Blantyre Mining Disaster
Scotland’s worst ever mining disaster happened on 22nd October 1877 at Blantyre.
‘I was shattered by a report like the firing of cannons, louder than any thunder I have hears and this was followed by a dense volume of smoke and a vast sheet of flames. It lasted four or five minutes.’ [Alex McColl, fire master in pit No. 3]
The explosion at High Blantyre Colliery on the 22nd of October 1877 was Scotland’s worst ever mining disaster, resulting in the deaths of over 200 people. At about 9 o’clock in the morning an explosion occurred in the splint-coal workings in the No. 2 and No. 3 pits. It appeared to have been caused by the ignition of firedamp by a naked flame however during the usual morning checks there appeared to have been no notice of fire damp and it may have been that the explosion was the result of gas trapped in the coal face which was released during hewing. The explosion was said to last for 4-5 minutes.
As news of the disaster spread a great number of workers from neighbouring pits travelled to Blantyre to volunteer their help. The rescue effort was led by James Gilchrist, manager of Mr John Watson’s colliery, who had previously been employed at High Blantyre and therefore knew the workings well. The rescue party also included Mr Thomson, Mr M’Farlane of Allington Colliery, Mr Robertson (assistant inspector of mines) and Mr Simpson, manager of the Clyde Coal Company.
Despite difficulties due to the presence of choke-damp (Carbon Dioxide) and debris blocking the descent into No. 3 pit, the rescue workers persevered through the greater part of the night and managed to recover 13 bodies from the No. 2 pit before bad air forced the suspension of operations. The search resumed the following morning though only a few were taken out alive and of those most were too badly injured, either through burns or the intake of black or choke-damp gas, to survive. The recovery of bodies continued for 3 weeks.
The effects of this disaster reverberated around the local community and beyond, with many women suddenly finding themselves widows and children losing a parent. The support from other mining communities, both in the rescue effort and in the support of a relief fund is to be admired.
Less than two years later on 9 July 1879 another explosion occurred in No. 1 Pit resulting in the death of 27 workers.
Written by Lynsey Anderson, Assistant Curator