30 August 1887

Colliery Explosion At Prestongrange – Two Men and a Boy Killed - Early yesterday morning a serious explosion occurred in Prestongrange Colliery resulting in the death of three miners - two men and a boy - and but for the fact that, owing to the miners being out on strike at present, few persons were in the pit, otherwise it is feared the loss of life would have been much greater. It appears that about six o'clock in the morning, Frederick Curtis (35) and his son Francis (14), preceded by the fireman, James M'Ewan (44), went down the pit to the jewel seam to get their tools in order to start work, after the strike, in the great seam. Shortly thereafter, an explosion occurred killing the three instantaneously. Several of the other men in the pit heard and experienced the force of the explosion - a man named Archibald and his companion being, it is stated, thrown violently to the ground - and one of them at once ascended to the top of the pit and informed the underground manager, Mr Nelson, of what had happened. That gentleman at once proceeded down the pit and organised a search party. After going up the heading about 100 fathoms, they were met by the after-damp, and had to wait until it had cleared away. Prosecuting their search they found M'Ewan first, and after being driven back once or twice again by the damp, they came upon the boy, and in a few minutes later they found his father. All three were dead. It is stated by at least two of the men that, contrary, to instructions, and against the rules, Curtis and his son must have gone into the seam in advance of the fireman, and before he had reported to them about their place. The miners have open lamps. Curtis was an Englishman and had not been much longer than a year in his situation. He leaves a widow and six young children. M'Ewan leaves a widow and two or three of a family. M'Ewan's body was much burned; that of the boy was badly shattered, and his father's body was least injured. From the appearance of the bodies, it is supposed that the fireman and the boy had been killed, and his father suffocated, by the explosion. Edward M'Cann (34), roadsman, states that he came out at 5.30 a.m., and went down the pit at a quarter to six with M'Ewan. He told M'Ewan to inspect the places with his safety lamp for two of the men, Archibald and Ramage, who were in the pit. The danger station is 70 fathoms from the bottom, and is distinctly marked by a plank drawn across the road. He told M'Ewan to go in front of Archibald and Ramage in order that he (M'Ewan) might inspect the place. Curtis and his son were warned by him not to go past the station until the fireman reported. He left this part of the pit for some time, and when he returned he found Curtis and his son at the pit bottom. He asked them what they were doing there, and they explained that they had been told by the oversman on the manager's instructions to go to their place to remove their tools before starting in the great seam. They (Curtis and son) followed Archibald and Ramage up the heading. He (M'Cann) then went on with his own work, and in a few minutes he heard the air reversed with a puff. M'Cann and several of the workmen who were alongside of him, were startled, but they sat down and waited while M'Caskie, another of the workmen in the pit at the time, went up for a second Davy lamp. On M'Caskie's return they went up the heading about 100 fathoms, when they met with afterdamp. Having ascertained that the stoppings were right and waited until the after-damp cleared away, they proceeded in search of the men. They found M'Ewan first quite dead. About nine feet further in they found young Curtis. They had then to return on account of the damp being too strong. After an interval of ten minutes they proceeded further in and found Frederic Curtis. From the places where the bodies were found he (M'Cann) is of opinion that Curtis must have gone in advance of the fireman. There was nothing in the position of the bodies to give any clue to the accident. John M'Caskie, one of the miners, states that at a quarter to six o'clock he was in the bottom of the pit, and a few minutes later Curtis and his son came down. M'Cann, another of the workmen who were in the pit at the time asked Curtis who gave him liberty to come down there, and Curtis replied, that he had been sent down to get his graith as he was going to work on the seam immediately above them. He (M'Caskie) then saw M'Ewan, Archibald, and Ramage going away up to the fireman's station. The oversman, Edward M'Cann, told Curtis to go up to the station and stay there till the fireman came, Curtis and his son then left. About a quarter of an hour later, he (M'Caskie) heard the report. He went to the hill-top for a safety lamp, and, saw the underground manager, and reported the occurrence to him. They went down together and began the search for the bodies. James Archibald, residing at Newbigging, states that he went down the pit a little before six o'clock with several of the other men. After the fireman had visited their place and reported to them that it was all right, he and his fellow-workman Ramage went to their work. They left M'Ewan and Curtis and his son together. The fireman had not reported to them then on their place. Several minutes thereafter the explosion occurred, and so severe was the shock that he was tumbled twice heads-and-heals. His mate was similarly affected. They then made their way in the dark to the pit bottom and waited there until the manager and the other men arrived, when a search was made for the other men. The accident has naturally cast a gloom over the place, and great sympathy is being expressed for the widows and fatherless children. Lady Susan Grant Suttie, having heard of the unfortunate occurrence , drove at once to the colliery offices and made full inquiries regarding the matter. Her ladyship expressed her sincere regret at the accident, and her deep sympathy with the afflicted families. In the afternoon the Procurator-Fiscal, Mr Todrick, Haddington, and Sir G. H. List, superintendent of the county constabulary, arrived and began their investigations into the affair. It is not known how the explosion occurred. About three o'clock the bodies were removed in coffins to their homes, followed by a dozen or so of men and children. [Scotsman 31 August 1887]