effort was made to get at them, and with partial success. The explorers, who went down No. 1 shaft, succeeded in bringing a number to the surface in a very exhausted condition. As the news spread over the district, crowds of anxious men and women gathered at the respective pits. Fear and anxiety were written on many a face. The distress among the waiting crowd became more intense as time passed, and as no more were being relieved, hope died within the breasts of the spectators and gave place to despair. One particularly sad case there was. Four brothers and one brother-in-law were all working together in the dook, and they have all failed to make good their escape. One of the brothers was only recently married, and the young wife stood by in an agony of anxiety waiting for tidings. A young lad, Magee, who is among the missing, might have got out all right if he had only consulted his own safety, but he went to warn the men in the dook, and was caught in the stream of water and his retreat cut of.

The manager, Mr Marshall, along with Mr Main, the managing partner of the Glengarnock Iron and Steel Company (Limited), were soon on the ground, and every arrangement was made for relief being afforded to those that would be brought up. Dr Wallace, Saltcoats, and Dr M'Clymont were also in attendance. The names of the imprisoned men were:-
Alex. Macadam, unmarried.
John Glaughan, unmarried, Townhead, Stevenston.
James Glaughan, married, Townhead, Stevenston.
Henry Glaughan, married, Townhead, Stevenston.
Wm. Glaughan, married, Townhead, Stevenston.
Robert Conn, boy about 14, Stevenston.
Duncan Gallachar, married, Stevenston.
Charles Clark, married, Old Square, Stevenston.
Robert Park, married, Stevenston.
Wm. Hamilton, unmarried, Stevenston.
James Mullen, unmarried, Stevenston.
Peter Mullen, unmarried, Stevenston
Michael M'Carrol, married, Stevenston.
John Magee, boy, Stevenston.

Robert Hamilton, who was working at the "Cousie Brae" at the time of the disaster, states that the first indication he had that anything was wrong was from Robert Park, who was working below him. Park shouted to him to "Come here, quick." "What's up?" cried Hamilton. Park shouted again, and Hamilton asked if there was anything wrong. "Run, quick, run," he answered, and he ran up his brae to see what was the matter. He met Jackson, who told him that they were through to the old workings, and to send some boys for the gaffer. He travelled about forty yards, when he heard the rush of water coming down Jackson's drift, and he then ran faster. When he got out to the brae head, he shouted to the boys to run quick. There would be about twenty boys at the braehead. They all came round him asking what was up. He answered that he did not know. When they got to the first " Cousie Brae," and heard the rush of water behind him, Hamilton cried "Run faster; here it is coming." At the bottom there was a tow of boys. Eleven went up in a cage supposed to hold four. The water was running past, carrying with it hutches, rails, sleepers, trees, and everything. It would be about 14 feet deep.

The pithead is close to the Ardrossan branch of the Glasgow and South-Western Railway, and is about 700 or 800 yards from the sea coast. Coal has been worked for a very long time in the neighbourhood, and the water which broke into the pit with such disastrous effect is believed to have drained from the Holm Green pit, about a mile off, which has not been in operation for very many years. Workmen employed at Auchenharvie were not aware that they were mining close to workings not being conducted by their own company. Therefore the inrush of water was one of those contingencies with which they were not able to cope. The current came from a point near Craigawe, about 500 yards from the bottom of the shaft. The working inclining towards this place, the flow was exceedingly great. Its dimensions were so large, indeed, that it frightened all those in the immediate locality. Robert Park, taking alarm, rushed off and warned his neighbours that they had better escape if they wished to save their lives. This warning was immediately acted upon, with the result that nearly 120 of his fellow-workers escaped. Park, however, with a heroism which will probably never be forgotten in North Ayrshire, turned his back on his shaft, and running down the ways told everyone of their imminent danger.

Rescue of Five Men - Heroic efforts at rescue were continued without intermission almost from the moment of the disaster, and resulted on Sunday in the rescue of the five men who were imprisoned in the upper part of the workings. After a third charge of dynamite had been fired the flow of water abated till the workings between the block and the bottom of the shaft were practically dry. The men engaged in the rescue then addressed themselves to the arduous task of penetrating the mass of rubbish by hand labour. It was at half-past twelve o'clock on Sunday that the rescuing party heard a faint tapping on the other side of the barrier, which they at once rightly took to be signals from the imprisoned miners. Robert Park's three brothers were foremost toiling in the work with the most determined energy. The work of making a hole through the mass proceeded with all the haste that was in keeping with necessary caution. The tapping on the other side continued, and when a few yards more had been cut through, the Parks, and the others working with them in front, could hear a voice calling "All alive and well." The news had meanwhile spread over the country for miles round like wildfire. The barricades at the pitheads were crowded, and thousands of people assembled round the pithead. A great deal of hard and dangerous work had, however, to be done before the men who had been shut up behind the barrier could be reached. Along with Mr Ronaldson, the inspector, and the manager of the colliery, Mr John Marshall, five other colliery managers were below giving active assistance during the night. Two of them, Mr John Howat, manager at the Eglington Iron Works Colliery, and his brother the manager at Rankinston, were volunteers not connected with Messrs Merry & Cunningharnes works, and the others were Mr Brown, from Woodhill Colliery, Kilmarnock ; Mr Robert Banks, Hurlford; and Mr D. L. Smith, Barkip. Other active toilers at the face, in addition to the Park Brothers already referred to, were William Ainsworth, Adam Scott, David Frew, and the volunteer from Noble's Works, Daniel Blyth. After the first faint tapping was heard it took fully two hours' hard work before the mass was wholly cut through. Mr Marshall stated that the block was quite fifty yards in length, and the hole penetrating it was only large enough to allow a man to crawl through, and the men were working in line. The Parks were first through, Mr Marshall and the others following. They found the men sitting together, all able to speak and help themselves to some extent. The air was so bad that their lamps would not burn for the greater part of the time during which they had been shut up. Whisky and a little beef tea were passed through, and Mr Marshall administered these restoratives himself, as advised by the doctor. Among the rescue party, as has been stated, were the two brothers Park, and one of them who was in the front; was the first to grasp the hand of Robert Park when the last obstruction in the road was cut through. As can be imagined, the meeting between the three brothers was a joyous one. Hamilton, one of the rescued miners, had a nephew and two brothers-in-law in the relief party, and their meeting was very touching. The men had not given up hope, believing that attempts would be made to reach them. Michael M'Carrol was the third man to come up. He was also driven to his home in Ardeer Square. He was somewhat dazed on coming into the light. Next came Alexander M'Adam, who was also driven home. After him there was Charles Clark. As he stepped from the cage he had not the appearance of a man who had undergone so prolonged a confinement.

On Sunday Robert Park was able to give an intelligent account of what had transpired from the time he saw the water break in on them right on to the moment of rescue. He had not missed his way, as some of his neighbours conjectured; but in making for the outlet had been swept past the end of the opening by the force of the torrent. Thrown on his face it was then that he had been bruised and cut. Seizing hold of some fixture, he had been able to arrest his downward course, and got into communication with the other four men in the part of the workings to which the water had not penetrated. When they saw him bleeding they asked if there was a fall in the roof. He answered that there was fall enough, and told them the water was in on them. "We then tried to make our way," said Park, "to No. 1 pit, but were stopped. We went on till the water was up to our necks. Finding escape hopeless in that direction we came back to where the block occurred. We had no water to contend with there, but the air became so bad that our lamps went out. We had plenty of oil with us, but it would not burn. We sat close together, and when one fell asleep the others wakened him. To have fallen asleep in such an atmosphere would have been certain death. We heard the shots that was fired on Saturday afternoon. That gave us hope of rescue. We knew that an attempt was being made to reach us. I knew that it was dynamite that was being used, because I shortly afterwards felt the peculiar taste in my mouth experienced by people who are near when dynamite is exploded. We then started to work at the mass of rubbish, tearing it down with our hands. We had no tools to work with, but used our hands and a piece of stick. By that means we wrought our way in for a distance of six yards. Park added that they did not feel their weakness till they got to the surface."

Incidents - One of the saddest accidents of the disaster was that which befel one of the miners John Conn. He was making his way to No. 1 pit, having with him his two sons, aged 16 and 18 years respectively. He had hold of the lads by the hand and was helping them along when in the terrible rush of water through the passage the younger one was washed from his grasp. The father and the eldest boy escaped. The grief of the father for the loss of his boy was very touching.

Two brothers who were at work in the dip had a narrow escape. They were assisting a boy, but the water was coming through the passage with such force that they had difficulty in making headway. Bruised with floating timber and greatly exhausted, they struggled on, but had not strength left to carry the boy with them. They put him on the top of a pipe that ran along the roof, and there he was found by Robert M'Comb, who was making his way to a place of safety with his two sons. M'Comb got the lad down and assisted him through the water, and the party got into the passage leading to No. 1 pit.

A lad named John Mullens lost his two brothers. The three managed to keep together for some time, but just as they were within reach of a haven they were separated, John alone reaching the surface. He was badly cut about the face by the floating debris, and had his clothes nearly torn off. Most of the men who escaped were injured in a similar manner, Robert M'Comb who was working to the dip at the east side of the dook, not only saved his two sons, but another lad named James Gillespie, who was lying helpless on the pipes, and who but for M'Comb's assistance would have perished along with the others. Had it not been for Robert Hamilton in all likelihood no fewer than 22 lives would have been lost. As he ran along the workings he warned his neigh hours at the rise, and took them along with him They just got to the bottom of the shaft before the rush of water came on them.

Robert M'Comb, who was one of the last men saved, stated that he was working in the bottom of the dook in No. 4 Pit, and his two sons were with him. One of them came in, and said that the pipes connected with the pump had burst. The Glauchans were at work near, and lie asked then if they were going home. They thought there was no danger, and as they said they would fill another hutch he waited for them. After some time he left with his two boys, and thought the Glauchans were following. He did not know anything was wrong till he came to the dook, when he found the water rushing down, carrying rails and timber along with it. So great was the force of the current that they were almost swept away. They caught the water pipes and held on. Then they got the haulage rope, and drew themselves out of the water by means of it. With his assistance his boys were got to a place of safety. There were four or five men and a boy in the water at the dook in a very exhausted state. He helped the boy and also encouraged the men, telling them that they would soon get up. They ultimately got into No. 1 workings by a side way. He was the last man that came up the pit.

A special meeting of Stevenston Parish Council was held on Monday night - Mr Hugh Thomson presiding - to consider what steps should be taken to relieve those who have suffered from the Stevenston colliery disaster. It was agreed that a public meeting be held in the Parish Church on Friday night, and that a committee be appointed to act along with the Parish Council for the purpose of raising funds. The Hon. Thomas Cochrane, M.P. for North Ayrshire, is expected to preside. In order to make the movement as widespread as possible, the Council have resolved to invite the managers of Messrs Nobel's Explosives Works, the ministers and medical men, and the Provosts and Commissioners of Stevenston, Kilwinning, Saltcoats, and Ardrossan to take part in the proceedings.

All hope of rescuing alive the nine miners in Auchenharvie Pit has now been abandoned. The relief parties have searched in every part of the works where the unfortunate men may have sought refuge after the pit was flooded, but they could not be found. Pumping has been commenced to clear the works of water. A telegram has been received from the Home Secretary expressing sympathy with the sufferers. [The Ayr Advertiser 8 August 1895]