Commonhead 23 July 1850
17 killed by fire damp explosion:
- Robert Dickson
- Thomas Glen
- Alexander Grant
- George Grant
- Robert Hill
- Andrew Izatt
- James Martin
- James McDonald
- John McDonald
- Wilson McDonld
- Donald McIntyre
- Colin or William McLuckie
- George McNaught
- Alexander Rankine
- William Tollson AKA William Ellis Marsden
- Robert Wark
- Alexander Willison
Explosion at Airdrie of fire damp in a coal pit - severe loss of life
On Tuesday morning, the most appalling casualty, attended with an immense sacrifice of human life, occurred at a coal pit in the immediate vicinity of the town of Airdrie. The pit belongs to Messrs David and James Sneddon, and is situated at Common head, to the north of the town, and contiguous to the Glasgow and Airdrie railway.
From the information we have been enabled to obtain at the scene, it appears that the pit had not been worked since Saturday last, and that on Tuesday morning the miners assembled for work as usual and at a very few minutes past 6 o'clock, they went down the pit to commence their operations. Alex Willison, the oversman, according to his ordinary custom, proceeded to examine the state of the workings, in order to report to the miners whether they were in a fit state for being entered with safety on not. He had scarcely left his companions on his mission, when a terrific explosion took place. The force of the explosion has destroyed a great portion of the coal workings - a large part of the mid wall of the shaft; and more lamentable still, of the entire party of miners, amounting to 19, who went down to their labour a few minutes before, only one man escaped to tell the fate of his fellow workmen. The escape of this person, who is the brother of the oversman, was almost miraculous; and he was the first to give the alarm from the bottom of the shaft, when he was drawn up, comparatively unhurt. It is not correctly ascertained how many were in the pit at the time, but it is supposed there were nineteen or twenty persons.
The report of the explosion was heard at a considerable distance from the scene of the disaster, and many people believed that the steam engine boiler at the works had burst.
A large concourse of persons was of course immediately attracted to the spot. When the alarm and surprise by which they were at first possessed had somewhat abated, measures were concerted for ascertaining the nature and extent of the disaster. Before the operations determined on were recourse to, attention was drawn to a tugging at the rope, which hung in the shaft. It was wound up; and by this means the man James Willison was brought to the surface. He proves to be the only survivor of those who descended. He was able, shortly after being brought up, to narrate the means by which he effected his escape.
Willison mentioned that when the "blasting of the pit" took place, he was conversing with his companions near the bottom of the shaft. He was stunned by the shock he received; but on recovering somewhat, bethought himself what course he should adopt for his own rescue. On getting to the shaft and examining the cage, by means of which the men had been let down, he saw at once that it could not be extricated from the mass of rubbish caused by the falling of the mid wall, hutches, and other things which surrounded it, and which had been hurled into a state of great confusion. The only way, therefore, to get out was by detaching the rope from it. The lock by which it was secured was of the ordinary kind- a pin split up the centre, made of strong iron or steel, and inserted through a crevice, the two end portions being then bent back in different ways. He found great difficulty in pressing these straight, but accomplished it at last by applying his teeth to them. The cage being thus disengaged, he then took the shaft of his pick, and putting it through the loop at the end of the rope, sat down upon it, shaking and dangling the rope, till by this means he drew notice. It was then wound up, and he was thus raised up the shaft, which is more than 60 fathoms deep.
The efforts made to descend the pit for the recovery of the bodies were frustrated by the prevalence of choke damp, till about half past ten. From what time on till nigh 4 o'clock , the operations were prosecuted successfully; bodies being got out at intervals to the number of 14. It was then deemed necessary to suspend all exertion till the mid wall of the pit - which, as stated in Wilson's narrative, had been blown over - was repaired, so as to allow the searchers to carry on without risk to their own lives.
We have obtained the following list of those which have been recovered, as far as known:-
John McDonald, aged 30 married
James McDonald, brother to above, age 23, married
James Martin, a native of Ireland aged 22 married
Robert Dickson aged 22 married
George McNaught aged 28 married
William Tollson a native of England, aged 20
Donald McIntyre aged 11
Robert Wark aged 28 married
George Grant aged 40 married
Alexander Grant, son of above, aged 11
Andrew Rankine aged 19
Colin McLuckie aged 19
Alexander Willison overman aged 31 unmarried
Thomas Glen, aged 23, had only been married about 7 weeks
Wilson McDonald aged 19 unmarried
The bodies, we believe, have all been claimed, with the exception of one man who is a stranger. The name of another man who has perished we have not learned.
On Wednesday forenoon, there were recovered the bodies of the overseer, Alexander Willison, aged 31, and Thomas Glenn, aged 23.
At 3 o'clock on that day, two bodies still remained in the pit - the names of the parties being McDonald & Izzat. The first of these was brother to the two McDonalds included in the list of those recovered on Tuesday. Willison, the man saved, is a brother of the overseer. Nine of the parties were married - Glen, the last mentioned having been so for only a few weeks. Many of them have left large families. The case of a young lad Tollison is a peculiarly distressing one. He had just come from England, and his engagement commenced that morning, so that he had only made his first descent to the pit immediately before the accident.
The bodies on being brought up were conveyed to the Poor's House where accommodation was provided by Mr Alston the governor. There a medical examination was instituted upon each. It is stated that, though all had been severely injured by the explosion, yet the injuries were not in general such as would have been instantaneous death, and it is therefore conjectured that the poor men must have lingered on for some time, till suffocated by the choke damp. This accords with the statement of Willison, who mentioned that he heard several of the men speaking together, while he was arranging his own means of safety; and it is even asserted by those who were early at the pit mouth, that sounds of moaning proceeding from it were distinctly audible.
There are a variety of reports in circulation as the cause of the deplorable occurrence, of a nature to inculpate several parties. It is said that needful precautions against the accumulation of the damp had been neglected since Saturday; whilst, on the other hand it is suspected that the temerity of the men themselves had led them to do more than infringe the rules against descending at all before the report of the "fire's man" was received, inasmuch as the safety lamp carried by that individual has been found entire, and in a state which shows that it could have been no communication with this lamp which ignited the deleterious gas. The authorities have, however, taken the preliminary steps to a complete and searching investigation of the whole circumstances. The measures for the recovery of the bodies have been conducted at the instance and under the direction of the proprietor of the Colliery, although in the presence of official parties. The Procurator Fiscal was was on the ground during the greater part of Tuesday, and a constant communication is maintained with him. So soon as the two remaining bodies are found, any alteration in the condition of the pit will be prohibited till an inspection be made of it by two practical and experienced men. Other arrangements for the precognition have been concluded; and the examination of a large number of witnesses is, we believe, contemplated. Although the neighbourhood of Airdrie is the great coal and mineral field of Scotland, we believe that no catastrophe so extensive as the present ever before occurred in the locality. The occurrence as may be expected has thrown a melancholy gloom over the district. [Glasgow Herald July 26 1850]
On visiting Airdrie yesterday, we ascertained that another of the bodies of the unfortunate men had been recovered. The name of the deceased is Wilson McDonald. As it is now known that 19 men were in the pit when the explosion occurred, there remains only one body to be recovered, that of a man named Andrew Izzat. From the present state of the pit it is feared that some time may elapse ere the body is found, but every means are being adopted to recover it. The engine at the pit head was constantly pumping water from the pit the whole of yesterday, and men were busily engaged underground removing the rubbish that had been thrown down at the bottom of the shaft by the explosion. Numbers of inhabitants of the burgh still hovered about the scene of the catastrophe and the utmost gloom and sadness prevailed everywhere. A miner who had been for 30 years in the district, informs us that he never remembers such a serious accident in the locality and one which occasioned so much sorrow. Several of the bodies were buried yesterday, some at the expense of the relatives, and others at the expense of the parish. Mr Alston governor of the Poor's House has been in close attendance since the accident occurred and he had the bodies as they were brought up , conveyed to the Poor's House, where they were washed, and after being placed in coffins, sent to relatives, at least those who had relatives. Sheriff Smith was also present at the pithead and we believe the Fiscal has instituted an investigation into the cause which led to this calamitous event. As yet, however, the circumstances involved are in much doubt, and as all have perished with the exception of the man Willison, whose information regarding the event is extremely limited, it is possible that the real circumstances which led to the accident will never be known. We heard it stated by more than one person that the cube which should be constantly kept burning in the pit to prevent the accumulation of fire damp, had not been lighted from the Saturday evening, till a short time before the men went down Tuesday morning.
Amongst many person with whom we conversed on this painful subject, perhaps the statement of William Izatt, whose brother is one of the sufferers, will be read with interest. He said, I was standing at the pit head when the explosion occurred, and I heard it quite distinctly. I have a brother in the pit, and when I heard the report, I was sure he would be killed like all the others. I then ran for Mr Sneddon, who soon arrived, when measures were adopted to rescue those in the pit, but in consequence of the cage while on its way down the "down put" shaft, sticking, a delay occurred before anyone got down the pit. I saw Willison brought up, sitting on a stick which was inserted into the chain, he having, as he afterwards told me, undone the coupling of the cage at the bottom. For nearly half-an-hour after Willison had been brought up, I heard groans and cries at the bottom of the pit, but I could not make out what was said. Nearly all the bodies of the men that have been recovered were found in the bottom of the shaft. The pit is 56 fathoms deep, and it was in the under coal working where the men were. There never was any particular air course through the pit; there were only what I would call temporary ventilators. The pit had not been worked from the Saturday to the Tuesday. I have had 30 years' experience in the coal pits, and I never knew of such a fearful accident. I am convinced that had due caution been exercised, it would not have occurred. I was going down the pit myself, when the cage started, leaving me on the bank. I have since been told by Willison that when he was about coming up the shaft, after the accident, he shook hands with two of the men, and promised to send immediate assistance. He also told me that he had not been long in the pit when he felt an unusual smell, which he was sure proceeded from fire damp, and was determined to come to the surface again, but a minute or so only elapsed till the explosion occurred. The blast tore the coat off his back, and he was rendered stupid. When he recovered slightly he tried to reach the foot of the shaft, but was going from it, when McLuckie, a boy who is killed, directed him to the place. When he reached the bottom he called to his brother to give him a hammer to loose the coupling of the cage, but he received no answer. He then undid it with his teeth. McLuckie was that time near the bottom of the shaft.
We believe that Mr Sneddons instructions to the workmen are, that no one shall leave the bottom of the shaft until the fireman has reported on the state of the atmosphere; but whether these instruction were complied with on the morning of the accident is of course not known. It is more probable that they were not from the fact of the firemans Davy lamp being found near him uninjured. Had the explosion proceeded from his lamp it must have been destroyed.[Glasgow Herald July 26 1850]
The explosion at Airdrie
The bodies of all the sufferers of the recent sad occurrence at Airdrie have, it is believed, been now recovered. The number is one less than was originally conceived. On Thursday forenoon as stated in our last, the parties engaged in searching the pit, came came upon the blackened and disfigured remains of the lad McDonald, one of three brothers who have perished. Their exertions were continued unremittingly for 5 hours longer, in the hope of finding those of Izzat, a person who was ascertained to be amissing. They were disappointed in their expectations. For some time this want of success confounded them, and was felt by all as a painful thing. At length it was suggested that the body which had remained unidentified might be the one sought for. Along with several of the others which was brought up first, it had been buried in the graveyard of New Monkland; but acting on the conjecture thrown out, it was now disinterred and re-examined - the result being to verify the suggestion which led to the step. The number of victims is thus reduced to 17. [Glasgow Herald July 29 1850]
James Sneddon, 53, coalmaster, and his son, John Sneddon, 24, both of Chapel Street, Airdrie were charged with culpable homicide and culpable neglect of duty. The precognition lists the following names and addresses of the victims:
- George McNaught, High Street, Airdrie
- Alexander Willison, Commonside Street, Airdrie
- Wilson MacDonald, Commonside Street, Airdrie
- Thomas Glen, Rawyards, New Monkland
- William McLuckie, Wellwynd, Airdrie
- Colin McLuckie, Wellwynd, Airdrie
- Andrew Rankin, Rawyards, New Monkland
- James MacDonald, Commonside Street, Airdrie
Source - NAS catalogue
Glasgow Circuit Court of Justiciary - The following is an outline of some of the more important cases that were tried before this court, since its opening on Monday:-
Culpable Homicide - The Fire Damp Explosion At Airdrie - James Sneddon, or Snedden, coal master, near Airdrie, and John Sneddon, or Snedden, son of the aforesaid, were charged with the crime of culpable homicide, as also culpable neglect of duty, by persons carrying on or superintending the works of a coal pit, whereby any of the lieges are deprived of life, in so far as they, being lessees of the coal pit known as No. 2 Pit, Commonhead, near Airdrie and having had the superintendence of the said pit from January to the end of July, and in particular, for the period betwixt 12th and 23d July, and it being their duty to secure safe and proper ventilation, so as to prevent the undue accumulation of gas, for which purpose they ought to have kept closed by an air-tight brattice, or seen that there was so kept, a communication by the down-cast vent or compartment of the Kiltongue coal seam, to a wrought out waste lying above it; as also to have caused to be maintained and preserved due air courses down the said vent, to the whole of the workings, in an air-tight manner, and in particular so to keep the throughers, or open spaces between two pillars of coal, adjoining two levels, or passages leading in opposite directions along the lower dip of the said seam; as also, to erect and keep trap-doors on all roads or openings connected with the said leadings in a secure manlier; as also to provide at the bottom of the up cast-vent of the shaft, a proper and sufficient furnace, or cube, and to keep a sufficient fire burning in the said furnace while the workings were going on; and it being also their duty to prevent the miners going down when the mine had been unwrought, or without having with them safety lamps:- they culpably neglected to take the above necessary precautions, in consequence of which, on the 23d of July last, an explosion of fire damp took place, and eighteen miners lost their lives.
The panels, who were defended by Mr Neaves and Mr Logan, pleaded not guilty, and the case went to trial. The examination of the witnesses in this case continued over Wednesday and Thursday.
The Lord Justice-Clerk, in summing up, prefaced his charge to the jury by observing that the defence appeared to be to fasten the blame on the oversman. It might be perfectly evident that the overseer had neglected his duty, but that was no excuse for the manager of the pit, whose business it was not only to do his own duty, but to see that the oversman did his. In the eye of the law, he was guilty if he failed to see that the oversman was doing his duty. He must have known, from the frequency with which he was down the pit, that there was firedamp there: and he ought to hare seen that the oversman took every precaution.
The jury were absent rather more than half an hour when they came into court, and gave in a verdict, finding James Sneddon, the father, not guilty; and, by a majority of one, the charge against John Sneddon, the son, not proven.
The announcement of the verdict was received with some marks of approbation by the parties who thronged the court. The panels were then discharged from the bar. [Scotsman 5 October 1850]
Wednesday 2 October (Before the Lord Justice-Clerk)
The Court resumed this morning at nine o'clock.
The Late Explosion Of Fire-Damp At Airdrie - Culpable Homicide and Culpable Neglect of Duty - James Sneddon or Snedden, coalmaster in Airdrie and John Sneddon or Snedden, son of the above, were placed at the bar on the charge of culpable homicide, and also culpable neglect of duly. The indictment is of great length, and charged James Sneddon, the lessee of the coal-pit known as Number Two Pit, Common Head, in the neighbourhood of Airdrie, and parish of New Monkland ; and John Sneddon, the overseer therefore, of neglecting to secure a proper ventilation of the pit, particularly of a lower seam, known as the Kiltongue seam - by which the brattices or partitions were not properly stopped and secured, and the atmospheric air being allowed to enter wrought out wastes in the upper seam was lost for the purpose of ventilation in the lower or Kiltongue seam. They were also charged with neglecting to keep a sufficient fire burning in a furnace to produce a draught in the up-vent, and prevent the accumulation of fire-damp ; and, also, of allowing persons to go down the pit without a safety lamp, without any previous examination of the pit. The indictment then proceeded : -
In consequence of all which, or of part thereof the said workings in said Kiltongue seam of coal were not duly and safely ventilated, and firedamp or other inflammable or destructive gas was thereby caused or allowed to accumulate or exist, and did accumulate or exist to a dangerous extent in said workings, on the 24d day of July, 1850, and the said workings were thereby then in an unsafe state and highly dangerous to the lives of the miners or other workmen employed therein ; and accordingly, Robert Dickson, a collier, George M'Naught, a collier, John Macdonald, a collier, James Martin, a collier, Robert Hill, a collier, Andrew Izatt a collier, Robert Wark, a collier, William Tolson or William Ellis Marsden, a collier, James Macdonald, a collier, Donald M'Intyre, a drawer, Alexander Grant, a drawer, George Grant, a collier, Andrew Rankin, a collier, Colin M'Luckie, a drawer, Thomas Glen, a collier, Alexander Willison, an underground oversman, fireman, and roadsman, and Wilson Macdonald, a collier, or some of them, all now deceased, and all then employed in said coal-pit, did, time last above libelled, go down to their work in said workings, they or some of them carrying lights which were not safety-lamps or protected from the risk of causing an explosion of fire-damp or other inflammable gas; when said fire had not been previously lighted and was not burning, and when said workings had not been previously examined by a fireman or other competent person, and found to be free from the dangerous accumulation of fire-damp or other inflammable or destructive gas, and when said workings were not duly and safely ventilated, and were in a dangerous state from the fire-damp or other inflammable or destructive gas which had, time last above libelled, been caused or allowed to accumulate or exist therein to a great and dangerous extent as aforesaid, and which was then in said workings; in consequence of all which, or of part thereof, soon or immediately after said persons, or some of them, went down to said workings, and while they, or some of them, were there, said firedamp or other inflammable or destructive gas, exploded, by coming in contact with the light or lights carried by one or more of said workmen, whereby the mid-wall or partition of the shaft of said coal-pit, or part thereof, and other portions of the works or apparatus of said pit, were thrown down ; and the said explosion caused an accumulation of choke-damp, or other destructive gas, immediately or soon thereafter to take place in said workings ; by all which, or part thereof, the said Andrew Izatt and Robert Wark were thrown down, and were crushed by the falling of said mid-wall or partition, and were severely wounded and bruised, and had their skulls fractured, and were burned or otherwise injured by said explosion, and were choked or suffocated by said accumulation of choke-damp which followed said explosion, and in consequence of said injuries died immediately or soon thereafter, and were thus culpably killed by both and each, or one or other of you, the said Jamea Sneddon or Snedden and John Sneddon or Snedden ; and the said Robert Dickson, George M'Naught, John Macdonald, James Martin, Robert Hill, William Tolson or William Ellis Marsden, James Macdonald, Donald M'Intyre, George Grant, Andrew Rankin, Colin M'Luckie, Thomas Glen, and Alexander Willison, were burned or otherwise injured by said explosion, and were wounded and bruised by the falling of said mid-wall or partition, and were choked or suffocated by said accumulation of choke-damp which followed said explosion, and in consequence of said injuries died in said coal-pit before assistance could be afforded to them, and were thus culpably killed ; and the said Wilson Macdonald and Alexander Grant, or one or other of them, were, by the said explosion or by the effects thereof, thrown or caused to fall into a quantity of water collected in said coal-pit, and were thereby drowned, or were otherwise mortally injured by the effects of said explosion, and died in said coal-pit from being so drowned or otherwise mortally injured, and were thus culpably killed by both and each, or one or other of you, the said James Sneddon or Snedden and John Sneddon or Snedden.
The first witness called was,
Thomas Chapman who proved the lease of the colliery, in which the accident occurred, to Mr. James Sneddon. There was a clause in the lease prohibiting him from assigning it to any other party.
Mr. J. R. Williamson proved the plans of the working as drawn up by his father and himself.
James Willison, a collier being called, proved how the accident occurred. Saw James M'Donald, M'Donald's brother, and M'Luckie and Grant go down on the first cage. All those parties were killed. Saw through the trap-door, and the fire was not lighted. Saw persons sitting cracking on the east side of the shaft. My brother went along the west level with his Davy lamp. The Davy lamp now shown me was his. It is entire. Not damaged in any way. I followed my brother up the west heading road about 6 yards, and then returned. Went through trap-door of west heading road. Alexander Grant and Donald M'Intyre followed me through. Saw no appearance of a fall having taken place. Sat down waiting till my brother should report. Heard my brother say that there was fire in the level, and that my place was full also. He had his Davy lamp when he spoke. Did not observe from the Davy lamp that there was foul air in the pit. My brother also told George Grant that there was fire in his place. I saw the lamp affected, and the explosion instantly afterwards took place. The explosion came from the west side of the pit. Can't say it came from the east.
By LORD-JUSTICE CLERK.— Heard the noise about a moment before the explosion took place.
By ADVOCATE-DEPOTE — The lights were all instantly extinguished. I was thrown to a distance, but I was slightly injured. I was burned about the head. I rose to go to the shaft, but I was going the wrong way, when those in the pit cried out, and I turned and came to the bottom, and thus saved myself. The partition at the bottom of the shaft was much destroyed. Some men were standing there, and some were under the rubbish. Got through the partition, and found the cage sticking. Took the chain off the cage, and put a stick through it, which I sat across, and gave a signal to the top, and was thus drawn up. This was about half-past six. Felt the choke damp, but it was not very strong. I could not that morning discern how the air was going, and it was dull and damp. I thus dreaded that this was occasioned by fire damp. Every person in the pit was killed except myself. When I got to the pit-head, I found James Sneddon there. On the mornings when James Sneddon was down there was fire damp in my place. This continued all the day.
By Mr. NEAVES — I was in the pit nearly a month before the explosion occurred. My brother had been nearly three months in the pit. My brother was depute-oversman, and 1 learned from him that John Sneddon was oversman. My brother set the men to work in the morning. John Sneddon gave my brother directions. My brother was considered oversman in so far as setting the men to work, in accordance with the directions given him. I was hired by my brother. Can't say what my brother's duties were in connection with the ventilation of the pit. He had to take charge of the ventilation so far as he could — there being no other. The fire was sometimes put on by my brother, and he ordered it to he put on when necessary. John Sneddon never put on the fires. My brother attended to keeping the throughers right. Never saw any body else attend them. My brother put up the new trap-door. This was about a fortnight before the accident. I was not often on the east level ; I think never but once. My brother made a point of always going into the pit first with his Davy lamp, and the workmen waited till he reported. If after this there was fire damp in our rooms, we waved our coats to expel the damp. Have done this in other pits. Sometimes a weavers fan is used. Can't say how far west the men were working. They were working on the west when the accident occurred. Sever saw the throughers filled up on the west level. My brother was not taking any charge of the filling up of any throughers. The througher on the heading level had subsided. It was his duty to take charge of it if he observed it. I was told about it, and I intended to tell my brother, but it escaped my memory. This was on the 12th of the month. My brother generally sent up the shovel, and the fire was sent down. He sent up the shovel on the morning of the explosion, but I saw no fire sent down. I was nearest of all the men on my own road, except my brother, but there was no fire there. I would be about four or five fathoms from my brother. M'Luckie was nearest the face. The fire was no doubt occasioned by a man's lamp. My brother had not gone round all the faces. Soke of the men had gone in to any of the faces reported on, but can't tell whether any man went into any of those not reported on. My own lamp was hanging on my knee. The explosion came from the rise. Orders were left for the engine man not to go out on the Monday morning. I learned this from the engineman. I knew that my brother had got orders to give this instruction. No one worked on the Monday. This was caused by my brother not coming forward. I saw him through the day, and he told me that he had got orders to take a day's rest, but he did not say who told him to do so. I had little conversation with him on the morning of Tuesday. Heard John Sneddon give my brother some instructions about the level when he was in the pit. Also heard him speak about a man that, was wanting to leave previous to the expiry of his warning. My father has raised an action of damages against the Messrs. Sneddon for the loss of his son.
By Mr. LOGAN—I saw James Sneddon once down the pit. He. was accompanied by Mr. Davidson and Mr. Colquhoun. My brother, on the morning of the accident, was not in the east workings. Mr. Sneddon's house is between 300 and 400 yards from the pit.
By the COURT—Saw John Sneddon down the pit. He was walking through the facings, and he was one day accompanying Mr. Davidson and Mr. Colquhoun, and they were examining a trap door that had been repaired. Did not hear what their object was in looking at the door. Can't say how long John Sneddon remained down the pit. He never went down in the mornings with my brother, that I saw. Nor the father. Have been about 15 years in pits. Have been in different pits, but they were all in Lanarkshire. There are two safety lamps placed between every two rooms, when it is thought that fire-damp exists. In close mines each man has a. safety lamp, or in mines where fire-damp is occasionally accumulating. In other pits there is generally a man for the purpose of examining the faces and the air courses. That has not been the general practice in pits that I have been in. In Wishaw, the man who attended the faces had also the roads to manage, but there was another man for attending to the air courses. A firesman is a man for examining where there is fire-damp. Have noticed that the current of air which runs through vacancies of about an inch is always very strong. Air always takes the nearest course.
The LORD JUSTICE-CLERK here said, as a warning to workmen in coal pits, that they should insist on all masters making their pits safe. The first combination among them should be to see that all measures were adopted for their safety. The masters could not hold out against a combination of this description, although they might do so for combinations for wages.
John Love, miner, examined—Was engaged as miner at No. 2. Pit, at Common Head. Worked about two months there. Alexander Willison employed me, and I understood John Sneddon to be his master. Alexander Willison superintended the works underground. His duties were to light the fires, and attend to the ventilation. He also examined the firedamp and took charge of the roads. Have seen James Sneddon give him instructions about the workings. He appeared angry about the rooms being so wide. He was frightened for the roof of them giving way. I have seen John Sneddon down, but can't say how often. Have seen him speak to Alexander Willison, but can't tell what he said. Have heard him order him how the workings should be conducted. I worked on the east side of the workings. Remembers a trap door at east side of the heading road, which was in a very bad state. It would hardly standalone. Have seen it knocked over by the hutches. There was no proper stuffings about the sides. The deals were all smashed and broken, and the hutches came against it three and four times a day. In consequence of the state of this door the air came down the east level, and went up the up shaft. I worked in the west heading road for some time. The spaces were not all filled up in this road. A man could creep over the top of some of them. I found fire damp in my workings. Have seen the fire damp accumulate more than once in my room in a day. I used to "dad" it out with my jacket. Have had to leave my room for the fire damp. I know the cube at the up cast road. It was not large enough, nor was it the shape or make of a cube. When I worked there the men used to go down the pit with the firesman, but they were not allowed to go into their workings till he reported on the state of the pit.
By Mr. LOGAN—A cube is about 6 feet long, and 2 1/2 feet wide with branders below it. Can't tell the extent of the workings at Commonhead. Have been in pits where the workings were less. I left working about eight days before the accident. This was in consequence of a warning for a break of wages. The workmen sat at the bottom of the shaft when the pit was being examined, but have seen them farther in with their naked lamps. Alexander Wilson was oversman under ground. Considered him a fit person for his duties.
By the COURT—The cube here was just constituted of a few dry bricks. It would not be more than 2 feet long, and I considered it insufficient. Some pits are not so bad for foul air as others. The weaker the draught, and the more the fire air, the better should be the fire or cube. In a small working, where there is much fire air, the fire should be the greater. William was attentive to his duties, but he had too much to do. There was fire in almost every space, but he could not well attend to them all. Can't tell the depth of the pit. It is not uncommon after the foul air is got rid of in the morning and the fires set agoing, for fire to accumulate during the day. It appeared to me that Willison had more to do than the firesman in other, pits. I had complained of the state of the pit two or three times to Willison, but be said he could not help it. Can't tell how long the Kiltongue coal had been working. There were no safety lamps used there. The master supplies the lamps to the workmen. Have used them in other pits. This pit was ill managed, and the circulation of the foul air insufficient, and not well attended to.
Michael Hudson examined.—I worked for a few days in July in No. 2 coal pit at Commonhead. Worked in west side. The openings were not in a good state. I worked five days in the pit. Instead of the air moving in a right direction, it moved backwards and forwards. Have been firesman in a pit, and know the duties of firesman. The air courses were not properly preserved. Fire damp exploded once on my own lamp. It was a naked lamp. Have complained of the state of the pit to Willison, and he said if he had materials to work upon, he could put it into a better state. Left the pit on the 13th July, a week before the accident, as I was afraid of the state of the air.
By Mr. NEAVES.— We were also breaking the wages at that time, but that was not my reason for leaving.
By the COURT.— After Willison went round with his safety lamp in the morning, I have had to waft the foul air twice in a day from my room. If the air was kept in its proper course, never saw it accumulate. In other pits had always safety lamps where needed. Cannot say anything about the fire in this pit, as I did not work near it. The fire was too small. A large fire assists the current of the air.
John Porteous examined.—Worked in No. 2 pit, Commonhead, in July last. Worked on west level. Saw fire damp there. There was a good deal of it, and have seen it light at my lamp, but not enough to make it explode. The air courses were not tight, and we did not get all the air that we should. Have complained of this to John Sneddon, and he said he would try and make it better. Have heard John Sneddon order two trap doors to be nailed up, in order to give the air play, and have heard them ordered to be opened again. This was done when there was the same number of drawers on each side. Knew Andrew Izatt, who was killed. Have noticed the flame on his lamp, and have heard him complain of this to John Sneddon. Noticed the spaces on the west level. They were not all filled up, except what rubbish we might throw into them ourselves. Those that were filled up were not tight. I was in the pit on the 18th, and the west level was then in the same state. Left working on the 12th. Have seen the whole workings filled with smoke from the cube. Have seen James Sneddon in the works three times. Can't tell when he was last down. Have seen John down often. He seemed to be taking a charge below.
By MR. LOGAN.—Alexander Willison engaged me to work. He was oversman, and it was his duty to build up the spaces with rubbish. Left on the warning of the master for a break of wages.
By Mr. NEAVES.— I complained to John Sneddon several times about the "reek" coming round. The cube was built before I went there. Did not change my workings. As we went along, we filled up the throughers, but none of them were tight. Spoke to Willison about it, and he said he was filling them up as fast as he could.
By the COURT.—I told John Sneddon that some alteration would require to be made to prevent the " reek" from coming round, and he said he would see and get it sorted. The "reek" did not prevent the good air from coming to us. The " reek" came along the level, and there was a communication between the east and west level. It went round by the west heading road. I again told him that I would require to go home if the "reek" was not stopped. He again said he would try and get it sorted. It was very bad. I spoke several times about it, but there never was any alteration so long as I was there. If there had been a larger cube and lum to take it up the shaft, it could have been prevented. If the throughers on the east level had been properly fitted up, it would not have come through. Cubes are generally built of brick, but this was not properly built. It was just a parcel of bricks put together to hold a fire.
Robert Gibb examined—I have seen the prisoners at the bar in the pit. Saw James only once or twice. I have heard him direct Alex. Willison to cut a course for water into the su,pt. John Sneddon took the management of it, and he was frequently down.
By Mr. LOGAN—The day that Sneddon ordered the water course to be cut was the one that Messrs. Colquhoun and Davidson were there. Mr. Sneddon was standing at the bottom of the pit. Willison engaged me, and he was well qualified for the place he occupied. I said to him that if he would stop up the holes at the throughers it would improve the air, and he said he would do all he could for it. When I left it was on a warning for a break of wages.
By the COURT—Complained to Alexander Willison about the state of the air, and he said he would do all he could for it. Did not complain to John Sneddon about it; but when he was down he had opportunities of seeing it. The state of the air was much talked of, and I have heard John Porteous, and some of the men who were killed, complain of it.
John Gordon sworn, said—Was a miner for about six weeks in No. 2 Commonhead pit. Left on 12th July. Left in consequence of the firedamp. There seemed to me to be so much of it as to make it dangerous. Have seen John Sneddon in the pit, and have seen him give directions. He once told me to lower the sleepers.
By Mr. LOGAN — Alex. Willison engaged me.
Henry Drysdale examined — Was working at Commonhead the Saturday before the accident - two days before it. Was the last person to come up that afternoon. The fire was out. Saw John Sneddon down sometimes, and he has spoken to me when he was down. He complained that I was making a place too wide. Have seen James Sneddon down twice. Was in the pit for six weeks. There is a slope road at the east end of the east level. It is next to the farthest in througher. It is used as a road for bringing down hutches. There was no trap door upon it. There was an open course for the air down that slope.
By the COURT — I had not left the work, but was not at the pit on Tuesday in time.
David Campbell examined. — Am a coal miner. One day last summer I called on Mr. Sneddon, along with Andrew Izatt - about a month before the accident. I was wanting work. He asked me if I was quiet and decent, as he did not wish to employ any person except of this description. I was sent to Willison to get a vacant space, and when I got there he was in the west heading examining a place full of fire. He told a man to waft the fire out with his jacket, which was done, when I spoke with him. He showed me my place. It was full of fire, and I refused to take the place, as the boys I had might burn me and themselves. He then showed me another place on the east level. I found both fire and water in it, and, on working about four or five hours, I left it, and went no more back. I tried my lamp, and there appeared to be no circulation of air.
By Mr. NEAVES. — Izatt was my brother-in-law. He had, I suppose, been working there some time. I don't know that Izatt's family have brought an action of damages against Mr. Sneddon.
Ralph M'Alpine examined - I was a miner for about a fortnight in No. 2 pit at Commonhead. Left on the 13th July. James Sneddon came down, one day and told me I was not to blow the coal with powder, but break it down with a mall and wedges. He said I was to keep the coal as round and large as possible. Mr Sneddon's son seemed to take the management. There was a good deal of fire damp where I was working in the east heading road. The damp fired with myself different times. Spoke to Willison about it, but he said he could not help it, until there was a hole put through from my space to that of another man. I wished him to pay me to do this, but he said Sneddon used to pay 4s. 6d. for this but that Sneddon would not allow it to be done. Willison had asked Sneddon to allow me to do this. I understood this came from the father.
By Mr. LOGAN — At the time Mr. Sneddon gave me the orders for working the coal, Messrs. Colquhoun and Davidson were with him. He was in my own space. I assisted to drive a hole through ; and the time I was there I saw an improvement, but I left it the same day. The conversation between Willison and I took place in my own room the day before. Willison did not go and ask Mr. Sneddon to pay 4s. 6d. for making the hole. I left partly in consequence of the state of the air, and partly from a notice to break the wages.
By the COURT — Notwithstanding the reduction of the wages, had the air been good I would have remained. The bad air was often talked of, and was well known as a character of the pit.
James Tod sworn — Lives in Commonhead Street of Airdrie. No. 2 pit is about 400 yards from my house. The pit is within the burgh of Airdrie. Alexander Willison, the firesman, who was killed, lived with me. He has spoken to me of the state of the workings - saying the pit was not ventilated as it should be. Gave no reason for this. He said he had only the form of a cube in the pit. This would be three weeks or a month before his death.
By the COURT— He was not working the day before his death ; but he did not tell me why.
Michael Scott sworn — I was working in the Virtue Well seam of coal at Commonhead. There is an entrance from this to No. 2 shaft. There is another pit down to the Virtue Well coal. That is No. 3. There is a brattice which is shut, except for letting up the coal. Saw a hole in it about six weeks before the accident. It continued in it till the accident. Saw it the previous day. In going to the Virtue Well coal went down No. 2 pit. Worked nine weeks in the Kiltongue seam. There has been workings here since last summer. Went to No. 2 pit on the morning of the accident. Saw Robert Izatt and Robert Wark go down. I afterwards heard a blast, when I ran to Mr. Sneddon's. It was a great sound, and I oberved some bits of sticks thrown up to the mouth of the pit. Saw James Sneddon and he came to the mouth of the pit.
By Mr. LOGAN— Was told that young Mr. Sneddon was not at home.
By the COURT — Willison was sometimes in the Virtue Well seam looking over it. There was no fire damp in the Virtue Well seam. The Kiltongue seam was 20 fathoms deeper than the Virtue Well seam. The Virtue Well seam is about 30 fathoms. I went to the Virtue Well coal about four months before the accident. Did not observe any damp in the Kiltongue seam ; but it was just beginning. At this time there was just about five fathoms on either side of the level. Have heard of there being fire damp in the Kiltongue seam.
William Izatt examined — Was working in Virtue Well seam at Commonhead at the time of the accident. Had not gone down on that morning. There was a brattice at the down-put shaft, in which there was a large hole, about 2 feet 9 inches. This hole was open for four weeks before the accident. The seams of the brattice were also open. We could have come down into the Virtue Well seam. fifteen days after the accident, it was renewed and put into a proper state. Saw my brother go down on the morning of the accident, and I identified his body. Was six or seven yards away when he went down, but was present at the pit-mouth when the blast occurred. It reminded me of a blast in a limestone quarry. The first thing that came up the shaft was the rubbish, and then pieces of deal. I sent Dickson for James Sneddon, and efforts were made to get down to the men. It was tried to get up the cage, but it was fast. After that we saw the rope moving, and then James Willison was brought up. We then got a kettle arranged, but it could not be got down for the cage that was fast in the shaft. Some of us then asked Mr. Sneddon to cut the rope, but it was refused, and I then went away. I worked about three months in the Kiltongne seam, where I saw John. Sneddon, who seemed to take the management.
By the COURT — There was fire damp in it then.
By Mr. NEAVES — I know that actions have been brought against Mr. Sneddon by my brother's family.
By the COURT — The ventilators were not properly constructed, and the pit was ill managed and ill divided. Willison was fireman. at the time. Fire damp was found every morning in the pit. The works increased much larger during the three months I was there. Have seen it fire three or four times a-day.
John Dunsmore sworn — Am a coal miner. Went down to the Kiltongue seam of coal at No. 2 pit, Commonhead, on the after noon of the accident. This would be about 4 o'clock. The mid wall was broken down to the extent of about 7 or 8 fathoms. In consequence of the quantity of materials at the bottom of the shaft there was a difficulty in getting down. John Sneddon and William Thomson were with me. We went up the west heading about two yards. Saw a trap-door there. It was thrown down. Saw a few-stones lying upon the heading road. Observed some stones piled up at the heading road. The stones that were lying on the road seemed to have come from that heap of stones. The building was along the side of the heading road, but did not see if there was a mine behind them. The trap-door was lying above the stones, so that it had not been knocked down by the stones. Saw no falling from the roof. Did not go far up the road in consequence of the choke damp. Tried the east road, but had to return from it also, when we came up the pit.
John Jenkins sworn— Went to pit No. 2 after the accident which took place on Tuesday. Had been engaged in shanking the downcast part of the pit. This was about August. There was a difficulty in getting a cage down the shaft after the accident. A person was let down about three quarters of an hour after the accident. Could not get down far in consequence of the choke damp. When we went down first, we heard some groans. I cried, but got no answer. We returned, and went down again after putting in some water. After trying three times we got down, when we saw some bodies, but we could not get them up. A number of bodies were brought up that day and the next.
By Mr. NEAVES — We finished the shanking of the pit in the latter end of November.
By Mr. LOGAN— After shanking the pit, I went to work in Virtue Well seam. Worked there about three months. During all that time I never saw old Mr. Sneddon down. Where I was working, I never saw fire damp. It was ventilated from No. 1 pit.
Peter Gillies sworn— Am a miner. Was employed to go down to the Kiltongue seam of coal the day after the accident. The mid-wall was broken down, and we got one temporarily put up. Got a temporary brattice also put up. Saw a heap of stones, some of which appeared to have fallen on the road. Did not see any fall from the roof. Went into the mine through the door stoop, saw no fall from the roof. Saw the body of Willison found on the east level road. The Davy lamp was found on the high west level road. Saw some throughers that had been built, and those that were built, were built to the top. Two or three of them had no stuffing
By MR NEAVES - Have been an oversman, and knows the duty. His duty is to keep the throughers tight for the men's safety, and brattice the pit when necessary. The general plan of this pit is good for ventilation if well carried out.
George Law sworn - Am a miner. Went out to Kiltongue seam of coal on the day after the accident. Observed the open space on the west level. They were all open for about sixteen inches from the top. None of them were entirely open. It did not appear to me that any of them had been disturbed by the blast except one. Observed some days after a fall to have taken place at the mine, at the door stoop. Observed this on the Monday.
Andrew Clarkson sworn—Am a contractor at Rawyards. Went to Commonhead pit on the afternoon of Wednesday - the day after the accident. Found Jamcs Sneddon there. There was a difficulty in getting down, and I got some men to assist in drawing water. At intervals went down to superintend my workmen. On Monday following saw a fall at a mine near the door stoop.
By Mr. NEAVES — Have had some experience in working coal pits. The duty of an oversman is to ventilate the pit so far as is in his power. With regard to the throughers, it is his duty to fill them up, or see them done. If they subside, it is his duty to stuff them. Bratticing and attending to the walls is his duty.
James Ritchie gave evidence in corroboration.
Dr. James Cullen sworn—Am a physician in Airdrie. Along with Dr. Torrance and Dr. Templar, examined the bodies of the men killed in the coal pit. Made up a report. [Witness here produced the report. The report detailed that death was occasioned by suffocation, with the exception of two who must have been killed. The report was not read.]
John Williamson, mining engineer examined—Have been 40 years connected with coal mines. Was employed to visit No 2 Pit at Commonhead, after the accident. Visited it on the 20th of July. After that, Mr. Marshall visited it, with whom I made a joint report. [Witness here read the report, which explained the state of the pit as found by them. The report also detailed the modes at considerable length by which mines were ventilated, which, if neglected, were sure to cause the most disastrous result.The forcing of the air down the shaft, as was done in this case, was an inadequate mode for supplying the pit with pure air. Had the trap doors been close, and had there been proper ventilating apparatus, the disastrous occurrence would not have taken place.] When we got down into the pit we examined the stoppings, and we found them blown out a little. They had been partially prepared. Can't say that from what we saw they would be effectual before the accident. The fire-place was not so sufficient as should have been, and such as would affect the air in the pit. According to the construction of the pit, there should have been no passage into Virtue Well seam. The brattice was not so strong as it should have been, and there was a hole in it which would materially damage the air below. The plans were made by my son. Observed a slip road on the east left, where there was no trap door. This was not proper. Saw the appearance of a fall from the roof of the mine near the stoop door. The plan of ventilation was quite good enough if it had been carried out. There should have been a proper fire-place at the bottom of the shaft, and all the air courses properly attended to. If there were any of the throughers entirely open, and if any of them were open a few inches from the top, that would materially effect the air courses. The pit was easily ventilated. The workings extended to about an acre and a half. If the fire-place was such as I saw, and if there had not been a fire burning for two or three days, and if the throughers were not properly filled up, that would be a sufficient reason for the accumulation of the fire damp.
By Mr. NEAVF.S—Could form no opinion of what the brattice had been in consequence of the damage sustained. So far as I saw there was sufficient material for bratticing. The fire-place might have extended 18 inches from the wall. It was not raised from the ground. It was in a state of confusion, and had been knocked down. [Mr. Neaves examined this witness at considerable length, but the evidence was of so technical a description, that our readers would not understand it without the aid of plans.]
Mr. Marshall, mining engineer, also spoke to the state of the pit, and after some other proceedings, the Court broke up at five o'clock till nine next morning, the jury being conducted to Mr. Josez, North British Hotel, under the charge of Mr. Munro, the macer.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 3. (BEFORE LORD JUSTICE-CLERK.) The Court resumed this morning at nine o'clock, and proceeded with the Airdrie case.
Wm. Thomson called and examined by Mr. NEAVES—Am a coal overseer. Knows Airdrie district of coal, and has been accustomed to practical mining all my life. Knows No. 2 Commonhead pit. Knew it when it was opened for ironstone. Mr. Sneddon did this for the Messrs Baird. Knew that it was afterwards shanked from the seam of coal and ironstone down to Virtue Well. Remembers also the shanking to Kiltongue seam at the end of last year. After being opened I came to the Kiltongue seam. I came as overseer then—that is the same as oversman. I came so soon as an oversman was needed. I conducted the ventilation, and saw that the men worked to the orders given. I considered the ventilation the most particular part. It was my duty to make the mid wall sufficient for air passing. When I went, the mid wall was pretty good, but I stuffed it with " shows." I put up trap doors at the bottom of the shaft, opening different ways for ventilation. The purpose of these were to allow an entrance, and not interfere with the ventilation. The east and west level, and the east and west heading were begun simultaneously. Knew that there was fire in the pit, but it was not dangerous. The seam is worked in other places, and fire is common in them. I also opened the mine at the back of the door post for ventilation, as the level had not extended far. It was afterwards to be filled up. I was there for a month, and left for Mr. Kidd's, at Millfield. I put a trap-door on east and west heading. The west heading trap-door had been removed farther. When I left in Feb. or March, the two levels were past the stoop. Both headings were commenced at the door-stoop. The second heading was just formed, but the stoop was not formed when I left. When I left. Mr. John Sneddon asked me to get a man in my place if I knew any one. I looked out for a man, and got Willison. M'Millan worked several shifts with me, and I left him to take charge till a man was got. I recommended Willison, and I considered he came in my place. I knew how the works were to proceed, and of the plan of ventilation. I communicated with Willison, and he also knew this. When I was there, I considered it necessary to attend to all the ventilation without consulting my master, and Willison got the same injunctions from John Sneddon and myself. Saw Willison occasionally every week after I left, and he often spoke to me of his operations. He consulted me what he should do. and I still considered he should attend to the ventilation. I suggested to him to carry up the stoppings, and got them filled with fire clay, and carry the bratticing forward to the west heading. He told me this had been done. He never gave me reason to believe that he had been prevented from doing anything necessary. I never was refused anything, and I understood any suggestion which I made to him was carried out. I understood he was proceeding to fill up the throughers. Nothing can be better than fire-clay for stopping the throughers, and there was plenty of it in the pit. From the nature of stowing a subsidence might occur, but it should be again filled to the roof. When there I went down with the men, and they remained at the bottom till I reported. Willison told me he even went earlier than myself for the convenience of the men. My communications with Willison extended down to the Sunday before the accident, and up to that time we were in the habit of talking about the pit. He never complained to me of being over worked. He had some little charge of the Virtue Well seam. From the extent of the workings in Mr. Sneddon's pit, I do not consider Willison had too much to do. I agreed with Sneddon to have an occasional assistant, and when work advanced to have a regular assistant, but I considered Willison could attend to all his duties. He never told me he had been refused assistance. He has spoken to me of fire, and he told me that he had placed a cube in the bottom of the pit. He seemed to think that it was working well: he made no complaints of it. I heard the explosion, and went to give assistance. 1 went down the pit, and found Willison's naked lamp. I saw that the throughers had been disturbed by the blast. The pit was afterwards gradually put into repair. It appeared to me that the heaviest part of the blast came from the east side.
By Mr. LOGAN.—When I was engaged at Commonhead pit, old Mr. Sneddon took no charge; and I understood he was retiring from the management,
By ADVOCATE-DEPUTE - John Sneddon came down the pit occasionally, and we consulted together. I told him what I wanted, necessary for the work. There was a slope road on the cast side of the pit when I was there. I have two assistants where I am.
By Mr. NEAVES.—There are about 90 men in the works where I in.
By the COURT—There were ten men in all at Mr. Sneddon's work when I left. I framed the plan of the workings at that pit. John Sneddon seemed to have little knowledge of this. Before I left I had seen fire-damp, but not to any extent. No furnace was necessary while I was there, and I did not make any suggestions about one to Willison. I understood that James was retiring from active management, and John seemed to speak and act as if he was the tenant in possession. To him I applied for supplies whenever needed, and he went down the pit when ever he chose. He paid me and the other men. I had a safety lamp, but the men had none. There is fire-damp in Mr. Kidd's to the extent that we have sometimes to clear it out. We press it out at the doors. It is not to the extent that men have to waft it out with their coats. When full air occurs, the ventilation is so good as to be sufficient to clear it. It never accumulates through the day so as to light a man's lamp. There is no cube in the pit, and the workmen have no safety lamps. I have often seen fire-damp accumulating in pits during the day, after being cleared out in the morning. These were in Lanarkshire. Mr. Dickson of Whifflet supplies safety lamps. There are also some safety lamps in Mr. Merry's pits.
By .Mr. LOGAN—Samuel M'Millan examined—Succeeded previous witness as oversman at pit at Commonhead. Was succeeded by Willison. At No. 3 pit there was plenty of wood for bratticing. Never was pinched of material. I got instructions from John Sneddon to keep it lighted night and day; and on Sundays the engineman at pithead had instructions to call me for that purpose, and let me down.
John Miller, examined by Mr. LOGAN —I wrought at No. 2 Commonhead pit till May last from the time it was opened. When the blast took place, I was working at No. 3 pit. I knew the late Alexander Willison. I saw him on the day before the blast in the engine house at No. 2 pit. He had his Davy lamp, and he said he was going to boil it, to put it in a good state. He considered his Davy lamp as being a good one. Was at Mr. Sneddon's office the Saturday before the blast. John Sneddon and Willison were there. Sneddon asked Willison if he was going home, and he asked him who was to kindle the fire. He told John Sneddon that he would get a man to kindle it, and he looked towards me. John Sneddon wanted the fire to be lighted. I have heard John Sneddon on other occasions giving instructions to Willison to light the fire. From what I have seen, I always understood that John Sneddon wanted the fire lighted. I never was a workman in the Kiltongue seam, but I have been very often down. If there had been anything amiss in the pit I would have seen it. Have been 36 years a miner, and I was an oversman. His duties are to look to the ventilation, and keep the pit in good order without consulting his master. Have seen the cube in No. 2 pit often. It opened into the rise side, and as I passed the head of No. 2 pit, have seen the smoke. The cube would be 7 feet from end to end. The furnace bars would be 3 1/2 feet. That cube I would consider sufficient for the pit. Have seen the " reek " so strong at pit-head as to require me to leave. There was a spare Davy lamp in the Kiltongue seam, to be used if required. Have seen the workmen, especially a man named Hunter, kindle the fire with his naked lamp as it came out from the seam. The workmen were careless.
John Davidson, examined by .Mr. NEAVES.—I live in Airdrie, and am well acquainted with mining. Am one of the magistrates, know the No. 2 pit, belonging to Mr. Sneddon. I was asked to go down and examine it in the beginning of July last by Mr. Aiton This was in consequence of a man named Hunter being burned. I went down with a view to examine the pit as to its ventilation. I went through the pit, and saw the plan in which it was ventilated. I examined bratticings, stowings, and trap-doors, and I formed an opinion at that date, that I never saw a better ventilated pit than this was. The duties of oversman are to attend to the ventilation, and it is not customary for his master to be going about him. [Witness here explained the ordinary duties of oversman, as spoken to by previous witnesses.
By ADVOCATE-DEPUTE - When I visited the pit, I asked James Sneddon to go with me, and he came with me. John Sneddo n followed. I was shown the place where Hunter was burned. It is forty-four feet from the end of the bottom,and nine feet from the edge of the level to the trap-door. I was at west end of west level, east end of east level, and at top of both headings. James Sneddon went round with me. I never saw a current so strong in any pit. Saw no water used while I was there. Am not aware any was used. Workmen are occasionally kept above ground till the oversman reports. This is a safer course; and whenever fire exists I think this rule should be adopted. If fire occasionally lighted on the workmen's naked lamp, I should consider that the men should be kept above around till the pit is reported.
By Mr. NEAVES.—There was an upcast draught from the Kiltongue seam, which seemed to be working very fine.
By the COURT.—Mr. Aiton is agent for the Messrs. Sneddon. I went down on behalf of the Sneddons to be a witness, in case of any claim being brought against them by Hunter. I am not aware of the extent of Hunter's injury. There was a good red gloss in the fire at the time. The width of the cube was sixteen inches, the height twenty, and the length four feet and a half, and the stalk about the same. I measured the cube with my arm.
Thereafter Mr. John Currie,. Mr. John Judge, Mr. William Cameron, Mr. William M'Creath, and Mr. George Simpson gave evidence as to the usually safe state of the pit, and the high character of the Messrs. Sneddon.
Mr. Neil Robson, examined by Mr. LOGAN—Am an engineer of 25 years' experience. Went down this pit, and knows the general plans of its construction. The general plan of the ventilation appeared to me to be correct, and the same as is generally adopted. No system of ventilation will prevent the appearance of gas as new workings are broken. Gas is 14 or 15 times lighter than air, and always goes to the rise. It would have been better to have had a trap-door at the east level, but that would not materially have affected the ventilation. The success of the ventilation would depend entirely upon how the plan was carried out. It is the duty of the underground oversman to look after the general workings. He knows the practice, and ought to follow out all the details. The duty of oversman in this pit, looking at the Virtue Well seam, was not too much. Supposing he had examined the whole workings he would only have had to travel about a mile. 10 throughers or stoppings were not too many to be overtaken by one man. [This witness corroborated the evidence of previous witnesses as to the duties of the oversman.] Understood that there was a hole in the bratticing of the Kiltongue coal, but this would materially affect the circulation. Saw where there had been a cube at the bottom of the pit, and measured the bars, which were three feet long. Saw also some bricks embedded in lime: and every appearance of their having been a cube. The cube would have been sufficient to promote the circulation of the air courses had it been properly kept.
By the ADVOCATE-DEPUTE—So far as his judgment went, he would not consider it a very fiery pit. If there was much fire at the west level, and at the north end of the west heading, it would show that at that time the ventilation was imperfect.
By Mr. NEAVES—After a cessation of two days' working, there ought to have been greater care exercised, and the oversman should have had the fire lighted on the Monday, and not postponed it till the going down of the workmen.
By the COURT—I attribute this great explosion of gas to the fact of the air having become stagnant in the waste, and that the cube not being lighted, some of the men must have gone into the waste with their naked lamps. I would attribute the accumulation partly to the stoppings being open, if they were open, and partly to the want of the fire. If the foul air accumulated once or twice a day, and required to be wafted out, and could discern no current by the lamp, I would consider the cube imperfect, and the stoppings not complete.
Win. Baird of Gartsherrie spoke to the high character which was borne by James Sneddon. He had brought up his family respectably. Did not recollect of any accident occurring with him up till the one in July last.
Mr. James Merry.—Knew James Sneddon. He was for 20 years in the employment of my father, and I have known him since a boy. He is well thought of as a steady respectable man.
Mr. Alex. Buttrey also spoke to the character of James Sneddon to the same effect.
Mr. Walter Nelson, an iron master, spoke to the same effect as to the character of James Sneddon.
This having closed the exculpatory proof.
The ADVOCATE-DEPUTE addressed the jury, going over the evidence at length. He contended whatever may have been attempted to be proved to the contrary, that old Mr. Sneddon was the party responsible for this coal pit, to whom all orders were given, and by whom orders were also given to the workmen. The son, John Sneddon, was no less a responsible party, for he had been proved to take an active management in, and a general survey of, the workings of the pit, to whom all matters were referred by the deceased Willison, and who acted according to his instructions. The whole carrying on of this pit was in fact entirely under the direction of both the prisoners, and they were bound to do everything to the pit, necessary for the safety of the workmen or see it done. If defects existed in this pit, such defects must have been undoubtedly as well known to the prisoners as to any other person, for they were in the habit of going down to this pit and examining it. The plan of ventilation adopted in the pit was good, and might have been carried out, if proper measures had been adopted. The complete ventilation of this pit was essentially necessary for the safety of the workmen; and if the ventilation was not properly attended to, fire-damp would most necessarily accumulate; and according to all the witnesses who had been examined, all that was required to avoid this was to keep the air courses in proper order, and also to rarify the air at the bottom of the down-cast shaft. These essentials were no doubt as present to the mind of the parties working the pit as the persons employed in it, and he therefore submitted that there had been visible and culpable neglect in not attending to the keeping of the air courses in proper order. He dwelt upon the hole which existed in the brattice at the Virtue Well pit, and maintained that such a hole could not exist without the knowledge of those in the management of the pit, and consequently there was neglect in not having such brattice put into proper repair. The evidence of very many of the miners had gone to show that the spaces were not properly kept, and some of them not filled at all, thus proving how little attention had been paid to the proper circulation of the air, which could easily have been commanded by filling up these spaces. The Advocate-Depute then took a general view of all the detects which had been proved to exist in the ventilation of the pit, and continued to contend that the two prisoners were bound to attend to the circulation of the air in this pit, and having failed to do so, were undoubtedly the parties guilty of the neglect charged in the indictment. Proper precaution was not used in the pit, and all the mischief which occurred in this pit could have been prevented, and ought to have been prevented, by the prisoners at the bar. He therefore asked for a verdict convicting both the prisoners as charged in the indictment.
Mr. NEAVES then addressed the jury on behalf of the prisoner John Sneddon. He contended that he was not the responsible party, as Willison was the party appointed by him to superintend the workings under ground. He endeavoured to show that Willison was alone responsible, as from his negligence might be traced the causes which had led to the most disastrous accident.
Mr. LOGAN then addressed the jury for the prisoner Mr. James Sneddon; and attempted to show that he seldom had been about the pit, and so little interest had he taken in the workings, that he could not in any way be considered responsible for anything that had occurred.
The LORD JUSTICE-CLERK then summed up the evidence at great length. He proceeded at the outset to take a general view of the responsibilities which attached to tenants and managers of coal pits; and then went on to show, from the evidence which had been adduced, how far the prisoners at the bar might be considered liable or guilty of the accident which was the occasion of the present trial. If Mr. Sneddon sinking this pit, and drawing for aught they knew the whole profits derived from such mine, living within four hundred yards of the mine, and yet remaining ignorant of its working, and without making any inquiry as to the proper ventilation of such pit himself, but leaving it to others to attend to, then that would be at his own hazard, although as received in criminal law, he may be less guilty than the manager to whom he trusted, and believed would look after the working of the pit, and to whom he depended on all the measures ordered by himself, for the proper circulation of the air in the pit, and the proper ventilation of the pit being attended to. If he could prove this—if he could prove the duties which he had entrusted to another had not been properly attended to, although he may then be so far free from blame, still culpability attached to him. If, however, by any means, he had in any way contributed to occasion the death of any workman, by not seeing the instructions which he had given carried out, then the question arose—can such person be free from blame or culpability? If he had neglected his duty; if he had been proved to contribute to the death of such workman, he could not be free from blame; and whatever his guilt may have been—great or small—he had undoubtedly neglected his duty, and was culpable for such neglect. The Lord Justice Clerk then went over the evidence, commenting upon the most prominent points at great length. It was now for the jury to consider from the evidence which had been laid before them, whether one or both of the panels at the bar were guilty of the charges brought against them. Although they might consider that there had been an unnecessary accumulation of fire-damp during the Sunday and Monday occasioned by the neglect of Willison the oversman, still that would not exempt the panels from culpability, because the great primary evil had been proved to be the want of proper circulation of air in the pit, of which they must have been perfectly cognisant. If their manager neglected his duty, and if they saw that the proper ventilation of the pit was not attended to, and if the fire was not continually lighted when necessary, and proper precautions generally were not taken to prevent the workmen going down a pit where so much fire damp was known to exist, although that would not lessen the liability of Willison to criminal law, still it would not have exempted them. They must admit, therefore, that there had been culpable neglect of duty. The senior prisoner might not be so guilty as the junior, who seemed to take the active management of the pit. They would, however, consider the whole facts of the case with due attention and gravity. The jury then retired at 7 o'clock, and after an absence of above half an hour, returned into Court finding James Sneddon the father not guilty, and the charge against the son, John Sneddon, not proven by a majority of one. The verdict was received with slight applause, which, however, was speedily checked.
The LORD JUSTICE-CLERK thanked the jury for the attention they had bestowed on this case, and the Court adjourned till this morning at nine o'clock. [Glasgow Herald 4 October 1850]