July 1870 Accidents

In July 1870, 2 explosions of firedamp occurred in the Hamilton area - at Allanton & Quarter, leading to the deaths of six men.

Quarter 13th July 1870

  • John Watson, married age 27
  • William More, single, age 22
  • Gavin Williamson, married, Earnock Muir, Hamilton, died July 19th 1870
  • James Ward, married, age 35, Earnock Muir, Hamilton, died July 22nd 1870

NB The Inspector of Mines Report gives the date of this accident as 14th July, newspaper reports and death certificates give 13th July 1870

Inspectors Report

On the 14th July an explosion of firedamp at Quarter Colliery resulted in the death of four persons. At the time when the explosion occurred there were five men in the pit; three of them were sitting at A ; one at B, filling a tub of coals ; and one was at C, in the act of going into the face B, it was supposed (To view plan click here). All were working with open lights. The firedamp ignited at the lamp of the man working at B and the flame went from him on to A, burning the men there, thence out to C, and to the shaft. The man at C was killed, but the others, though more or less burned, reached the shaft without assistance. The man at B, was least burnt of any, and soon recovered, but two of the others died. The pit had been newly sunk, and did not give off much gas. The shaft was divided by a wooden mid-wall, and brattice, as shown on the sketch by a dotted line, led the air to the face of the level. The current was created by a steam jet, and everyone seemed to be satisfied with the ventilation.

The effect of the blast was most extraordinary. The survivors felt no shock ; a can with four pounds of gunpowder in it was unharmed and the contents untouched at A. The brattice from D to E was blown over, but not removed ; but from D to the shaft, where the force was confined to the one drift, the whole bratticing was blown into splinters, the props broken and blown out, the greater part of the midwall was destroyed, and a portion of solid strata forced into the shaft.
[Report by Ralph Moore, Inspector of Mines, 1870]

Newspaper Reports

Hamilton - Gas Explosion - Two Men Killed
Yesterday afternoon, at No7 Pit, near Hamilton, belonging to Messrs Colin Dunlop ,& Co. an explosion of gas took place, causing the death of two men named John Watson and William More. Watson was one of five men who were employed in driving a stone mine eleven fathoms from the bottom, and was signalling when the explosion, occurred. More was seated at the pithead, and is supposed to have tumbled into the shaft at the moment of the explosion. An effort was immediately made to supply temporary bratticing in room of nearly forty fathoms which had been destroyed, and an exploring party went into the mine to recover the other four, who were severely burned. The communication cannot be restored with the bottom earlier than today; but there is no doubt that both More and Watson have perished. Watson leaves 5 children; but More is unmarried. [Scotsman 14th July 1870]

Yesterday, Gavin Williams [actually Williamson], one of the firemen who were burned seven days ago by a pit explosion at Hamilton, died from the effects of his injuries, being the third victim of the accident. The other two sufferers are recovering. [Scotsman 20th July 1870]

Disastrous Explosion of Fire-Damp at Quarter
An accident of an alarming description, and which has been attended with fatal results occurred on Wednesday afternoon at a coalpit in the vicinity of Quarter Ironworks. It would appear that twelve months ago the sinking of a coalpit was commenced by Messrs Colin Dunlop & Company on the lands of North Carscallan. Coal had been reached at a depth of 74 fathoms, but on account of a “trouble” it was found necessary to drive a mine through a stone seam about 11 fathoms from the bottom, in order to catch the coal on the “rise.” The mine had been driven for a distance of 50 fathoms, and a blind pit was in course of being sunk from the stone seam to the works beneath, for the purpose of ventilation. On Wednesday the operations were conducted by five men, named John Watson, Thomas Ramsay, Gavin Williamson, Richard Sneddon and Thomas Ward. Immediately after a blast had been made, Watson went to the main shaft and signalled the engineman to lower a hutch from the surface to the mine level. Hardly had the signals been made when a terrible explosion took place. Although a quantity of woodwork around the pit mouth was blown away, yet, as may readily be supposed, the full fury of the blast was experienced further down the shaft. Forty fathoms of the central bratticing, besides a large quantity of the side lining, were completely destroyed. The destruction of the central bratticing, of course, prevented the necessary currents of air, and fears were entertained by those on the surface for the safety of the five poor fellows in the mine. With praiseworthy promptitude, the engineman, named Thomas Miller, turned the channel of the water, which was being pumped from the pit, so that the water might flow into the mine; and Robert Spiers, jun., assistant underground manager and Francis Gilchrist, bravely offered to descend the pit to learn the fate, or if possible, succour the imprisoned miners. Notwithstanding the dangerous condition of the atmosphere, they happily succeeded in picking up, near the mouth of the stone mine, Ramsay, Williamson, Sneddon, and Ward, all of whom were severely burned about the head and arms, but no trace could be found of Watson, who must have met with an instantaneous death. The disaster did not end here. A pitheadman named William More, was sitting on the woodwork at the pit mouth waiting till his services should be required. After the accident no trace of this man could be found, but his cap was seen sticking high overhead on the gangway below the pulley wheels, at a height of at least 36 feet above where he had been resting, and it is conjectured he must have fallen down the pit, and so shared the fate of Watson. On Wednesday night and Thursday, a party of men were engaged under the direction of Mr Robert Spiers, underground manager fr the company, in temporarily restoring the air current by inserting canvas where the 40 fathoms of bratticing had been destroyed, and yesterday morning the search for the bodies was continued. About 9 o'clock that of More was discovered by James Frew, fireman, Quarter, and Duncan Wilson, collier, lying on projecting timbers 11 fathoms from the bottom of the shank. Fully two hours later, while the Government Inspector, Mr Ralph Moore, accompanied by the manager, Mr Spiers, were surveying the workings of the mine, they came upon the remains of the poor man Watson, which were so dreadfully burned, bruised and disfigured, as to render identification almost impossible. More's body was likewise considerably mutilated. Both Watson and More were young men, and were greatly respected; the former (who has left a widow and four children) resided at Maryfield, Low-waters, and the latter in lodgings at Low Quarter. Although the cause of the explosion has not been definitely ascertained, it is surmised that shortly after the blast in the blind pit, a “blower” had opened, and the gas being ignited by Watson's naked lamp, the explosion followed, with the disastrous results narrated. [Hamilton Advertiser 16 July 1870]

Quarter – The late pit explosion – Another death has resulted from the fearful explosion of fire-damp which occurred here, last week. On Tuesday, Gavin Williamson, residing at Meikle Earnock, expired from the effects of injuries which he sustained. He was 22 years of age and had been only a few months married. The other sufferers are believed to be out of danger. [Hamilton Advertiser July 23 1870]

Allanton 16th July 1870

  • Robert Barr, single aged 18
  • Alexander Dick, single, aged 19, 10 James St, Hamilton, died 21st July 1870

NB The Inspector of Mines Report gives the date of this accident as 17th July, newspaper reports and Robert Barrs death certificate give 16th July 1870

Inspectors Report

On the 17th of July an explosion of firedamp occurred at Allanton Colliery, which resulted in the death of two colliers. The accident happened on the annual holiday of the colliery, when all the officials and all the workmen were away on an excursion, excepting a man attending the horses, and the engine-man. One of the deceased had been drinking all the previous night, and in the morning had taken a fancy to go to work, persuading other two companions to accompany him. When they reached the place it was ; found that some stones had fallen, and damaged the ventilation, and that gas had accumulated in it. The gas ignited at their open lights, and burned them. Two of them died. [Report by Ralph Moore, Inspector of Mines, 1870]

Newspaper Reports

Hamilton - Serious Explosion of Fire-damp
Another explosion of fire-damp occurred on Saturday in the Hamilton district, which has resulted in the death of one miner and serious injury to two others. Their names are - John Gilchrist, aged 14; Alexander Dick, aged 19 and Robert Barr aged 18 - all residing in Hamilton. They were employed at Allanton Colliery, the property of Messrs Austin & Co., and on Saturday, which is an idle day at the pit, they resolved to make up for a "shift'' they had missed on the previous day. They went to the colliery about one o'clock, but on going to No. 1 pit head the engineman in charge would not allow them to go down. They, however, succeeded in gaining access to the workings by the second shaft, unknown to the fireman and contrary to the well known rule which provides that men shall not descend the pit without first obtaining from the fireman the assurance that it is free from fire-damp and otherwise safe, Forsyth was working at the opposite end of the pit from that in which the three miners were engaged, and had just finished the task of repairing the roads, and was about to proceed to the pit's bottom, when he was startled by a loud report and knocked over by the force of an explosion of fire-damp which had taken place a considerable distance off. More than fifteen fathoms of the air-courses back, from the "face" of the mine, were completely destroyed, and a good deal of damage was otherwise done to the interior of the pit. On a survey of the workings being made, the bodies of Gilchrist and Dick were recovered about three o'clock in such a dreadful condition with burns on the face, back, and arms, that their recovery is doubtful; and fully two hours later, Barr was found quite dead evidently having been suffocated by the afterdamp. His remains were placed in a coffin, and conveyed to the house of his father in Low Patrick Street, Hamilton. The other two were taken in a cart to their homes in Townsend Street and James Street, and attended by Dr Louden. In point of good ventilation and excellent management, Allanton Colliery maintains a high reputation, and the above is the first fatal accident that has occurred underground since the pit was started ten years ago. The sufferers were repairing the bratticing when the foul air became ignited at their naked lamps. [Scotsman 18th July 1870]

Hamilton Pit Accidents
The boy, John Gilchrist, who was injured at Allanton, is still in a dangerous condition.[Scotsman 20th July 1870]

Yesterday morning at four o'clock, Alexander Dick, residing at James Street, one of the three miners burned in Allanton Pit on Saturday, died from the effects of his injuries. The recovery of the boy Gilchrist is yet doubtful.[Scotsman 22nd July 1870]