Strontian Mines Inquest

by John Dye

CHAPTER TWO
ALEXANDER MCMASTER, ANOTHER MINER IN THE PIECE WORK GANG, WHO WAS NOT ON SHIFT AT THE TIME, GIVES EVIDENCE

He worked previously at lead mines at Carsphaim, Tyndrum and Appin and mainly took "piece work" as a blaster.

Re-examined 11 August 1851

Compeared Alexander McMaster, Miner residing at Anaheilt in the parish of Ardnamurchan and Shire of Argyll who says:

I am 40 years of age - it is 14 years since I began to work as a miner but I have not wrought continuously during that time - I have been employed in mines at Carsphairn, at Tyndrum, and Appin (Lead Mines) - I think I was employed in all at these three places about 10 years - I have wrought at the formation of the tunnel on the Greenock railway - I have wrought for the last three years at the Strontian Lead Mines managed by Mr Mr James Barrat - I wrought a year at these mines about 10 years ago before Mr Barrat came - I have taken the jobs of blasting from Mr Barrat & have been paid so much per fathom. I have also wrought at day's wages but this occurred very seldom - Mr James Floyd is foreman of works under ground subject to the central & directions of the resident Manager - Mr Barrat - He also sets jobs of blasting & takes a general superintendence.

He took a blasting job in the middle level of the Strontian mine and when being shown the vein, pointed out the overhanging rock to Mr Floyd, the Superintendent

About three weeks ago Alexander McPhee & I took a job of blasting at a place a little to the east of the open cast of Bellsgrove in the middle level of Strontian Mine (Donald McMaster, Hugh McMaster and Donald Cameron were the parties along with two Irishmen whose names I don't know) -

I had wrought before on the same level but never at the spot which I took from Floyd & which was pointed out to us by him - This place had been wrought in before but never by the company which is managed by Mr Barret -

Following his conversation with Mr Floyd, he assumed it would be removed before his blasting work started

Floyd removed the accumulated rubble which had gathered at this spot for the purpose of shewing us the vein - Mr McPhee was present with me when I was looking at the Job - there was a large loose stone overhanging the plaice pointed out to us as the spot of our operations and I remarked to Floyd that that stone would be removed before we began - He said "Yes" - but no more -

I did not at that time say that it was dangerous because I did not think it necessary as the appearance and position of the stone shewed that at once - This stone was in the upper or hanging side of the Vein - the vein from the surface runs in a slanting easterly direction leaving after the spar is removed an upper and lower side such as indicated on the margin. The Stone was about 10 feet long, about 6 feet high. The Stone was this height above the ground before we began operations at all. It was loose at the top & at both ends tho' at its base it sounded solid on being struck with a hammer (on the west side the stone was more firm than on the east) -

The contract was to pick down the vein 16 feet and 6 feet wide at the rate of £2/10/- per fathom.

We were to pick downwards with the vein 16 feet and carry it with us six feet wide -

Our first workings was directly under the stone (If the stone had been firm enough we could carry on our bargain to the end of the stope without its coming down but a small portion of it might be into our contract). The bargain which we made with Floyd was that we were to receive at the rate of £2/10/- per fathom of six feet broad - It was not reduced to writing -

Other members of the working party included Duncan Cameron and Alexander Lowrie with the team being divided into two shifts

Duncan Cameron & Alexander Lowrie were to be our partners in the job tho' they were not present when McPhee & I arranged about it - They had wrought with us at other jobs in the Mines of the same kind - after we had made the agreement I informed Lowrie & Cameron of its terms & they agreed to join us - we arranged to work in shifts two & two of eight hours - the first shift to exist from 7pm(am?) to 3pm(?) - the last shift to begin at 4 pm and end at 11 pm -

McPhee & I were in the same shift - Cameron & Lowrie in the other - we took the shifts alternately - Cameron and Lowrie wrought the morning shift for the first week, McPhee and I taking the afternoon shift.

The miners often discussed amongst themselves about how dangerous the big rock was and over a period of two weeks both Lowrie and McMaster spoke to Mr Floyd

The manager Mr Barrat was from home in England when I took this bargain - during the first week of our working at this place we had frequent conversations among ourselves about this stone and that as it was dangerous to our lives it ought to be removed by the Company but I did not speak to Floyd on the subject during that period - Lowrie told me that he had done so - but he did not tell me his answer -

On the second week after I got into the morning shift I spoke to Floyd again about this stone told him that it was dangerous to our lives and that it ought to be removed.

However, as it was beyond their own contract area, the miners did nothing about it themselves

The only answer I got from him was "Yes" - I did not say to him that I would remove it on being paid or that it was not in our contract. He did not say that it was in our contract & that it should be removed by us.

The removal of that stone was not in our contract at all - it was above our mark altogether (It was above the mark made to us by Floyd when we took the job).

On Thursday 7 August 1851, having continued our operations up till that period, Floyd came to us while McPhee & I were working in the pit - he began to upbraid us in not cutting enough of stone and that we were not making /6d a day - I told him I knew that, but when we got the ground in order I expected to make more -

He was always in the habit of making this to us and telling us that Cornish men at the same price would earn a pound per week - before he left us Floyd desired McPhee to strike the stone with his hammer, which he did - McPhee said to him as he did so that that stone should be taken down- He said "Yes, take it down" and added afterwards "Let it alone it will stand for a short time yet until you have gone in a little further" or words to that effect.

On the fateful day, McMaster quit his shift in mid-afternoon and went home

He left us and we quitted our shift on that day between 3 or 4 pm - on my way out I met Lowrie and Cameron coming in to relieve us. McPhee had gone out before me and I do not know whether he met them - after we met we sat down and had a conversation - Floyd told us to reverse the direction of our shots when he was sown on this day and I told Cameron and Lowrie of this - but I don't recollect of saying anything to them on that day about the stone in question or what were to be cautions in working near it. I left them after sitting about 5 or 10 minutes, I proceeding home they going on towards their work -

He later was told that Cameron had been killed and Lowrie injured

About 2 or 3 hours after parting as aforesaid I heard from Dugald McPherson Tailor that Duncan Cameron was killed and that Lowrie was much hurt. He asked me if I was aware that any danger existed at the place they were working - I said that I did - and told him of the stone and its position - tho' I don't recollect of saying anything to him about Floyd being aware of it or that we had informed him on the subject. I was unwell and in bed when I got this information and did not rise or go out - I saw Lowrie that night & he told me the stone had fallen on them suddenly and had buried them under it.

McMaster said that the mines at Strontian were generally badly run and many props and safety supports used by previous Mining Companies had been removed by the curent management

The Mines at Strontian are not managed with that caution to the preservation of life which obtained at other mines I have wrought in. Before the Company for which Barrat & Floyd manages entered to possession a number of middlings or partitions had been left by the former Company for supports and to afford safety and shelter for the workmen. These middlings have nearly all been removed by the Managers & their places have not been supplied by any other support either of timber or otherways. There are a few props in the Mines but I don't consider they are sufficient, tho' I am not a scientific man & perhaps may not be considered qualified to give an opinion, but the mine is wrought differently from other mines.

There are employed at present working underground in the Mine about 60 or 70 - there will be as many more employed on the surface. No accident in which death resulted has occurred at these Mines during my recollection - tho' a workman about a month or six weeks ago was closed in for a couple of hours near the place where the accident occurred by the falling of some old workings. Angus Cameron Mhor is the name of this person - I am decidedly of the opinion that a the death of Cameron would have been prevented had Floyd used his proper precaution in removing this stone or in properly propping it - it was not our duty to remove it as it was not in our contract at all, nor within our mark - I cannot write.