Strontian Mines Inquest

by John Dye

CHAPTER ONE
ALEXANDER LOWRIE, A MINER WORKING ALONGSIDE DUNCAN CAMERON, WHO WAS KILLED, GIVES EVIDENCE

                                                                                                                       Next Chapter 

Duncan Cameron's partner on the shift, Alexander Lowrie, gives evidence, starting off with a description of his own previous work experience in mines in Leadhill, Tyndrum, Carsphairn, Mackland and Strontian 

Precognition of witness: Alexander Lowrie, Anaheilt 9 August 1851

Compeared Alexander Lowrie Miner residing in the parish of Ardnamurchan and Shire of Argyll who says:

I am 48 years of age and have been a miner for the last 25 years - I have wrought at Leadhill Lead mines in Lanarkshire, for about 14 months - I have wrought at the Lead mines Tyndrum for about half a year - I have wrought about 6 years at the Lead mines at Carsphairn in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright - I wrought for about 4 years at the coal mines in the parish of old Mackland belonging to Mr Wm Dickson & Son - I have wrought now and again at the Lead mines at Strontian for about 12 years - about the middle or end of December last two years having previously elapsed since I had wrought any having been unwell in consequence of the fall of a joint of Ironstone received at Macklands Mine -

He says that after a two year lay-off through injury, he took some piece-work at Strontian

I lived at Anyhilt from that time till I asked for work from Mr James Barrat the Manager of the Lead Mines at Strontian -

I was employed as a Miner and received wages at 20d per day - I took a bargain of a blasting along with 17 others which kept us employed for six weeks - After having completed this Job Mr Barrat asked me to work in a different apartment on the first level and I refused to go in consequence of the road to the apartment being bad and unfit for Miners to work on & I left the Mines - I told Mr Barrat this but I forget his answer exactly tho' it was to the effect that he did not care - The day after I left the work Hugh MacPhee my co-workman came to me and said that Mr Barrat wanted me to go back - I went next day - and wrought in the apartment referred to the road having been repaired - I wrought only one day there - James Floyd who superintends the work under Mr Barrat having afterwards discharged me on the ground as he alleged that I had made some complaint to the Proprietor of the Mines, Mr James Milles Riddell - This was on a Sunday -

He was discharged after some alleged remarks about the proprietor, Mr James Riddell and had to wait some time for the money he was owed in wages

On the following Monday I went to Mr Barrat & demanded my wages - He told me that he would pay me when he paid the other Miners but not till then - The Miners are paid once every two Months and before the pay day would arrive at which according to Mr Barrat's information I would be paid, a month would elapse - I explained this to him and that as I was discharged my wages due to me at the time were payable irrespective of any regulation which he might make as to the payment of his other workmen - I told him also that I would take him to law on which he replied "you can do so if you like" - go to Mr Floyd and he'll employ you again." I left him but did not go near the Mines and on the arrival of the usual pay day I attended along with the other workmen and was paid by Mr Barrat the balance due me -

Later he re-applied and got occasional piece-work job as a blaster

In the beginning of April last I again applied for work to Mr Floyd and after waiting on him three or four times at the Mines got occasional employment from that period until this time - About a month ago Duncan Cameron, Alexander MacPhee, Alex McMaster and myself took a job of blasting in the middle level of Bellsgrove in the Strontian mine (we did not work there before we took the Job - I knew the place quite well) - we were to be paid at the rate of £2.10/- per fathom - The job was set to us by Mr Floyd -

When he looked at the area he was to work in, he reported a dangerous rock but was told that it would be moved as soon as there was space for it

Before we began our operations we complained to Mr Floyd that a large stone which was loose at the top and on its East side but fixed at its base and on the West side was dangerous & ought to be removed - The stone was about 8 or 9 feet high and about 12 feet broad - It was hanging about 18 inches to the fathom off the plum - Our work was to be carried on from the base of this stone downwards following the vein of lead which ran in that direction - We were to make an opening 4 or 5 feet broad and to make a shaft of three fathoms He said there was no fear of the Stone and that he would take it down as soon as he had made a place for it -

But the stone was not moved

We began operations and one or other of us who had taken the Job spoke to him on the subject & told him that our lives were in danger in consequence - The Stone having been made more loose by our operations - He invariably told us that there was no fear of the stone and its position almost every day - I told him that the stone was dangerous and that I and the others were afraid it would fall on us & kill us. I offered more than once to take the stone down on the payment of £4 which he refused with a laugh. This stone was not in our Job at all, its situation was above the spot pointed out to us by Floyd at which we were to carry on our operations -

From the time the job was taken we continued to work at this place up till Thursday last, the 7 August 1851

On that day before we began our work I went to the Mine about 3 p.m. - Before we commenced operations for the day I went to Mr Floyd who was standing at a point on the Mine about 8 or 9 fathoms from the surface called the open Cast - Hugh MacPherson was along with me - I spoke to him about the place of our job and said to him "what are we to be allowed" - He says what makes you ask that - I answered because I hear various stories on the subject - some say we are to get £2/5/- per fathom - others that we are to get £2/10/- - He replied I never said £2/5/-, £2/10/- is the money - I answered it is too little I can never submit to work at under wages - I shall work out the shift of this day but no more - He answered I'll speak to Mr Barrat on the subject and if he allows you £9 (?) I shall allow that with pleasure -

The blasting gang asked once more for the stone to be removed, but were again refused

I then asked is that stone removed - He said 'No' - I then said that I would not work more after that day - He said "Well, if not you can go home." I then left him and proceeded to the work - I think I have narrated the conversation which took place as nearly as I can remember and in the exact works - I don't think I said to him on this occasion that the Stone was dangerous to our lives - I was angry at the time to him an said as little as I could - but both I and the others almost every day previously told him of the exceeding danger of the Stone and that it should be removed -

Duncan Cameron and I went to work together - We met Alexander McMaster coming out - and spoke to him. He told us to take care of ourselves with that stone ( alluding to the once before described) that it was exceedingly dangerous to our lives - He told us moreover that he & his partner McPhee had had a quarrel on that day with Floyd about its removal, that Floyd said to McPhee 'you may take down the Stone - that McPhee had answered it is not our business, it is yours - We will not be paid for it, it is not on our job - after this conversation with McMaster, Duncan Cameron & I went to the place & we examined the Stone carefully - we struck the Stone in the Centre and it sounded hollow as if it were loose there - I Struck at its base and it sounded solid there - after examining the stone we commenced work I think about 4 p.m. -

On the fateful day a vein was drilled and charged near the stone

Our first thing was to make a bore in the Vein for the purpose of charging it with powder - for a blast - The hole was close to the bottom of the stone before alluded to and near the East end - after boring the hole about 22 inches deep. Duncan Cameron charged it with the powder and stemmed it - During the time we were preparing the hole Cameron and I talked of the Stone - I remarked "Duncan, if that stone falls, it will kill us" - he answered "It will" and before the blast was fired off I touched the face of the stone with the hammer as I had done before we began our work - It was hanging over us in a measure and very considerably off the plum -

Duncan Cameron afterwards applied the lighted match to the bast and we mounted the latter to a place of safety - we had remained at this place about 3 minutes when a report announce that the blast had exploded - Cameron went down first & I followed - Before we had reached the bottom Cameron stood still and said the smoke is coming up too thick, wait till it clears away - I replied no, the smoke will be clear from the bottom before we get down - on my saying this and as we were anxious to get on with our work he descended - when we got down the smoke was not entirely cleared away - No daylight was visible at the place & it was lighted by the candles which Cameron and I carried - 5 or 6 minutes elapsed after we got to the bottom before the smoke entirely cleared away - we did nothing until the place was clear -

After the explosion the stone was still there, but not for long

After it was clear the first thing I did was to examine the Stone - I went on a ladder to do so and Examined the rent at the top - after I had done so I said to Duncan Cameron "the blast has made no alteration on the Stone but tho' it has not done so we must be careful of it" The Stone was rent also at the East End from the top toll near the base - it was apparently secure on the opposite side - on descending the ladders I struck the Stone with my hammer at different places from the Centre to the bottom and told Duncan that it sounded very hollow - He made no further remark but told me to mark another place for the bore and to get on with our work - I marked a place with the point of my pick and asked him how that would do - He replied "very well" - The place I marked was about two feet from the former bore in a slanting direction and that 15 inches from the overhanging stone before referred to - I asked him to hold the jumper and I would strike the iron - He said "No, you struck the last, I'll strike this" - I thereupon took hold of the iron and sat down - He also drew a stone and sat down & began to strike the Jumper as I held it and turned it in the hole after he struck the blow -

They drove a second hole and prepared a further charge and while doing so, the stone came down and crushed them both

After we had sat and wrought in this position about 15 minutes I heard a noise like a stone rending & before I could rise or speak the large stone already alluded to came down and buried us both under it. I cried to Duncan McPherson who was working above us to come to our aid - I heard Cameron cry out once "Oh Christ there is no help for me" - I heard him cry repeatedly but as I was in despair myself & as I fainted under the stone I can't describe anything else that he said -

The Stone on falling struck the opposite side of the Shaft and broke in pieces - The largest piece fell on me and covered all my body - Cameron was also under the same piece of the stone tho' at its edge and the whole weight of that side of the stone was bearing on him - after the stone settled down it rested upon something and with considerable difficulty I dragged myself from below it

Duncan Cameron was killed

No one had come to our assistance before this - after I got out I was so much hurt that on getting on to my feet I fell twice and while I lay I shouted at the pitch of my voice to Duncan McPherson to come, that Duncan Cameron was killed - He replied that he could not find the ladder - McPherson was a stranger to that apartment & I directed him where to find the ladder - In about a quarter of an hour after the Stone fell as near as I can remember, McPherson found his way to where I was - The place was perfectly dark both Cameron's candle & mine having been extinguished by the fall of the Stone - McPherson brought a candle - he was greatly agitated & considerably stupefied - I told him to light another candle & as I could not move myself I pointed to a place where he would find some -

He lighted the candle which he handed to me - I pointed to where Cameron was lying & told him to remove the Stones as quietly as possible - he began to remove the Stones as was assisted by me as much as I was able. We removed some small stones till we came to where he was & we found that he was quite dead. We shouted to him as loud as possible but no answer, he was not breathing -

The Stone was resting on the back of his neck & shoulder. His head was bent down on the side of his chest - rather under the armpit - I can't say whether it was the right or the left side - I didn't see his arm at all - I didn't see his legs but I saw his body which was pressed with the stone against the solid rock - after we saw that Cameron was dead I desired McPherson to go for more men & have the body removed as quickly as possible - he went out of the pit & I followed him.

I don't know who removed the body, I remained on the outside of the pit and as I was unable to walk I was taken home in a cart belonging to the mines - The cart being driven by John Cameron - The body of Duncan Cameron was not removed before I was taken home - I had been out about half an hour when Mr Barrat the Manager came to see me.

His death was confirmed to Mr Barrat the manager when he called on Alexander Lowrie at home later that day

He asked me how I was - I told him that I was very ill and that I didn't expect to live, that Duncan Cameron was killed dead - and that it was the stone which we had always been speaking of which had at last fallen and caused the accident - Barrat answered firmly "Duncan's alive" - I replied "No, he's dead" - I repeated this more than half a dozen times - Mr Barrat was much agitated - Mr Floyd came shortly afterwards & I told the same thing to him - He said nothing about the stone - but said "surely Duncan's alive".

He was much agitated & left in a great hurry with a number of men for the purpose of going to the pit to remove the body (I said to Floyd the stone is safe enough today, it has fallen and killed Duncan Cameron. He didn't say that no one can be blamed for that- Mr Barrat said "Do you blame anyone for this". I said, "Oh No, I don't blame any man except myself - I don't blame you, I had to go where I was sent or consent to starve" -

Floyd was not present when I said this & he did not remain with me more than a minute - Donald Cameron, woodman of the pit and sub-inspector under Floyd was also frequently told by us of the state of the Stone & that it was dangerous to work under it. The place at which we were working was about 30 fathoms from the surface and we got up and down by means of ladders. I am very much impaired as my hips and lower part of my body, have been confined to bed since and have been attended to by Dr Reid

Signed by Wm Robertson J.P.