The following names are the first eleven documented fatalities in a Hamilton Coal mine. In total Wilma Bolton found 813 men, boys and women killed while working in or at a coal mine.(See Wilma Bolton’s reference book Coal Mining Fatalities in Hamilton Parish 1841 – 1948 in all Hamilton libraries.)
AVONBRAES Mine March 1841.
WILLIAM BROUNLIE and his son age 10, Christian name not recorded.
JAMES DUFFIE. JOHN DUFFIE. HUGH MCLEAN, JOHN SMITH and WILLIAM WOTHERSPOON. These seven miners were killed in the explosion. JAMES FLEMING, GEORGE PATE,
JAMES FISHER, and JAMES FYFE died while trying to rescue the above. Duffie or Duffy’s* widow was recorded in 1878 as still receiving a pension from the Duke of Hamilton. No other mine owner paid a pension to miners dependants. (* Both spellings used.)
The following article gives an eyewitness account of the first explosion in a Hamilton coal mine. Seven miners were killed in an explosion at Avonbraes Mine (a drift mine) which was situated in the Avon gorge and not far from Chatelherault. Another four men lost their lives trying to rescue them. Among the dead was a 10 years old boy who was working with his father who was also killed. Research Wilma S. Bolton.
A Great calamity which occurred in the west of Scotland last week brought vividly to my mind an accident which has left an impression that will be irremovable. It is forty-five years since the catastrophe happened.
We have had more disastrous affairs of the kind since then, but the peculiar circumstances of this one made the occurrence more striking. I refer, of course, to the explosion in the Duke’s mine in Avon Braes. The development of the coal industry in our locality then was yet in the future. The consumpt of the mineral was purely local, and the men who wrought in the mines were our relatives and neighbours. There were scarcely any but whom we had known from infancy. The villagers at Quarter were church members, going out and in with our fathers from very early times. The managers were people with whom we were on the most intimate terms. Well, on a fine spring morning in the year 1841, we, young weaver lads, were taking our breakfast meal hour walk, and in rounding the end of Miller Street, as you see before you the road to Covan Burn, a mounted horseman is seen by us.
His speed is beyond the common. It is our old friend Ord Adams, who had always a kind or jocular word for us. One look at his face that morning, as he rode past, conveyed intelligence of disaster. There was no greeting. He saw us but heeded not. His mission was one of mercy. All this we read and more. One look at each other and we ran. There was no use in asking what was the matter. The two miles to the mine mouth (for it was not a pit in the ordinary sense) we soon passed over. My companions and I were the first of the town’s people who were at the spot. Speedily we learned that the mine had exploded, with seven or eight men and boys inside.
No great number it may be thought; but worse than that, a rescuing party of four brave fellows had entered the mine before we arrived at the scene, and there, issuing from the dismal hole was seen the noxious vapour. Could anyone live in that poison, was the question we put to each other. The men must have succumbed long ere this. Who are the four adventurers? Their names were soon made known to us, and we found them to be neighbours, whom we had known from infancy. James Fyfe, George Peat, James Fisher and a lad from Quarter, named Fleming. The wailing of the mothers and sisters was not loud, but deep. In a few minutes Mr Adams appeared, bringing with him the doctors of the town. Among them I well remember Dr Alex. King, a townsman of great promise.
Volunteers were offering their services, nay, urging their immediate acceptance. But as I stood near the doctors, I saw they were stoutly opposed to any further effort, so long as the gasses issuing from the mine. Mr Adams, himself, I saw became impatient at the restraint and ventured onto the fatal mouth. He and his party speedily returned, sickly and staggering; one or two had to be assisted as they came out of the mine. Still a return to the rescue was insisted on by the men, and still the medical men convinced that it was dangerous—that the hope of saving the lives of all the volunteers was futile. As the vapour cleared away, a party of stout miners entered. Then after a little a move was made to clear the mouth and the last party in came out carrying a body. I see his face and know him. The doctors at once pronounced him dead. Then all hope vanishes. As the mine cleared, the search, though still dangerous, is steadily pursued. One after another is brought out, and the medical men’s opinion is confirmed—there is no hope for one of them.
Strange to say, I had grown up to manhood nearly, and never had looked at death in any form. One of the lads, who fell in attempting rescue, had been laid upon a soft grassy bank, a little distance from the mine. I was told he was lying alone. I timidly approached the spot. I did get a surprise, and one that did me good, for there lay the young man cut down in the prime of life. A smile! Yes, a smile on his handsome face. He belonged to a rather good featured family. Henceforth I thought the grim king of terrors would have no scare over me.
I was the better of that night. We waited till all the rescuing party were brought to bank, and we learned that the search for the bodies of those who were in the pit before the explosion would not be brought out till the next day, if they were recovered. It began to be whispered that the bodies of the unfortunate victims would not be a pleasant sight to see. The town, when we arrived home, was in great excitement. I do not think such another day Hamilton had seen since the day of Bothwell Bridge.
People could not settle to work. The good people of the town were busy offering consolation to the widows and orphans. Each one felt the calamity to be affecting themselves. Next day I was up at the mine at an early hour. All was hushed. The bodies were being got out. They were tenderly and delicately handled; respectfully and mournfully laid in their last resting place.
It was an eventful day. It brought out the better part of some we met in ordinary life. I was personally a great friend of Mr Adams, and it affords me pleasure to add that his tenderness, kindly sympathy, and gently consideration to the bereaved ones, during the trying ordeal enhanced, if that were possible, the high opinion in which he was held. D. Ref. Hamilton Advertiser 2/10/1886 page 4.