Hattonrigg 19th January 1910

Colliery Disaster At Bellshill – Eight Men Killed – A Fall of More Than 1000 Feet

A mining accident, in which eight men lost their lives, occurred on Wednesday afternoon, at Bellshill. The scene of the disaster was the Hattonrigg Colliery, which is owned by Summerlee Coal and Iron Company. About three o'clock the day shift men were being brought to the surface when, through some unknown cause, the cage, bearing eight men, overran the level of the pithead and crashed into the overhead beams of the framework, snapping the cable. The cage, thus severed from its bearings, was precipitated with its occupants to the bottom of the shaft, a distance of over 180 fathoms. The day shift men, numbering 116, had been down at the lowest level from early morning, and had left the face to ascend to the surface. Of the total shift, forty-eight men had been raised in safety when the cage made its fatal journey. The winding-wheel is about twenty feet above the level of the pithead. Immediately below the axle of the wheel are two stout wooden beams, which serve the double purpose of strengthening the frame and preventing the cage, in the event of accident, from being carried over the top of the wheel. In the present instance, however, instead of proving a means of safety, these beams were actually the intermediate cause of the disaster. With such force was the cage carried against them that the steel cable was unable to withstand the shock and snapped at the "hose," where the four chains supporting the cage converge. With frightful velocity, and unchecked by any obstacle the cage, weighing over 2 1/2 tons fell sheer down the shaft, landing in the "sump" with tremendous impact. At the moment the remainder of the shift were waiting their turn at the pit bottom to be raised to the surface, but, realising what the noise of the descending cage portended, they crowded back out of the region of danger. For a time they were almost dazed by the shock of the catastrophe, but presently they recovered their normal coolness and approached the wreckage. A sickening spectacle was then presented to their view. Seven of the eight occupants were decapitated, and all were mutilated beyond recognition; no sign of life remaining.

An Anxious Wait - The position of the men at the bottom of the shaft was for the time being helpless, all communication with the surface being completely cut off. The cages in mines are run in pairs, the one descending as the other ascends. The empty cage in this case, therefore, was already resting at the pit bottom before the impact occurred. At the pithead meantime were a number of workers, who, seeing the snapping of the cable and the terrible fall of the cage, at once realised the frightful consequences. Their first thought was the engineroom, and thither they hurried without delay. The engineman, David Andersen, has been for a long number of years employed at the colliery, and for about ten years has had charge of the engine. By the time the men from the pit-head reached the engine room Anderson had realised in its full force the nature of the mishap. Without loss of time Dr. Douglas had been summoned, and was in attendance at the mine. The news had by this time spread throughout the town, and in a few minutes the pit was besieged by thousands of people, amongst whom were many of the relatives of the men employed in the Drumgray section in which the accident occurred. Distress and doubt were in many hearts, for none as yet knew who were the victims, nor would it be possible to know definitely until the last of the living men had been brought to the surface. This was a task which must necessarily occupy several hours. In accordance with regulations, the mine has two shafts, one of which serves in case of emergency. Unfortunately, the escape-shaft was being used in connection with the working of the splint coal seam, which is some distance above the level of the seam at the bottom of the Drumgray shaft, and consequently the cable attached to the cage was not sufficiently long to reach to the deeper excavation, As quickly as possible, however, the cage was sent down to the full extent of the cable when it was detached, and a service cable added to give the necessary length. This operation occupied about an hour and a half, during which time the men at the bottom were anxiously waiting news from the outer world. With four men the cage was then sent down to .the bottom of the shaft, which is twenty yards from the scene of the disaster.

The Victims - At a late hour at night it was learned that only two were natives of this country, the others being Lithuanians. Their names were given as follows :

Andrew Higgins, 38, who resided at Glebe Street, Bellshill
Edward McConville, 19, who resided at Reid's Land , Crossgates
George Olenskies, 28, single, 9 Chapel Square, Mossend
Adam Tokenies, 25, single, 276 Main Street, McCann's Land, Bellshill
William Chap, 30, who resided at Marshall's Land, 296 Main Street, Bellshill
Andrew Oselies, 24, who resided at 1 Bellgowan Terrace, Glebe Street, Bellshill
Joseph Olenskie, 25, who resided at 47 New Orbiston, Bellshill
John Brazinkies, 24, who resided at 16 Chapel Square Mossend

Higgins, who was the native of Ayrshire, was married in July last. McConville was a native of New Stevenston.

The Funeral - The funerals of the eight victims of the Hattonrigg Colliery Disaster took place this afternoon, and in token of respect, working operations at all the principal collieries and works were suspended for several hours, whilst the Warehouses and shops in the village were also closed. Commencing at Chapel Square, Mossend, and Reid's Land, Crossgates, the procession went by way of Main Street and Hamilton Road to the Cross, Bellshill, where both routes converged. The scene now presented to the eye was an imposing one. The main thoroughfares were thronged with large crowds of sympathetic watchers, many of whom stood with heads uncovered as the procession went on its melancholy journey. The coffins bearing the remains of the six Lithuanian victims were carried shoulder high by their fellow-countrymen, deputations of whom were present in large numbers. Then came the coffins bearing the remains of the two Scotch victims, and which were likewise carried shoulder high.

On arrival at the gates of the cemetery it was with difficulty that a path was cleared through the waiting throng. The ceremonies at the graves of the seven Roman Catholic victims were conducted by the Rev. Dean Cronin, assisted by Father Kelliher, Bellshill ; and Father Stevin, Larkhall ; while the Rev. Gavin Warnock,, B.D., Bellshill, conducted the service over the remains of Andrew Higgins, the only Protestant victim. Amongst the mourners were the managers and directors of the Summerlee Company, and deputations of the workers and the general public. [Bellshill Speaker January 21 1910]

As in the case of most mine disasters there were several marvellous escapes. When the cage began its ill-fated journey it contained nine men, the extra occupant being John Gallacher, an ostler. He stopped the cage in its ascent at one of the high seams in order to attend to some of the ponies, and left his companions with the joking remark "First stop, Bellshill". Before he had fastened the gates giving entrance from shaft to the seam, the cage had crashed to the bottom of the mine.

Another man who had a marvellous escape was Thomas Henderson. He was waiting to ascend with the cage, when it came to his memory that he had forgotten his shovel. He went to procure it, and owing to his absence the cage started on its upward fatal journey. To this circumstance Henderson owes his life.

Henderson's brother John, who was amongst the first four to descend the escape shaft after the accident, was in the first cage which took the rescue party down the Blantyre Pit on the occasion of the disastrous explosion 30 years ago.

Another remarkable incident, but one which unfortunately added that the death toll, was that when the cage was about to ascend it contained only six men, whereupon the man in charge at the pit bottom called for other two to make the full complement of eight. [Scotsman 20 January 1910]

Yesterday the village of Bellshill had not recovered from shock occasioned by the disaster which took place the night previous in the Hattonrigg Colliery, Bellshill, and which had resulted in loss of 8 lives. By midnight on Wednesday the task of conveying the bodies to the surface and placing them in coffins was finished. Thereafter they were conveyed to their respective homes. In accordance with Lithuanian custom, the morning was spent in singing mournful chants. A scene very different however was witnessed in the homes of the two Scottish victims. Mrs Higgins, the wife of one of the deceased, was removed in a state of collapse to the house of one of her friends; while the relatives of the unfortunate lad Edward McConville seemed incapable of realising the terrible fate which had been the lot of one of their household.

Meanwhile the work of restoring the damaged winding gear was being assiduously pushed forward. A winding wheel or whorl was requisitioned from the Summerlee Iron Company's Works, Coatbridge, and a powerful hand crane placed in position to raise the smashed winding wheel from its position.

Yesterday David Anderson winding engineman at the colliery was taken in custody to Airdrie by the county police on a charge of causing death of the miners by culpably and recklessly overwinding the cage and pulling it past the landing stage, and violently against the crossbeams and whorl, breaking the attachment, and causing the cage containing the workmen to fall down to the bottom of the shaft, a distance of 175 fathoms. Accused appeared before Sheriff Gloag, and was admitted to bail of £40, which was lodged. [Scotsman 21 January 1910]

The Bellshill pit disaster - funeral of the victims - Yesterday the remains of the eight victims of the Hattonrigg Colliery disaster were interred at Bothwell Cemetery. The ceremonies that the graves of seven of the victims who belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, were conducted by the Reverends Dean Cronin and Father Keller her, Bellshill, assisted by Father Stephen, Larkhall, while the Reverend Gavin Warnock, of Bellshill Parish Church, conducted the funeral service at the grave of the other victim, Andrew Higgins. The services were most impressive. Among the mourners were large deputations of Lithuanians, who carried the coffins of the unfortunate countryman shoulder-high. The coffins of the two Scottish victims were carried to their last resting place in like manner. Mr Mowatt, managing director of the Summerlee coal company, and several of the officials, were also present. During afternoon, all the shops and places of business were closed. [Scotsman 22 January 1910]

The Bellshill Colliery disaster - An inquiry under the Fatal Accident inquiry Act was held it Airdrie yesterday before Sheriff Glegg and a jury, into the cause of the accident at No. 4 , Hattonrigg Colliery, Bellshill, on 19th January last, by which eight miners lost their lives by falling in the cage down the shaft of the mine. Mr A D Lindsay appeared for the Crown; along with Mr T H Mottram, HM Inspector of mines; Mr Anderson, Craig Macintyre, writer, Hamilton; Mr Robert Smillie, miners' agent; and Mr Thomas F Christie, mining engineer, Edinburgh, for the representatives of the deceased; and Mr Cassells, Hamilton for the engine man.

Archibald Clacher, engineman at No. 3 and 4 pits at the same Colliery, stated that the eight deceased men descended the pit on the morning in question about 6 o'clock. The depth of No. 4 pit where the accident occurred, was 185 fathoms. Anderson, the engineman, had been about 11 years at that mine, and the witness looked upon him as a quiet, capable, and careful man. At 3:20pm witness heard strange noise coming from the pit head like the rattle of something falling heavily on the roof of the pit head. He ran to the door, and saw the whorl of the dip side of the shaft smashed, and that the tow rope was wanting. He heard a rumbling in the pit shaft, and a once suspected that the cage had fallen down shaft. He ran to the engine house, and saw that the pointer of the indicator was pointing at about 44 feet past the landing stage, which meant that the cage had been drawn 44 ft or thereby too far. He found Anderson, the engineman, lying on his back between the reversing bells handle and the brake, moving his head from side to side, and moaning. Witness said, "Davie what has gone wrong with you?" He said, "I don't know. The first thing I knew was the cage and men passing the laigh scaffold gaun doon the shaft." Witness looked at the engine, and saw that the break was hard on, the steam off, and handle in its proper position. From his examination of the pit head, he thought the cage must have been going at full stick speed when it struck the beam.

John Gallagher, ostler, stated that he was in the cage that fell, but was put off at the splint, or first landing stage, to go and look after his horses in that seam. The cage had no other stop till it reached the top. It was against the regulations for nine men to ride in the one cage.

John Court they said he was in charge of the belling away of the cage as the men got away at the pit head. He saw that the whorl was smashed and the beams broken. He went to the engine house, and saw Anderson with his head in his hands, in a state of great grief, crying, "Oh dear, the poor men, the poor men"

After a number of other witnesses had been examined, David Anderson the Colliery engineman in charge at the time of the accident, and who is on bail in connection with the case volunteered evidence. He stated that when the bottomer tapped away the cage for the men to come up from the Drumgray to the splint seam, and then came away, he couldn't remember anything till the crash came. He remembered turning sick, a kind of giddiness coming over him. He thought he had fainted away. He knew he was lying on the floor when some of the men came in.

In reply to the Fiscal, he said he was quite satisfied that the brake and the engines were in working order.

The jury brought a verdict in which they found that the eight deceased men had been accidentally killed by falling in the shaft in the cage, that the engineman (Anderson) was not at fault and that the Home Secretary be recommended to make compulsory the use of automatic devices that would probably tend to the diminution of such accident in the future. [Scotsman 26 February 1910]

A sequel to the Hattonrigg pit shaft disaster - A case arising out of the recent disaster at Hattonrigg pit, Bellshill, by which eight miners were precipitated to the bottom of the shaft and killed, came before Hon Sheriff Motherwell at Airdrie yesterday. Robert Hamilton Miller, pit bottomer, a Motherwell, was charged with contravening the mines Regulation Act, section 51, and special rule, by having, on 19th January last, at the pit bottom in the Lower Drumgray seam of No. 4 pit, Hattonrigg Colliery, Bellshill, he being the pit bottomer then on duty at said pit bottom, suffered nine persons, 8 of whom were now deceased, to enter the cage at the dip side of the shaft, and together to ascend the shaft in the cage, which cage was only constructed for holding two hutches, or not more than 8 person's. He pleaded guilty, and explained that one of the men who went on was to leave the cage at the first landing stage, and he did not think there was much harm in allowing him to be on for that short distance. The sheriff imposed a modified fine of 10 shillings or seven days. [Scotsman 6 April 1910]