Bankhead Pit, Auldhouseburn 11 March 1898
- 3 men drowned in flooded pit
Muirkirk Pit Flooded - Nineteen Men Entombed
Muirkirk, Friday night - A serious mining disaster occurred this morning in Bankhead pit of the Auldhouseburn Colliery, Muirkirk. While cross-cutting to extend the workings to the eastward, the men accidentally tapped an abandoned pit at Crossflat, and the water rushing in with great rapidity, those in the pit bottom escaped with the greatest difficulty, while the miners engaged in the upper workings had their escape cut off and at the time of writing were still entombed. Their fate is doubtful and while everything possible is being done to rescue them, and those engaged in the work cheer themselves by an optimistic view of the situation, there is only too much reason to fear that many, if not all of them, have perished. Though isolated from the vast coal and iron fields of the West of Scotland, Muirkirk has long been one of the most important seats of these industries. In fact, it was on the discovery of the smelting of iron ore more than a century ago that what was formerly a hillside clachan sprang up to be a busy manufacturing town, and though it has had fluctuations in its prosperity, it has been for the last sixty years, and especially since the formation of the railway connections, a thriving mining centre, and its population is now about 4000. It was one of the scenes of the many. enterprises of the Baird family, and the Eglinton Iron Company has several blast furnaces and rolling mills, which, along with the coal and ironstone mines that surround Muirkirk, give employment to the great majority of the inhabitants. Muirkirk, indeed, has no attraction other than its industrial surroundings, which nature has made bleak and desolate beyond almost any other district in Scotland, and which are rendered even more depressing by the smoking pitheads and flaring smelting furnaces which surround the town, and dot the valley of the River Ayr on its way westward. The Ayr runs through a valley which is well supplied with coal on both sides, and which can be easily worked, as it is found at no greater depth than six fathoms. There are six seams aggregating over thirty feet in thickness, and iron stone and other products add to the profitable character of the workings. Generally, the pits and ironstone mines in the district are worked on the most approved plan, and as both the Caledonian and Glasgow and South-Western Railways have access to the town, a large export trade is done.
The scene of today' s disaster is about half a mile to the south-east of Muirkirk, and separated from the town by the River Ayr and the valley through which it makes its way. The pit is the property of the Cairntable Coal Gas Company (Limited), of which Mr Thomas Barr, of Glasgow and Hartburn is the managing director, and which has its offices at 75 Bothwell Street, Glasgow. Auldhouseburn pit, as it is termed, was originally the property of Mr Barr, who in 1871 formed the public company, which took its name from the neighbouring height of Cairntable. Since then the pit has been steadily worked, and, as its name suggests, a large proportion of the produce went for the manufacture of gas. The pit is worked on the stoop-and-room principle, and is about 25 fathoms deep. There are two seams, one of cannel coal three feet thick, and the other of ordinary coal four feet thick, but, as the two layers are contiguous, the working is really a large seam seven feet thick. Having been so long open, great parts have become worked out, and of late the miners have been engaged cross-cutting towards Crossflat Colliery, the shaft of which is about a quarter of a mile to the east of Auldhouseburn. Crossflat was formerly worked by the Eglinton Iron Company, but about fifteen years ago the mine was abandoned. Since then it had lain idle, and, of course, had become filled with water. The Cairntable Company, however, in developing its enterprise had made its way eastwards as far as the Crossflat workings. Accordingly, four or five months ago a bore was run through from the one pit to the other, and the water drained into Auldhouseburn pit, and thence pumped out. The result was that it was believed the Crossflat working could be safely approached from Auldhouseburn. The work had been proceeding today, and about fifty men were employed. Of these a few were on the night shift.
Forty-five men proceeded down the shaft between six and seven this morning, due to return to the surface about 10.30. All went well until shortly after nine o'clock. At that time a man named M'Millan noticed water oozing out of the ground. He called the attention of his mate to the matter, but they thought little of it for a minute or two. The the ooze became a bubbling flow, and quick as thought it increased in volume until it was rushing with great force along the pit bottom. At first the rush was not alarmingly rapid, and several of the men made their way to the pit shaft dry shod, but every second the flood grew in volume and velocity, and ere the last of the miners were at the bottom of the shaft they were struggling through deep water. One boy, named M'Gladderie had a narrow escape, as he lost his footing, and had he not been promptly seized by his comrades, he would have drowned. The cage was at once set in motion and the men rapidly borne to the surface. As they waited their turn the excitement was great, although all show of it was concealed: and the horror of the situation was intensified when the cage became blocked for a time. That however, was soon remedied, and, with one exception, all the men in the main shaft were rescued. That exception was Robert Blyth, the fireman, who, when he had seen his comrades in a fair way towards safety, went off to alarm the workmen on the upper workings. He was not seen again. No fewer than eighteen men were employed there, and immediately the flood burst in it cut off their retreat. The workings of Auldhouseburn pit are exceedingly steep, varying in slope from one in three to one in six. The workings rise as high as 200 feet above the level of the main roadway, so that there is ample room for the safe refuge of the men. The authorities at the pit have no doubt as to their men being in these higher parts, as they were at work there, and could not possibly get down in time. The danger, however, is that some of them may have attempted to make their way through the water or have fallen into the flood. If they have escaped these mishaps, no doubt is entertained by the manager as to the men being rescued. He calculates that there is sufficient air to last at least 36 hours.
Returning to the men who escaped, it has to be stated that their first thought was the rescue of their comrades. Mr John Shaw, the manager, was summoned, and at once set the pumps in motion, and had water chests rigged up on the cage. As it so happens, Auldhouseburn pit is particularly well equipped. Three or four years ago a huge dam was constructed to the south-west of the pit, and this resulted in draining off a great proportion of the water which used to find its way into the workings. In fact, the saving is estimated at from 300 to 400 gallons per minute. The result was that one pump, working about twelve hours a day, was sufficient to keep the pit dry, whereas two were formerly required. These, 16 inches and 13 inches respectively, were set to work on the water, which by this time was about 12 feet deep. On investigation it was found that the following were the missing men:- George Hibberd and his two sons, Charles and James Hibberd; Thomas and John Hazell, brothers, both married; John Kilpatrick, married; John Marshall, married; Alexander Gilfillan, married about three months ago; James Lochhead, married; Hugh English, married; a boy named Thomson; Robert Blythe, fireman, unmarried; James Moran, roadsman, married; William Thomson. Alexander Vallance. William Gemmell, married; William Dempster, married; Daniel Mathieson, married; James Shaw, drawer. It will be seen that the majority of the missing men are married, several of them with large families.
A man named John Macmillan, who was working at the exact point where the water broke into the pit, and who was the first to spread the alarm, gave one of our representatives an account of the accident. It is peculiar that Macmillan had only commenced work there that morning. A bore had been driven at the rise corner of the level, and he was preparing to get ready for a shot, when he noticed a trickle of water coming out of the face of the rock which had been perfectly dry a few minutes before. At first the oozing water did not strike him as peculiar, but a few minutes afterwards he determined to ask the opinions of his neighbour, who was familiar with that part of the workings. Macmillan sent his boy to the next man, who, on the spot, declared that the water's appearance was altogether new to him. Now somewhat alarmed, M'Millan sent for the fireman of his section, Easton, who, however, was at the men's bothy at the time, and as he did not come, M'Millan decided that he would not fire his shot until some of his superiors had seen the water. While he was sitting about three feet from the hole there was an ominous noise, and the water suddenly burst through, lifting him clear off his feet, and forcing him before it. His lamp was blown out, and he was left in perfect darkness to grope his way to the pit. After the first sudden rush the water seemed to stop a little, and he had time to run and give the alarm to some men who were also working in that section. All the men made together for the pit bottom, and managed to get up without difficulty. The water was still behind them when they got to the pit bottom, but a few minutes later it seemed to spread through the pit with alarming rapidity. The later comers struggled through waist deep in water and a young lad named M'Gladderie was so exhausted when he was pulled out that it was some time before he recovered. M'Millan said the water came off the face, and he had the idea that the bore which others had been working at before he took it up that morning had holed into an old dook. It was holed through the centre of the level. The seam at that point is close upon seven feet, made up of the three feet and four feet seams, which are only separated by stone in which the bore was made. A man named Robert Gibson made a heroic attempt to warn the men in the higher section. He made his way through the water in their direction, but the rush of water forced him back. The scene in the workings there was one of inextricable confusion. Hutches, wooden props, and other masses of material were swept along in the flood as it came down the braes into the bottom levels, while one or two ponies vainly struggled for life.
News of the disaster as it rapidly circulated in the little community caused the greatest consternation, and soon many eager inquirers were trooping towards the scene. For the most part these were anxious female relatives, but when work ceased for the day hundreds of men, too, made their way to the pit. Offers of assistance were numerous, but these were unnecessary, as the men employed in the pit were enthusiastic in the work; but there was little to be done, except keep the machinery going full speed, and that of course was done.
Intimation having been sent to the head offices of the Company in Glasgow, Mr George Barr, son of the managing director; Mr David Inglis Urquhart, one of the directors of the Company; and Mr J. M. Ronaldson, H. M. Chief Inspector of Mines for the West of Scotland, proceeded to Muirkirk, which they reached about 6 o'clock. They found the work of pumping actively proceeding under the superintendence of Mr Shaw, the manager. Another interested visitor was Mr Robert Walker, manager of Kinneil Pit, Bo'ness, who was formerly manager at Auldhouseburn. Intimation was sent to him early in the day and he, fearing that the dam already mentioned, for the construction of which he was responsible, hurried to the scene at once. His fear proved unfounded, but Mr Walker, from his intimate knowledge of the workings, was able to make valuable suggestions.
Captain M'Hardy, Chief Constable of Ayrshire, was also present with several members of his force, but so far as keeping order was concerned there was no need for their services. The crowd round the pit was large, but was quiet and orderly to the point of stolidity. They stood round quietly and discussed the probabilities of their fellow workmen's fate. There was none of the hysterical excitement usually associated with such occasions in evidence. A stranger passing through the main street of the village saw little to indicate that the shadow of such a calamity was resting on the community, but in the homes of the entombed men the agony of suspense, alternating between hope and despair, was even more painful than the certainty of calamity. Hitherto Muirkirk and its locality, and Auldhouseburn Pit in particular, have been reasonably free from serious accident. The Cairntable Gas Coal Company owns pits also at Glenbuck, three miles to the east of Muirkirk, and there the output is considerably larger, especially as the cross-cutting operations have of late mainly occupied the attentions of the workmen. Mr John Shaw, who succeeded Mr Walker as manager about three years ago, was formerly at Ferniegair Colliery. He filled his difficult position today with the greatest ability, on the one hand superintending the rescue operations, and on the other furnishing information and endeavouring to reassure anxious.
As night wore on and no information of the safety of the entombed men was forthcoming, the anxiety of the large crowd gathered at the pit head increased. The pumps were kept going steadily, and the only fear felt by officials was that rubbish might stick in the pumping apparatus and hamper their efforts. Great assistance was also rendered by the water box, which is equal in power to another pump. The smaller pump, which is a 13 inch one, was utilised to keep down the natural growth of water in the pit, while the large pump, which is a 16 inch, was able along with the water box to reduce the water at the rate of 8 inches in an hour and a half. The pumping was laboriously slow for the patience of the onlookers, but the officials were quite satisfied with the progress of the operations. [Scotsman 12 March 1898]
The Colliery Disaster In Ayrshire
Muirkirk, Friday (Midnight.) - An attempt was made to reach the imprisoned men in the flooded coal mine at Muirkirk by the cross-flat shaft, but after going about 100 fathoms the rescuers were stopped by water, and the effort had to be abandoned. As the night wore on, and the progress in pumping water seemed lamentably slow, a feeling of despair became manifest. All was quiet in the main street of Muirkirk, but the lighted windows in almost every house was testimony to the anxiety in every household. Along the country road between the town and the pit little groups of women were met moving homewards, sad despite the repeated assurances of those at the pit that the men would be all right in the morning.
Muirkirk, Saturday Morning - Another visit to the flooded Auldhouseburn pit found the work of pumping proceeding. At midnight the water in the shaft had been reduced to seven feet, and Mr Shaw, the manager, was in hopes that if all went well he would be able to enter the main roadway with a rescue party in about five or six hours, but there was no prospect of any tidings being obtained earlier. A large crowd was still waiting despite the impossibility of any definite news. Several braziers with brightly burning fires were round the pithead, and each was the centre of spectators, who discussed the sad disaster.
Muirkirk, 3.30 a.m. - At three o'clock the position of matters at the pit continued unchanged. The pumping operations have been conducted without interruption, and at the hour of writing the water in the shaft has been reduced to about six feet. It is still expected that an entrance to the pit may be effected shortly after five o'clock. [Scotsman 12 March 1898]
The Ayrshire Mining Disaster - Sixteen Men Rescued - Three Drowned - A Miner's Heroism
Muirkirk, Saturday Night - Though the worst fears regarding the disaster at Auldhouseburn Colliery have not been realised, the most sanguine hopes have been disappointed. Of the nineteen men who were imprisoned yesterday by the inundation from Crossflat workings, sixteen were today rescued safe and well, but three miners lost their lives by the catastrophe, being drowned, so far as can be conjectured, by the first terrible rush of the water.
But before the rescue restored happiness to the majority of the hones and confirmed the despair in a few of them, all Muirkirk spent a weary and anxious night. To judge by a walk along the public street, the absence of stir might have suggested that all was well in the little community, but the lighted windows at every house were eloquent testimony to the tension which prevailed. Along the quiet country road across the course of the Water of Ayr little groups of persons were encountered - women returning dejectedly after hours of weary vigil: others going back to the pit after a restless absence; while throughout the night hundreds awaited round the pit, and conscious of their impotence to hasten the rescue, stood quietly and even stolidly by discussing the probability of the prisoners' safety. They had at least the satisfaction that the pumping of the pit, thanks to the luckily disproportionate equipment of Bankhead pit, was being carried on with the utmost possible rapidity; but even that seemed slow to those who could do nothing but wait. In the early hours of the evening, when the reduction of the water was going on at the rate of several inches an hour, the prospect was bright, but the lively hopes of speedy rescue were damped in the early morning hours by the seeming falling off in the rapidity of getting out the water. As a matter of fact, of course, the volume of water lifted was never diminished, but when once the pumps had cleared the shaft, and the water level been reduced to the roof of the roadway, the larger area from which it was drawn made the measurement of advance seem slower. At midnight seven feet two inches was the depth, and it was confidently anticipated that by five o'clock a sufficient reduction would have been achieved to enable communication to be established with the entombed miners. But the seeming slow progress forced those in charge of the operations to allow the hour of rescue which they had in their minds to recede further and further into the morning. When five o'clock came there was still more than five feet of water, and the prospect of at least two hours work. Daybreak came after a beautifully clear, mild spring night and found many anxious watchers clustered round and among the grimy environs of the pithead. Huge braziers, in which large fires glowed, had each their ring of ruddy faces, many of them bearing pathetic evidence of the terrible suspense which they were suffering. Many an anxious wife and mother was in the throng, and one prominent figure, specially pathetic in the light of after events, was that of a Mrs Shaw, whose boy James, a drawer, was below. The lad was the main support of his widowed mother. She in her maternal solicitude was waiting with a large overcoat, and a flask of hot tea and other stimulants, which, as it proved, her boy was never to need.
At six o'clock even the most sanguine had serious doubts, for the fall of the water in the shaft seemed almost imperceptible, and Mr Shaw, the manager, who had never for a moment quitted the post of duty, informed inquirers that at least two hours must elapse before even an attempt to enter the pit would be justified. His previous predictions, made with a quiet optimism which he had all along maintained, had proved to be founded on too high expectations, but no one could have more rejoiced than Mr Shaw himself when this one, too, was falsified in an opposite respect. As "the night is darkest just before the dawn,” the prospect had seemed least hopeful on the immediate eve of its brightening. The workers at the pithead were looking anxiously forward to the moment when an entrance to the pit would be practicable, and to ascertain the probable time of that enterprise, two of the party, Hugh Murdoch and a miner named Graham, descended the shaft to measure the water. What was their surprise on reaching the bottom to hear a human voice, and see a head and shoulder above the water. They were those of Robert Blyth, the fireman, and practically the underground manager of the pit. Their first hearty greetings over they had feelings of thankfulness and gratitude by the news that all the men who had been in the high workings were safe and well. It has been pointed out that this account of the discovery of Blyth is somewhat inconsistent, though not irreconcilable with that given by Blyth himself, and accordingly it icmay be convenient at this point to take up the narrative of the disaster as he explained it.
Robert Blyth is a hero. Few deeds of bravery have been performed more quietly and more coolly, or with a keener eye to their danger, than when Blyth, after having alarmed his comrades in the main roadway, and seen them in a fair way to safety, calmly shook his brother by the hand and said. “Good-bye, John. I'm off to the rise. I've got to do my duty." And he did it. Those above ground never doubted that he would, for he was a general favourite, and known as a shrewd and level-headed fellow, who could be depended upon in the time of danger. Indeed his presence below was the brightest gleam of hope which anxious watchers had before them. Blyth was known to have an intimate knowledge of every corner of the pit, as he had been employed in it since he was a boy, and the only fear was that he might have been overwhelmed in the first awful rush of of water before he gained high ground. Fortunately that was a groundless fear as Blyth's own story shows. No sooner had he been brought to the surface and supplied with a little brandy, than he was hurried off to his home, which is within fifty yards of the pit mouth. Of course he was drenched to the skin from head to foot, having had to fight his way neck-high through water. Everything that love and thankfulness could suggest was done to counteract the effect of his trying experiences. But Blyth, physically as well as mentally, is made of hardy stuff, and in a very short time he was able to see a "Scotsman" reporter, to whom, in a few modest telling sentences, he quietly and unconcernedly narrated the events of the previous twenty-four hours. One could see, despite his unassuming demeanour, that he had the proud consciousness of having done his duty, and with something of the feeling of the captain who refuses to leave his sinking vessel, he had remained at the post of danger. Blyth, who is about twenty-nine years of age, and is unmarried, soon made it all clear that three of his comrades in the pit were dead. "As you may have heard." he began. "when the first word of the break-in spread through the pit, I ran to the rise workings to warn the men there. At the time I knew that the water would cut us off, but I wasn't going to be a coward. I have gone through some stirring experiences in this same pit. and I've been in it all my days, and I hope it will never be said that Rob Blyth shirked his duty. I was near the bottom of the pit when the water rushed in, and after getting the men in the lower workings to run for their lives, I made my way through the rushing torrent of water to the rise workings, where I got the men together. There were sixteen of us in all. We found that air was being returned through the waste workings, and there was absolutely no sign of damp or foul gases. The atmosphere was fresh, and, but for the privations which a long stay in the pit would have meant, we wouldn't have suffered from the air. From my knowledge of the pit, I took it upon myself to constitute myself a sort of leader, although, of course, none of us regarded the thing in that light at the time. We were all too glad to cheer up one another. I knew it was folly to move from the place where we were, as any attempt to get through until the water had subsided would have been fatal. We collected all the coats and clothing we could get, and, huddling together for warmth, covered ourselves as with blankets, and waited until the pumps, which we knew would be started at once, had taken effect. We were not badly off for light. Each of us had his oil lamp, and I got all the men to put out their lights with the exception of two. When these were at their last flicker we lighted two more, and so on, so that we did not suffer from darkness. There were two flasks of cold tea in the company. Some of the men wanted to drink the tea right off, but I induced them to hand ever the tea cans to me. When I thought the strength of the men was giving way - about midnight, I fancy - I heated the tea with an oil lamp, and we each got a sip of hot tea. When we saw that the water was going down, I knew the pumps were working, and I made two attempts to get near the pit bottom, but was unsuccessful. Before this I had got wet at the very first, but all the other men had been as dry as if they were at home. At the third attempt I got through. I waded through the water, which before long was up to my neck. I could keep my head above the surface just by doing that" - and at this Blyth held back his head so as to elevate his chin and show that nothing but his face could have been above the water. "Had I held down my chin the water would have been into my mouth. It was a bit of a struggle to get to the shaft, as you can imagine, but at last I got there. At the pit bottom I saw that the water boxes were still at work. When they were down I couldn't get near the bell, but whenever the 'kists' went up I sprang forward and 'belled the pit.' That means I caught hold of the bell and rang to let those above know that some one at least was safe." "I suppose you would be glad when you got that length?" remarked the reporter.. "Well," replied Blyth," if the others at the top were as pleased as I was, then -" and he broke off the sentence in a manner more eloquent than words. When Blyth had left his comrades in the rise workings he had warned them on pain of their lives not to stir. He pointed out that whatever happened to him they could do nothing, and it would be lunacy on their part to attempt to leave a position which, for the time at least, was safe. He gave them what was doubtless the superfluous assurance that if he got out they would not be long prisoners, and said they would know if they heard him "bell the pit" that all was well. One can better imagine than describe how welcome to the prisoners was the unmelodious clang of the bell. Blyth added that on his way to the pit bottom he encountered a great amount of wreckage and saw the body of at least one pony. None of the entombed men saw anything of John Hazel, William Gemmell, and the boy James Shaw. What became of them Blyth did not know. He did not even know until he came to the surface that they were missing.
News of so glad a kind spread with almost incredible swiftness. It seemed literally to fly from door to door. Neighbour hurried to greet neighbour and relieve pent-up feelings by an interchange of congratulations and expressions of thankfulness, and in one quiet thoroughfare occurred an incident which did one's heart good to witness. A little boy rushed along shouting at the top of his voice, "There' s yin o ' them oot." and, as if in a handclap every window seemed to go up and a head to appear thereat to make sure that the news was really true. The felicitations which passed on every side were all the more hearty that the first report was that all the men were saved. This rumour, which, unfortunately, was too good to be true, doubtless had its origin in Blvth's statement that all the men he had left were well, and in the consequent inference that he had left all the men. Within a few minutes the half-mile from the last of the town houses was studded with groups hurrying towards Auldhouseburn pit. Many had maintained an unbroken vigil there throughout the night, and the good tidings seemed to infuse fresh vigour and animation among the weary and jaded watchers. Even the modification of the first rumour and the confirmation of the death of three men seemed to have comparatively little effect in damping the spirits, for while those who learned of the safety of dear ones did not forget to mingle with their own thankfulness heartfelt expressions of compassion, on those bereft, there was a delicious feeling of relief that the worst, at least, was known, and that the disaster had not been so terrible as some had dreaded.
But even amid the conflicting sensations which the news aroused, the pithead crowd, now several hundreds strong, maintained that quiet and almost stolid demeanour which had been its characteristic throughout . There was an entire absence of that painful and hysterical excitement which one associates with such scenes, or at any rate, if such feelings prevailed , they ware totally suppressed. Those bereaved were surrounded by little groups of sympathisers, and took their way sadly homewards to give vent to their sorrow there. The spectators at the pit could watch pumping operations with easier hearts, while those engaged in the work carried it on as briskly as ever, with the knowledge that their labour had not been in vain, and that ere long its harvest would be reaped. Every point from which a view of the pit shaft could be obtained was crowded with onlookers, most of them themselves, miners in neighbouring pits, who never thought of returning to work while the slightest doubt remained as to the safety of those below. It was a quarter to eight o'clock when Blyth had been brought to the surface, and only half an hour elapsed when the welcome clang of the pit bell again told that someone was at the shaft bottom waiting to be raised. At once the cage was lowered, and a minute or two of an almost painful suspense ensued, as it went rapidly down, and, after a reassuring ring from below, was more cautiously raised to the surface. The first figures to be seen were these of the two rescuers, who, standing on the top of the cage, clung to the rope which elevated it. As they reached the level of the ground the cage was stopped for an instant while they jumped on to the platform. Another turn of the drum brought the cage to the top. The guard was thrown aside. There were anxious ejaculations of "take your time now," and "catch hold of him," as a man stepped on to the platform, but the precautions were scarcely necessary, for the miner, who was William Dempster, a tall, herculean fellow, after swaying for an instant as he gained his footing, gratefully accepted a sip of brandy, and after hastily acknowledging the congratulations of the bystanders, strode firmly and rapidly through the waiting throng and hurried with all speed to his home. His companion in the cage was Hugh English. He, too, was supplied with stimulant, but before drinking it he waved the glass to those around him, and said, " Here's your good health. I hope we'll never have the like again" a toast which, despite the incongruous circumstances in which it was pledged, found the heartiest response in the hearts of those who heard it. It seemed almost a touch of comedy to what was a curiously undramatic situation. Many had to think about other things than heroics. Scarcely had the dripping and grimy fellows moved away from the platform when the water "Kists" were again whirring up and down the shaft and gushing their contents into the adjoining lade, while the steam pumps maintained their monotonous clanking. Dempster and English, on their arrival assured those in charge that there was no likelihood of any of the comrades they had left following them immediately. The two men named, on learning of Blyth's succees. had undertaken the hazardous journey next, because they were the tallest of the company. The others were likely to be more cautious. No sooner had the possibility of making the passage from the high workings to the shaft been demonstrated than there were many volunteers to proceed to the succour of those still imprisoned. The duty was entrusted to Hugh Murdoch, the blacksmith, and William Gibson, a sinker. The former had been prominent from the time of the disaster in seconding Mr Shaw, the manager in superintending the work. A brawny, broad-shouldered, and phlegmatic looking man, he went quietly about his work, as cool and collected as if he were plying his avocation under merely ordinary circumstances, and by the very calmness of his assurances he did more to soothe anxious minds than he could have done by a more noisy expression of his optimism., When the descent of the pit to measure the water, or to examine the pumps, fell to be made, he seemed to take the duty upon himself as a mere matter of course, and when the even more hazardous passage had to be effected he quietly donned his soaking overalls, adjusted his lamp into his huge sou-wester, and stepped into the cage. With them Murdoch and Gibson took a supply of stimulants, and they were then lowered. Their departure was not expected to hasten the rescue of the others, because it was known that the visitors, having experienced the difficulties, would urge their comrades to exercise patience a little longer rather than take unnecessary risk. Those above ground, however, felt reassured, as doubtless also did those below, by the presence of these two fresh and experienced men. Pumping went steadily on, while those at the bank waited patiently, some clinging to the grimy pillars of the pithead erections, some ensconced on the railway waggons of the siding within a few yards of the shaft, and others standing on the sloping blaize mounds which surrounded the platform. Only the men absolutely necessary in emptying the kists remained on the staging, where also were Mr Ronaldson, the chief inspector of mines; Captain M'Hardy. Chief Constable of the county; and the mine officials. It seemed as though more rapid progress was being made in reducing the water, and this was doubtless true in fact, as a considerably smaller water area had now to be dealt with. But still at the bottom of the shaft there would be about four feet of a depth. At a quarter to ten the pit bell pounded, and the cage was let down. As it returned there were many peering eagerly downwards to catch a first glimpse of those who were coming. Murdoch and Gibson, the rescuers, having stepped onto the platform, the cage was opened, and out stepped Daniel Mathieson, William Thomson, and John Kilpatrick. These were comparatively young men, Thomson, indeed, being a mere boy, who smiled cheerily through the grime on his countenance as he regained the platform after nearly twenty-eight hours absence. Murdoch and Gibson confirmed the assurances that the others were well and ready to face the journey through the water. "There's not a frightened man among them," he remarked, "and they will all be out directly." .Murdoch seemed to suffer not a whit from his trying work, but Gibson, who was physically moulded on less robust lines, was quivering violently with cold and excitement. Still he was eager to return, assuring those who protested that it would be less trying than for any one going down fresh, but he was restrained almost by main force and ordered home. His place was quickly filled, but Murdoch, having sipped a little brandy, took his place in the cage again, as if his return was a matter beyond even discussion. His declaration as to the speedy rescue of the men was soon fulfilled and within an hour the sixteen men had been restored to their friends.
Drs Carruthers and Ritchie, the former the pit surgeon, had been on the scene early after the disaster, and they waited on almost without a break lest their professional services should be required. As it proved, all that was necessary for them to do was to see that the men were taken speedily home, supplied with warm dry clothing, and sent to bed, where they soon recovered from the fatigue and excitement of the previous twenty-four hours. The men had little to add to Blyth's account of the time spent underground, but they were enthusiastic in their appreciation of their indebtedness to his knowledge and foresight.
When the first jubilations at the safety of the majority of the men were over the tragic result of the catastrophe to the remaining three impressed itself more vividly on the community. Long before all the men were out hope as to the safety of John Hazel, Gemmell, and Shaw had been abandoned, and after those alive were out the pumps were stopped for a little to allow of a necessary overhaul. Short as the stoppage was, the water threatened to increase, and the machinery was again set in motion to further reduce the water in order to facilitate the search for the bodies. A search party was organised, and they examined every part of the mine with the exception of a locality known as the "cube," where the water was still too deep. It was accordingly concluded that they must be there, and events justified that anticipation. Indeed, a circulation of the rumour that the bodies were in the "cube" led to a report in the forenoon that they had actually been discovered. That proved premature, for it was not until two o'clock that a search party, headed by Mr Andrew Pearson, inspector of mines, and consisting of Samuel Robb, William Kilpatrick, Robert Gibson, John Macmillan, and Alexander Leggatt found the remains. They were found four feet of water, about twenty yards from the bottom of the shaft, in a place known as the "cube." The bodies were entangled in timber, and it took the party about half an hour to clear away the floating wreckage before they could remove the unfortunate men. Their position endorsed the surmise that the three had met their death at the time of the inundation while making their way to the shaft. They had been at work near the main roadway, and unluckily, as it proved, had heard and had time to act upon the warning, but had been overwhelmed by the terrible rush of water. As soon as possible the bodies were brought to the surface and after they had been covered and placed on stretchers they ware reverently borne home by their comrades. The scene as witnessed from the rising ground at the east end of Muirkirk as the three little knots of men slowly made their way with their mournful burdens past the little hamlet at the pit mouth, down the incline from the pit to the water of Ayr, and then across the river and up to the town was exceedingly pathetic, and as the cortèges separated to their respective destinations the townspeople quietly but not the less sincerely manifested their deep sympathy with the bereaved. Unfortunately these were numerous. Both Gemmell and Hazel were married, and are survived by widows and young families; while Shaw was the mainstay of a widowed mother. The names of the deceased were:-
John Hazel, about forty, Gibson Buildings; a wife and four children
William Gemmell, over forty, Garronhill; a wife and five children.
James Shaw (17), Victoria Buildings; unmarried. The names of the sixteen men who had so trying an experience are:- James Lochead, Hugh English, James Thomson, George Hibberd and his two sons Charles and James Hibberd, John Marshall, John Kilpatrick, Alexander Gilfillan, Thomas Hazel (a brother of one of the drowned men), Alexander Vallance, William Thomson, Daniel Mathieson, William Dempster, Robert Blyth, and James Moran.
It is worthy of mention, as showing that no stone was left unturned, that, in addition to keeping their pumping apparatus, which was abnormally great for the size of the pit, going at its full speed, the mine authorities made an effort to reach the entombed men by way of Crossflat working, but the water found there made progress impossible. Late last night, almost as an effort of despair, a staff of men were set to work at a point about seventeen fathoms from the shaft bottom to attempt to penetrate from there to some old workings which at one time led to the high workings, but which had long been abandoned. Progress by that means was made, but it proved so slow that ultimately it was abandoned particularly in view of the good work being done by the pipes.
Mr George Barr, son of the managing director of the Cairntable Gas Coal Company (Limited), and Sir David Inglis Urquhart, Glasgow, one of the directors, as well as a number of the Company's officials from their Glenbuck property remained on the scene today as long as they could render the slightest service, and until definite information as to the extent of the catastrophe was obtained. Mr Shaw, as indicated in yesterday's narrative, was ceaseless in his efforts, and from the time that he was informed till the last of the bodies had been removed, and he was left almost alone at the now deserted pit, he was never off his feet. A "Scotsman" reporter, who met him at that time, found him weary and tired, but thankful that, sad as it was, the disaster had not been more calamitous. It seemed curious within half an hour of the removal of the bodies to find the pithead as quiet and deserted as if it were an ordinary Saturday afternoon , and the colliery had not so recently been the scene of one of the tragedies of modern industry.
There is little doubt that the cause of the accident was some miscalculation as to the learned of the abandoned Crossflat workings, due probably either to an error in the cross-cutting or to the presence of some unknown extension of the Crossflat mine. In any case an official inquiry will be held, and Mr Ronaldson , the inspector of mines, will investigate the circumstances.
Today telegrams were received from Mr J. G. A, Baird, M.P., on whose property the mine is situated, and also from the neighbouring proprietor, Mr Howatson of Glenbuck.
Muirkirk, Sunday. - At already stated, the three bodies were discovered on Saturday afternoon, and were afterwards removed home. The search party under Mr Pearson, ran a good deal of risk, owing to the stormy weather. To-day the number of visitors to the scene of the catastrophe was not large. Intimations were given from all the churches in Muirkirk that the miners who had been drowned would be publicly buried on Tuesday - William Gemmell at 2.30, John Hazel at 3.15, and James Shaw at 4 o'clock. [Scotsman 14 March 1898]
Yesterday Sheriff Orr Paterson and a jury held an inquiry in Ayr into the recent mining disaster at Muirkirk, when three lives were lost by drowning. After hearing the evidence, the jury, by direction of the Sheriff, found that the influx of water into the mine was due to a failure to observe Rule 13 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act. [Scotsman 31 March 1898]
The Disaster At Muirkirk - Rewards For Bravery - At a special meeting of the Royal Humane Society, held yesterday at the offices, Trafalgar Square, London - Colonel Horace Montagu presiding - the incidents in connection with the Muirkirk pit disaster on the 11th ult., were brought under notice as the result of evidence furnished to the Society by Sir W. Arrol, M.P. For South Ayrshire. The Society conferred its medals upon Robert Blyth (29), of Bankhead, and Robert Gibson, of Smallburn, who “most gallantly risked their lives in their exertions to save their fellow workmen,” in the Auldhouseburn pit, Muirkirk, on the above date. The evidence showed that a sudden inrush of water from an old mine flooded the pit till the water rose four feet above the doorheads, and the pit bottom was full to the roof, some fifty feet back. Blyth, in his effort to escape, turned from the pit bottom and faced the rising water till he met with the other workmen whom he conducted to a higher heading, and by this means was mainly instrumental in saving sixteen miners, who had been imprisoned in a critical position for over twenty-four hours. At the earliest opportunity he again left the only place of refuge and braving the water reached the shaft and gave notice of the safety of his companions. Gibson stood bravely to his post to the last, signalling the men away in the cage until the water reached his neck, but just before leaving his attention was called to a lad of seventeen named John McGladrie, who in the darkness was just dimly perceived to be floating forward in straw and wreckage. He at once sprang forward, caught the lad, and swimming with him to a higher level by an under passage, which led to an opening into the shaft higher up, reached the surface with him in safety. The mine is 85 fathoms deep, and of the forty-five miners who were below at the time of the accident, three only were drowned. [Scotsman 21 April 1898]