Extract from Mining District Report 1845

by the Commissioner appointed to inquire into the operation of the Act 5 & 6 Vict. c99, (Mines and Collieries Act 1842)  and into the state of the population in the mining districts

I have to acquaint you with the progress made, since last year, in excluding females from the collieries, and in causing the other provisions of the Act of Parliament, with the execution of which I am charged, to be observed; and I have to lay before you some observations, which have presented themselves to me in the course of my duties, on matters affecting the mining population in various parts of the country.

Of the 2400 females employed in the collieries of Scotland at the passing of the Act (August, 1842), I had reason to believe that not many more than 200 were so employed at the date of my last Report (July, 1844).

That number has been still further reduced within the last year, though not without difficulty, and the necessity of resorting to legal proceedings in several cases. An attempt has also been made to introduce females into new works in a part of the coal-field of Stirlingshire, recently opened. This has, however, been checked by the measures promptly taken by the procurator fiscal of that district.

Early in September, three workmen of the Redding colliery, near Falkirk, were convicted in the penalty of £5 each, with £2 costs. I am informed by the procurator fiscal that this had the effect of preventing a repetition of the offence for about three months, when he discovered that 12 women had resumed work. Convictions have been since obtained against some of the men who employed them. An attempt was made, when the former case was pending, to obtain evidence sufficient to lead to the conviction of the manager, for connivance. He stated to me that he had received express directions from his superior (the agent of the Duke of Hamilton) to prevent the violations of the law; and he undertook to discharge any workman discovered employing a female, and also to appoint a trustworthy person to prevent their going down by the stair-pits. These precautions not having been effectual, he has been desired by the Duke of Hamilton's agent to secure the entrance by a locked hatchway; a measure which for the present has, I believe, been found sufficient. 126 females were employed in these works when the Act passed.

At all the principal works of the Carron Company, in the same neighbourhood, the practice has, according to the report of the fiscal, been abandoned. It has reappeared from time to time in a few of their smaller pits, and also in another small colliery, to all of which the procurator fiscal is actively directing his attention.

One of the works in which continual violations of the Act have occurred, is that of the Clackmannan Coal Company. A workman of that company has been fined; but, in two prosecutions against the manager, the procurator fiscal was unable to obtain a conviction. It appeared, however, on the trial, that alterations had been commenced in those pits, with the view of introducing ponies to draw the coal instead of women. Subsequently, at a meeting of the Firth of Forth coal-masters, at Edinburgh, a resolution was come to, directed against the manager of these works, and pledging the meeting to take steps to cause the law to be effectually observed. After a temporary cessation, the employment of females was resumed. Additional measures were immediately resorted to, at my request, by the procurator fiscal, who, in a letter dated 24th June, stated that the steps taken had been successful. A police constable was appointed to watch occasionally, in the mornings and evenings, at the entrance to the pits; and for a month no females returned. Since that time, however, a renewal of the practice has been discovered, and legal proceedings are again in preparation. On the previous occasion six females were cited, but failed to appear. Warrants were issued against them by the sheriff and two were apprehended. On their evidence a warrant has been issued against a workman, who on being apprehended will be brought forward for trial.

Cases of contravention of the Act were reported to me in January as having occurred in Fifeshire. Investigations were subsequently made by the public prosecutor, at my request, but no evidence of the fact could at that time be discovered. The managers of the collieries implicated in the charge have asserted that they have no desire to continue the practice, and that the instances in which women have been employed in their mines are rare, and that, as soon as discovered, they are dismissed, and the men employing them fined. Nevertheless the practice has been since resumed in some of the works near Dunfermline ; and I have in consequence been in communication with the Lord Advocate upon the subject.

At the Shott's works, Lanarkshire, the promised vigilance of the manager was not sufficiently exerted to prevent the violation of the Act. In December last I requested the fiscal of Hamilton to make the necessary investigations. The management of the works has, since the spring, passed into other hands; and I have received a recent report from the fiscal, stating his belief that effectual measures have been taken to prevent further infractions of the law.

In November the procurator fiscal of Airdrie summoned the agent of the Blackrigg colliery before the magistrates, for permitting eight or nine females to work therein. He was held to have freed himself of the responsibility by reporting the fact to his employers, and also on other grounds. A conviction has since been obtained against a coal-master at Cullochrigg. I have made recent inquiries, but cannot hear of any subsequent specific instances of non-observance of the Act of Parliament.

In all the localities where occasional violations of the Act occur, it is represented to me that the number of females persisting in their endeavours to return to their former work is few, and chiefly confined to those who, being widows or orphans, or the daughters of aged or infirm colliers, and having been long habituated to that kind of employment, find it more difficult to obtain any other. However much the sympathies may be excited in favour of this class of females, and however hard the Act depriving them of their accustomed means of earning a comfortable subsistence, may, and does sometimes unquestionably, bear upon them, it is necessary to discourage any tendency to relax the law in their favour, wherever it may appear. Numerous complaints have been addressed to me by proprietors of works bordering upon those where the Act is not strictly observed, stating the increased difficulty they have in restraining their colliers from taking their wives and daughters again into the pits, which they think it hard not to be allowed to do, while it is done by others. They point out, also, the unfair advantages that may be obtained by competing coal-owners, by using what is in some cases the cheaper labour of women. Instead, therefore, of allowing any hope to be indulged that the Act would not be put strictly in force, the course at once most humane and most consistent with duty has been to forward as much as possible the transference of the most suffering class of females to other occupations; or, failing that, the alleviation of their distress by benevolent assistance. The latter process has been encouraged and stimulated by the act of a charitable lady in England, who, in the course of last autumn, placed anonymously in Lord Ashley's hands the sum of £100 for the benefit of those labouring women who, in Scotland, were still suffering most from the operation of the law which excluded them from their accustomed work in the collieries. To this donation Lord Ashley added a sum of his own. Having been consulted as to the distribution, I recommended the division of the sum, in certain proportions, among four parishes, in which either the need appeared to me greatest, or the example of this act of disinterested benevolence most required. Lord Ashley accompanied the transmission of these sums with a letter to the minister of each of those parishes, from which the following are extracts:-

"As parochial minister, you will perhaps be kind enough to undertake the management of the money. I shall remit it to you ; it is, I fear, a very small sum in relation to the necessities of the case; it will, nevertheless, give relief to a few of the sufferers, and may, as undoubtedly it ought to have such an effect, stimulate their own country people, whom God has blessed with ample means, to a hearty and adequate liberality.

The change that has affected their condition was considered indispensable to the public good. I deeply deplore the privations that some of them have endured, and still continue to endure. I sympathise most sincerely with their sufferings, and will cheerfully do everything in my power to abate them ; but any efforts of mine must be very feeble compared with those that could be locally made; and I shall presume to express an ardent hope and even belief, that the Scotch proprietors, if addressed by a suitable appeal, will not be backward to administer aid to their necessitous countrywomen.

Should you be so good as to accept this office, you will, of course, be guided by your own discretion, and include among the recipients any in the adjoining parishes who may be in especial need."

The donations have been distributed in three of the parishes to which they were sent; the minister of the fourth (Clackmannan) very properly retaining the sum sent, until he is satisfied that the females for whom it is meant have ceased to work below ground.

In the parish of Newton (Mid-Lothian), near Dalkeith, the letter and accompanying donations were received in an excellent spirit. The recipients, to the number of 40, were chiefly widows, who had no sons to work for them; daughters, who could receive no help from their parents; and unmarried women, upwards of 30 years of age, who had no chance of getting into domestic service. The clergyman states, that "clothing and shoes were distributed to the whole of these according to their ascertained wants, the expenditure being at an average of 5s. 6d. for each person ; the balance being retained to supply further any case that may seem particularly to require it."

A very proper feeling towards their unknown benefactress was exhibited by those selected, by the minister of this parish, as the objects of her bounty. I regret to have to state, that a very different spirit manifested itself on the occasion in the mining village of Tranent. The assistant minister (the incumbent being advanced in age) informs me, that every care was taken by the kirk session, in conjunction with himself, in examining individually the applicants, and selecting the proper objects for relief. A sum was allotted to each, from 5s. to 10s., in proportion to their need. The minister acquaints me, with expressions of pain, that "in the great majority of casts, the intended kindness has not been productive of the good that was designed. Those who were not admitted to a participation of it, stirred up those who were; and the abuse that was heaped upon us, both by those who were and those who were not recipients, was beyond your conception." The interposition of the village police became necessary, and the evening closed amidst intoxication.

It would not have been worth while to notice these circumstances, except as a confirmation of the demoralized state of a large portion of the lower classes in this remote and apparently neglected village, to which my attention was called last year.

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