Extract from Mining District Report 1846

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 the honour to acquaint you, in this my third annual Report, that the Act of Parliament by which females are excluded from working in mines and collieries, and other regulations made for the benefit of persons engaged in that species of labour, is generally observed in the portions of the mining districts to which I have this year been able to give my attention, some localities excepted, where either the neglect or opposition of a few employers, or the inveterate habits of the people, oppose an obstacle to the uninterrupted observance of the law.

I have reason to believe, that the employment of females below ground in any part of the mining districts is reduced to a small number; and I have received increasing testimonies to the good effects arising to the mining population from the discontinuance of that degrading occupation.

In my two previous Reports I have had occasion to mention that legal proceedings have been frequently necessary to cause the removal of females from the large collieries at Clackmannan. In consequence of communications from me, the Procurator-Fiscal of Alloa commenced another prosecution against the oversman and one of the workmen of that colliery. The cases were submitted to the Crown agent in Edinburgh, and the Advocate-Depute was sent by him to Alloa to conduct them. The result was, on the 15th of December, a conviction, and a fine of £5 each upon the oversman and the workman. On that day the proprietor of the colliery, Mr. James Rayner Wilson, as stated by the Sheriff-Depute; John Tait, Esq., " appeared before the Sheriff-Substitute, and deposed on oath that the employment of the females at that time had taken place without his consent,, concurrence, or knowledge." Notwithstanding this, the Fiscal informed me that two days only after this trial, no less than 40 females again went into Mr. Wilson's pits to work. A lengthened and laborious investigation again took place, and the case was reported to Crown counsel, who, on the 11th of March, instructed the Fiscal "to serve a complaint" upon Mr. Wilson. The complaint was accordingly served, charging Mr. Wilson with " having employed, or haying allowed or permitted to be employed, within the pits at the Clackmannan colliery eighteen females." The case came on for trial on the 2lst of March before Mr. Sheriff Tait. Mr. Wilson appeared, and pleaded guilty to having permitted the employment of two out of the eighteen. The Advocate-Depute, who had been sent from Edinburgh to conduct the case on the part of the Crown, deemed it prudent to accept this plea, and the Sheriff then sentenced Mr. Wilson to pay a fine of £20, and failing payment, or sufficient distress by "pounding," to be committed to Alloa prison for the period of one month. There .was a large attendance of colliers in the Court, and one or two coal masters from Fjfeshire and the surrounding neighbourhood.

In the report of the case, it is stated that the Sheriff made the following remarks :-

"In this case, Mr. Wilson having pled guilty to permitting the employment of only two of the. females mentioned in the complaint, it is my duty to place entirely out of view the other females, and consider the charge against him as confined to the employment of two only. A plea of guilty to this extent having been given in, it only remains for me to determine what penalty should be awarded against Mr. Wilson. The Act authorises a penalty of not less than £5, and not more than £10 for each female person employed, or permitted to be employed ; and, in pronouncing judgment, it is my duty to take into consideration the whole circumstances attending this case. In doing so, I cannot shut my eyes to the proceedings under this statute which have already taken place within this county. In two instances these proceedings have been against Mr. Wilson himself, when it was judicially brought under his notice that females had been working in the pits at Clackmannan in considerable numbers. I cannot look upon this, therefore, as a case where the circumstance has been for the first time brought under Mr. Wilson's notice. After his last trial, which took place about a year and a half ago, I was in the hope, though the trial resulted in his acquittal, that it would have had the effect of putting an end to the practice of employing females below ground. I am sorry to say, however, that this has not been the case. Since then, various of his workmen have been tried upon several occasions for contravention of this statute, and some of them convicted. Mr. Wilson was present in Court at these trials, and heard the remarks which I then made, that in other counties, and in Stirlingshire in particular, the practice had been abandoned with very beneficial results, and that I considered it a disgrace to the county of Clackmannan that the practice had been so long persisted in here. Now, the last of these trials took place no longer ago than the 15th of December last, when Mr. Wilson appeared before the Sheriff-Substitute, and deponed on oath that the employment of the females at that time had taken place without his consent, concurrence, or knowledge. Notwithstanding all this, however, I now find Mr. Wilson pleading guilty to having permitted the employment of two females below ground since the date of last trials. In these circumstances I can see no ground for modifying the highest penalty stipulated in the Act; and I feel myself bound to inflict the full penalty of £10 for each female permitted to be employed."

This is an important case, as affording an instance of the conviction of a proprietor under this Act.; and as showing that a proprietor or manager will not be permitted to shield himself under the pretext of having given general orders to his agents or subordinates not to infringe the law, unless he takes care, after due warning, that his orders are effectually attended to.

The zeal and activity displayed by the Procurator-Fiscal in these cases, provoked against him, from some of the persons convicted, a charge of partiality in regard to some neighbouring coal works. I feel bound to say, in justice to that gentleman, that on investigation I am perfectly satisfied the charge was made without the slightest grounds.