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Report to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Home Department on
the circumstances attending an Explosion at Udston Colliery, Hamilton, on the 28th May 1887 ;
Ralph Moore, Esq.
HM Inspector of Mines

13, Clairmont Gardens, Glasgow,
13th July 1887.

I have the honour to enclose you my Report, with accompanying plans, the explosion which occurred at Udston Colliery on the 28th May last.

I have the honour to be,
Your most obedient Servant,
RALPH MOORE, H.M. Inspector of Mines.

The Right Hon. H. Matthews, Q.C., M.P.,
Principal Secretary of State,
Home Department, Whitehall, London.


Report by Ralph Moore, H.M. Inspector of Mines, on the Explosion which occurred at Udston Colliery, Hamilton, on the 28th May, 1887.

Udston Colliery belongs to the Udston Coal Company (Limited), and is situated within three miles of Hamilton. It was commenced about 12 years ago. The leasehold extends to about 150 acres. There are two pits, 47 yards apart, each 150 fathoms deep. At 118 fathoms they reach the Ell Coal, six feet thick; at 133 fathoms the Main Coal, four feet thick; and at 150 fathoms the Splint Coal, six feet thick. The Ell Coal has been worked over the whole area; the Main Coal over the greater portion : and the Splint coal over an area of 60 acres.

No. 1 pit, the upcast, works the Main Coal. No. 2 pit, the downcast works the Ell and Splint. The mode of ventilation is by a fan 20 feet in diameter and six feet wide. It drew 16,500 cubic feet of air per minute from the Ell Coal, 12,617 cubic feet from the Main Coal, and 24,383 cubic feet from the Splint Coal; in all 53,500 cubic feet per minute.

On Saturday morning, the 28th May, about five minutes past nine, a disastrous explosion took place at this colliery, causing the death of 73 persons.

One hundred and eighty-four men had descended the pit that morning, and when the explosion occurred they were all there except two who had ascended.

Measures were at once taken for the relief of those underground and and before 3 o'clock pm all the men in the Ell and Main Coals were got out, and it was found that the workings in these seams were not damaged, but that the explosion had occurred in the Splint Coal.

Five of the men in the Main Coal were killed by choke-damp which came up from the Splint Coal, and it was feared that the 71 persons who were in that seam were all dead.

Preparations were at once made for ventilating and exploring the Splint Coal workings, and in about 45 hours after the explosion they had all been explored and all the bodies removed, with the exception of seven which were under falls of roof. The last of these was recovered on the 14th of June.

Two men were found alive within 30 yards of the bottom of No 2 pit and are now recovering. All of the others were dead. Dr Robertson, Hamilton, who examined the bodies, certifies that 53 were burned, and 20 were suffocated. The position where each body was found is marked on the accompanying sketch, the numbers on which correspond with the list on page 8.

The Splint Coal workings were commenced three years go, and cover an area of 60 acres. The seam is six feet thick and the workings have been made by the "stoop and room" method; the rooms being eight feet wide, and the stoops or pillars 22 yards square.

Five districts or sections were at work - the Blantyre Section, the Rise Section, the Horse Road Section, the Horse Road Stoops, and the Dook Section. These are all shown on the plans.

Blantyre Section. - Fourteen men worked in this section. They were all engaged in stooping, and the output was 60 tons daily The face was 260 yards in length. It was reached by the west level, which was a horse road, and by two cousies, or self-acting planes, 170 and 112 yards in length, which branched from the west level at points 50 and 103 yards respectively from No 2 shaft.

Rise Section - Ten men worked in this section. They were all engaged in solid places, and the output was 30 tons a day. The face was 170 yards in length. The road to this section was by a self-acting plane, 167 yards long which branched off the east level at a point 31 yards from No. 2 shaft, and by a horse road which passed eastward from the top of the incline for 230 yards, thence by branch roads from 126 to 103 yards to the faces.

Horse Road Section - Fifteen men worked in this section. They were all engaged in stooping except three, who worked in solid places in the extreme south, and the output was 60 tons a day. The face was 200 yards in length. It was reached by the east level, which is a horse road 352 yards in length; by a self-acting incline 103 yards long, which branched off at that point; and by branch roads at the end of the horse road from 90 to 100 yards in length.

The Horse Road Stoops - Four men worked in this section. They were all engaged in stooping, and the output was 20 tons a day. The face was 50 yards in length. The road was by the east level, along which it passed 60 yards; it then passed northwards for 135 yards.

These sections, which occupied an area of 38 acres, were all connected wit each other by various openings.

The Dook Section - Twenty men were in this section. They were all engaged in solid places, and the output was 70 tons a day. The face was 300 yards in length. The road to these workings was by an engine plane proceeding northward from No. 2 pit for 320 yards. From this there was a horse road passing eastward for 215 yards, .and then branch roads into the faces, varying from 136 to 230 yards This section, which occupied an area of 20 acres, was entirely separated from the other sections, and was connected to the Nos. 1 and 2 shafts only by the engine road and the companion drift 17 yards to the east of it.

Twenty-four thousand three hundred and eighty-three cubic feet of air per minute passed down No. 2 shaft to the Splint Coal workings. Near the bottom of the shaft it split into two portions. One portion, 9570 cubic feet was sent direct to the "Dook Section," and passed round all the workings, returning by the companion drift round the "Horse Road Section" thence into the upcast shaft (No 1). The other portion, 10498 feet, passed into the east level for 31 yards, then up the inclined plane for 240 yards, and split there into two divisions, one passing westward to the "Blantyre Section" and thence to the upcast, the other passing into the "Rise Section" from thence into the "Horse Road Section" and returning direct out to the upcast shaft. One thousand four hundred and eighty seven cubic feet of air per minute were sent through the east level waste. Two thousand eight hundred and twenty-eight cubic feet were allowed to escape through the doors to keep the levels clear.

The main stoppings were of 9-inch brickwork. There were 50 in the "Dook" and 76 in the "Rise workings." The temporary stoppings were of wood, were mostly double. The temporary doors were of canvas. The places were bratticed with wood bratticing.

The workings were lighted with Scotch gauze lamps, the only naked lights being those at the pit bottoms in the downcast (No. 2).

All the roads were dry and dusty.

The firemen examined the pits every morning, in terms of General Rule 2; they examined all the roads and faces, those not working, as well as those in operation. The waste was regularly examined. Shot-firing was permitted to a limited extent in the solid places only, and then it was the duty of the firemen to light the shots.

Gas had been reported in the splint coal on five occasions during 1886, and three during 1887; but there had never been an explosion in that seam, and there was no shot-firing in the district where it had been seen.

Udston being one of the collieries in the Hamilton district where the seams are more fiery than in other places, and especially being next to Blantyre, where the explosion occurred in 1877, it was frequently inspected. Annexed are extracts from the Reports of Mr. Robson, who was then my assistant. The ventilation, modes of working, and lighting were well known to me, and I considered them perfectly sufficient for the purpose. There was less gas given off from the splint coal at Udston than was at Blantyre 10 years ago, as the workings in the upper seams, the Ell and Main, have drained the gas to a large extent from the splint.

This being the state of matters, at 9.7 a.m., just when the breakfast hour had commenced, and there was no work going on, the explosion happened.

Traces of the extreme violence of the explosion were visible through all the Splint coal workings. Every stopping was blown out, every door blown down, and all the brattice blown out. There was a heavy fall, resulting from the explosion near the bottom of No. 2 pit (it was 30 yards in length); a fall in the east level, 300 yards from the shaft; two falls in the "Blantyre Section," which buried two men for nine days; a fall in the "Horse Road Stoops," which buried one man, whose body was not recovered for 17 days.

With the exception of these falls, the faces and roads were all clear, and could be easily travelled. Tubs were knocked about, and rails were displaced largely over the whole pit. The wheel of a "cousie," weighing about 7 cwts., was blown westwards for about five yards. A train of loaded tubs in the "Rise Section" was broken up, and some of the tubs blown for about 20 yards away. The blast appears to have travelled over the whole area of the workings. The shock was felt in the workings of Greenfield Colliery through a barrier of solid coal 45 yards thick. It raised a cloud of dust in the workings of Blantyre Colliery through the rent strata overhead, although there was a solid barrier of 20 yards of coal.

I have noted in the accompanying sketch the points where the direction of the force of the explosion is indicated. They are most marked in the "Rise Section," and it looks as if the explosion had travelled westwards from these workings along the horse road. On reaching a point 140 yards from the face it split, one portion went northwards and out the east level workings, and outwards and down the various openings to the "Horse Road Stoops." The other portion passed outwards on to the Blantyre Stoops, and out on to the engine plane, passing through the Dook workings, and finally returning from these workings up both passages to the two shafts.

The question arises, how did the explosion originate?

The quantity of air was sufficient for the requirements of the splint coal seam, which was not a fiery seam, although it gave off fire-damp, and subsequent examination has not brought out anything abnormal in the state of the workings or the ventilation on the morning of the explosion.

It may have originated through the use of unsafe lamps, or through the exposure of a naked light, or through shot-firing.

The mine was lighted throughout with Scotch gauze lamps. The Scotch gauze lamp has been in use in Scotch mines ever since the invention of the Davy lamp. It is very simple, easily examined, gives a better light than any other safety lamp, and distributes it in all directions. It is, however well known, and the Royal Commission note it, that, like the Davy and Clanny lamps, it is only safe in explosive currents travelling at a velocity of less than five a second. I am satisfied, however, that no such current existed in these workings, and that the explosion did not originate at a locked safety lamp. The examination of the dead bodies showed that many of the men had been in possession of matches, keys, and other contrivances for opening lamps in contravention of the special rules. This showed very bad discipline, but there was nothing to indicate that the explosion originated at an open light, or even at a lighted match

Shot-firing was permitted in the "Rise Section," where I suppose the explosion to have originated. The fireman of the district was found dead in the shaft. If, therefore, any shot was fired it must have been done surreptitiously by some miner, and this, I think, may have been done. There are marks of a shot in two places, one at Dennison's place in the "Rise Section," (23 and 24 on plan), and one at Harkness' place in the topmost place of the "Horse Road Section" (33 on plan). In the latter place there are distinct marks of a shot-hole, but I think this shot was fired before the explosion; and that it did not originate there.

In Dennison's place there is no shot-hole visible, but there are marks of powder seen at the face, and I think a shot has been fired there at the time of the explosion. In addition to marks of powder there are the following circumstances which would indicate that a shot had been fired, and that the explosion may have originated in this place. There was a bent pricker seven yards from the face. It was bright, and had apparently been recently used. Beside it was found a lamp with the gauze on, but unlocked. Another lamp, which was locked, was found 34 yards from the face. A drill was found within four yards of the face. The ordinary stoops are 22 yards square, but in this place the stoop is about 50 yards, at a rise of 1 in 5, and if the usual system of bratticing for carrying the air 22 yards was adopted, it may not have been so tight as to prevent a little gas being there. The Dennisons' bodies were found close to the face; apparently they had both been blown back to the face. It is possible that one of the Dennisons had taken the gauze off his lamp, lighted a shot, and retired out of harm's way, putting the gauze on again with the intention of locking his lamp at leisure, but the explosion took place before he had time to do it.

Upon full consideration of the whole matter I am of opinion that this was a dust explosion, and that it originated in some place in the Rise Section (probably Dennison's) where some gas was present ; that a shot was fired in the place surreptitiously and without an examination for gas : that when the shot was fired, it ignited the gas which was in the place, and a cloud of coal dust was raised. The ignited gas produced sufficient heat to kindle the dust into a flame, which traversed the whole workings, raising in its progress, sufficient dust to maintain the combustion. This explosion is, in my opinion, another argument in favour of the abolition of the use of explosives in all fiery and dusty mines.

In the new Mines Bill it is proposed to permit shot-firing in dry and dusty mines, under certain conditions. I fear these conditions will be neglected, and loss of life from shot-firing will still occur. The accident at Inishir seems to bear this out. There they professed to use the water-cartridge, and, as an additional precaution, an electric exploder; but an explosion occurred which was attributed to a shot wheree these conditions were found to have been neglected.

Since this explosion I have issued a circular calling attention to the necessity for watering dry and dusty roads, and also calling attention to the circular issued by your instructions as to improved safety lamps. Copy is annexed, also extracts from the notes sent me by Mr. Robson, the Inspector of Mines for South Wales, who was my assistant up to January last.
(Signed) Ralph Moore, HM Inspector of Mines, Glasgow, 13th July 1887.



13, Clairmont Gardens, Glasgow, 20th June 1887.
Dear Sirs,
I beg to draw your attention to the danger arising from the presence of dry dust on under-ground roads, and to the necessity for having some of thoroughly efficient means in use for keeping the roads free from it. I will be glad to hear from you at early convenience as to this matter.

Systems of watering by means of piping laid along the roads, with nozzles at intervals of 20 to 40 yards, are already in use, and at Dowlais Company's pits in Wales there is a system in operation by which compressed air is used to divide and distribute the water in the form of a very fine spray.
Yours faithfully,
H.M. Inspector of Mines.

P.S. I beg to draw your attention to my circular letter of September 1886 as to proper safety lamps. R. M.


Letters from Mr. J. T. Robson, Assistant Inspector.

Udston Colliery - Ell Coal
25th September 1886.
I examined the whole of the working places in this seam to-day - Saturday - accompanied by Mr. Gavin, manager, and the overman. The workings are confined to the dip section, and nothing but stoops is being worked. The waste or goaf is now within 440 yards of the shaft.

There was no gas that could be detected. All is worked with safety (gauze) lamps.
(Signed) J. T. Robson.


Udston Colliery.-Splint Coal.
30th November 1885.
I have examined these working's to-day in company with the manager. Mr. James Gavin.

The ventilation was good in every place. They were all bratticed, those going to the rise (about 1 in 6) having the brattice to within 6 or 8 feet. Where places are empty the brattice was generally within 3 feet of the face. I did not see any fire-damp, and none has been reported for some months.
(Signed) J. T. Robson.



Extract. - Mr. J. T. Robson, Chief Inspector of Mines. Swansea, as to Udston, 12th June 1887.
I was at Udston on 6th February 1886, 16th September 1886. and 25th September 1886. Generally speaking, I think I made at least three underground inspections in each year in Udston. I was always particular in seeing for myself that the pit was free from gas, and I must say that since the time when Mr Archibald, the manager, was lost, I found them extremely careful.

In the splint coal safety lamps were put on at the very beginning. For years I never saw anything about which I had to complain. I mind particularly of telling them,after the circular re safety lamps, that they should think about introducing one of the improved lamps; and the very last time I was there they had a few new ones to try.
(Signed) J. T. Robson.


Note - The numbers refer to the corresponding numbers on the plan
Blantyre Section.
1. James Crichton, 31, miner; burning and suffocation.
2. Wm John Boyce. 23; suffocation. Lamp key.
3. Thomas Berry, 25; suffocation.
4. John McDade, 21; suffocation.
5. James Nelson, 16; suffocation.
6. John Nelson. 14; suffocation.
7. James Spiers, 40; burning and suffocation.
8. Wm. Berry, 22, miner; burning and suffocation.
9. Hugh Auchterlonie, 41, miner; suffocation. Key for opening safety lamp attached to button-hole of drawers.
10. George Parker, or Harkness, 30, miner; suffocation.
11. Wm. Boyce, 22; suffocation.
12. Gavin Malcolm, 15, miner; burning and suffocation.
13. John Reid, 24, miner.
Christopher Boyce, 22, miner; suffocation.

Rise Section.
23. Thomas Denniston, 18, miner; burning and suffocation. Large wound on back.
24. Wm. Denniston, 23, miner; burning and suffocation.
25. Michael Quin, 21, miner; severely burned and suffocation.
26. Alexander McLean, 48, miner; severely burned and suffocation.
27. John Dodds, 14, miner: burning and suffocation.
28. James McCulloch, 15, miner; burning and suffocation. Both arms fractured.
29. James McCulloch, 36, miner; burning and suffocation. Father of above.
30. David Shanks, 45, miner; burning and suffocation.
31. David Shanks, junior, 15, miner; slightly burned and suffocation. Right leg broken. Key for opening safety lamp, nail, and lemonade wire found in trousers pocket. Son of above.
32. Walter Winters, 22, miner; burning and suffocation. Legs broken.

Horse Road Section.
33. John Harkness, 24, miner; suffocation. Key for opening safety lamp found in trousers pocket.
34. Wm. Murdoch, 26, miner; burning and suffocation.
35. Allan Sterling, 22, miner; severely burned and suffocation.
36. David Fleming, 27, miner; severely burned on head and suffocation. Nail for opening lamp found in trousers pocket.
37. Joseph Neilson, 22, miner; burning and suffocation
38. John Wilson, 20, miner; burning and suffocation.
39. George Davies or Davis, 26, miner; burning and suffocation. Nail found in pocket of trousers.
40. James Kane, 14, miner; burning and suffocation.
41. John Smith, 26, miner; burning and suffocation.
42. William Babes, 41, miner; burning and suffocation.
43. Robert Jarvie, or Jarvis, 31, miner; burning and suffocation.
44. Daniel Robertson, 14, miner; burning and suffocation.
45. Edward Jones, 15, miner; burning and suffocation. Nail found in vest pocket.
46. William Brown, 52, miner; burning and suffocation. Key for opening safety lamp found in pocket of trousers.
47. Thomas Penman, 20, pony driver; burning and suffocation.

Horse Road Stoops.
19. William Harrison, 34, miner; severely burned and suffocation.
20. David Crichton, 20 miner; severely burned and suffocation. Two nails found in trousers pocket.
21. Joseph Boyce, 18; miner; shock and suffocation. Nail in trousers.
22. John Noble, miner; suffocation.

17. Walter Penman, 22, driver; slight burning, and had suffered from after-damp.
18. James Leadbetter, 40, ostler; slight burning, and had suffered from after-damp. Clay pipe, knife, and tobacco pouch found in trousers pocket.

14. Andrew Thomas Watson, 48, bottomer; burning and suffocation. Left arm fractured. Pocket knife and key for opening safety lamp found in trousers pocket.
15. Alex. Torley, 26, fireman; burning and suffocation. Left arm and left leg fractured. Pocket knife, tobacco, lamp key, padlock key, and quantity of small nails found in trousers pocket.
16. Andrew Buddy, 29, fireman; burning and suffocation. Tobacco and box. lamp key and knife, and a watch which had stopped at 9.7 a.m.

Dook Section.
48. James Allison, 45, chainman. A number of matches ignited and not ignited were found in his vest pocket.
49. Peter McGuinnes, 22, miner; burning and suffocation. Face torn and smashed.
50. Richard Cook, 50, miner; burning and suffocation. Clay pipe and two nails for opening lamp. Father of Nos. 51 and 52.
51. Thomas Cook, 21, miner; burning and suffocation.
52. James Cook, 17, miner; burning and suffocation.
53. Washington Crewe, 25, miner; burning and suffocation. Body much mutilated.
54. William Lawson, 42, miner; burning and suffocation. Left leg broken.
55. Andrew Lawson, 21, miner; burning and suffocation. Much bruised left side. Two nails for opening lamp found in trousers pocket. Bottom all that remained of his safety lamp. Son of above.
56.Joseph Cunning, 39, miner; burning and suffocation. Three used matches found in trousers pocket.
57. William Drain, 19, miner; burning and suffocation.
58. James Wilson, 50, miner; burning and suffocation. Key for opening safety lamp in pocket of trousers.
59. Izaac Cameron, 24, miner; suffocation.
60. James Gaw, 15, miner; burning and suffocation.
61. Francis McGourty, 54, miner; burning and suffocation.
62. Terence Rooney, 55, miner; suffocation.
63. George Dingsdale, 21, miner; burning and suffocation. Right leg broken at knee and ankle.
64. Michael McDade, 34, miner; burning and suffocation.
65. McGinnes.
66. Felix Torley, 40, miner; burning and suffocation.
67. John Crewe, 22, miner; burning and suffocation.


NOTE.-On resuming coal work the ventilation was arranged precisely as it was before the explosion, and it still remains in that state.
About mid-day on the 5th September samples of the air were taken submitted to analysis, with the following results:-

Cubic Feet of Air
per Minute in Circulation
at the
various Points taken
% of Fire-damp in the Air
 Return air from Blantyre Section just outside of last working place 5,412 .209
Return air from East Section 5,386 .173
Return air from Dook Section 3,424 .154

Or less than one-twelfth of the smallest proportion of fire-damp which will ignite with Dr Angus Smith's compressing arrangement.

This would go to corroborate my opinion that the explosion was a "dust explosion."

(Signed) Ralph Moore 14th November 1887

Last Updated 4th Feburary 2012