On this day in history : 22nd October 1877 – An explosion at the High Blantyre Colliery sees Scotland’s worst ever mining disaster…. At least 218 men and boys are killed, the youngest just 11-years-old….
It was a gloomy Monday morning….230 men went down the mine to start work as usual at 5.30am…. At 8.45am a huge underground explosion occurred that could be heard from miles around, an explosion that lasted between 4 and 5 minutes…. Flames could be seen coming from 2 of the 5 pits….
The pit horn would have signalled the disaster….women would have rushed to the scene fearing for their menfolk…. As the news spread workers from neighbouring pits hurried to help… The rescue effort was led by James Gilchrist, manager of Mr John Watson’s Colliery – he had formerly been employed at Blantyre and so knew it well….
The presence of carbon dioxide and debris caused major difficulties but the rescuers persevered throughout the day and into the night….before eventually being forced to suspend the rescue mission due to ‘bad air’…. The search resumed the following morning – those that were brought out alive were so badly burnt or suffering from the effects of ‘choke-damp’ (carbon dioxide) that they died either on the way to or in Glasgow Infirmary….
The bodies recovered from the pit were taken to ‘the death house’ – a temporary mortuary…. They were washed and tended to by the women of the village…. It was here the womenfolk came to identify their husbands, sons, sweethearts and fathers…. For some women it meant several trips to find their loved ones – for many the entire male family members were taken from them…. The disaster left 106 widows and 300 fatherless children….
Once identified the bodies could be taken home – often in a handcart – so that funeral preparations could be made…. Little did they know that less than 2 years later, on the 9th of July 1879, another disaster was to strike at pit no.1 – claiming another 27 lives….