Benstone Pit, Johnstone - 23 October 1860

5 men were drowned in a flooded pit:

  • Robert Alexander, age 24
  • John Alllison, age 29
  • John Hendry, age 21
  • John McMillan, age 44
  • Alexander Stewart, age 12

Newspaper Reports

Flooding of a Coal-Pit Near Johnstone and Loss of Five Lives - On Tuesday forenoon, the neighbourhood of Johnstone was thrown into a state of much excitement on account of an alarm which was raised that the Benstone coal-pit, situated on the Johnstone estate, had been flooded with water from the old workings in the neighbourhood, and several of the miners drowned. The rumour proved to be but too true; at least five lives having, it is suspected, been sacrificed. About nine o'clock in the morning the alarm was first given that the water had broken in upon the pit, and it rose with fearful rapidity. At this time; there would be nearly fifty men and boys in the pit. Forty were working near to the spot when the water had come in upon them, and they at once made for the bottom of the shaft—all reaching it safely but a boy, who was overtaken by the advancing stream and drowned. Efforts were at once made to raise the men to the pit mouth, but so quickly did the water rise, that before the whole forty could be got out, they had to cling on to the ropes attached to the cage, and raise themselves up.. Two miners, working in a separate part of the pit, were saved after the water had risen to within a foot of the roof at the bottom of the shaft; other four, who were in a still farther distant portion of the workings, it is now all but certain must have perished. In the afternoon, the water continued to rise at the rate of about two feet per hour. As there exists a vast body of water in the workings in the vicinity, it is not anticipated that the pit will be cleared for a lengthened period. The names of the unfortunate men who have perished have not been obtained as yet - the whole of them, however, were in the prime of life, one only being married. They belonged to the immediate neighbourhood of the pit. [Glasgow Herald - quoted in the Scotsman 25 October 1860]

The Pit Accident at Johnstone - The Glasgow papers of yesterday publish additional particulars of the fatal pit accident which occurred at Johnstone on Tuesday. The alarm was given that the water had burst into the pit shortly after nine o'clock, fortunately when the great bulk of the miners in the pit were at their breakfast. At the mouth of the: pit, just when the alarm was given, Mr John Salmon, factor of the Hounston estates, Mr Simpson, mining engineer, Glasgow, and Mr George Crawford, the manager of the Benstone pit, were standing with lamps in their hands ready to descend and make an inspection. So soon as they observed from the signals from the bottom that there was something wrong, they at once set to work to get the men up, and this was effected expeditiously and with the utmost coolness, all the men at the bottom of the shaft being landed without accident. The boy who was drowned in the pit was along with the bulk of the miners who received the timeous alarm and rushed with them onwards to the bottom of the shaft. Unfortunately, however, his strength was unable, to withstand the rush of water; and he was swept away, notwithstanding the earnest exertions of one of the miners, named Johnstone Barr, to save him. Two hours after the first alarm was given, there were eight miners still in the pit; four of them, who were known to be working at the lowest level of the pit, it was known must have been overwhelmed with the water at the outset, as one of those who escaped from that quarter of the pit before they had got the alarm, crossed the stream, when it took him up to the neck; but the fate of the other four was still doubtful, and a gallant and heroic attempt was made to save them, which was fortunately successful. They were rescued by a party of volunteers who at the risk of their own lives plunged into the rising waters, groped their way to the higher levels, where their companions were at work unconscious of danger, and succeeded in bringing them safely to the pit mouth. When this gallant rescue was attempted the water was within a foot of the roof of the pit at the bottom of the shaft, and within a few minutes after it was accomplished the door-heads were entirely submerged: The following is a list of the names of those drowned:- Alexander Stewart, aged fourteen years, resident at the Thorn; John Hendry, aged about twenty-two years, resident in Johnstone; Robert Alexander, aged about twenty-four years, resident in Quarrelston; John Allison, aged twenty-eight years, resident at Crossford; John M'Millan, aged forty-five years, resident at Elderslie. The latter only was married and has left a widow and three or four children to lament his sudden and untimely fate. The water burst into the pit at the north side. It was known that old workings were in the vicinity; but from the plans, the old mines, if carried no further than they were authorised, should have been at a safe distance from the nearest workings in the Benstone Pit. The quantity of water now in the pit must be immense, and several years must elapse ere, with the present appliances, the pit will be pumped clear. [Scotsman 26 October 1860]

Inspector of Mines Report

The greater part of the coal workings on the estate of Johnstone are of an ancient date, and the plans, which can be traced for upwards of 60 years, do not convey all the information required, regarding the explorations which have been made in that isolated coal-field.

Benstone pit is situated considerably to the " dip' of the old pits (situated to the "rise," known to be lying full of water, and which have been abandoned for many years); it is 54 fathoms deep, and at the time of the accident there were two seams of coal being worked in it. These seams lie near to each other, and the distance between them seldom exceeds ten feet.

The workmen had felt anxious regarding the security of this colliery for some time; they dreaded "waste" water, and the position of the greater part of the waste was well known to those intrusted with the management.

When I visited the colliery, in July last, I examined the whole of it, and pointed out to the manager the only safe way to conduct underground works under such circumstances, namely, by keeping bore holes in advance of the exploring mines.

I understand that bore holes had been kept in advance at certain points, and for some time previous to the accident, the level which was supposed to be the most dangerous place, had been altogether abandoned.

While the "waste" to the south of the pit was dreaded, and proper precautions were taken to prevent inundation unexpectedly, no one thought of driving an exploring mine to the north. It was known that the "Shaws " pit was connected with No. 8 pit, and that an exploring mine had been driven from the "Shaws " pit to the west, but there existed no plans to show the limits of the workings in that direction.

According to the evidence of some of the workmen, who had long worked about the colliery, the exploring mine above referred to had been abandoned 40 years ago. They were aware that it had been driven to the west, and the late oversman had explained that its position was to the north of Benstone bridge. This traditional record was the only guide for the workings to the north of the pit; and assuming it to have been correct, the works at the time of the accident were 46 fathoms from the point named. The water is supposed to have entered by the room forming a connexion with the exploring mine from "Shaws " pit.

There was no seeming want of care in the manner in which the works to the south were conducted, where a "waste" containing water was known to exist; and I have every reason to believe that if those connected with the management had anticipated "waste " so near to the north of the pit, that the usual precautions would have been adopted there also. However, I cannot forbear remarking that the workings from "Shaws" pit were more recent than those from No. 8 pit, and others delineated on plan; and that some of the late managers must have neglected to carry out the prudent arrangements of their predecessors.

The importance of mining plans has been long since demonstrated ; and the Mine Inspection Act, which provides that proper plans shall be made and exhibited of all underground works, will in future, to a great extent, prevent the loss of life from such accidents; but it is painful to reflect that there are several collieries throughout the mining districts situated similar to that which I have just described; and there is no means now of correcting the errors of the past.