31 March 1898

Serious Pit Explosion At Bo'ness
Two Men Killed - Two Severely Injured
Rescuers Overcome By After-damp
A serious explosion took place on Thursday in the Furnace Yard Pit, Bo'ness belonging to the Kinneil Coal Company. It occurred about eight o'clock in the morning, and the news rapidly spreading created a great sensation in the town, the most exaggerated accounts of the accident being in circulation. A large number of people soon gathered in the vicinity of the pit anxious to hear the latest details and making enquiries regarding their friends.

Soon after the explosion the miners in the vicinity who felt the shock ran for their lives to the bottom of pit shaft. They alarmed the other miners and soon the great majority of the men working in the pit were brought to the surface. The explosion occurred in a section where only four men were employed, and it soon became known that these four men were in jeopardy. Their names were Charles Sneddon, John M'Cabe, A. L. Hamilton, and his son. A rescue party was formed, and along with Mr Walker, manager, they proceeded to the scene of the explosion. They had considerable difficulties to contend with owing to the after damp, but in about twenty minutes the first of the injured men was reached and sent to the surface. A few minutes afterwards two other men were rescued and bought to the pithead. All three men were found at some distance from the scene of the explosion, but whether they had been carried by the force of the explosion or had fallen when attempting to escape is not known. The men rescued were M'Cabe, and Hamilton and his son. They were terribly burned and wounded, evidently as the result of flying pieces of coal and timber. The rescue party had the greatest difficulty in reaching the fourth man, Charles Sneddon, but heroic efforts were made by the brave fellows who time and again endeavoured to advanced through the poisonous atmosphere with handkerchiefs over their mouths. In their efforts to reach Sneddon two of the rescuers named William Gibson and John Barrie, were overcome and were themselves rescued and conveyed home. In about an hour the rescue party came upon Sneddon but life was extinct. He was burned and bruised to such an extent that he could hardly be recognised. There was a large wound on his head, and his face and arms were terribly mutilated. His body was conveyed home in the ambulance waggon. There can be little doubt that had the rescuers been a little longer in reaching the injured men, all three would have perished. As it was, McCabe, besides his burns and internal injures by the fire-clamp, sustained a compound fracture of the arm and a wound in the side. Of the two men named Hamilton, the son was the worse injured, and from the first there was little hope of his recovery. All the three injured were taken to the house of Dr Graham for treatment. Hamilton and his son, after having their wounds dressed, were conveyed to their home in Newtown. M'Cabe was sent by rail to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in the afternoon. Charles Sneddon, who was killed, lived in Waggon Road. He is survived by a widow, and one son and three daughters, one of whom is married. A. L. Hamilton, as is well known, is one of the oldest players in Kinneil Reed Band, of which he was Secretary, and he is also a member of the Parish Council. It is only about a year ago since he met with a severe accident in the pit, and as he is now up in years the gravest fears were entertained regarding him. At the time of writing, however, he was progressing as well as possible, and was expected to recover. We regret however to state that his son died from the effect of his injuries about six o'clock in the evening, making the second death as the result of the explosion. He was a young unmarried man, and lived with his parents.

As to the cause of the explosion it is difficult to say anything with certainty in the meantime. Before the day shift men commenced work the pit was examined in the morning as usual by the man whose duty it is to do so, and there was no appearance of fire-damp then, and everything was reported in good order. There can be no doubt, however, that the explosion, however caused, was one of fire-damp. Its is stated by the manager that a pipe and matches were found on the clothes of the injured men. It is thought that one of the men may have been firing a shot, but as the only men who could explain the cause of the explosion are seriously injured, nothing is known for certain. Fears were entertained for a time that the pit might go on fire, as some of the woodwork and the men's clothes were seen burning, but Mr Walker, the manager, took prompt action by increasing the ventilation to force back the after-damp, and all danger on this account was soon removed.

As already indicated, the explosion created a great sensation in the town, the movements of the ambulance and the critical condition of the injured helping to keep the excitement alive. The accident is the most serious which has occurred in a pit in Bo'ness for many years and it is also some years since an explosion of fire-damp took place in any of the mines. On enquiry at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, we learn that M'Cabe, at the time of writing, was likely to pull through and was as well as could be expected. The two men who were overcome by the after-damp are also recovering. [West Lothian Courier 2 April 1898]

NB Alexander Laird Hamilton, aged 53, died 11 April 1898, at 37 Newtown, Bo'ness.

Sad Death
- The wife of Mr Walker, manager in the Furnace Yard Pit, Kinneil, Bo'ness, in which the explosion occurred on Thursday, died on Saturday. It is stated that a rumour reached Mrs Walker, who had been confined, that her husband had been suffocated in the pit, and that the shock had been too much for her.

Sad Sequel To Bo'ness Pit Explosion - A sad sequel to the pit explosion at Bo'ness occurred on Saturday morning in the death of the wife of the manager of the pit. It is stated that a rumour that Mr Walker, the manager, had been killed in the explosion reached Mrs Walker, who was in childbed, and the shock helped to cause her death. Much sympathy is felt for the manager, who is left with four young children. The two injured men are recovering. [Both the above articles appear in the same column of the West Lothian Courier, 9 April 1898]

The Pit Explosion Accident At Bo'ness - At the lad Alex. Hamilton's funeral on Saturday, the “Defence” Lodge No 970 I.O.G.T. turned out to pay the last tribute of respect to a departed brother. The service at the cemetery was conducted by C.T. Bro. J Dymock of the “Progress” Lodge; P.C.T. Bro. Arch. M'Kay of the “Hope” Lodge; and Chaplain Bro. Rev W.S. Hunter, of the “Star of Grange” and “Defence” Lodges. Deputations were present from the “Hope” Lodge, 391; “Progress” Lodge, 558; and “Star of Grange” Lodge, 735. [West Lothian Courier, 9 April 1898]