Montgomeryfield 24 Feb 1898

  • 4 killed in fall of cage in shaft

Serious Pit Accident Near Irvine - Four Lads Killed
The most disastrous pit accident which has taken place in the Irvine district in recent years occurred early yesterday morning at Montgomeryfield Pit in Dreghorn parish, resulting in the death of four young miners. The pit is situated in the country and near the pit there is a row of houses tenanted wholly by miners employed in the pit which is owned by Messrs Archibald Kenneth & Sons. About six o'clock yesterday morning four young lads were descending when from some cause, the rope slipped from the barrel and on to the cross beam, breaking the latter, and precipitating the occupants of the cage to the pit bottom. Three were killed outright, while the fourth was so seriously injured that he died shortly after. When the accident became known the scene at the pithead was one of great excitement. Dr Hunter, Dreghorn, was quickly on the spot, and rendered every possible assistance to the fatally injured lad, the others being past surgical skill. Only about half a dozen men were in the pit at the time, as the accident occurred when the day men were about to descend, and those in the pit came to the surface with the bodies of the unfortunate lads by means of the escape shaft. The pit is 75 fathoms deep, and the cage was15 fathoms down when the rope went wrong, so that the occupants of the cage must have fallen at least 45 to 50 fathoms. It may be explained that the pit has two landings, one 15 fathoms down, known as the Tourha coal and the other at the bottom known as the parrot or splint coal. The unfortunate lads were about to be put down at the Tourha landing when the rope slipped, and so great was the force of the fall that the cage penetrated a thick scaffold at the bottom which had been laid the day before and plunged into the water underneath, from which the bodies were rescued with difficulty. Upwards of 140 men are employed in the pit. The cage, which was destroyed, was a double decked one, fit to carry eight men, but in the mornings only four travel in it.

The following are the names of the victims, who are all boys:-
James Robertson (17), residing in Dreghorn.
William Wallace (13, newly left the school), residing at Montgomeryfield Row.
George Miller (17), residing in Cotton Row, Irvine.
Alexander Wallace, elder brother of William.

About midday the Procurator Fiscal from Kilmarnock arrived at the scene of the accident, and also the Inspector of Mines for Scotland. John Aird, pit bottomer, residing in Irvine, said he with other three men - M'Dermond, Harvey, and Howat - went down in the first cage a minute or so before the accident. He was working at the bottom landing at splint coal. They were only down two minutes or so, and were standing talking to the fireman half-a-dozen yards from the landing, when he heard a rumble and said to the fireman, “Jamie, I think that is the cage,” and he ran forward to the door, but the cage had already landed and had broken through the scaffold and gone into the water. He heard a boy crying, and the other men succeeded in bringing him out. They had some difficulty in rescuing him, as the cover of the cage was on the top of him. The scene was a terrible one, and he was so much affected that he had to go away. The dead bodies of the lads, with the injured boy Wallace, were taken in a hutch to the escape shaft, and lifted to the pithead. The cage had broken nothing in its fall that he knew of.

Peter M'Dermond, residing in High Street, Irvine, said he had gone down in the hutch prior to the mishap. That would be about a quarter to six, and the accident occurred five minutes later. He was at the low screen known as the parrot coal, and was two or three yards from the cage when it fell. It went through the new planking which had been put down the night before, and plunged into the water. As soon as they could get forward, part of the cage was removed, and the bodies taken out and conveyed to the surface by another shaft. The water would be about fourteen feet deep. It was, he said, probably about the Tourha bottom that the cage had given way. As far as he was able to see, the lad Wallace had at least one of his legs broken if not both, and an awful cut on the back of the head. It was a miracle how he escaped instant death. When taken out of the water Wallace spoke to them and cried about his legs. After he was taken off the cage he asked to be allowed to lie on his face for a minute or two. He soon after died. One of the cross beams at the pithead had been broken. [Scotsman 25 February 1898]

The Ayrshire Pit Disaster - Montgomeryfield pit with an adjoining pit which has underground connections, were idle yesterday, and work will not be resumed till next week, when the damage to the shaft will be repaired. [Scotsman 26 February 1898]

The Dreghorn Pit Disaster - At the Sheriff Court yesterday, an inquiry was held under the fatal Accidents Inquiry Act in regard to the deaths of William Wallace. Alexander Cunningham Wallace, James Robertson, and George Miller, miners, who were killed at No. 1 Montgomeryfield Pit, Dreghorn, on the 24th February. The lads were descending the pit when two or three coils of rope slipped off the drum and they were precipitated to the bottom. There were two suggestions as to the cause of the rope slipping - one, that the cage had struck the “shutts,” and the other that the jacket of one of the deceased youths, which had since been found in the shaft, had been caught between the cage and the slide. The jury found that the deceased were killed in consequence of the rope having slipped off the drum, and that the evidence did not show what caused the rope so to slip. [Scotsman 22 March 1898]

THE PIT ACCIDENT AT DREGHORN - CLAIMS IN AYR SHERIFF COURT - Sheriff Orr Paterson has closed the record in three actions for damages against Archibald Kenneth & Sons, coalmasters, Kilwinning. John Wallace, miner, 5 Montgomeryfield Rows, Dreghorn, claims £500 at common law in respect of the death of each of his sons, Alexander Cunninghame, aged 14, and William, aged 12, or otherwise £139 19s and £117 respectively under the Employers' Liability Act, 1880: Robert Robertson, miner, Montgomeryfield Rows, Dreghorn, claims £500 at common law, or £175 under the Employers' Liability Act, in respect of the death of his son James, aged 17; and Mrs Miller, widow, 8 Cotton Row, Irvine, claims £509 at common law, or £128 14s under the Employers' Liability Act, in respect of the death of her son George, aged 16. On 24th February last pursuers' sons were in the defenders' employment at their No. 1 Montgomeryfield Pit, Dreghorn. Between five and six in the morning, when they were descending to their work, the rope to which the cage was attached broke, causing them to be precipitated to the bottom of the pit and instantaneously killed. The pursuers allege that the accident was-caused by the fault of the defenders or of their manager in failing to provide safe and efficient plant, and failing to have said plant sufficiently inspected. Defenders deny that the accident was caused through their fault, and state that it was the result of a misadventure. Mr J. Jeffrey Hunter, Glasgow, is agent for pursuers, and Mr.H Moncrieff, Glasgow, is agent for defenders. [Glasgow Herald 9 September 1898]