30 September 1876

Frightful Boiler Explosion Near Dunfermline – Four persons killed and six injured
On Saturday afternoon a frightful accident happened at the William Pit, Fordel Colliery, near Dunfermline , by which four persons lost their lives and six were seriously injured. About half-past one o'clock work was temporarily stopped at the pit in order to await the supply of material from below, this giving the girls - eight in number - employed at the pithead an opportunity of taking lunch. Accordingly, the girls, with one exception descended from their working places and gathered in front of the furnace of the most northerly of the large boilers, which were placed in a central part of the works. Scarcely had the girls done so when the boiler referred to exploded with a terrific noise, causing a scene of the most appalling character. The boiler was lifted sheer off its seat, and carried over the top of the pithead, falling in fragments all around the works. The other boilers were wrenched from their places and completely overturned, while the greater portion of the building was completely wrecked.

The noise of the explosion soon brought hundreds of people to the scene from all directions, and when the vast cloud of ashes and dust which covered the area of the works had settled down, some idea of the magnitude of the disaster was gained. It was found that almost all the pithead girls had been buried beneath a heap of rubbish at the spot where they were sitting. The work of extricating them was proceeded with as speedily as possible, though it was a task of great difficulty , the bricks and stones being hot. The stifled groans of the unfortunate sufferers were incentives to hurry forward the work, and those of their relatives who were present became almost frantic in their eagerness to know the fate of the girls. Fully an hour elapsed before all were brought out, and the spectacle which they presented was a heart-rending one, most of them having been severely scalded with the escaping steam from the boiler, and otherwise injured. Two of the girls were dead and one was barely alive, while the others were in an unconscious state. They were conveyed to their respective homes as speedily as possible, their bodies being wrapped up in blankets, &c. After the removal of the girls, it was found that the engineman, named Andrew Arnot, was missing, and, on a search being made, his dead body was found lying at a point about 40 yards from the works. There were no external marks of injury on the body beyond an abrasion at the mouth. Archibald George, the fireman, was found beneath the platform at the pithead, giving indications of keen suffering from scalding. The poor fellow gradually sunk into unconsciousness, in which state he continued until he was taken home. Four persons - viz., William Speed, the coal-weigher, Robert Archibald, William Archibald , and Mary Black - made a narrow escape. They were standing on the pit head platform when the explosion occurred, and although portions of the rubbish were driven through the shed frame around them, they were only slightly injured. Speed made a leap from the platform to the loading ground behind, a depth of about 12 feet.

Dr Lane, Crossgates, reached the works before the sufferers were removed, while shortly afterwards Drs Mungall, Cowdenbeath, and Drysdale, Dunfermline, were in attendance. Mr G. W. Mercer Henderson of Fordel, the owner of the colliery, and Mr Hogg, the manager, were speedily at the pit, and did everything in their power to meet the requirements of the emergency. As we have already stated, the destruction done to property by the accident is great. Not a trace of the bursted boiler can be seen at the place from which it was lifted. At a point about 110 yards from the works, the fire-end of the boiler is to be seen lying at the edge of the road leading to Cuttlehill Farm. It had been dashed against a tree, which it almost cut asunder, and had rebounded on to the road. In a turnip field close by, and about 120 yards from the works, lies the other end of the boiler, which is quite flattened out, and bears about five feet of the steam-pipe. The centre part of the boiler has been pitched on to the top of the coal "bing," a distance of about 70 yards, and partly twisted and flattened. Each of these portions of the boiler weighs from two to three tons. In the fields on both sides of the pit portions of the wreckage may be found at more than 100 yards distance. The boiler-seat and the "gig" house have been almost entirely demolished, while the pumping engine house has been unroofed and otherwise much damaged. The machinery has been considerably broken and twisted out of shape. Of the two remaining boilers, one has been almost flattened in the centre, while large holes have been cut into it. The cause of the explosion is unknown , and it is feared that it will remain a mystery, seeing that Arnot, the engineman, who might have been able to give some information, on the subject, is dead. It is conjectured from the fact that Arnot was thrown such a distance that he was standing on some elevation probably the top of the boiler, when the accident took place.

The following is a list of the casualties:-

Andrew Arnot, engineman, Springhill, aged 36 years; has left a widow and five of a family.
Helen Cook, daughter of William Cook, miner, Donibristle, aged 24 years.
Isabella Harrower daughter of Alexander Harrower, miner, Fordel, aged 16.
Catherine Penman, stepdaughter of Paterson, miner, Fordel, aged 16.

Archibald George, fireman, Mossgreen, much scalded, but not dangerously so.
Isabella Donaldson, Donibristle, much bruised and cut.
Isabella Philp, Fordel. seriously scalded about the chest, arms and legs.
Mary Black, Fordel, stunned and slightly cut.
Wm. Speed, weigher, leg hurt.
Alice Allan, Donibristle, considerably scalded.

It should have been stated that the girl Penman died about six o'clock in the evening.

A later telegram from our correspondent says :- No expectation is now entertained of the recovery of the girl Philip, as she has been gradually sinking since Saturday night. The others are doing fairly well. About 100 men will be thrown idle. The damage done to the works is roughly estimated at upwards of £5000. The boiler which exploded measured thirty feet in length was egg-ended in shape, and had all the appliances for regular and safe working. It is very remarkable that both ends of the boiler lie in a parallel line , divided only by about 14 feet. The noise of the explosion was heard at a distance of three miles. [Scotsman 2 October 1876]

The Boiler Explosion Near Dunfermline - It is considered that most of the persons injured by the boiler explosion at the Fordell Colliery, in Dunfermline, on Saturday afternoon, are well-nigh out of danger with one exception. Yesterday the works were officially visited by Sir Ralph Moore, Government Inspector of Mines, while the boilers were examined by Messrs Dale and Grant, engineers, Kirkcaldy. Nothing definite as to the cause of the accident has as yet been ascertained. [Scotsman 3 October 1876]