Herbertshire, 30 June 1893
Report on the Herbertshire Colliery Explosion, Denny.
Sir, - It is now our duty to report to you the result of the inquiry which we were instructed by you to make in terms of the following letter:-
I, the Right Honourable Herbert H. Asquith, one of Her Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State, being of opinion that a formal investigation into the fatal accident which took place on the 30th June last at the No. 3 Pit, Herbertshire Colliery, Denny, Lanarkshire, is expedient, do hereby, in virtue of the powers entrusted to me by the said enactment, direct such investigation to be held; and do hereby appoint Charles J. Guthrie, Esquire, Advocate, being a competent person, to hold such investigation, and J. M. Ronaldson, Esquire, one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Mines, being a person possessing special knowledge, to act as Assessor to the said Charles J. Guthrie, in holding the investigation.
Given under my hand at Whitehall this 18th day of August 1893.
On 29th August 1893 we visited the Herbertshire Colliery, and were met there by representatives of Messrs. Addie and Sons, Limited, the mine owners, with their counsel and agents, and by Mr. R. Chisholm Robertson, miner's agent, Glasgow, and others, who appeared in the interests of the miners connected with the pit. We inspected such parts of the colliery as seemed to us or to the parties to be important for us to see; and, in particular, we made a careful survey of the southern side of the Dook Section where the explosion occurred. At that meeting an application was made by the mine owners for production of a deposition dated 21st July 1893, emitted in prospect of death by Lovell Thursby, aged 14, a miner's drawer, who died on 22nd July 1893, in consequence of injuries received in the explosion. Having previously obtained the sanction of the Lord Advocate for the production of this deposition, it was handed to the parties. We forward herewith a copy of this deposition. At a subsequent stage, it may be here noted, the mine owners also applied for production of the report on the accident made by Mr. J. M. Ronaldson, the Assessor in this inquiry; and with your sanction this was produced. We also forward herewith a copy of. Mr. Ronaldson's report.
After due advertisement in the Edinburgh, Glasgow, and local newspapers, the inquiry was opened on 12th September 1893 and was concluded on the following day. The mine owners were represented by Mr. Alexander Ure, Advocate, instructed by Messrs. McGrigor, Donald, and Company, Writers, Glasgow. Mr. B. Chisholm Robertson, Glasgow, represented the miners employed in the colliery. Mr. Strathern, Writer, Glasgow, represented the miners who had been injured by the explosion; and Mr. Hogg, Writer, Glasgow, appeared for the representatives of a miner, Joseph Robertson, who died from the effects of injuries received in the explosion. There were also present the following representative miners on behalf of the Miners' Federation of Scotland:—Robert Smellie, President, Lanarkshire Miners' Federation; William Small, Secretary, Lanarkshire Miners' Federation; Robert Brown, Secretary, Lothian Miners' Federation; and Peter Muir, Secretary, Ayrshire Miners' Federation. We were asked to cite 13 witnesses on behalf of the mine owners, and seven witnesses on behalf of the miners. In addition we cited 12 witnesses who appeared to us desirable to have in attendance.
Of the 32 witnesses cited 21 were examined, and in addition eight witnesses were examined who attended without citation, making in all 29 witnesses examined.
The evidence was recorded by a shorthand writer, and we were satisfied that the whole evidence necessary for a satisfactory report was fully laid before us. The examination and cross-examination were conducted with ability, and at the same time with moderation and fairness, by Mr. Ure on behalf of the mine owners, and by Mr. Chisholm Robertson on behalf of the other parties above named. We forward herewith the notes of evidence.
The working plan of the colliery was produced, and for convenience two plans were prepared for the inquiry by the mine owners, being first, an enlarged tracing of No. 1 bench where the disaster took place, showing the places where the injured men were at the time of the accident, and the course of the ventilation by arrows, and showing also a section of. the mineral strata in the pit; and second, a tracing taken from the working plan of the Dook Section of the pit, These plans are numbered No. 1 and No. 2; but it will only be necessary to allude to the first of them, which we shall accordingly refer to in this report as the plan of the colliery. The report book was also produced, and a copy of the special rules for the pit. Copies of the plans prepared by the mine owners are forwarded herewith, along with a copy of the special rules.
It will be desirable first to give a short account of the colliery so far as necessary to understand the present question.
The Herbertshire mineral field was, originally worked for ironstone, at which time the mine with which we are here concerned was sunk to a depth of 100 fathoms. About seven years ago the workable ironstone having become exhausted it was sunk to the main coal at a further depth of 27 fathoms, and the present total depth is 143 fathoms. The coal is worked longwall. The pit where the explosion took place is known officially as the Herbertshire No. 3 pit, and locally as the Woodyetts or Station Pit.
There are two shafts 100 feet apart, a larger and a smaller; the larger used as the downcast being 17 feet by 6 feet, and the smaller used as the upcast being 15 feet by 6 feet. The upcast is fitted with a Schiele fan, which is capable of exhausting 75,000 cubic feet of air per minute. We were satisfied that the manager, overman, fireman, and other officials were thoroughly competent for their respective duties. For working purposes the pit is divided into two sections, the Mine Section to the west or rise side of the pit, and the Dook Section to the east or dip side. In the two sections taken together about 140 men are employed in the day time, and from 20 to 30 at night. The number in the Dook Section is about 50, and the number in the southern side of that section from 25 to 30. Although Andrew McGarrell, one of the miners, professed never to have seen them, it was proved that copies of the abstract of the Coal Mines .Regulation Act and the Special Rules applicable to the pit were duly exhibited at the pit head in terms of the Coal Mines Regulation Act.
The accident happened about 600 yards from the pit bottom, in the right or south side of the Dook Section in the No. 1 Bench, where there were six working places, access to which was got by six roads leading off the top or rise level. So far as the arrangements of the pit were concerned, the evidence at the inquiry was almost entirely confined to two of these roads and working places, namely, No. 1 road and No. 2 road, and No. 1, or Hamilton's working place, in which John Hamilton, James Todd, and Lovell Thursby were working on the day of the accident, and No. 2, or Carroll's working place, in which John Carroll and Patrick Carroll were working on the same day. The height of the working seam was 2 feet 8 inches. Carroll's place had been continuously worked, whereas the coal in Hamilton's place had remained unworked for 25 consecutive days after 20th May, during which Carroll's face necessarily got ahead of Hamilton's, to the length of 30 or 40 feet. The work in Hamilton's place had been undertaken by a number of miners who had successively given it up for different reasons, chiefly, if not entirely, connected with the remuneration they were to receive. Prior to the day of the accident Hamilton and Todd, who were skilled miner's, had worked in the place for three or four days. Thursby had been previously employed in the other parts of the pit, but joined these men for the first time on the morning of the accident. Hamilton's place was intended to be ventilated by the air circulating from Carroll's place round the working face and passing out down Hamilton's road. Between Carroll's face and Hamilton's face was a passage along the “rib side“ originally about 2 feet 9 inches by about 2 feet. If this passage was entire at the time of the accident, then we have no doubt (Carroll's ventilation being undoubtedly efficient) that the ventilation in Hamilton's place in, ordinary circumstances, was efficient also. Whether this was so or not we shall afterwards consider. Hamilton's road and place possessed one peculiar feature, distinguishing them from the others running off the same level. While the others were damp, Hamilton's road for 50 feet downwards from the face was very dry, and on the pavement, as well as on the sides, there was much fine coal-dust in a condition easily disturbed. There does not seem to have been any watering of this coal-dust so as to bring Hamilton's road and place into the same condition as the other roads and places.
Two features connected with the management of the ;pit formed the main subjects of inquiry first the ventilation of the mine, and, second, the miner's lamps:-
First, as to the ventilation. We think it proved that the general system of ventilation in the mine at the time of the accident was adequately planned and efficiently carried out. The amount of air going down the Dook Section was 10,000 cubic feet per minute, which was equally distributed on the northern and southern sides. It is a different question, and one which we shall afterwards consider whether, at the time of the explosion, there was not owing to special circumstances, a material deficiency of ventilation in Hamilton's working place. It was intended that there should be from 2,000 to 3,000 cubic feet per minute circulating there.
Second, as to the miners lamps. While the downcast shaft was being sunk to its present depth, an explosion occurred, happily not attended with loss of life. It was caused by a sudden outburst of fire damp. With the exception of the recent explosion, there has been no subsequent accident due to gas, but gas has been seen in the mine in dangerous quantities, and while the coal seam was being opened out and ever since safety lamps have been employed, the kind in use being those known as Marsaut lamps. This is one of the four kinds of safety lamps recommended :by the Royal Commission on Accidents in Mines, and has been found a useful and safe lamp in practice. It was proved to our satisfaction that the lamps were kept in good working order, and that they were carefully examined before being put into the miners hands, and any defects promptly remedied. We shall have something to say as to the facility with which the lamps can be unlocked and relocked without chance of detention. Meantime, it may be stated that the lamps can be unlocked and relocked with a common key, of which the wards have been filed off, or by two ordinary nails tied together or by means of a rail spike filed with a split of the necessary width to catch the projecting tongue of the lock. All the lamps cannot be opened with the same false key, but the necessary adjustment is a mere question of less or more filing. Once the lock has been opened, the bottom which contains the lamp proper can be unscrewed from the top to which the glass and gauze are attached, and the naked light exposed. The lamps are not fitted with any contrivance for detecting whether they have been unlawfully opened. They burn more than the length of a shift. While well constructed it appears that they will go out if put carelessly down on the ground or if tilted to one side. Colza oil is burnt in the lamps. They belong to the mine owners, but the miners pay one penny a day for their use.
Next, we shall direct attention to the circumstances of the accident. It happened on Friday, 30th June, 1893 about 2.30 p.m. Hamilton, Todd, and Thursby went down with the other miners between 6 and 7 in the morning, and were furnished with lamps by Murdoch, the lampman at the lamp room above ground, Hamilton receiving No. 107, Todd No. 105, and Thursby No. 74. These lamps were proved to be in good order when handed over to the men in the morning, and, judging by their perfect condition structurally when examined after the accident, there is no reason to doubt that they remained in good order up to the time of the explosion.
At the time of the accident Hamilton had been alone in his working place for about 20 minutes, and there was no one in his road. As shown on the plan, Thursby was with two miners called Joseph Robertson and Andrew McGarrell in the rise level between the foot of Hamilton's road and the return airway; and Todd was in the lye, which is a continuation of the bottom or low level. When the explosion occurred there was only one lamp in Hamilton's place, and that was No. 74 , Thursby's lamp. It appears that members of a squad frequently exchange lamps during the shift; and, on this occasion, when Thursby left, he or Todd seems to have taken Hamilton's lamp, Thursby's being left for Hamilton use. It is certain that the explosion originated in Hamilton's place. Thence, aided by the dry coal dust which distinguished that from the other working places, it spread down Hamilton's road into the rise level, and thence into the lye shown on the plan. Hamilton was burned, although not seriously, and was rendered unconscious by the after damp. Thursby was severely burned, and so also were Andrew McGarrell and Joseph Robertson. In addition to these, James McGeachie, Alexander Kirkwood, and Fulton Gillespie, who were at the points E, F, and G, marked on the plan, were less severely burned. Thursby died from the effects of the explosion on 22nd July 1893, and Joseph Robertson also succumbed to his injuries. Screens in the heading marked on the plan and in the rise level were damaged. The roof of grey fakes in Hamilton's working place was observed to be "working" on the day of the explosion, and those who saw the place immediately after the explosion inferred from the cracks, especially in the pavement, that there had been an outburst of gas from the pavement.
The injured men, with the exception of Hamilton, were at once taken to the surface and suitably attended to. When Hamilton was found to be missing, Robertson, the overman, accompanied by Adam Donald, a fireman in the Dook Section, and four miners, James McQuade, Edmund McCormack, John Crossley, and James Todd, proceeded in search of him. They found after damp issuing from the mouth of Hamilton's road, and after temporarily putting up the screens which had been damaged, they erected bratticing for 20 feet in the centre of the road in order to clear out the after damp. Higher up they found the air sufficiently clear to enable them to enter the place. There they found Hamilton lying unconscious at the point A on the plan - that is on the left hand side of his working place - about 12 feet from the road head. Without any delay they brought him out and took him to the surface where he recovered consciousness. While conveying him to the pit bottom they met Mr. Lochhead, the manager of the colliery, who instructed the overman, as soon as he had conveyed Hamilton to the surface, to return with two miners that an investigation might be made into the cause of the disaster. Mr. Lochhead remained at the place where he had met the party, and when Robertson, the overman, returned with Robert Rennie, another of the firemen, and the miners McQuade and McCormack, the manager led the party back to Hamilton's place. There, on a careful search being made, McQuade found first the top of Thursby's lamp (No. 74), and then a little way off the bottom of the lamp, both of them near the right hand side of the working place, and away from the side on which Hamilton had been found. The top was tilted over and the bottom was upside down. The glass was unbroken; the screw was uninjured, and the top of the lamp was partially covered with coal dust and small lumps of coal. When the parts of the lamp were screwed together it was found that they fitted perfectly, and that the whole lamp was in good order. The lamp was handed by McQuade to Mr. Lochhead and by him to the police. The lamp was found about an hour after the explosion took place. Unfortunately neither Hamilton nor Todd were searched for false keys. On further investigation it was found that the passage between Carroll s place and Hamilton's place was almost entirely closed up, which necessitated an air conduit connecting Carroll's road with Hamilton's working place being afterwards cut. Although the accident was attended with the serious consequences above explained, the amount of gas which exploded does not seem to have been great. It is probable that, but for the presence of the light coal dust in Hamilton s place and road, the effects of the explosion would have been slight.
Some time after the accident John Hamilton was served with an indictment, charging him with having, in contravention of No. 10 (ii.) of the General Rules enacted by the Act 50 & 51 Vict. c. 58. s. 49, and of No. 87 (2.) of the Special Rules established in the mine in pursuance of s. 51 (i.) of the said Act, unlocked and opened a safety lamp then being used by him in the workings, and that neither at the appointed lamp station in the mine, nor for the purpose of firing a shot; and with having thereby caused an explosion of fire damp in the workings and killed Joseph Robertson and Lovell Thursby, and inflicted severe bodily injuries by burning upon Andrew McGarrell, Alexander Kirkwood, and Fulton Gillespie. John Hamilton has not yet been tried.
In these circumstances two questions arise for consideration. First. - What was the cause of the accident? Second, - Assuming that the cause of the accident was the contact of fire damp with a naked light and the consequent ignition and explosion of gas and coal dust, would these effects have resulted had the ventilation of Hamilton's place been efficient?
First. - As to the cause of the accident. About this there is no doubt whatever. It was suggested by Mr. Chisholm Robertson to John Hamilton that it might have been due to spontaneous combustion. The suggestion was not assented to by the witness, and was not repeated in the examination of any of the skilled witnesses. It is clear that at the time of the explosion there was only one lamp in Hamilton's place, because the other two lamps had been taken, away by Todd and Thursby. It is clear also that the lamp must have been burning, otherwise Hamilton could not have continued his work. It is clear, further, that the lamp must have been open, because had the lamp been closed and either an outburst of gas taken place or gas accumulated in the absence of proper ventilation until it reached the explosive point, the flame inside the lamp would not have kindled the gas, but, being deprived of the necessary supply of oxygen, would have been itself extinguished by the gas. With a Marsaut lamp in proper order, as No.74 was proved to our satisfaction to have been, it is impossible for gas to be kindled, unless possibly when the lamp is in a current proceeding at a very high velocity, which certainly was not the case in Hamilton's place on the day of the accident. By whom the lamp was opened may be doubtful. Thursby made a statement to Police Constable Smith the day after the accident, when his mind was perfectly clear, in which he stated that during the day the lamps were not burning well, and that Todd unlocked his (Thursby's) lamp with a split key, and lit his own lamp, which had gone out. In the prospect of death, in the presence of his father, Augustus Thursby, Dr. Benny, Provost Russell, Mr. Welsh, procurator fiscal, and Mr. Cowan, sheriff clerk depute, all of whom were examined, Thursby emitted the deposition already referred to. That deposition was not completed owing to the lad's weakness and pain, but we are satisfied that, so far as it had proceeded, it contains Thursby's voluntary and rational statement. In it he charged Hamilton with opening his (Thursby's) lamp in the course of the day. In both cases, however, Thursby stated that, after being opened, his lamp was afterwards locked again. But whoever opened Thursby's lamp, it is impossible to believe that Hamilton, if he did not open the lamp, was not at least aware that the lamp was open. The explanation suggested by Robertson, the overman, is not at all an improbable one, namely that Hamilton had noticed his lamp burning badly; that he unlocked and unscrewed it for the purpose of trimming it; that in this way he exposed the naked light; that a sudden outburst of gas took place not large in itself, but enough to bring the air up to the explosive point in its immediate vicinity, and, accentuated by the coal dust, to cause a considerable explosion; that when the gas fired, Hamilton threw away the pieces of the lamp and ran for the entrance to his road : that in the confusion he went past the entrance and was caught by the after damp and became unconscious.
We therefore come clearly to the conclusion that the accident was caused by fire damp coming into contact with the naked flame of a lamp which had been either opened by Hamilton, or which at least was open at the time to his knowledge. In the one case Hamilton brought about, in the other case he permitted to continue, a condition of things which imperiled the lives of all the 140 men in the pit, and which actually resulted in the death of two of them. It is scarcely necessary to point out that, if it is the the case, as alleged by Hamilton himself, that the ventilation in his place was at the time deficient, and that he was informed by Jonathan Baird the day before the accident, that gas had been found in his place, his conduct is rendered all the more inexcusable.
Second, - Assuming that the cause of the accident was the contact of fire damp with Thursby's open lamp, followed by the ignition and explosion of gas and coal dust, would these effects have resulted had the ventilation of Hamilton's place been efficient ?
To this question Mr. Chisholm Robertson's cross examination of the mine owners witnesses and the evidence led by him was chiefly directed. It is an important question, although the observations may fairly enough be made first that it does not admit of a certain answer because coal mines, such as that concerned in this case, are subject to outbursts of gas so sudden and in such volume as to be ignited in a confined space like Hamilton's place by a naked light whatever amount of ventilation may be present; and second, that the use of safety lamps in a colliery like this is not needed for the ordinary working of the mine, but just to guard against such contingencies as happened here. In short, it may fairly enough be said that in all mines it will occasionally happen that the ventilation is insufficient from sudden closing of air passages, or from the carelessness of colliery officials, or otherwise, and that one of the most important functions of the safety lamp is to render such contingencies and carelessness harmless. At the same time it is certainly proper to inquire whether, in addition to the serious blame which we find it necessary to impute to one or more of the miners, there was not also fault in the mine owners or their officials.
On the part of the miners it is alleged that at the time of the explosion and for days before, the passage between Carroll's place and Hamilton's place on which Hamilton's place depended for its ventilation was closed entirely or almost entirely, and that any gas, which came trickled through the buildings in insufficient quantity to carry off gas, which in quantities small in themselves, but dangerous if allowed to accumulate, and bring the air up to the explosive point, was given off from the pavement or roof, or both.
On the assumption that this is proved, we do not think any direct blame can be attached to the mine owners. They were bound to know that Carroll's working was ahead of Hamilton working, for that appeared on their working plans. This in itself did not imply fault, provided, either a passage round the working-face of both was kept open or a conduit was cut and kept open, between Carroll's road and Hamilton's face. For a time it is clear that this passage just referred to was properly kept open. About a fortnight before the explosion Mr Lochhead, the manager, and Fulton Gillespie, a miner, passed from Carroll's place to Hamilton's place. Thereafter we think that, while the passage was not completely closed as represented by the miners witnesses, it did not remain open to the extent alleged by the overman and the fireman. It is certain that after the explosion the passage was nearly closed. The mine owners' witnesses attributed this to a fall of roof caused by the explosion. But we are of opinion that the passage had been partially closed prior to the explosion, and subsequent to the day when Mr Lochhead last passed through it. We think that without the knowledge of the mine owners, and contrary to the general system in which the colliery ventilation was conducted, the passage was allowed to become closed, so that it was not possible to pass from Carrol's place to Hamilton's place or vice-versa. This must have resulted in a diminished current of air at Hamilton's working face, because the air coming from Carroll's face, instead of all passing through the passage on to Hamilton's face, must have had to find it's way partly through the partially closed passage and partly through the buildings, as well as through the screen on the level between Nos. 1 and 2 roads. The mine owners have no doubt proved that the ventilation in Carroll's place was sufficient, and that the whole current of air in that place must have passed into Hamilton's road, except what passed through the screen shown in the plan between the foot of Carroll's road and the foot of Hamilton's road, and which screen was in good order. But it does not follow that there was as good ventilation at Hamilton's face as at Carroll's, for the air current passing from Carroll's place might become dissipated, a portion of it only reaching Hamilton's face, while the rest found its way into Hamilton's road lower down through the buildings, as well as through the screen above referred to.
Further,it will be observed from the plan that the air current passed directly down Hamilton's road leaving the working face to the right hand side, where the opened lamp was found - a distance of over four yards - without any air circulating. The conduit marked Z was made previous to the explosion,but at the time of the explosion it was inoperative as an airway, seeing that a screen had not been erected across the road between it and the working face to direct the air current to the right hand side of the working place. Under such circumstances any gas given off here, even in comparatively small quantity, would accumulate, and when added to by even a small outburst of gas would form an explosive mixture in a short time, there being no sufficient air current to render it harmless.
We are not satisfied, however that this deficiency of air current in Hamilton's place was such as by itself to cause the presence of explosive gas there under ordinary circumstances, and, as we have said, the use of the safety lamp is to provide against extraordinary circumstances. The same conditions had existed for several days in Hamilton's place, and it does not appear that the miners working there had been troubled by gas affecting the flames of their lamps, still less extinguishing them, as would have happened had the gas previously reached the explosive point. We are of opinion that there must have been a sudden outburst of gas from roof or pavement which came in contact with the naked flame; but we are unable definitely to connect the accident with the condition of the ventilation of Hamilton's place, because we do not think it possible to say that exactly the same result would not have taken place had the passage between Carroll's place and Hamilton's place been fully open, as in our opinion it should have been, but was not and had the air current been directed right along the whole of Hamilton's working face. While we cannot with certainty say that there was any direct connexion between the accident and the state of the ventilation in Hamilton's place, neither can we say there was any indirect connexion. There might have been. For instance , had the defective ventilation furnished a temptation to the men to open their lamps, we could have understood the connexion between the two. But the opposite was the case. The more deficient the ventilation, the more obvious the danger in opening a lamp.
In the course of the evidence doubts were suggested as to whether the lamp could have been opened, because it was said to be difficult to conceive any motive for opening it. It was pointed out that the ordinary motive for opening a lamp - namely, in order to relight another lamp - could not have been present, because there was no other lamp to relight. It was suggested that the smell of tobacco smoke and consequent risk of detection made it improbable that the lamp would lave been opened for the purpose of lighting a pipe; and, further, that any man who was rash enough, contrary to the rules; to carry a pipe with him into the mine would not scruple to carry matches also. It was proved that men do not often attempt to work with a naked light, although this has taken place. But it is not necessary to arrive at any definite conclusion as to the motive which induced Hamilton or Todd to open Thursby's lamp. Whatever was the motive, or however inadequate the motive as compared with the risk both of detection and of disaster, the fact is certain that the lamp was opened. It was found open. It could not have been opened by the explosion, because in that case the glass would have been broken and the screw would have been injured. It could not have been opened between the time of the explosion and the time when it was found by McQuade, because we are satisfied that, except the overman and the other men who rescued Hamilton, and who did not remain longer than was absolutely necessary to get him out, no one visited the spot during the short interval of about half an hour between the two periods. Moreover, miners have another motive, and a strong one, for opening their lamps in addition to obtaining a better light for working, or relighting another lamp, or lighting their pipes. If a lamp needs to be trimmed there are no means provided for doing so, the lamps used in this mine not being furnished with prickers. Therefore, if a lamp needs trimming it must be taken to the lamp station, where, during the day, a boy is stationed whose duty it is to relight and trim lamps. But to reach that station from Hamilton's place meant a journey of 300 yards, and from some places more remote from the station it might entail a journey of 400 yards. The same motive would operate if a lamp went out and a miner wanted to relight it with a match. It is only necessary to add that, whatever the motive was, it could not be a lawful one. Down the pit a lamp can only be lawfully opened away from the lamp station for one purpose, namely, to fire a shot, and it is not suggested that there was any shot to fire in this case, because shots are not allowed to be fired during the day.
On the question of ventilation we are, therefore, of opinion that, owing to the overman and fireman having allowed the passage between Carroll's face and Hamilton's face to become partially closed, and also owing to the air current not being carried past Hamilton's road head, the ventilation at Hamilton's face was deficient; that this deficiency was not a permanent condition, but was in course of being rectified; that the deficiency was not such as to lead, under ordinary conditions, to any dangerous accumulation of gas; that there must have been a sudden outburst of gas, although probably not in large volume; and that, with such a sudden outburst of gas and the presence of an open light, there is no evidence to lead to the conclusion that the accident would have been prevented even if the passage had been fully open, and the whole current of air had been passing from Carroll's face in unbroken volume right along Hamilton's place.
Holding the views above expressed, we have now to submit the recommendations which occur to us. First. - Although the Marsaut lamps used in the mine seem to us of good construction, and to have been carefully attended to, they want a simple contrivance which, we think, would form a great source of safety to those employed in the mine. No doubt the lock of lamps such as these must be of simple construction, if the lamps are to be reasonable in price and readily repairable. But, along with such simple locks, there may be joined a lead or other stamp or seal which could not be broken without detection, and without breaking which the lamp could not be unlocked. Such stamps are used elsewhere; and it has been proved in this case that there is no reason either arising from expense or convenience why they should not be used here. They have been found effectual elsewhere in the way of counteracting the temptation, to which the miner is undoubtedly exposed, not to undertake the labour and loss of time connected with a visit to the lamp station, but to open his lamp for purposes such as relighting his own or another lamp, or trimming his own lamp, which are legitimate in themselves, although unlawful and dangerous at the particular time and place. It has been proved in this case that, although there have been frequent prosecutions of miners before the Sheriff for opening lamps and currying false keys, matches, and pipes, the fines inflicted have had no sufficient deterrent effect. Notwithstanding many previous prosecutions, when the whole miners at work on 15th March 1893, 130 in number, were searched, 17 were found in possession of false keys, or matches or pipes. These men were prosecuted and small fines were imposed. Yet on 15th June 1893 a miner, John Lang, was found by the overman working with his safety lamp open at a working face, having opened the lamp with a false key. He was also prosecuted and fined. The accident happened a fortnight later. A list of convictions, 35 in number, between 15th September 1891 and 11th September 1893, was produced by the sheriff clerk depute. Neither Hamilton nor Todd were ever convicted, although Todd was found in possession of an unlocked lamp on two different occasions, about two months before the explosion, by James Murdoch, the lampman. Each of these cases must depend on its own special circumstances, and it is not for us to say whether in some at least of these cases, specially in those of second convictions, learned sheriffs might not appropriately and in view of the total disregard of, and the tremendous risk to, human life which these offenses involve, inflict sentences of imprisonment without the option of a fine, as empowered by section 60 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act. It seems to us more important to ensure immediate detection, which would, we believe, more than any punishment under the present system, counteract the strong temptation to which the miners are at present necessarily exposed.
Second.- If the view taken by us of the condition of the passage between Carroll's place and Hamilton's place at the time of the accident be correct, a state of matters existed which should not have been allowed. The fireman may have thought that although the passage was partially closed, the opening was sufficient to allow enough air for the ventilation of Hamilton's face, combined with the air which would percolate through the buildings. He was not entitled to come to any such conclusion. He was bound either to have had a conduit cut between Carroll's road and Hamilton's face, as was done after the accident, or to have ascertained, by going through it that the passage was open.
Further, we are of opinion that at the time of the accident there ought to have been air circulating round Hamilto's face, and returning by the conduit before mentioned to his road. The conduit had been made, and there was no reason why the screen necessary to direct the current of air past the road head and round the right hand side of the working should not have been erected.
Third.- We deprecate the way in which, the report book seems to be kept in this colliery, (a.) Jonathan Baird, one of the firemen, stated that when gas is found by him in his examination at the beginning of a shift, he only records the fact if he considers that the gas has been present in dangerous volume, That is not for him to judge. He is bound to record the presence of gas if he finds any present. (b.) When the presence of gas is entered, sufficient care is not taken either to make the entry under the proper heading, or to express the entry so as to show that the defect referred to is the presence of gas. The entries on previous occasions of the presence of gas were quite unintelligible without an explanation, which, should not have been required.
Fourth.- It was proved in the course of the evidence that the lampman, James Murdoch, has exercised a certain discretion in the way of reporting to the management the cases of miners whom he found offending against the rules dealing with the opening of safety lamps, and carrying false keys, matches and popes. In view of the gravity of these offences all such cases ought to be reported.
Fifth. - It was alleged by John Hamilton and James Todd that Jonathan Baird, the night fireman, had informed them the day before the accident that he had found gas in Hamilton's place. We do not think this is proved. But we think it would be a mistake for mine owners to rely entirely on their safety lamps. They ought certainly to keep in view the possibility of a naked light from wilful opening of a lamp, from accident to a lamp causing fracture of the glass, from defective adjustment of the glass of a lamp or from defective union between the top and bottom of a lamp, or from the flame of a shot. We think, therefore, while we cannot say that its absence in this case constituted fault, it would be a wise precaution in a road and place like Hamilton's to see that the coal dust is watered.
We have, &c. (Signed) Charles J. Guthrie, Commissioner., J. M. Ronaldson, Assessor.
3rd November 1893
Deposition of Lovel Thursby, one of the Miners who died from the Effects of the Accident.
At Dunipace, the twenty-first day of July eighteen hundred and ninety-three years. In the presence of William Wight Hunter, Esquire, one of Her Majesty's justices of the peace for the county of Stirling, compeared Lovel Thursby, miner, residing in Dunipace, who being solemnly sworn and admonished to tell the truth as in the prospect of death and interrogated depones: I am thirteen years of age. I am the son of and reside with Augustus Thursby, gardener, Stirling Road, Dunipace. I am a miner. On the day of the explosion in Herbertshire No. 3 Pit I had begun to work there for the first time. I was to work along with John Hamilton and James Todd. Before going down the shaft I got a safety lamp from the lampman at the pithead. It was locked and all right when I got it. Two or three times in the course of the day when we were engaged at work Hamilton opened my lamp and locked it again. At this stage the examination was closed, the deponent being in the opinion of the examining justice and Dr. Benny, the medical attendant who was present, unable to submit to further interrogation or to make a voluntary statement. One word delete.
(Signed) William W. Hunter, J.P.
(Signed) Michael Benny, Witness.
Patrick Welsh, Witness.
Augustus Thursby, Witness.
D. Cowan, Witness.