1 March 1852 & 23 August 1852

Newspaper report on trial relating to two fatal accidents in New Monkland parish

Thursday, September 30. Before Lord Cockburn
Coal-Pit Accidents – Culpable Homicide

The Court met this morning at 10 o'clock.

Robert Rowatt, engineman, Rawyards, New Monkland, in the employment of Mr. Robert Young, iron merchant, Glasgow, was charged with the crime of culpable homicide, as also culpable violation of duty. The libel set forth that being in charge of the engine and machinery of the pit belonging to the Rochsoles Coal Company (Archibald Gerrard, Esq.), on the lands of Drumshagie, New Monkland, the prisoner failed to insert a wedge and fasten down the screw nuts, so as to secure that the spur and pinion wheels should be kept in connection with the engine and machinery, in consequence of which neglect of duty, the engine was put out of gearing, and William Martin, Thomas M'Lachlan, and James Marshall, were precipitated to the bottom of the pit; Martin killed by the fall, and M'Lachlan and Marshall severely injured.

Thomas M'Lachlan deposed - I was employed on the night-shift on Monday the 23d of August. I went to the pit about half-past eight at night. A number of other workmen were there. I went into the cage to descend into the pit, with James Marshall and Martin. We got upon the cage, and it was put in motion, but, before we had descended any length it dropt down the pit. It dropt away without any jerk. I lost my senses by the fall. The pit is about 200 feet deep. My ankles were dislocated, and I was very much hurt when I became sensible. Marshall was also hurt, and Martin very much hurt. I heard Martin speak. The oversman descended by a rope about a quarter of an hour after the accident. He took Martin to the surface. Marshall and I were raised about a quarter of an hour afterwards. I still suffer from the effects of the injury, and am not able to work. Rowatt was the engineman on that occasion.

Cross-examined by Mr. LOGAN—When a cage is not in use it rests on the flaps, and has to be raised a little before it is lowered into the pit.

Alexander Gillespie sworn - I went to the pit the night of the accident, about 5 o'clock. The steam engine is used for two purposes - of pumping this water out of the pit, and for the workers. [A model was here shown to the Court of the machinery for working the coal pit, which witness described,]

David Marshall, collier, corroborated the evidence of M'Lachlan.

Thomas M'Cormick, engine-keeper, No. 4 pit, Rochsoles, described the mode of working the engine ; he put it in gearing after the accident. The engine was in perfectly good order. He saw the bodies brought up. Martin died immediately.

James Struthers, coal manager — Was at the pit after the accident, and before Martin was brought up. Asked panel what had occurred, and he said the "gib-key must have come out." Witness replied, "the nuts had not been screwed down," and panel admitted they had not been screwed down. It was panel's duty to screw these nuts down, and to use a key for the purpose, and not his fingers.

John Boag, pitheadman, Meadowhead - Witness was pithead-man at Rochsoles pit. When panel was putting the engine into gearing, for the purpose, of bringing up or sending down the men, it was his practice, to screw the nuts with his fingers. When he raised coal, he used a key to screw the nuts, possibly because the coals were heavier than the men.

James Gilchrist, Manager, Hill Street Foundry, Glasgow - Has been 40 years engaged in fitting up mining and other machinery. Examined the machinery at Rochsoles pit in August last. It was the second or third day after the accident. The engine was all right. The plumber block is secured by a key, and by screwing down the nuts. A key should be used for this purpose. To secure the proper and safe working, it is necessary that the key should be drove in, and the nuts screwed down.

William Lancaster, Government Inspector of Mines for Scotland - Heard of an accident at Rochsoles pit, No. 4. Went to the pit on 31st August, and examined the engine. Knows the way in which the winding apparatus is put into gearing. The nuts should be screwed down, and the gib key inserted; but if the nuts were screwed down very tightly, they might answer the purpose. The key is inserted for additional precaution. The proper way is to use both precautions.

By the COURT - If the cage ran down suddenly, it would be proof that the engine was not properly screwed down.

Dr. James Campbell Telford, Airdrie, described the injuries sustained by the deceased William Martin. Those injuries had been sustained by falling down the coal pit, and were sufficient to account for death.

The declaration of the panel was then read.

This closed the case for the Crown.

Exculpatory Proof - George Dods, engineer, Airdrie, examined for prisoner by Mr. LOGAN - Has been conversant with engineering for twenty years. Knows the Rochsoles pit, and examined it after the accident. If the gib-key was put in its place, the engine would work, even although the nuts were not screwed down. Has known the panel Rowatt for 10, and as an engineman for about 5 years. Always thought him a competent person, and prudent and cautious. Panel never worked with witness, but he has a general knowledge of him.

Cross-examined—The usual precaution is not only to insert the wedge or key, but also to screw down the nuts. It is the duty of an engineman to use both these precautions.

By Mr. LOGAN - The usual mode is to screw the nuts down with a key, but he has known the hand used for this purpose in many cases, and the engine working perfectly soft.

James Paul, engineman at Rosehall - Knows the Rochsoles pit, and knew the engineman there before panel went. Knew Marshall and Blair when they were enginemen at that pit. [The counsel was about to examine this witness as to alleged malice on the part of former engine-keepers at the pit, but after a long discussion, the competency of the questions about to be addressed to the witness was repelled.]

John Colquhoun, coal-master, Airdrie - Has known panel 13 or 14 years. Was engineman for witness for 5 years. Found him a most attentive man - so much so that he desired him to come back within the last 12 months, but he declined, because the engine required to be worked on Sabbath. The engine belonging to witness was a difficult one, and witness wished the services of panel on account of his superior merits.

John Davidson, coal-master - Panel had been in witness's employment. He was a careful, steady man.

Dr. Clark of Wester Moffat - Has known Rowatt for 15 years. Thinks him a pious, careful, steady man - consistent in his walk, and attentive in his business.

Mr. Kay, minister in Airdrie - Has known panel for 21 years. Is an elder in witness's congregation. Witness deponed to the excellent character of the panel. He should think him a cautious man in his ordinary calling.

The ADVOCATE-DEPUTE briefly addressed the Jury for the prosecution. He said - In a district like this, where mining operations were carried on, on a scale of such magnitude, it was of the last consequence that every precaution should be used for the safe and proper management of these operations. It was not necessary that the act should have been done with the intent of injuring another. It may have been the most remote thing from the prisoner's intention to injure these parties mentioned in the indictment. But the question was, whether Rowatt, being placed in a situation of trust and responsibility - a situation that placed the safety and lives of the workmen in that pit under his control - the question was, whether or not he was guilty of neglect of duty in using the proper precautions, when the engine was set agoing for the purpose of lowering the workmen. Now, according to the charge in the indictment, it was the prisoner's duty, when the wheel's were set in motion, to insert the wooden key, and also to screw down the nuts upon the plumber block, so as to keep one wheel in contact with another. This was the charge, for it was proved that the engine was in good order before the unfortunate occurrence took place, and it was in good order after it. The natural impression was that the occurrence took place in consequence of Rowatt's negligence, for it was proved in evidence that if the wooden block or gib had been inserted, and the nuts properly screwed down, the wheels would have been kept in contact, and the occurrence, therefore, would have been impossible. One witness had distinctly stated that, before the bodies were brought up, the prisoner admitted to him that he had not screwed down these nuts and after the bodies had been brought up, and Rowatt was in a state of great excitement, he still admitted that he had omitted to screw down the bolts. Two days afterwards the prisoner was brought before a magistrate, and in his examination he said that he had screwed the nuts upon the plumber block with his hands. But the jury had been told by every competent witness that this was not the proper way of screwing down those nuts, and if it was to go forth that this operation might be performed by the hands, instead of the necessary implement, then the most serious consequences would arise. The panel also stated in his declaration that he could not recollect whether at that or any other time he had put the gib-key into its proper place. There was no doubt, therefore, that he had omitted to use those due and proper precautions which it was his duty to observe, and that in consequence loss of life and serious injury to the person hail taken place.

Mr. LOGAN, for the panel, agreed with the public prosecutor in the propriety of bringing this case before a jury, especially in a mining district, where the lives of many people depended upon one man. Mr. L. then went carefully over the model, explaining the mode in which the machinery was worked. It might be true that the nuts or bolts had not been screwed down in a mechanical mode; but nevertheless they were screwed down by the panel in the common way; and from the evidence of Mr. Lancaster and Mr. Dod, it appeared that this manner of screwing was enough for all practical purposes, provided the gib was in its proper place. M'Cormick had stated that in putting the engine into gearing to bring up the bodies, his first duty was to unscrew the nuts with a lever, showing that even when done by the hands of the panel, the nuts were well held down. It was evident that this screwing would have been enough had the gib-key been in its place. Now, the panel had undertaken to prove that his discarded predecessors had been heard to threaten ill-will; to him, and injury to his engine; but the rule of the Court prevented this evidence being given. His Lordship, however, held that it was necessary that he should find these enginemen, and put them into the witness-box, so as to ascertain whether they had used these threats or not. It may be, however, that the gib-key was put in; but let them remember that this occurrence took place on the gloaming of an autumn night, and when the workmen congregated in the neighbourhood of the pit could not see what was taking place in the immediate vicinity of the engine. There was an orifice at the engine, however, sufficient to admit any person ; the country beyond was open; there was an entry where a man could gain admittance without being seen, and where the gib-key and his right hand might find themselves very convenient to each other. The gib-key was not found where it was the custom to place it when it was used. It was found 6 or 7 feet away, and in a place most unusual for the panel to put it; but nevertheless it was very likely place for a mischievous person to throw it, when he had removed it, and wished to see how the engine man looked when his engine was suddenly thrown out of gearing. The Counsel concluded by noticing the excellent character for care and steadiness which, had been given to the panel by all the witnesses.

Lord COCKBURN summed up. There were two charges against the prisoner — one of culpable homicide, and the other of culpable neglect of duty. If satisfied with the evidence, it was competent for the Jury to find him guilty of either the one or the other or of both. There was no culpable intent alleged, for if it had been so, the man would have been placed at the bar, not on a charge of culpable homicide, but of murder. When steamers try a race and loss of life occurs, or when an engine-man gets drunk and causes an accident, it is not alleged that they mean to injure any person, but, nevertheless, when injury does occur, the law does not hold these men guiltless. He recommended the Jury, therefore, to put away all generalities in dealing with this case. He had rejected evidence which had been offered for the panel; and all he would say was that, if such evidence was to be used, there might never be another fair trial in that Court. The mechanical cause of this occurrence was quite plain, but was there not culpability in the circumstance: attending it! His Lordship then went carefully over the evidence, commenting on those points which bore on the negligence of the panel. He did not dispute the excellent character of the prisoner. There might be one isolated ease of negligence in which a very good man by neglecting a switch on a railway might hurry hundreds into destruction.

The Jury then retired and after a short absence returned with a verdict finding, by a majority, the panel guilty of neglect of duty, but recommending him to the leniency of the Court.

Mere neglect of duty not being libelled on, the Jury again retired and brought in a verdict of culpable neglect of duty, with the recommendation as before. Sentence delayed.

Culpable Homicide
Thomas Morton, engine-man, residing at Hamilton farm, in the parish of Rutherglen, was placed at the bar on a charge almost exactly similar to the above. The libel bore that while in charge of an engine at the mouth of a pit being sunk near Clyde ironworks, commonly known by the name of No. 2 Bogleshole pit, he culpably neglected the engine by which a bucket descended with great rapidity, and coming in contact with Walter Anderson, residing at Crownhall, East Muir, Barony parish of Glasgow, he was so severely injured that he died immediately.

Panel pleaded not guilty, and the case went to trial.

Adam Beck, shanker, or pit sinker, residing at Tollcross - He was employed in March last in sinking an iron pit belonging to Colin Dunlop & Co. Panel was employed as engineman by the owner of the pit, and witness was employed by Williamson, the contractor. On the 1st March last panel and Walter Anderson were engaged at the bottom in sinking the pit. In the afternoon witness and Anderson called on panel to send down the rope. At this time the pit was 35 fathoms in depth. He wanted the rope to attach a bucket of water to it. Panel was the engineman, whose duty it was to let down the rope and raise it with the bucket. Witness attached the bucket to the rope. A signal was given to lift it, when the bucket went up as usual. Anderson then began to bore a hole, when he called on me to run. I (said witness) ran to aside, and was stupid for a moment, and when I looked the bucket had fallen with all the tow (rope). After all was by, I cried out to Anderson, but he never spoke, and when I looked he was dead. He had been struck by the bucket, and the tow was on the top of him. The "tow" is a heavy wire rope. I was also struck by the rope. I cried up to send down a rope, when a seat was sent down and two men in it - Williamson and Wilson. I was taken up. Anderson's body was also taken up. I had seen Morton put the engine into gearing. Morton and his neighbour screwed down the nuts upon the plumber bolt with their hands. There were keys at the engine for the purpose of screwing them, but it was not their practice to use them.

John Williamson, shanker, residing at Fullarton – Was the contractor for shanking the pit No. 2 Bogleshole. Panel was the engine man. The deceased, Walter Anderson, was working there between 4 and 5 in the afternoon. I was at the pit head when the bucket went down. He was asked to send down the bucket, and I told Morton to put the engine into gearing. Morton went as if to do so, and I saw him push the wheels together. The engine was set in motion, and the rope went down. A cry was given from below to raise up, with something attached. The bucket was raised to within 5 or 6 fathoms of the top, when I observed that instead of ascending it descended. I called out. Thought the engine was reversed. I called on Morton to stop, and he did so, but the engine had lost the control over the rope, and it went down. I went down the pit along with Wilson, and found Anderson with the rope on the top of him, but the bucket did not touch him. He was dead. I looked that evening at the engine, and I saw one tooth of the spur wheel, and three of the wheel attached to the winding apparatus, broken. I saw the wheels out of gearing before I went to bring the men up. On former occasions he had seen Morton use his fingers instead of the screw. The rope was broken, but the bucket must have reached the bottom before it broke, for the rope was much longer than the pit. It must have broken from the force with which it went down

Cross-examined - Can't say whether or not wire ropes are safe for this purpose. They are used.

Robert Baillie, engineer at Clyde Iron Works. I have been 14 years engaged in these works. Was sent for to Bogleshole Pit on 4th March. Heard that Walter Andersen had been killed. I fitted up the gearing wheels to the engine. The wheels were new and in good order. (Witness then described the machinery from the model on the table.) The gib key in this engine is of cast iron, and has catches at the sides. The gib key is inserted and the nuts screwed down to keep the wheels in contact, and then the engine is in gearing. There are keys for the purpose of screwing down the nuts, and it is proper to use them. The weight of a barrel of water such as that used, is from 10 to 12 cwt. After the occurrence I found three teeth out of the large or spur wheel, and next day I saw one tooth of the pinion wheel. I found the key on the ground, below the beams, and close by where it used to lie. It looked as if it had dropped down. The key was in good order. The absence of the tooth does not account for the bucket rushing down, provided the nuts were screwed and the gib-key in. All the teeth must have stripped off before the bucket could have gone down the way it did. I don't think the wheels could have got out of gearing if the gib-key had been put in properly, and the nuts screwed down. I think the cause of the accident was, that the gib-key had not been put in; and I think the teeth were broken when the wheel was suddenly thrown out of gearing. The bolts were all entire, and the machine in good order, with the exception of the teeth. The wire rope had broke close to the drum shaft. It was longer than the depth of the pit. I account for the breaking of the rope from the velocity it was going, and the sudden jerk when it came to the end. The rope was nearly new.

Cross-examined. - Wire ropes are liable to break suddenly without giving any warning.

Adam Young, manager at St. Rollox Foundry, Glasgow - I have had a good deal of experience in machinery. I examined machinery at Bogleshole Pit. It was right, with the exception of teeth out. I saw the gib key. It was a good key of secure, construction. [The witness corroborated the other witnesses as to the proper' mode of securing the bolts.] If the gib key had been in, and the nuts properly screwed, it was as nearly as impossible as any thing in the world that the winding shaft could got out of gearing. The want of the tooth cannot account for the accident.
John Meikleham, manager at Clyde Iron-works, gave evidence in corroboration, as to the impossibility of the accident, if proper precautions had been used. The rope would carry from 15 to 20 tons.

Robert Steven, surgeon, detailed the nature of the injuries which Walter Anderson had suffered. Death ensued from the injuries deceased had suffered in the pit.
William Lancaster, also gave evidence as to the negligence from which the accident had arisen.

The Prosecutor in addressing the jury referred specially to the statement in the prisoner's declaration, that he did not screw down the plumber block tightly, and that they had it in evidence that he used his hands for this purpose, and did not use the key provided for the use of every engineman, and which they were bound, for the interests of the public, to say that every engineman must use, or suffer the consequences in case of accident. He claimed a verdict of guilty as libelled.

The prisoner's counsel, who had not been retained for the defence till the prisoner appeared at the bar, made a very few observations, in which he referred to the good character of the panel as a steady workman.

Lord COCKBURN remarked to the jury that the case was extremely short and simple. Four witnesses experienced in matters of engineering had borne evidence that if the key had been inserted, and the block screwed down tight, the accident would not have happened.

The jury, without retiring, unanimously found the prisoner guilty of culpable neglect of duty, but recommended him to the leniency of the Court.

Robt. Rowatt was again, summoned to the bar to receive sentence along with the prisoner Morton. His Lordship thus addressed the prisoners:- Robert Rowatt and Thomas Morton - You stand convicted of the same crime, committed under similar circumstances. The jury, very properly, I think, have found you guilty not of culpable homicide, which might have led to the punishment of transportation, but guilty of culpable neglect of duty, whereby, in both cases, human life has been sacrificed. Considering the great quantity of machinery now in this country, and the amount of life exposed every moment to great danger, and, above all, the frequent examples of negligence on the part of those in charge of such machinery, I cannot but look upon this as a very serious case. It is serious for the public, whom I am bound to protect; it is very serious to you, both of whom I believe to be persons of excellent disposition, and both of whom, I believe, will be oppressed to the last of your days with what should be your true punishment - the recollection that you have been each' chargeable with causing the death of one man, and one of you with the injury of others. I am not disposed to stretch matters against you, and I think I have said enough when I tell you that if you had been convicted of culpable homicide, as you were within an inch of being, I could not have felt it to be my duty to pronounce any other sentence than one of transportation. I am thankful that I am relieved from that responsibility, but I must pronounce a sentence adequate to the degree of criminality found proven. I sentence each of you to be imprisoned for the period of one year. [Glasgow Herald 1 October 1852]