Donibristle Disaster 26th August 1901
On 26th August 1901 there was an inflow of moss at Donibristle Colliery, in Fife, owned by Donibristle Coal Co. causing the loss of eight lives.
Two men David Campbell and Alexander Smith were working at the heading, probing upwards with a rod as part of operations to form an air shaft. At 1.40pm the moss burst in killing both men and another two men working in the lower levels. Six others were trapped and two rescue parties were formed - one party of four led by Thomas Rattray was never seen again.
The next day, rescuers lowered on ropes down a shaft succeeded in freeing 5 of the trapped men. While searching for the sixth man Alexander Bauld, two of these rescuers, John Jones and John Sheddon were trapped as the moss once more flowed in. These men were rescued on the 29th by Robert Law, miner, Cowdenbeath.
List of Dead
Thomas Rattray, 54, oversman
Inspector of Mines Report
Report on an accident at Donibristle Colliery, Fifeshire, which occurred on the 26th August, 1901, and was caused by a flow of soft peat or moss into the Mine, involving the loss of eight lives, By J. B. Atkinson, Esq., one of H.M. Inspectors of Mines, 18, Merchiston Gardens, Edinburgh.
16th November, 1901.
On the 26th August, 1901, about 1.40 p.m., soft peat or moss commenced to flow into a heading in the East section of Mynheer Coal Seam workings of the Nos. 12 and 15 Pits, Donibristle Colliery, and caused the death or imprisonment of the persons shown in the following tables.
Killed (Name, age, occupation, Body recovered- Date/Place)
Engaged in the workings near the inflow.
1. David Campbell 64 Pit inspector Not yet found.
2. Alexander Smith 48 oncostman 27th September At face of highest road off working heading on west side, in moss.
3. George Herd Hutchison 50 Miner 15th September On main level, in moss, 105 yards from extremity of flow.
4. William Forsyth 20 Wheeler 25th September In refuge hole, 40 yards from top of lower incline on west side.
Forming a rescue party from pit bottom.
5. Thomas Rattray 54 Oversman Not yet found
6. William Hynd 52 Pit bottomer Not yet found.
7. James Bowman McDonald, 32, Incline bottomer Not yet found.
8. Andrew Paterson 40 Ostler Not yet found.
Rescued. (No. Name. Age. Occupation. Time when rescued. Hours imprisoned)
In mine at time of inflow, 1.40 p.m. on 26th.
John Farquhar 40 Miner 5.50 p.m. on 27th - imprisoned 28 hours
John Colville 33 Miner 6pm on 27th - imprisoned 28 hours
Thomas Bauld 35 Miner 6.15p.m on 27th - imprisoned 28 hours
Andrew Love 40 Miner 6.30p.m on 27th - imprisoned 28 hours- imprisoned 28 hours
John Beveridge 32 Miner 6.45p.m. On 27th - imprisoned 28 hours- imprisoned 29 hours
Alexander Bauld 42 Miner 2.0a.m. On 29th - imprisoned 28 hours- imprisoned 60 hours
These miners had been at work about 7 hours before they were imprisoned.
Rescuers imprisoned on the 27th at 6.30 p.m.
John Jones Mining contractor 2.0a.m. - imprisoned 32 hours
John Sheddon Miner 2.0a.m. - imprisoned 32 hours- imprisoned 32 hours
Six persons, engaged near the inflow, escaped with more or less difficulty on the 26th, by means of a road leading to a day mine.
An inquiry, under the Fatal Accidents Inquiry (Scotland) Act, was held in the Dunfermline Sheriff Court on the 25th September, 1901, into the circumstances of the accident. Sheriff Substitute Gillespie presided ; Honorary Sheriff Substitute Walker occupied a seat on the bench.
The following were parties to the Inquiry :—Mr. J. S. Soutar, Acting Procurator Fiscal; Mr. John Ross, Solicitor, Dunfermline, appeared for the Donibristle Colliery Company ; Mr. James Currie Macbeth, Solicitor, Dunfermline, appeared for the Fife and Kinross Miners' Association and for the relatives of the deceased ; Mr. W. G. Campbell, Solicitor, Edinburgh, appeared for Messrs. Anderson and Chisholm, Solicitors, Edinburgh, agents for the Ocean Insurance Company, Limited, with whom the Donibristle Colliery Company were insured against liability for accidents to workmen; I was present as Inspector of Mines.
Mr. R. McLaren and Mr. H. Johnstone, Inspectors of Mines assisting in the district ; Mr. James Innes, President, and Mr. John Weir, Secretary, of the Fife and Kinross Miners' Association, were also present.
Fifteen witnesses were examined, including Mr. A. H. Nasmyth, the junior partner of the Donibristle Colliery Company ; Mr. Alex. Nasmyth, the manager of the colliery ; and Mr. John Gemmell, Mining Engineer, Edinburgh, one of the partners of the firm of Messrs. Landale, Frew and Gemmell, Mining Engineers, Glasgow, who acted for the landlord, the Earl of Moray, and occasionally advised the owners.
The jury returned the following verdict:-
The jury unanimously find that the deceased were killed in the Mynheer Seam of No, 12 Pit of Donibristle Colliery on 26th August, 1901, by a subsidence of the mossy surface, which flowed into the workings.
This colourless verdict satisfies all the requirements of the Fatal Accidents Inquiry (Scotland) Act so far as the jury is concerned.
I was informed of the accident by telegram on the 26th, and arrived at the colliery about 9 p.m., and from that time either Mr. Johnstone, one of the Inspectors assisting in the district, or myself was present, assisting to the best of our ability in the various operations, until the last man was rescued. Since then several examinations of the mine have been made by the Inspectors assisting and myself in investigation of the cause of the accident, and to suggest means for the recovery of the bodies of the victims.
Description of the Colliery - Donibristle Colliery is situated in the Parish of Aberdour, and near the Burgh of Cowdenbeath in Fifeshire. It is is owned by a private company trading as the Donibristle Colliery Company, the partners of which are Mr. James Armstrong Nasmyth and his son Mr. Alexander Hogg Nasmyth. Both partners hold certificates as managers of mines, and are well acquainted with every detail of the management of collieries. The age of the senior partner precluded him from taking an active part in the affairs of the Company, but the junior partner directed as owner all the main operations of the colliery.
The certificated manager is Mr. Alexander Nasmyth, a nephew of the senior partner.
No under-manager was appointed, although Thomas Rattray the oversman of Nos. 12 and 15 Pits, which included the district in which the accident occurred, held a certificate as under-manager of a mine.
The mineral area leased by the Company lies on the southern edge of the Fife Coal Field ; the seams worked all lie in the Lower or Carboniferous Limestone series of the Carboniferous System of Scotland. The Donibristle coal field is intersected by several large faults. The inclination of the measures is somewhat irregular, but on the whole the rise is to the south, all the seams cropping out in that direction within the limits of the field leased.
A feature of the coalfield is that most of the workings lie under a moss, 450 feet above sea level, a rough square of about 1 mile each way, known as Moss Morran, and consisting of flat moorland, still the home of a few grouse.
It was stated by Mr. Gemmell at the Inquiry that on an old map of Fife, dated 1662, Moss Morran is shown as a sheet of water. The map Mr. Gemmell referred to is Timothy Pont's map of Fife, published at Amsterdam as part of Blaeu's " Atlas " in the year 1662.
Donibristle Colliery has been in operation for many years, and numerous shafts and daylight mines have been in use for working the various seams.
At the time of the accident the following openings from the surface, communicating with the underground workings, were in use :-
- The James Pit & The Marion Pit - To the north of the field.
- No 12 Pit & No 15 Pit - These pits were recently sunk deeper from the Mynheer to the the Dunfermline Splint, and during the sinking were in turn used as a coal winding shaft.
- The Fan or Isabella Pit.
- The Day Mine on the Moss.
There are about 270 persons employed underground at Donibristle Colliery and 80 on the surface.
For the purposes of this report it is only necessary to describe particularly a part of the colliery lying to the east and north of a large fault known as the Moss Morran Dyke, with its approaches from the surface, as shown on Sheet I. accompanying this report.
The Nos. 12 and 15 Pits are sunk to the Dunfermline splint seam at a depth of 97 fathoms, intersecting the Mynheer seam at 77 fathoms. A level in the Mynheer seam extends in an easterly direction from No. 12 Pit for 120 yards, and from this level a stone mine, driven nearly flat for 310 yards, crosses the Moss Morran Dyke, which has here a throw of 20 fathoms up to the east, and catches the Mynheer seam on the rise side.
Levels were driven in the Mynheer seam on each side of the stone mine, and headings from the levels enabled the coal to be worked across the hill on the longwall method. To the north-west the coal was exhausted and the workings are not shown on the plan. To the east the level continued for 540 yards to the working heading and terminated at a large fault a few yards further in. A portion of coal still remained to be extracted near the outcrop and to the rise of the extremity of the level.
From the Mynheer level, inside the Moss Morran Dyke, two stone mines were driven to the Parrot seam, which lies above the Mynheer, intersecting also the Glassee seam. The first stone mine was a continuation of that across the Moss Morran Dyke and was driven level, the second was 227 yards further in, and was driven with an inclination of 1 in 3. The position of these stone mines is shown on Sheet I., but the workings, which were of considerable area in the Parrot seam and less extensive in the Glassee seam, are not shown as the moss did not penetrate to them. The workmen employed in these seams at the time of the accident escaped without difficulty.
It will be observed on Plan I. that to the rise of the first portion of the level extending to the east are workings marked "older workings." These workings had been prosecuted many years ago from a higher level, and were on the stoop and room system. They extended from the level at which they were won to the outcrop, but had not exhausted the coal in an easterly direction, so that the innermost heading of the present workings passed them and was driven in the coal to the outcrop, the outer headings having all terminated on reaching the older workings. It was at the face of the innermost heading that the moss burst in.
Through the older workings was an intake air-way from the surface, which continued as such along the upper roads of the longwall workings to the working faces.
The inclination of the innermost heading was 49 degrees, at which rate the outcrop was soon reached.
On Sheet II. is depicted on a larger scale the actual working places in the Mynheer seam at the time of the accident.
The Mynheer seam is 5 feet 10 inches thick in the vicinity of the burst, and is directly overlaid by a blaes or shale roof. The coal was of very good quality ; near the outcrop the backs in the coal were coated with clay. A section of the seam is given on Sheet II.
The coal, as already stated, is worked on the longwall system across the hill ; at intervals of about 10 yards on the slope, levels, directly opposite to each other, leave the heading at right angles on either side. At the working face 14 inches of coal was left on as a roof, but in the heading and levels this was worked, and in addition 2 feet 4 inches of the roof stone was blasted down and built on the low side of the levels, while wood pillars were put in on the rise side.
The heading into which the moss burst did not extend in a direct line to the main level, but was worked as a "cut chain brae" [ A self-acting incline arranged for the running of hutches of coal from several points on its length] for a length of 40 yards on the slope to an upper level along which the hutches were taken by hand for 14 yards to a lower heading worked as an ordinary self-acting incline, and 104 yards long on the slope to the main level. The miners and their drawers worked the cut chain brae, and a wheeler named William Forsyth, took the hutches from the bottom of the upper heading along the short upper level to David Rattray, who ran them singly down the second heading, where a bottomer named James Bowman McDonald was stationed, who coupled the hutches in rakes of six, whence they were led to the shaft in three stages by horses.
The air current ventilating the Mynheer, Parrot and Glassee seams, inside the Moss Morran Dyke, entered the mine by the day mine, passed down through the old stoop and room workings, along the upper levels of the longwall workings, and round the faces of the Mynheer seam, down the headings, and then passed along the Mynheer level and into the inside Parrot mine. After passing round the Parrot and Glassee faces it came out by the outer Parrot mine and along the stone mine, across the Moss Morran fault to the upcast shaft, on the top of which is an exhausting fan.
In proceeding to and from their work the miners in the Mynheer seam made use of Nos. 12 or 15 Pits and the roads along which the coal was led ; access to the workings was available by the day mine and air-way, but this route was not used by the miners, although the officials made periodical journeys through it.
The Officials who acted in the workings inside the Moss Morran Dyke, under the Manager, were :
- Thomas Rattray - Oversman.
- David Campbell - Pit Inspector or Fireman of the Mynheer workings.
- Alex. Mitchell - Pit Inspector or Fireman of the Parrot and Glassee workings.
- James Rattray & James Dick - Roadsmen.
Thomas Rattray and David Campbell, who would have been most important witnesses, both lost their lives in the accident.
The heading in the Mynheer seam having reached the outcrop about October, 1900, operations were suspended in it until a few days before the accident.
When the outcrop was reached the question of connecting it with the surface was considered in order to secure-
(1.) A ready means of ingress and egress to and from the workings ; (2.) An improvement in the ventilation.
Neither of these reasons was urgent. The miners would certainly have welcomed the new road, as it would relieve them of a toilsome journey underground, including a long climb up the inclines. As regards ventilation it was not proved to be defective, but the new road would have improved it.
Mr. A. H. Nasmyth, the junior partner, Mr. Alex. Nasmyth, the manager, and Thomas Rattray, the oversman, discussed the matter. Mr. A. H. Nasmyth stated at the Inquiry that he then told the manager and oversman that he would not agree to anything being done except on very safe lines, and that the position of the communication on the surface was to be ascertained and tests made to ascertain the thickness of moss, and if it proved thicker than where previous shafts had been sunk through it nothing was to be done. The manager and oversman, after locating the position of the heading face on the surface, probed the moss in November, 1900, by an iron rod 15 or 18 feet long, and found no bottom. The result of this test was not reported to Mr. A. H. Nasmyth, and he concluded that it was unfavourable, and that nothing was to be done. Mr. A. H. Nasmyth further stated that he would not have dreamt of putting the heading up.
The manager stated at the Inquiry that after the tests he told Rattray that it was no use putting a pit there, and that the matter was never again discussed by them.
Previous to the accident the knowledge of the surface deposits appears to have been as follows :-
(1.) The immediate surface was ordinarily hard moss and heather.
(2.) The sinking of shallow pits on the outcrops of the various seams had shown that soft moss was commonly found below the upper solid crust.
(3.) Underground operations in the Mynheer and other seams, and the sinking of pits, had shown that a bed of sand or sand and gravel lay below the soft moss, separated from it by a bed of closer moss.
(4.) The moss above the Mynheer heading had, as already stated, been probed about November, 1900, by an iron rod, and found to be of considerable thickness and soft, and the bed of sand had been observed above the coal in the heading.
(5.) A flow of moss into the mine had taken place some 40 years ago, unaccompanied by any loss of life, but filling a section of the workings. This inflow took place at a point about 300 yards to the west of the present inflow. In one case a "sit" or subsidence had taken place without any inflow of moss.
Narrative Of The Accident.
Operations were resumed in the heading on Thursday, the 22nd August, and were carried on by David Campbell, pit inspector for the Mynheer workings, and by Alexander Smith, an oncost man, who had been pit inspector in the west side Mynheer workings ; James Dick and James Rattray, roadsmen, occasionally assisted. A barricade was erected above the incline wheel to prevent the material worked going down the heading ; this barricade closed the road entirely, and the stuff that accumulated against it was afterwards removed to the rib sides on either side of the heading. The sand and gravel was worked away following the hard pavement of the seam, and the bottom of the moss reached on Saturday, the 24th, and on that day James Dick probed it by pushing forward in a slanting direction an iron rod 17 feet long and 1/2 inch diam. thick reported this to Thomas Rattray before starting work on the day of the accident and Rattray asked him if any water was got and if he required a spade to dig out the moss. Dick answered both questions in the negative, and added that as there was still 6 feet of sand to dig out a spade was not required. Operations were continued on the 26th, and about 1.40 p.m., while David Campbell and Alexander Smith were working at the face of the heading, the roof gave way, and was immediately followed by a rush of moss. The barricade appears to have prevented the moss flowing directly down the heading and forced it along the rib sides of the upper roads. On the east side it flowed round the two upper faces, but was prevented reaching the third face by a heavy fall of roof, and this road and its face remained free from moss except for a few yards from its junction with the heading. On the west side the moss had a free course and passed round the faces and into the air-way, cutting off in a short time all communication in the direction of the air shaft.
The barricade gave way an hour or two after the burst and was swept down the heading along with the wheel and its frame, the timber, rails, and sleepers, and thereafter most of the moss would flow directly down the heading, along the short level and down the second incline, and then flow in the direction of the drawing shafts.
Campbell and Smith, engaged at the heading face, were probably instantly smothered. Three of the miners on the west side of the heading escaped by the intake air-way, two of those on the east side escaped by the same route after crossing the heading.
The only miner who lost his life was George Herd Hutchison, who worked on the west side ; he was swept down the heading and his body was found in the level.
David Rattray, employed at the top of the second incline, was rescued from behind a stopping on the lower heading by his brother James Rattray and James Dick, who entered the workings by the day mine.
William Forsyth, the wheeler on the short level between the headings, seems to have attempted to escape down the lower heading, by the side of which his body was found, in a refuge hole 10 yards below the point from which David Rattray was rescued. James Dick and James Rattray nearly rescued Forsyth, but were beaten back by the moss.
The remaining six miners Nos. 1 to 6 in Table II., of whom only one, John Colville, worked on the west side, took refuge in No. 3 road on the east side, where they remained until rescued. The road was dry and the air was good, and except for the terrible risk they ran of the moss not getting away but rising and engulfing them, and the want of food, they might have been in a worse situation.
James Dick and James Rattray, the roadsmen, were underground at the time of the accident, but not in the Mynheer district; the latter came up the pit and informed his father Thomas Rattray, the oversman (who was on the surface), of the accident, and went with him to the point of subsidence. Dick went into the Mynheer level and met the moss flowing out about 50 yards from the working heading; he came up the pit, saw Thomas Rattray and let him know the position. Thomas Rattray, having returned from the point of subsidence to the Nos. 12 and 15 Pits, saw the manager and informed him of the accident, and then about 3 p.m., along with William Hynd, pit bottomer, James Bowman McDonald, incline bottomer, and Andrew Paterson, ostler, as a rescue party, descended No. 15 Pit, and were not seen again, nor have their bodies been found up to the present time.
It is surmised that they had broken through a stopping on the Mynheer level at the foot of one of the old headings, and endeavoured to reach the workings by the old roads.
It may be that Thomas Rattray's party found the moss not much further out than Dick had reported it, and thought it safe to venture through a stopping into the old roads to the rise, and while in them the moss had travelled faster, possibly owing to the giving way of the barricade in the heading, and their retreat was cut off.
The manager having been informed of the accident, about 2.40 p.m., by Thomas Rattray, who told him that the moss was 50 yards along the level from the foot of the incline, as reported by James Dick, visited the subsidence on the surface and saw what had taken place. He returned to No. 15 pit and went down to join Rattray and his rescue party, but could find no trace of them ; he found the moss had advanced 400 or 500 yards from the foot of the incline. He returned to the surface and again visited the point of subsidence, accompanied this time by Mr. A. H. Nasmyth, and found the moss still flowing into the hole. He then went down No. 15 Pit and caused a stopping, or light dam, to be erected in front of the moss in the level, and beyond this dam, shown on Sheet I., the moss never extended, nor did it exert much pressure on it.
Some time during the afternoon two square pits, A & B, Sheet II., were started in the moss, near the edge of the subsidence, to reach the workings, and these were pushed on during the night, but were given up on the 27th owing to difficulties arising from the soft nature of the moss and the presence of water.
A third round pit, C, Sheet II., was started, and an old boiler with the ends removed bi-ought forward to act as a tub. This third pit was soon given up.
The plans of the workings were not in the office at the time of the accident, but were in the office of Messrs. Landale, Frew and Gemmell, Mining Engineers, Glasgow, who surveyed the workings, and had the plans away for the purpose of adding the last survey, which had been completed during the past week.
A telegram was despatched and the plans arrived about 10 p.m., and next morning a survey was made, and it was found that the positions of the three rescue pits were such that they would go down on solid coal in which some distance would require to be driven before the faces were reached. A fourth pit, D, Sheet II., round in section, was started in a more favourable position, but was not proceeded with, as it was decided to attempt to enter the mine by the hole in the moss.
The position of a bore put down to test the thickness of the moss, &c., is shown on Sheet II. The borers reported the following as the result :-
Moss 24 feet.
Sand 7 feet
Rotten rock 7 feet
Coal 1 feet
As a preliminary step to entering the hole in the moss, two wire ropes, parallel to each other, and about 6 feet apart, were stretched across the hole, and made fast at the ends. On these ropes a carriage was fitted, which was pulled backwards and forwards by other ropes, see F, G, Sheet II.
The hole was examined from this carriage about mid-day on the 27th. A few yards of the heading could be seen ; it was free from any accumulation of moss which, however, continued to flow in and disappear.
Operations were begun to roughly secure the sides of the hole by timber, and eventually the bottom of the hole or pavement of the seam was reached, and signals received from the imprisoned men.
James Dick, roadsman, Donibristle Colliery, John Jones, mining contractor Hill of Beath Colliery, and John Sheddon, miner, were in turn lowered down the heading by a rope, and five of the imprisoned men brought to the surface. While Jones and Sheddon were down the heading along with Alexander Bauld, the only man not brought up; the moss again began to flow into the hole in large quantity, the movement being no doubt helped by the weight of the large crowd, which eagerly pressed forward, and could not be kept back. The improvised shaft was wrecked, and there were some narrow escapes from being carried down the hole. An attempt was again made to get down the heading by James Richardson, of Hill of Beath Colliery, but he was unsuccessful, and operations were suspended until the following morning, when the hole was again examined from the carriage, and found to be much increased in size, and a clear opening still available.
Two beams, 41 feet long, 12 inches broad, and 6 inches deep, were brought forward and laid in the moss across the hole, parallel to each other and 6 feet apart, and nearly at right angles to the line of the heading. Two smaller beams were laid parallel to each other and 6 feet apart, on and at right angles to the larger beams, and to each side of the square thus formed iron hangers were suspended, and barring bolted to them formed a shaft, which was carried down to the pavement of the seam, and the space between the barring and the sand and moss roughly packed with brushwood. About 2 a.m. on the 29th, Robert Law, miner, Cowdenbeath, having volunteered, was lowered down the heading at the end of a wire rope, to which, at intervals of a few feet above him, three short lengths of hemp ropes were attached, as it was thought prudent to bring up all together. Law had a hemp rope fastened to his arm, by means of which he signalled. He was successful in his journey, and the three men were brought to the surface shortly after 2 a.m.
During the course of the rescue operations at the hole in the moss, and after these were concluded, several parties explored the underground workings, in the hope of rescuing Rattray and his party, but no trace of them was found.
The distance the moss had flowed from the face of the heading to the dam erected on the level is 684 yards.
When moss ceased to enter the hole the lower part of the upper heading was examined ; it was found that only a few yards of it above the short level was filled. The upper heading down to this point was clear, but a considerable quantity of moss still remained in the faces and level roads above. The air-way within 16 yards of its junction with the lowest working level on the west side of the upper heading was choked with moss. Moss extended 56 yards up the inside Parrot mine, and the two old headings, nearer the shaft than the working heading, were filled with moss for some yards up from the level.
Mr. Gemmell stated at the inquiry that the area of the subsidence was 2.378 acres, the quantity of moss and water that had entered the mine he calculated at 21,100 cubic yards, and gave the greatest depth of the subsidence as 17 ½ feet.
When the hole in the moss could be thoroughly examined it was found that 13 feet 9 inches of sand mixed with gravel near the bottom (the rotten rock of the bore) lay directly on the pavement of the seam, then 3 feet of peat moss so firm that it overhung the sand for a foot or two, then came the soft moss and surface crust, together about 20 feet thick.
Comparatively little of the sand and gravel or tough moss had entered the mine ; the inflow was almost entirely soft moss of about the consistency of cow dung.
When Dick probed the moss from below he may not have penetrated the tough stratum, and even if he did this bed would close as the rod was withdrawn, much the same (to use Mr. Gemmell's illustration), as a sheet of india- rubber would close after a pin was withdrawn from it, and so prevent the flow of soft moss or water.
After the accident steps were immediately taken for the recovery of the bodies. The hole in the moss was permanently secured by a wood-lined shaft, backed by concrete, and up it the bodies of Smith and Forsyth were brought to the surface. Operations were also commenced at the dam on the main level, the moss was filled into hutches and sent to the surface, and in the course of this work Hutchison's body was found. On the 11th November 415 yards of the level had been cleared of moss, as well as the inside Parrot mine and parts of the old headings.
Conclusions. This accident shows plainly the danger of tapping moss from below, and that in making a connection between the surface and workings beneath through such material the work should be prosecuted downwards and not upwards.
I do not think that any blame attaches to the owners in connection with this accident.
Mr. A. H. Nasmyth, the manager, was responsible for the control, management, and direction of the mine (Section 20 (1) Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1887), and by Section 21 (1) was required to exercise daily personal supervision -of the mine. He stated at the Inquiry that with the knowledge he had of the moss before the accident he would have considered it dangerous to attempt putting through it from below, and he denied on oath any knowledge of the operations that led to the accident, and stated that the oversman alone was responsible who, he thought, had undertaken the work, expecting, if he was successful, it would be a feather in his cap.
On the other hand, the oversman was stated to be a prudent man of large experience, he was present when the great thickness of soft moss was proved by probing it from the surface, and it is difficult to conceive of his undertaking on his own responsibility dangerous work when, even if successful, he might have expected blame for taking the matter into his own hands. David Rattray, one of the oversman's sons, stated at the Inquiry that his father had told him that the manager had given him permission to put a road up, and another witness stated that Rattray told him he was going to ask for permission.
The resumption of work in the heading was known to the miners. It was for some days within the knowledge of all the under officials, of whom the only survivors, Jas. Dick, and Jas. Rattray, roadsmen, had not mentioned it to the manager, nor except for David Rattray's statement was there any evidence that the manager knew of the matter.
The manager's denial must be accepted, but he cannot relieve himself of a measure of responsibility in respect-
(1.) The discipline of the mine must have been defective if an oversman undertook such work without the manager's knowledge.
(2.) A more frequent examination of the working faces than he appeared to make might have brought the matter to his knowledge. Several witnesses stated they never saw the manager at the working faces. The manager himself stated he was last round the Mynheer working faces about a month before the accident on an idle day, when he was accompanied only by the deceased, Thomas Rattray.
It must however be conceded that a. most active manager of a large colliery like Donibristle might often be absent for a week or more from a small section of workings such as that into which the moss burst, and that during his absence an oversman might prosecute a heading to the outcrop, and also that an oversman might recklessly undertake work of a dangerous character in many parts of a large mine without the manager's knowledge.
It might be that Rattray intended to prosecute the heading for testing purposes only, and did not propose putting up through, the moss unless he obtained permission, and that the dryness of the sand led him to think all was safe so far as the road had gone. The evidence at the Inquiry did not, however, support this view, the witnesses questioned on the point stating that it appeared to them that the work was not for testing but for putting through the moss.
It may be that there was some misunderstanding which, owing to Rattray's death, will never be cleared up. I find it difficult to believe that Rattray acted recklessly on his own responsibility. He had been for many years in the owners' employment and appeared to possess their confidence and to have been entrusted with a considerable portion of the details of administration.. It is worthy of note that the extremely dangerous nature of the operations which were being carried on in the heading does not appear to have occurred either to him or to the workmen employed in it. His inquiry whether Dick would require a spade to cut the moss clearly indicates that he anticipated it would be dry and firm, and in their evidence at the Inquiry Dick and Jas. Rattray stated that they had never anticipated danger. There had been little rain during the summer, and Rattray may have thought the moss would in consequence be dry enough not to run.
No section of the Coal Mines Acts or of the Special Rules deals specifically with the direct cause of this accident, but a breach of the Act with respect to plans was disclosed.
As already stated, there was no plan of the Mynheer workings at the office of the mine at the time of the accident, and this, had the rescue of the imprisoned miners depended on a shaft sunk through the moss, would have caused the delay of some hours in reaching them.
It is a common practice in Scotland for the plans to be removed, as in this case, for a few days after the surveys are made in order to be extended, and in many cases no tracings are provided to supply the deficiency in the interval. I have frequently had to call attention to this matter, and have pointed out that it is a breach of Section 34 (1) of the Coal Mines Act, 1887, but have not hitherto recommended a prosecution.
I do not advise a prosecution in this case, but in future when I find no plan or tracing of the workings of the mine at the office of the mine, I shall report the matter with a view to proceedings.
This is an accident of an unusual character, although accidents due to inrushes of sand and mud are not infrequent. It is the first of its kind involving loss of life that I have had direct official cognizance of during the 28 years I have acted as H.M. Inspector of Mines.
It is an accident that might have been expected to have been more frequent in the early years of coal mining when shallow seams were more worked ; but, per contra, it is only of late years that coal has been worked on a large scale under moorland, which usually lies at high elevations in sparsely-populated districts away from centres of industry, and this accident is a valuable object lesson to many mines now working under mosses.
Last year an inflow of moss took place at Easter Jaw Colliery in Stirlingshire, and filled more or less the workings of two seams and ascended the shafts. A number of men employed in both seams were able to escape, as the flow was not so rapid as in the present case.
On 2nd October, 1886, moss flowed into the workings of East Benhar Colliery, near Whitburn, in the county of Linlithgow, during the time of my predecessor, Mr. Ralph Moore, who stated in his annual report that the coal seam 4 feet thick was within 54 feet of the surface, 22 feet of which was wet moss. One man lost his life and his body was never recovered, although a rescue pit was sunk and reached the coal seven days after the accident, but as the workings were found to be filled with moss, and there was no chance of the man being alive, the search was given up.
In his report on this accident, Mr. Moore stated that a similar burst had taken place two months before, at a point 200 yards away, but without loss of life.
Mr. Gemmell, at the Inquiry, referred to a case at Greenhead, on the Coltness Estate, near Wishaw.
There was, as is usual in mining accidents, no lack of men willing to undertake great risk in the hope of saving life. This was not specially characteristic of the Donibristle accident, but the circumstances attending it: (1) the publicity of the operations at the hole in the moss, conducted as they were at the bottom of an amphitheatre of some hundreds of yards in circumference, and watched from the margin by large crowds ; and (2) the rescue of so many of the imprisoned miners, had, together, the effect of directing public attention to the matter in an unusual degree, and was the means of procuring for the rescuers substantial recognition of their merit. I am sure they had, at the time, no thought of any reward, but were actuated solely by feelings of humanity.
I am, Sir, Your obedient Servant,
J. B. ATKINSON, H.M. Inspector of Mines.
Report on Recovery of Bodies
by Mr J B Atkinson, Inspector of Mines for East Scotland District
The rescue party, consisting of Thomas Rattray, oversman; William Hind, pit bottomer; James Bowman McDonald, incline bottomer; and Andrew Patterson, ostler, had broken through a stopping on the rise side of the haulage level, about 185 yards outbye from the working heading, and entered an old heading. They had gone up this old heading to the first of the old levels above the haulage level, and then travelled inbye 119 yards to a point where the level was closed by a fall; they would then retrace their steps and find that in the interval the moss had flowed out on a haulage level, past the stopping they had removed, and had entered the old heading and the level they were in. They built a light stopping or dam in the level they were in, 96 yards from the old heading, to check the flow of moss, and seven yards further in, excavated a road through the waste a distance of nine yards up the hill to the next level. They had brought with them a pick and shovel. Arrived at the second level, they would travel out in it towards the old heading, but 57 yards from the road they had made they again met the moss, and here they were found on the 14th December, Rattray and Paterson lying on the moss, and Hynd and McDonald near them.
The moss was all around them, having not only flowed up the old heading and into the level as described, but had also come out above them, direct from the workings by the upper levels.
Even had their exact position been known immediately after the accident, they could not have been reached for some days, and long after life would be extinct, as all ventilation was cut-off and black damp would soon end their sufferings.
They left written records in pencil in a time book, and in chalk on the shovel. One sentence may be quoted as showing the object they had in view: - "This was a case of taking out stopping to give them a way to go when moss for came down. We cut up, and got into . . . . . it was closed. We are . . . . choking ."
Other records showed their oil was done and they were in the dark. Many messages were sent to their families, and other entries indicated that they had no hope of rescue.
The remaining body - that of David Campbell, pit inspector, who was working at face of the heading where the moss burst it - was found on the same day as the others in the moss near the dam in the old level that had been put in by Rattray's party. His body had been carried down the working headings outward in haulage level, and through the stopping that had been removed and so into the old level.
A terrible mining disaster occurred in Fifeshire yesterday afternoon. The extent of the loss of life is not yet known, but it is feared that disaster will prove the most appalling which has yet occurred in Fifeshire. The scene of the accident is the Donibristle Colliery, belonging to the Donibristle Colliery Company. The company has 4 pits, all of which stand on what is known as Moss Moran, a huge tract of moorland about six miles to the east of Dunfermline, and lying between Cowdenbeath on the north for and the village of Donibristle on the south. The pit where the disaster occurred is known as No. 12. The depth of the shaft is about 80 fathoms, and the workings extend eastwards for about 600 yards. At the easternmost point the coal rises to within 20 or 30 feet of the surface, and it was here that the mishap took place. 15 or 16 men were working in the section in question. They descended the shaft at 7 o'clock in the morning, and worked till after midday at their ordinary working faces without any warnings of the impending catastrophe. Two pit inspectors, named David Campbell and Alex Smith, were engaged in forming an air shaft at the easternmost point of the underground workings. In ordinary cases these shafts are sunk from the surface, but in consequence of the shallowness of the mine at this particular point it was decided to form the shaft from the workings upwards. While the inspectors were so employed the soil above them gave way, and the subsidence soon assumed tremendous proportions. The moor was affected to the extent of about two acres, and tons of sand, moss, and water poured through the opening into the workings below. Thomas Harrower junior, miner, Cowdenbeath, was among the first to realise that an alarming disaster had occurred. He was 20 or 30 yards distant from the point where the inspectors were endeavouring to form the air shaft. In an interview with our correspondent afterwards he said that he heard a great report, and a rush of stuff coming away, and he knew that something serious had happened. He ran across the roadway to a fellow workman, and told him that it was a slip and all round. There was then a terrible face for life. Harrower and four others, clinging on to a handrail at the side of the road, rushed down the brae in front of tons of moving sand. The brae is very steep and the rushing of the sand was like the rushing of a river. The men saw that there was no hope of escape unless they got into an air course, and succeeding in this they found themselves in comparative safety. They met some other men who had come from the pit bottom, and these men on learning the road that Harrower and his comrades had come proceeded pluckily in the direction of the point where the subsidence had occurred. They took out a stopping, and were able to rescue a lad named Robert Rattray, who was half buried among the rubbish, and was trying vainly to work his way to a place of safety. The rescuers were able to clutch the hand of another of the entombed miners, but their own danger became so great that they had reluctantly to leave the poor fellow to his fate.
In addition to the 10 miners originally entombed it is feared that one of the rescue parties has perished. A party of four, consisting of Thomas Rattray, oversman; William Hind, pit bottomer; James McDonald, oncost man; and another descended the shaft, and made their way through the workings - how far is not known, for the poor fellows had not returned up till a late hour last night. Rattray had shown great anxiety to take part in the work of relief. His own son was known to be among the entombed miners, but, unknown to him, his son had been rescued.
Statement by John Colville, survivor - He had come out of the wheel brae with a loaded hutch when the alarm was given, and that when he went to get out George Hutchison, the latter was up to the neck in the mud which had found its way into the heading. Colville secured Hutchison by the arm which was so slippery that the grip was lost and Hutchison cried " for any sake, clear away the rubbish from my mouth and let me get a little breath" All Colvilles efforts failed, and Hutchisons last words were "I'm bye with it, John" [Glasgow Herald 27 August 1901]
Mining Accident In Scotland - A serious mining accident occurred yesterday afternoon at, one of the pits of the Donibristle Colliery Company, in Fifeshire. The coalfields worked by the company lie under what is known as Mossmorran Moor, a huge tract of moorland situated about six miles to the east of Dunfermline. Seventeen miners were at work in one of the sections of No. 12 pit, where the accident happened. Two pit inspectors were engaged making an air shaft at the easternmost end of the main road, at a point where the coal is almost exhausted. They were only 20ft. or 30ft. from the surface, forcing their way up, when the ground above them collapsed. About two acres of the moorland fell through into the workings. Seven miners were able to effect their escape, but the other ten were entombed in the mine, and it is feared that they may have perished. Even if they escaped burial it is thought that the air must hare been affected to such an extent as to make it impossible for them to survive. Four other miners who descended the mine and endeavoured to make their way to the entombed men have not returned, and it is feared that they have shared the fate of their comrades. Shafts are being sunk on the moor at a point near where the subsidence took place, in the hope of reaching the men. [Times 27 August 1901]
The Mining Accident In Scotland - Five Men Rescued - Before the operations connected with the sinking of the two shafts with a view to reaching the entombed men in the Donibristle Pit, in Fifeshire, had proceeded far yesterday it was realized that it was useless to proceed further in that direction, as a survey showed that the shafts were being sunk to a point from which there was little hope of getting to the missing miners. The bold plan of attempting to reach them through the opening in the ground where the subsidence occurred was resorted to. Wires were stretched across the subsided area, and a running bogie was attached to the wires. As the forenoon advanced there was a marked lessening in the quantity of debris falling into the workings, and this facilitated the development of the new scheme of rescue.
The joy of the relief party was great when their signals to the men supposed to be below were answered. Several men volunteered to descend through the gap in the ground and to enter the workings below. Before this the sides of the opening had been firmly supported by wood. The first two men to be lowered into the workings found six of their entombed comrades in a cutting off the wheel-brae. The depth of the opening in the ground was about 20ft., and the men were at a point about 40ft. further on. They were in a weak state. One by one five of the men were drawn to the surface. The rescuers, six in number, descended the temporary shaft in couples, and intervals of about 15 minutes elapsed between the bringing of each of the men above the ground. As one man after another made his appearance in the open air the crowd raised a cheer. All the men were able with some assistance to walk home.
Just as the sixth, and presumably the last, of the survivors was about to be brought to the surface a terrible accident happened. A large quantity of moss in the vicinity of the opening pressed in upon the woodwork at the sides of the aperture, causing them to collapse. The loud report of the crash caused something like a panic among the spectators, especially as it was seen that the 30 or 40 men who were directing operations from the improvised scaffolding had lost their foothold, and were clinging to the wire ropes which were stretched across the collapsed part of the moss. An alarming stampede took place, men, women, and children fleeing from that scene in terror. The most serious feature of this incident was that two of the rescuers were completely shut off from all communication with those above ground, and were in the unfortunate position of those whom they had been so pluckily relieving. The operations thus temporarily suspended were resumed with remarkable promptitude. A fresh staging was soon placed in the position of the original platform, and the upper part of the woodwork supporting the sides was renewed. After the lapse of about an hour an attempt was made to reach the two rescuers and the sixth survivor; but it was found to be impossible to obtain ingress to the workings, an additional mass of peaty matter having found a lodgment in the aperture, completely blocking the hole at a point about 8ft. from the surface. The work in this direction was abandoned for the time being, and attention was directed to removing the stopping erected the previous night at about 400 yards from the pit bottom, in the hope that the removal of this stopping would release the obstruction.
Thomas Bauld, one of the survivors, in an interview, stated that he and his five companions had the previous night given up all hope of being rescued. The six men were all together. Bauld stated that he saw Thomas Rattray, the oversman, who is believed to have perished. The previous night Bauld had been up to the waist among debris, and Rattray pulled him out of danger. This was the last that was seen of the unfortunate oversman. In rescuing Bauld, Rattray took out a stopping, and this admitting a current of air is believed to have saved the lives of the six men. Bauld had a light with him the whole time of the men's imprisonment. He had his watch with him and was able to tell the time. The poor fellows first saw daylight at 10 o'clock yesterday morning. They heard noises above ground and began to hope that, after all, help might reach them. Bauld and his brother shared a crust between them half an hour before the rescuers arrived. This brother was the unfortunate sixth survivor who was about to be raised to the surface when the subsidence took place last night.
Mr. J. B. Atkinson, his Majesty's Inspector of Mines, who spent the whole of Monday night at the scene of the accident, telegraphed to the Home Office a report of the accident, and has received the following reply :- "Secretary of State regrets to hear of accident at Donibristle Colliery. Please convey expression of his sympathy to families of men imprisoned, and keep him informed of progress made in work of rescue.- Under-Secretary, Home Office." [Times 28 August, 1901]
Rescue Of Fifeshire Miners - Three men were rescued at 2 5 this morning. - At 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon the perseverance of the rescue party at Donibristle Mine had brought them within distance of communication with at least three of the 11 entombed men beneath the subsiding soil. They are believed to be two of the rescuers who were over-whelmed on Tuesday and the sixth miner whom they had partially rescued when the trio were precipitated into the pit by the further subsidence.
The work of rescue is of a most arduous nature. Another landslip occurred early yesterday morning and threw back the progress of the rescue party many hours, and rendered further operations very slow, as the utmost caution had to be exercised. The efforts made in the early part of the day to removes the obstruction in the aperture through which the rescued men were brought to the surface on Tuesday were unsuccessful. The moss had given way to such a degree that the staging erected on Tuesday to enable the rescuers better to effect their work of succour showed signs of collapsing, and it proved dangerous to venture upon it. With this further set-back the possibility of reaching the remaining men originally entombed in the workings before death had released them from the horrors of their position became more remote ; in fact the attainment of any success in this direction was practically abandoned. The rescued men declared that they did not see the slightest trace of them; consequently it is impossible for the rescuers to locate the section of the workings in which to seek for them. From what can be gleaned, however, it is regarded as certain that three of the men at least have already succumbed.
John Colville, one of the survivors, states that George Hutchinson was up to his neck in water and moss after the subsidence, and shouted loudly for help. Colville attempted to get hold of him, but Hutchinson's bare arms were so greasy with the moss that he slipped through his grasp. Hutchinson appealed to Colville to clear away the rubbish from his mouth so that he could breathe better, but Colville was unable to reach him, and he was washed down into the channel. Colville only saved himself by clinging to a bar in the roof of the working and pulling himself out of the moss. He afterwards met his comrades, one of whom, Alexander Bauld, who is still in the pit, sang hymns to them during the night.
Throughout the day the reconstruction and strengthening of the collapsed platform proceeded slowly but satisfactorily, and without mishap. During the evening it was expected that it would be possible to make a descent into that part of the workings where the three men were known to be alive. Efforts were being directed towards lining the opening, which is of the nature of a dry level, and considerable danger attended these operations. At 2 o'clock the rescuers were encouraged in their efforts by hearing pounds from below, indicating that those men who are alive are endeavouring to make their whereabouts known. The fact that the entombed men are able to make themselves heard to the rescuers shows that the accumulation of debris in the aperture is decreasing.
Alexander Bauld, jun., one of the men whom it, is hoped soon to reach, had last night been underground for about 65 hours. The only sustenance he has had since his imprisonment is a small quantity of beef-tea which the rescuers took down with them on Tuesday night.
John Beveridge, one of the survivors, stated yesterday that on the burst taking place he told his companions that their only chance was to make a hole through to the principal wheelbrae. They set to work, and had removed a tree when the noise started again. Another tree was shifted, and the men got down to the wheelbrae, but only to find that the roadway was choked. The moss and sand came down tremendously, and they thought that the situation was becoming very bad for them and moved up over a bench. An attempt was afterwards made to make an opening into some old workings, but this effort had to be abandoned in consequence of big stones being encountered. Next morning Beveridge saw daylight. He went down and told his companions, and they were all greatly uplifted. They signalled to the top, but received no response, and sat on till half-past 6 thinking that there would then be more chance of the relief parties' hearing them. At that time the noise became terrible and their spirits fell. Eventually, however, the signal to the surface was answered, and one of the men told the others to their unspeakable relief that rescuers were coming down. Beveridge said he never gave up hope, although it was a terrible experience. The noise made by the running moss was louder than any thunder he had ever heard.
It is most fortunate that the weather has favoured the relief operations. Had the weather been wet, it is scarcely possible that any rescue operations could have been effected. Even under the favourable atmospheric conditions prevailing since the accident the water has given great trouble. After a heavy rainfall the moor is little better than a swamp. The water has begun to rise in the shaft, and the pumps are unable to cope with the flooding. The underground workings must have been practically ruined by the inrush of moss and the flooding now in progress. Throughout the day the operations were watched by a very large crowd of people, who remained until a late hour, controlled by a large body of police. It is thought by some that the crowding of the people too near the cavity on Tuesday night may have accounted for the further subsidence. Hence the extra precautions taken.
A statement, made by one of the. rescuers of Tuesday night showed how very hazardous was the nature of the work so pluckily undertaken. John Richardson was the last to attempt to reach the entombed men. When he got down to the bottom of the incline he discovered a great volume of water rushing down the brae, and found himself up to the waist in water and moss. The descent to the bottom of the opening was comparatively free from danger, but the risk was great when descending the incline. The obstruction which brought the relief operations to an abrupt conclusion on Tuesday night existed in the brae. Water was rushing past the mass of material which otherwise blocked the way.
Mr. Atkinson, his Majesty's Inspector of Mines, describing to a correspondent the measures which are being adopted, stated that two 41ft beams have been laid across the mouth of the aperture and two shorter planks across the longer ones, the object being to secure a stable platform for the men to work on and so obviate any risk of such a catastrophe as that which might have occurred on Tuesday night when a serious slip took place and the men on the staging were left clinging to a rope. Iron hangers are attached to the beams, and the sides of the temporary shaft are properly barred. The woodwork will be carried right down to the bottom of the aperture and part of the roof underground will also be supported. The shaft is 22ft in depth. At the foot there is an incline 60ft in length, and it is expected that the three men will be found in a roadway at the foot of the incline.
A telegram despatched in the evening states that the voices of some of the entombed men have been distinctly heard down below by the rescuers.
Preparations were in progress to lower a cradle and to strengthen further the sides of the opening. It was also intended to install the electric light to unable the operations to be continued during the night. At 8 p.m. it was computed that four hours at least must elapse before the entombed miners could be reached.
Mr. Atkinson, received the following telegram in the course of the day from the Home Office :-
" Mr. Ritchie is very glad to hear of the rescue of some of the men imprisoned by accident at Donibristle Colliery. He wishes me to express his great admiration at the bravery shown in the attempt to rescue the men, hopes to hear shortly that they have been completely successful. Digby, Under Secretary, Home Office."
Mr. H. H. Asquith, M.P., has wired as follows to the, Inspector of Mines :- "Kindly at your convenience let me know progress made in rescue. Heartiest sympathy. - Asquith, St. Andrews." [Times 29 August 1901]
The Mining Accident In Scotland - As was announced in a portion of our first edition yesterday, Jones and Sheddon, two of the rescuers at Donibristle Mine, who were precipitated into the pit by the further subsidence on Tuesday, have been safely brought to the surface, together with Bauld, the miner whom they had partially rescued at the time of the accident to themselves.
At 1 o'clock in the morning preparations were nearly completed for the rescuers' descending the temporary shaft and relieving the entombed men. Some of the latter had signalled to the surface four hours previously and cried that a rope should be sent down; but those directing the operations would leave nothing to chance, and continued their preparations above ground until the work of rescue could scarcely fail to succeed. A miner of Cowdenbeath, named Robert Law, then volunteered to go below, and his services were accepted. At half-past 1 o'clock signals were made to the men below ; but no answer was received, and fears began to be felt that the men, through sheer exhaustion, had, perhaps, fallen asleep. Subsequently, however, it was ascertained that the signals made were rendered inaudible by the rush of water down the incline. When this was stopped and the signalling repeated a return signal was heard. The preparations for Law's descent were then completed, and the rope was gradually lowered into the workings. There were four loops at the end of the rope sent down - one for each of the three men whose rescue was being attempted and the other for Law himself. After he had disappeared into the workings there was much excitement among the people above ground as to the result of his plucky efforts. At 2 o'clock there came from below a signal for the rope to be raised to the surface. At last it became apparent that Law's quest had not been in vain. It was obvious that more than one man was being brought up by the rope, and the signals received from below to "Ease it" seemed to point to the fact that slight difficulties were being encountered. Soon, however, the man John Jones appeared on the surface amid loud cheers, which were renewed when the next to appear was found to be Alexander Bauld, who was so nearly rescued on Tuesday and had been underground for 66 hours. Jones appeared very much exhausted, and Bauld had to be carried up the gangway, but resisted all further assistance. Sheddon was the third to make his appearance, and was greeted with cries of "Good old Sheddon," while a very heart-felt reception was accorded to Law. The scene was a most thrilling one, rescued, rescuer, and managers being cheered again and again.
Law is no novice at mine rescue work, he being one of the band of men who took part in a similar undertaking on the occasion of the Hill of Beath, disaster. Sheddon was also a Hill of Beath rescuer.
John Jones, in a statement about his experiences underground, said that, like Sheddon, he had been working at the scaffold during Tuesday and when two volunteers were called for he tied the ropes on to Sheddon and James Dick. After the first man came up, it was necessary for some one to return with the rope, and Jones went down with it. While the second man was being taken up a rush of water and peat took place from the surface, but it did not last long and everything went well until the fifth man was got up. Then the whole place collapsed and the moss passed where Sheddon, Bauld, and Jones were standing. They had matches and lit the lamp occasionally to go and see if the water was rising on the brae. Sometimes it rose to within four or five feet of them. On Wednesday morning there was a tremendous fall of debris. The noise was louder than thunder, and what they were afraid of was that the place where they were standing would be choked up.
Robert Law, who brought the three men to the surface, stated that when he made his appearance underground the scene was a most affecting one. The men were quite overjoyed and kissed him.
The mining engineer, who had expressed the opinion that the four original rescuers who are entombed might still be alive, has since seen cause to change that opinion as the result of interviews with men who were in the workings when the rescuers descended the shaft. The colliery managers, who have taken an active part in the relief operations, had a consultation yesterday afternoon as to what measures should be adopted with a view to reaching the men still entombed. No decision was come to, it being felt that nothing could be done in the absence of Mr. J. B. Atkinson, his Majesty's Inspector of Minos. Mr. Atkinson was accordingly communicated with.
Alexander Bauld, one of the survivors, was yesterday suffering from the effects of his long imprisonment in the pit. He was confined to bed with nervousness. He was asked whether he experienced great disappointment when his five companions were taken out and he left on Tuesday night, and he replied that it was a comfort to him to know that all the man who had wives and children were saved. Bauld himself is a widower, and it was no doubt due to his self-sacrifice that he suffered another 20 hours' imprisonment in the pit. Bauld laughingly remarked that he had been much longer down the pit than was good for him. .Asked if he had slept while underground, he said he had occasionally slumbered. He had not felt hungry during his imprisonment in the pit.
John Sheddon, one of the rescuers who went down on Tuesday evening with James Dick, stated that they had to proceed with great caution, and when they came across the six men they found them sitting together. Sheddon said he should never forget the thrill of joy which seemed to go through the men. After speaking of five of the miners' being sent to the surface and the subsequent tremendous noise, followed by splashing of water, he mentioned that the three of them who remained then withdrew to a place of safety. After the thundering noise had continued for some time, during which the material was being swept down the wheelbrae, Alexander Bauld suggested another place to which they could repair, but they could make no progress owing to the thick mud, and they returned. They remained in darkness all night. About 5 o'clock on Wednesday morning, they observed what they took to be a naphtha lamp burning in the shaft, and this gave them hope; but just at this point a second collapse occurred, and once more the debris rolled down the incline. When Robert Law came down the shaft early yesterday morning he found them all asleep. Sheddon adds that he will never forget the reception which was given them when they reached the surface.
His Majesty's Inspector of Mines has intimated that no one is to be allowed to descend the aperture through which the three rescued men were brought up yesterday. An exploring party of six entered the workings yesterday afternoon by means of an air shaft, but returned without any result. Another search party which descended last evening was equally unsuccessful, no trace being found of the eight men still entombed.
A Survivor's Experiences - We quote from the Scotsman the following description of his experiences by John Beveridge, the last of the five men who were rescued on Tuesday :-
"While I was working with Andrew Love he came over and cried to me, 'Do you hear that ? ' I asked, 'What is it?' He replied, 'I think the hole is through.' I cried this to my neighbours above me, the Baulds, and the elder brother, Sandy Bauld, who is still in the mine, said, 'Isn't that awful?' I ran for our coats, and returned to where the Baulds were. Both my road and theirs were quite safe at the time. We sat there for a long time. There we got speech with Farquhar, and asked him how many were beside him. All that we could make out through the horrid noise was the one word 'Hutchison.' We left the upper road, and came down to my road, from which there was a clean course to the brae. I endeavoured to make for the air-way, but found it choked up, and returned to my mates to tell them so. Parker and Colville then came down from the upper road, sliding down the guide rope, and we thought it was a rescue party. I suggested that our only hope of escape was to get down to the big brae. We accordingly started to work out a stopping. We had got one tree out when the noise resumed. We had to run for safety. We had started with two lights, but we now confined ourselves to one in order to save our tallow. Round that one light we had to sit to prevent it from being blown out by the rush of air. The noise having subsided a little, we went back in turns to the stopping, and succeeded in getting out the other tree. Thomas Bauld was the first to go down to the platform at the top of the wheel brae, but he came back again. I went down with a shovel and tried to clear out the moss and heather which had accumulated, but I failed, and had to go back again. We sat still and saw the stuff going down past us at a tremendous rate. I cannot describe the noise. It was louder than the loudest thunder I ever heard. At half-past 4 o'clock, or thereabout, as we sat we saw the lower brae choked. We then thought things were getting serious, and we helped one another over the bench. We moved into my road, where we again sat for a long time. The moss was gathering even there. We placed planks on the top of the moss in order to prevent our sinking into it. We also tried to keep it from being accumulated into the hole through which we had come but found it impossible. So great was the pressure of the flow of stuff that two full hutches standing at the road were tilted up on end, so that they blocked up the opening. Our next plan was to try to cut a hole at my 'face' down through the old workings, but after I had been working about an hour at it I found that also useless owing to the big stones I encountered. We sat down and contented ourselves for the night as best we could, it being about midnight. We kept going backwards and forwards, two at a time, into the Baulds' road, and we were glad to see that it was still open, but we preferred to sit in my road because it was quieter. About half-past 5 in the morning I went up myself, and, thinking I saw a light, I cried 'Halloa' with great joy. There was no reply. I went further forward and saw that it was daylight, and, thinking there was somebody at the surface, I again cried ' Halloa.' Still there was no response. I went down and told the others that I had seen daylight, and we were all greatly uplifted. We sat there till about half-past 6. We expected there would be a crowd at the head, and when we got no answer our spirits in the fearful noise were knocked down again. We returned to the Baulds' road once more, where we considered we were safe, and sat for a long time smoking and chatting. There was enough tobacco among us to last until 2 o'clock, and, of course, we shared it in common. All this time we continued going to the upper road to see if it was still clear. At 1 o'clock or so our light was getting far through, and we tried to kindle a fire. It was I who suggested it, remarking that if it did nothing else it would help to pass away the time. We did at length kindle a fire, but we were glad to damp it out because of the smoke. We had plenty of air for ourselves, but not for the fire. That would be about a quarter to 2 o'clock. We were all sitting quiet when I said, 'Hush, I hear them chapping in nails.' I went myself and 'chapped' on an empty hutch that was standing. We thought we got an answer the same as I 'chapped,' and that raised our spirits again. We felt now that the men above, having heard from us, and knowing that we were alive, would hurry up. Farquhar also thought that he got an answer to his chapping. Then Alec Bauld and I got on the top of a hutch and got a. 'Halloa' from the surface about 2 o'clock or shortly afterwards. Buoyed up with hope, we all sat down together and put out our light, which was then almost exhausted. We were burning the oil which we use for oiling our boring machines. We were then beginning to joke with one another. We still went up in turns to the cutting, and fancied from the hammering that they were putting up props as if to timber the hole all the way down. We then relit our lamps. 'Boys,' said Farquhar, who was a little better of hearing than the rest at us, 'they are coming down with a rope.' I told him to cry up, and he did so, getting back an answer. I said, 'I think that is like Jamie Rattray's tongue,' and I cried 'Haw, Jamie.' He answered me, and asked how many there were of us. I told him there were six of us, all alive, and we gave them the names. Dick and Shedden then came down with the rope, and Farquhar, getting it tied securely round his waist, was the first to go up. There was no way of bringing the rope down other than by sending down a man with it. Jack Jones came down with the rope after Farquhar was taken up, and that left us with the three rescuers down instead of the two there would have been if some one had gone up along with Farquhar. Colville was the next to go up with Shedden, who brought down the rope again. Thomas Bauld went up third, also accompanied by Shedden. A great lot of stuff came away at that time, and we were all in a kind of a fright. Shedden and Bauld were stopped two or three times on the way up. Then Shedden came down with the rope once more, and Andrew Love was taken up in company with Dick. That left us with Shedden and Jones. Jamie Dick came back with the rope, and then I went up along with him. It was a fearful draw. Dick was hauled up on his stomach most of the way, being unable to keep his feet. I left John Shedden and Alec Bauld at the mouth of the Baulds' road, so that when the last rush of stuff took place I think they would be quite clear. If they were standing where I left them they would certainly be clear. The rescuers brought down Bovril and tea with them, but somehow I never felt hungry. We had also some water with us, but the only time when I felt thirsty was when I was trying to cut the hole I spoke of. The stuff was quite dry, and with the wind a great deal of dust was blown about. Though it was a terrible experience I somehow never gave up hope all the way through." [Times 30 August 1901]
The Mining Accident In Scotland - Exploring parties during Thursday night descended the air shaft at the Donibristle pits and proceeded under-ground with a view to examining the workings and discovering, if possible, any trace of the eight entombed miners. According to the opinion of the colliery managers, there is scarcely the remotest possibility of the men's being still alive ; but the search was continued all night, notwithstanding that rain fell in torrents. The moss became sodden, and many slips occurred in the vicinity of the rescue shaft. Yesterday morning further search parties were prohibited from descending the workings in consequence of the dangerous condition of the air underground, and later in the day it was announced that the work of searching for the entombed miners had been abandoned until the water which has flooded the lower seams of the pit has been overcome. The engine and pumping-gear at the bottom of No. 15 pit, which drains the whole of the workings, has become clogged with moss and are unworkable. It has been decided to build a permanent shaft at the opening caused by the original subsidence in order to stop the flow of water into the underground workings. The water which, is in the moss below the ground will be drained off in a few days, and there will then be no difficulty in removing the debris and recovering the bodies of the eight miners, all hope of saving whom has now been practically abandoned.
Sir. William Beveridge, of the Dunfermline branch of the National Bank of Scotland, has received the sum of £250, subscribed by members of the London Stock Exchange, in recognition of the bravery shown by miners in connexion with the accident. [Times 31 August 1901
The Mining Accident In Scotland - A very largely attended open-air meeting was held last night in the burgh of Cowdenbeath, when Mr. John Ross, solicitor, Dunfermline, agent for Mr. Andrew Carnegie, presented to James Dick, John Jones, Robert Sheddon, and Robert Law a cheque for £100 each from Mr. Carnegie, in recognition of their heroism in connexion with the Donibristle mining accident. In a letter which was handed to each of the men with the money, Mr. Ross said he had been instructed by Mr. Carnegie to ask their acceptance of the enclosed cheque for £100 as a mark of his "admiration of the eminently heroic conduct recently displayed by you, whereby you had the great honour, at the risk of your own life, of assisting to rescue several of your fellow-workers from a terrible death, arising from the collapse of the mining working in Donibristle Colliery. Mr. Carnegie entertains great respect for your heroism, and desires me to say to you that in his opinion while the man who kills his fellow is the hero of barbarism, the man who risks his own life to save the lives of others is the only hero that a true civilization can honour." The gifts were presented amid the cheers of the assembled crowd. A donation of £250 from Mr. Robert W. Wallace, chairman of the Fife and Clackmannan Coalowners' Association, to the Fife Accident Permanent Fund, was announced.
Mr. James Currie Macbeth, solicitor and notary public, writes from Clydesdale Bank-buildings, Dunfermline, with reference to the Donibristle disaster:- This disaster, following so quickly on the Hill of Death disaster, has deeply touched the sympathies of the people far and near, while the work of the rescuers has evoked the admiration of all. Their pluck and perseverance have been beyond praise. A permanent accident fund for behoof of the miners of Fife and Kinross was recently instituted. The chairman of the fund is Sheriff Gillespie, and the vice-chairmen, Mr. Carlow and Mr. Weir. The capital of that fund - little over £2,000 - is altogether inadequate for the purposes of it. I think I might confidently make an appeal for further contributions. However unwilling we are to believe it, I fear we are forced to the conclusion that eight men have lost their lives through the Donibristle disaster, leaving seven widows and a large number of dependants. If any contributors desire to specially earmark their contributions for the benefit of the widows and children of the Donibristle disaster they might kindly do so. I have no doubt that the committee in charge of the permanent fund will willingly undertake the responsibility of distributing any money which may be subscribed. Might I add that I think we should not allow this opportunity to pass without recognizing the heroism of the men who actually took their lives in their hands and went down the pit, and rescued six of the entombed men, and the two rescuers who barely escaped with their lives ? Any one who viewed the locus of the accident and realized the danger incident to the whole rescue work must have been struck with the courage of these men. It was most gratifying to observe that there was no lack of volunteers for even the most dangerous part of the rescue work. I shall be glad to receive and acknowledge subscriptions, and I would confidently appeal for a liberal response. [Times 3 September 1901]
The Donibristle Pit Accident - A public inquiry into the circumstances attending the Donibristle pit accident was opened at Dunfermline yesterday.
Mr. A. H. Nasmyth, one of the partners of the Donibristle Colliery Company, stated that in November last year he had a consultation with the colliery manager and Thomas Rattray, an oversman, as to the forming of an air-shaft to the Mynheer seam, where the subsidence subsequently occurred. There was no question of forming the shaft upwards. He would never dream of doing that. He told the manager and oversman that he would not care to have anything done except on very careful lines. The manager and Rattray were to test the thickness of the moss, and if it was thicker than that sunk through on a previous occasion it was not to be touched. These tests must have been made, and if they had been favourable they would have been reported to him. As there was no report, he assumed that the whole plan had been abandoned. He heard nothing further about the shaft until the accident occurred. There was an inrush of moss over thirty years ago in the Parrot coal workings, but no lives were lost.
Alexander Nasmyth, a certificated colliery manager, stated that the work was stopped at the heading in November last year, and he did not know about the intention to pierce up to the surface. Rattray and he made tests in November last year as to sinking a shaft, and as the result of these tests he told Rattray that there was no use in thinking of putting a pit there owing to the thickness of the moss. Rattray never suggested the putting up of a shaft from below.
David Rattray, son of the oversman, stated that his father told him that he got permission from the manager to drive a hole up through the moss.
Alexander Bauld, one of the rescued miners, said the miners were aware that the air-shaft was being formed. They did not apprehend danger, and were pleased at the prospect of getting a nearer road to their working places.
James Dick, a pit repairer, also stated that the men had no fear while working in the heading.
John Gemmell, mining engineer, said that the formation of the shaft upwards was possible as an engineering work, but not as an ordinary mining practice. A plan, dated 1662, showed Mossmorran Moor as a lake.
John Farquhar, of Arthur-place, Cowdenbeath, said that, together with Thomas Livingston, he contracted for the driving of the heading in the Mynheer seam a year ago. The heading was taken then to the outcrop. He asked Rattray whether they were not to go to the surface, and he received the reply that they could not do that until permission was obtained from the "master," who would have to see the “factor” first. The place stood for ten months. Rattray informed him after Campbell and Smith started that he had received liberty to put the hole through.
The jury returned a formal verdict.
The body of William Forsyth, the youngest of the victims of the Donibristle pit accident has been discovered in one of the headings near the new shaft. Forsyth was 22 years of age. There are still six bodies to be recovered. [Times 26 September 1901]
The Colliery Accident In Scotland - The five remaining bodies of the Donibristle Colliery accident were found together on Saturday forenoon. The disaster occurred on the 26th of August last, 14 men being entombed. Six were got out alive, but, owing to the slide of the moss, rescue was retarded after three bodies had been got out. Sixty men have been at work ever since clearing away the slime which had run into the mine, but only on Saturday were the bodies reached. The bodies were unrecognisable but they were all known to be in the mine. [Times 16 December 1901]
The Donibristle Disaster - Recovery of Bodies - During the three and a half months that have elapsed since the fatal inrush of moss, a large staff of men have been employed in clearing the workings and searching for the bodies of the eight men who perished. The work was attended with great difficulty and danger, and some idea of its magnitude may be gathered, from the fact that about 10,000 tons of moss, besides a large quantity of other material, have been brought to the surface. Of the eight men who lost their lives, four were working in the pit when the disaster occurred, and four others formed a rescue party, which included Thomas Rattray, the overseer, by whom they were headed. The bodies of Alexander Smith (48), pit inspector, Cowdenbeath; George Hutchison (50), miner, Cowdenbeath; and William Forsyth (20), miner, Cowdenbeath , were discovered some weeks after the accident; and on Saturday morning the remains of Thomas Rattray (54) oversman, Cowdenbeath: Wm Hynd (52), bottomer, Crossgates; James M'Donald (36), hanger-on, Donibristle, Andrew Paterson (40), horseman, Cowdenbeath, and David Campbell (54), pit inspector, Cowdenbeath, were found by James Rattray, a son of the deceased oversman, who has been in charge of the exploring operations. Creeping over the moss in one of the roadways, he got into a passage which was clear, and there he observed the bodies of his father, Hynd, M'Donald, and Paterson, while, the remains of Campbell were afterwards found about seventy yards away. Although the bodies were in a decomposed state , they were all recognisable. In the course of the day coffins, which have been kept in readiness near the pithead, were lowered, and as they were brought up the shaft there were some sorrowful scenes. Deep sympathy was expressed for the relatives as they took up their positions behind the hearses, and floral wreaths covered the coffins. The remains of Rattray were interred in Dunfermline Cemetery, and those of Campbell in Beath churchyard; while those of the three others were conveyed to Beath mortuary. How the deaths of the men was actually caused can only be a matter of conjecture. One of the men had a pick and shovel beside him. Rattray had divested himself of his clothing, and the wicks of all the lamps had been burning high. [Scotsman 19 December 1901]
The Donibristle Colliery Disaster - Diary of the Rescuers - Their Last Moments - Pathetic Messages To Relatives
“Greater love hath no man than this than to lay down his life for a friend” - John XV, 13
If there is any privilege which is more cherished than another by the people of Scotland it is that of seeing the remains of relatives gathered to their mother earth on the sunny slopes which form the churchyards and the cemeteries of the country. After a lapse of three and a half months the bodies of five of the victims of the Donibristle disaster were discovered on Saturday. Among near and dear relatives the discovery opened up the wounds afresh; but amidst all the sorrowing there were evident signs of satisfaction at the fact that the bodies had been recovered from the depth of the dreary mine, and that the hour of suspense had ended. The finding of the body has led to the discovery of a diary which gives a glimpse of the last hours of the rescue part - Thomas Rattray, William Hynd, Andrew Paterson and James M'Donald. Rattray and his men rushed along the main level for 700 yards to find the moss creeping forward. They travelled up an old incline, knocked down a stopping, and got into a level. Here they tore out a second stopping in the hope of reaching the entombed men, but before they had got far they encountered a huge roof fall. At the fall the poor men toiled until they were tired, and, finding the task hopeless, they turned their faces homewards, to find the moss seeking its way up the old incline, and the level road blocked. It was then that the poor fellows saw they were going to have a struggle for dear life, and they cut their way through buildings for a distance of nine yards to a level road at a higher level. Here the men found all means of escape cut off. How long they lived it is impossible to say, but it is evident that a good many hours must have elapsed before the time of giving up hope of rescue and the end. Poor Rattray carried a time book, and the four men occupied their last moments in writing messages in this book to their relatives. There are 24 entries in the book, says a writer in a diary published by Mr Parker, Cowdenbeath. As long as the men had light the entries are plain and distinct, but after the oil was finished and the men were in darkness the writing on pages becomes indecipherable, one line being often written on the top of the other. Blood stains appear here and there on the book, the result of wounds evidently obtained in the work of throwing down the stoppings in the steep workings. The messages are principally in the handwriting of Rattray and M'Donald. Here are some of the touching passages:-
“I am thinking of Wee Donil” (James M'Donald's youngest son, aged three years) “God bless him.”
“I leave my love to E., P., M. and David” (Rattray's wife and three of his sons.) “The Boss leaves his love to his wife and family.”
“Andrew (Paterson) leaves his love to Annie and the bairns; goodbye; God bless you all.” “I don't feel as if death were on me; I feel the same as I was sitting in the house.” “Oh, wonderful is death, death and her brother, sleep. The moss is creeping on us . . . . his . . .”
“This is an awful death, Bella (Mrs James M'Donald) waiting on death.” “We have no hope of getting .but” all prepared to die.”
“Farewell, but we'll meet on the other side of the river. Farewell, this is all in the dark.” “You will get some money in the desk, Bell; you must keep up for my sake; amen, amen.” “Oh, Bella, dear, good-bye; we are resigned now; I can't see nor hear; failing now; we are very . . . . .” “Come all ye . . . bout, and I will give you . . .”
“This was a case of taking out stopping to give them a way to go when moss came down. We cut up and got into . . . it was closed. We are . . . choking.”
“Off without oil, and all in the dark; then death of . . . prepared . . . he is kind . . . has promised.”
“No more . . . and without . . . but prepared to die; farewell all.”
“Oh, bless . . .good loving wife to me; help her and comfort . . . .”
“John, my son, love Bella, your mother, for me. Jas. M'Donald . . . the best . . . just dying now.”
“No food, but plenty of moss to . . . and drink.”
“God bless . . . them; all be good . . . good . . .mother; farewell all.”
“Come to . . . Dear James. Look after and assist . . . to look after the children, for they are not able to . . . for Mitchell, Johny and Peter”
“God bless them; all be good. Good night. Farewell all.”
These are words drawn from the hearts of men who felt that the end was near. It will be noticed that one of the messages read:-
“This was the case of taking out a stopping to give them (the entombed men) a way to go.” A way to go was not made, but one of the rescued men declared when he came to the surface, that the removal of the stoppings by Rattray had saved the lives of the six men rescued. He thought that the withdrawal of the stoppings had improved the air. Rattray and his squad laid down their lives while trying to save others. [Dunfermline Journal 21 December 1901]
Donibristle Disaster Recalled - The Death of A Hero's Widow - With the death of Mrs Burns, Park Street, Cowdenbeath, there is recalled the terrible Donibristle mine disaster which took place nearly 20 years ago. Her husband, the late Mr Peter Burns, was one of the band of heroes who toiled to save the entombed men, and whose death was accelerated as the result of his herculean and heroic efforts. [Dunfermline Journal 3 December 1921]
|DONIBRISTLE PIT DISASTER HERO - Death of Bailie Sheddon, Cowdenbeath - Bailie John Sheddon, last of the Donibristle heroes, died in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary last night. In the disaster at Donibristle Colliery in 1901 eight men lost their lives. The first rescue party were trapped and the second party saved a number of the men originally trapped by the liquid moss. Four men did heroic work - John Sheddon, John Jones, Robert Law, and James Dick. Each of the four received £100 from Andrew Carnegie. All four men received the diploma and a medal of the Grand Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in England. The presentation was made to Mr Sheddon and two others by the then Prince of Wales in London. Mr Sheddon was for many years a member Cowdenbeath Town Council and for several years a magistrate. He was also a member of Beath Parish Council, Beath School Board, and the School Management Committee. [Evening Telegraph 27 September 1941]|