Dykehead 7th August 1861

On 7th August 1861, a fire broke out in wood in the shaft of Dykhead Colliery about 3 miles from Hamilton.  The colliery belonged to the Summerlee Iron Company. At least 45 men were in the pit when the fire started.

Smoke was noted issuing from shaft at about 1 o'clock in the afternoon and within 10 minutes the fire had ignited the pit head framework. The alarm was raised and fire engines sent for - engines attended from Hamilton and Hamilton Palace and eventually these succeeded in extinguishing the flames.

A temporary hutch was then sent down shaft and the survivors were raised. By 7 o'clock 13 men had been rescued in this way. Andrew Hunter, ironstone miner, then volunteered to be lowered into the shaft. He discovered that the remaining men were too weak to come to the surface without help and another miner, Fleming, descended to help. Hunter and Fleming worked for some time and managed to rescue several men until they could no longer continue due to the effects of chokedamp. They were replaced by other volunteers and by 9 o'clock 28 men had been rescued. One of the rescued men, McLeod Nelson, died shortly after rescue. He was 44 and married with six children.

By half past 12 on 8th August all the men who had gone to work on 7th had been brought to the surface. 12 men had died due to the effects of the chokedamp. David Maxwell died on 19th August bringing the death toll to 13.

The dead men:
McLetchie Baxter, 25, married
Francis Casey, 29, single
John Craig, 18, single and Hugh Craig, 15, single, brothers
Thomas Currie, 18, single
David Hamilton 21, single and Alexander Hamilton, 16, single, brothers
Thomas Miller, 23, single
McLeod (or Glaude) Neilson, 40, married
John Potter, 24, married and Thomas Potter, 19, single, brothers
Neil Thomson, 25, married
David Maxwell, 19, single, died 19th August

Newspaper Reports

Appalling Catastrophe at Summerlee Colliery
Another fearful illustration of the perils and suffering to which our mining population are so frequently exposed occurred on Wednesday last, at the Summerlee Colliery, belonging to Messrs Wilson & Co, situated on the Dykehead estate, about 3 miles east of Hamilton. From the accounts which we have been enabled to gather, it appears that the cube at the bottom of the pit (which is forty fathoms in depth) had, from some cause as yet partially involved in mystery, become overheated, which led to the ignition of the wooden boxing or lining of the shank. The men stationed at the pithead were first apprised of the occurrence about half past twelve o'clock, by the appearance of a dense column of smoke coming up the shank, which, in about 10 minutes afterwards was succeeded by flames which rose to the height of two storeys, and which were observed with alarm at Motherwell, distant from the scene of the conflagration fully two miles. As yet, to those above ground, the cause of the fire was unknown, but measures were promptly adopted in order to extinguish the flames, and carry relief to the unfortunate individuals in the pit, of whom there were supposed to be about 60 - 47 men and a number of boys employed as drawers. Information was immediately forwarded to Hamilton, from which the burgh fire engine, and, about two hours afterwards, the palace fire-engine, proceeded to the scene of the conflagration. The engines continued playing till 5 o'clock, by which time the fire had been sufficiently got under to admit of a rope being lowered down the pit. For some considerable time previous to this stage of the operations the cries of distress which ever and anon rose from the bottom of the pit were distressing in the extreme, and produced the most profound sensation amongst the immense concourse of spectators which surrounded the dreadful spot. At length a rope was lowered, which some of the men underneath succeeded in fastening round their bodies and were by this means drawn to the surface. It was found, however, that this process was too slow, and besides, the unfortunate individuals in the pit soon became so exhausted that they were totally unable to fasten the rope without assistance. A pair of temporary pulleys were then erected, and two brave fellows - Andrew Hunter, an ironstone miner, and James Harris, gallantly volunteered to descend the pit. After an exhausting interval, during which several of the poor unfortunates were rescued, the gallant fellows signalled to be drawn up; and, on reaching the surface, were found to be almost as helpless as those they had gone to succour. Their places, however, were immediately supplied by other volunteers equally courageous and anxious to render assistance to their perishing fellow workmen. The sufferers, on being raised, were immediately conveyed to the neighbouring dwellings where they were attended by Drs Loudon, Lennox and Naismith, Hamilton; Dr Goff, Bothwell, and Dr Weir, Larkhall , assisted by Mr J A Dykes, the Procurator Fiscal, Hamilton, who was formerly a medical student. About 6 o'clock, Mr Austine, coalmaster, Hamilton, directed poles to be thrown across the mouth of the pit, and by means of tar-cloth attached to these, which were let down, a temporaryy "vent" was formed to carry off the smoke, and thereby give relief to the men underneath. Mr W G Simpson, of Dundas, Simpson & Co, whose pit adjoins that of Messrs Wilson & Co, also directed operations for the driving of a mine through to the waste of the Summerlee workings, as it was feared that the bratticing of the latter pit being all charred, might fall in and close up the shank, in the event of which the men would be supplied with another means of egress.

Intelligence of the catastrophe had spread rapidly, and the friends of those employed in the pit, with others anxious to learns the news of the accident, flocked from all quarters to the spot. The anxiety and grief depicted on many countenances was most painful to witness;and as one sufferer after another was carried past, wives, mothers, sisters, and other relations rushed forward with cries and tears, anxiously inquiring whether their friends were there.

By 9 o'clock, 28 of the colliers had been raised; but notwithstanding that every exertion was made by those above ground, the work progressed but slowly. The men at the bottom of the pit were nearly all insensible, and, as an eye witness of the scene states, lying huddled together like lifeless corpses. The horrid choke-damp rendered respiration difficult, and the volunteers who went down had speedily to be raised. As the evening advanced, the excitement among the spectators increased, and every fresh announcement of death was followed by the frantic cries and mournful ejaculations of bereaved and sorrow-stricken relatives. Altogether the scene was heart-rending beyond the powers of description. Especially was this the case at the small square of dwelling-houses adjoining the works, which presented the appearance of one vast hospital, every apartment being thrown open for the reception of the suffering, the dead, and the dying. The police, of whom a number were on the ground, had a delicate and painful duty to perform in the circumstances, and it was with the utmost difficulty that the rooms were kept clear, or anything like order preserved among the various families. It was not till half-past twelve that all the men had been raised, and at this time it was discovered that of this number 11 were dead. One has since died, and a number are still in a very precarious condition. It deepens the sad impression of this dire calamity to note that among the dozen persons thus hurried into eternity there are three instances where the victims were brothers. The names of those killed are as follows:- Alexander and David Hamilton, brothers; John and Thomas Potter, brothers; John and Hugh Craig, brothers; ______ Casey, Claude Neilson, Thomas Miller, McLetchie Baxter, Thomas Currie, and Neil Thomson. Thomson died between 11 and 12 o'clock on Thursday forenoon. The majority of the deceased were unmarried men.

As regards the exact cause of the catastrophe, little can as yet be said. Indeed, all opinions are mainly conjectural; the most probable surmise being, however, that it should be assigned to an accumulation of soot in the air-shaft from the rarifying furnace. This view derives a strong support from the consideration that, only five minutes before the fearful event, a number of men ascended the shaft, and saw nothing wrong. A fact so apparently inexplicable is quite consistent with the hypothesis now stated, inasmuch as the soot might ignite in a moment, and at once convert the shaft into a column of fire.

The mine which was started from the working in Simpson's Pit was stopped when the men were fast got out, as it was only in the event of the wood giving way in the shaft, and the consequent closing in of the pit, that it would have been required.

Much praise is due to Andrew Hunter, Robert Hutcheson, James Harris and R. Graham, who volunteered their services, descended the shaft twice, and were instrumental in rescuing the greater part of the sufferers. They were well seconded by other workmen, whose exertions likewise entitle them to much credit. Messrs Simpson and Austine, coalmasters in the vicinity, took a very active and valuable part in the management of the operations; and Mr Binnie, manager of the colliery; A. Ross, manager to J. Nisbet, Esq of Ferniegare; Wm. Barr, manager to the Merryton Coal Co; Thomas Hepburn, builder; Robert Eadie, baker in Larkhall, and several others, were most assiduous in their exertions. Dr Weir has been in constant attendance on the sufferers, and it is but doing justice t that gentleman to say that he has done all that medical skill and kindness could suggest.

About 10 o'clock on Thursday morning, two men descended the shaft to ascertain the state of matters, when they discovered the coal to be on fire and the pit filled with smoke. They were therefore obliged to re-ascend as speedily as possible, and on reaching the surface they were much exhausted. The pitmouth was immediately afterwards covered over with wood and clay, in order to prevent the admission of air, and by this means contributing to extinguish the fire.

Walter Nelson, Esq, Wm. McCreath, Esq, accompanied by Dr Sloan of Coatbridge, visited the scene of the catastrophe on Thursday forenoon, and were busy devising measures for the relief of the sufferers, and the prevention of further damage.

We ought not to omit mentioning the service of the constabulary who, under the direction of Constable McKay and Superintendents D. Dewar and Christison did everything in their power towards preserving order, and rendering assistance to the injured.

Yesterday several of the dead were buried, four of the unfortunate men are still in a very precarious state. Hopes are entertained that three of them will recover, but it is feared that the injuries sustained by the fourth will prove fatal. All the other men rescued are either completely recovered or progressing favourably. Mrs Maudslie yesterday visited the scene of the catastrophe, and administered relief to some of the sufferers. The Rev. Messrs, Crichton, Shearer, and Findlay, Larkhall, have been most assiduous in their attentions, having visited the families of those injured several times every day since the occurrence, administering to their spiritual necessities and imparting comfort and consolation to the bereaved, under their heavy and severe affliction. The Government Inspector, Mr Williams, has visited the pit, but as the mouth is carefully closed, he could do nothing by way of inspection. Today the covering will be removed, when the pit bottom will again be inspected. [Hamilton Advertiser August 10 1861]

The Late Catastrophe at Summerlee
We have received a communication on the late catastrophe at Dykehead, in which the writer complains that the names of some who took a most active part in the proceedings had not been mentioned. Particular mention is made to Mr Ross, manager, Ferniegare, and his fireman, J McKinlay, both of whom stood at the landing, on a 14 inch beam, from the first till the last man had been extracted from the pit. The non-insertion of these gentlemen's names resulted from no desire on our part to give undue prominence to any particular parties on the lamentable occasion referred to. We thank our correspondent for having furnished us with the names of these gentlemen who decidedly deserve all honour for such praiseworthy exertions.

The following additional particulars furnished by Alex. Stevenson, who was down the pit when the fire occurred will be read with interest:- At twelve o'clock it is customary to leave off work for a short time to take dinner, or as they themselves term it "corning time." After dinner was past three men ascended out of the pit, and only another tow of men had time enough to be drawn up when the flames came out of the pitmouth. The bottomer, McLatchey Baxter, one of the unfortunate men who perished in the pit, was the first to notice the flames, and after the occurrence he conveyed word to the drivers to bring out the men from the workings. In his attempt to draw the fire from the cube he fell, and it is supposed he never rose again. Lees, another of the workmen, exerted himself manfully in going forward to the bottom and endeavouring to put out the fire. After the whole of the men had been collected together at the shank of the pit, they were kept very busy in extinguishing the flames, and only relinquished their efforts when the smoke filled the whole of the workings, when they had all to run to get air wherever they thought they could find it. Trotter and Lees took the pipes and endeavoured to ascend up the pit, but could only get up five or six fathoms in consequence of the flames being so strong and scorching. Half an hour previous to the first man being drawn up it was impossible for any person to have ascended, as the centre of the shank was wholly in flames. After 8 o'clock in the evening the men who were down in the pit were all in an insensible condition and at this hour no more than 18 had been brought up. If some of those men who had been brought up dead had acted on the advice of the older workmen, who wanted them to come forward to the bottom of the shank, where at times air was brought down with the water, instead of going back into the workings, where it was impossible for the air to enter, the smoke being so dense, more lives would have been saved. The names of those workmen who were married, and who were brought up dead, or died shortly afterwards, are - Claude Nelson, who has left a wife and six of a family; J. Potter, two of a family; M'Latchey Baxter, five of a family; and Neil Thomson, two of a family.[Hamilton Advertiser August 17 1861]