Strontian Mines Inquest

by John Dye

CHAPTER NINE
DONALD CAMERON, "WOODMAN" OF THE MINE, TELLS OF THE EVENTS BEFORE THE ROCKFALL AND OF HIS REACTIONS AFTERWARDS

He had been a "Woodman" at Strontian for three years and knew the place in the Bellsgrove Middle Level that the work was going to take place in
                                                                                                 25 August 1851

Compeared Donald Cameron, residing at Scotstown in the parish of Ardnamurchan and Shire of Argyll who says:

I am 48 years of age. I am employed as 'Woodman' in the Strontian Mine under the management of Mr Barrett & Mr Floyd. I have wrought in these mines for the last 4 years. I have wrought at mining altogether about 15 years. I have acted as 'Woodman' at Strontian about the last 3 years. I have wrought in other lead mines, at Leadhills & Tyndrum.

I know the place which was set to Alexander Lowrie, Alexander McPhee, Alexander McMaster and Duncan Cameron in the Bellsgrove Middle Level. I was sent by James Floyd to put a stool in an opening a old working above the place where the above parties were to be engaged at work for the purpose of preventing the 'deads' from falling in upon them when they were employed at work.

He made it safe with a stool of wood

Hugh McMaster, Donald McMaster & the others assisted in the putting up of this stool (which was of wood). These men also assisted to clear away the rubbish from the slope at which Cameron, McMaster and McPhee were to be employed. There were two stopes in the bargain which the parties had taken (the one above the other. the lower stope projected 8 or 9 feet from the higher & which they (had) first to work (so) as to make both clear and workable

There were two working slopes and the stone was firmly in the higher one and could not be moved

On the day the men began to work at the higher slope, a large stone about 9 feet long and 3 or 4 feet high above the ground which was loose at the top and at one of the sides). (There was only about 3 feet above ground). This stone was fixed at its base in the lode which Cameron & his companions had agreed to remove. I can't say what hold it had in the lode. I fixed an iron bar and tried the stone having a pressure of two men, Donald & Hugh McMaster on the bar, but we could not remove the stone. I took a pick and marked a place and desired Donald McMaster and Archibald McMaster to fire a hole in the stone the first thing the next morning and put a blast in it and remove the stone. I did not consider the stone dangerous at this time because it was firmly fixed at the bottom.

He ordered the stone to be blasted out, but Floyd countermanded this

On the next morning I was again at the place and the stone had not been removed and I desired Hugh McMaster to go and take a single hand with him and 'get it done'. I was not in the mine when I said this, we were on the surface. Floyd came forward at this time and heard what I said. He told McMaster that the men (Lowrie and Cameron & others) at the low stope were coming to work at the high stope and they would remove it. I said that I wanted stuff to pack up the stool which I was putting up to prevent the Beasts (?) from hurting it. Floyd replied that he would make the men who had taken the job remove the stone and throw the stuff up to the stool. I cannot say whether this stone was in the Job or not. The part of it above the lode was not. This stone was part of the lode tho' there was no ore in it.

It became more dangerous and he told McMaster and McPhee who were working there that they ought to deal with it, but they refused saying it was not part of the contract

The operations to be carried on would necessarily make the stone more loose and render it more dangerous. Five days after they began to work the high stope I went to the mine and found Alexander McMaster & Alexander McPhee at work. I examined the stone: it was in the same condition as before. The men were cutting right under it. I saw the stone was dangerous I desired them to remove it.

McMaster replied that he had propped it with wood - having put up a small stick against it. I said that was insufficient & that they should remove it before they went farther. McMaster replied that it was not in their bargain. I said whether or no 'if I were you I would have it out of there or make Floyd put it out'. They made no reply.

I went off in a rage, when they did not take my advice & when they was it was not in their contract. I was never afterwards spoken to on the subject. Nor I did not speak to Floyd further about it nor inform him of this conversation. I consider that my duty was at and end when he refused to allow McMaster to remove the stone after I had given instructions to him to do so as aforesaid. I myself have heard the workmen speak about the stone & say that it was dangerous but I don't think any of them ever came specially to me on the subject. I think this was Lowrie - Duncan Cameron was very quiet and I don't remember him saying anything on the subject.

Floyd is overseer of underground workings and it is his duty to see that the whole mines are properly secured that so the safety of the lives of the workmen is ensured.

He heard the terrible news while he was at dinner and went immediately to the mine and helped carry the body out

Thursday 7th August while sitting at dinner I heard that Duncan Cameron was killed. I went up to the mines and went to the place - I went into the place alone - I found Floyd, Hugh McMaster & others there before me. The stones had been removed off the body before I went down but I saw that Cameron was quite dead.

I was greatly grieved about it as said in Gaelic to Hugh McMaster - 'See now whether it would not have been better to take my advice than Floyd's' I was sadly vexed and I saw this because I had given instructions to Hugh who was employed by days wages to remove the stone. I carried the body out of the mine assisted by McMaster & John Cameron.

He could not say whether the mine was managed properly, but attached no blame to Mr Barrat who had returned only three days earlier and to whom nothing had been reported about the stone

I have never heard of any accidents at the mines before by death. I can't say whether they are managed properly - they are not wrought with the same cautious way as the other mines which I have been into but this may arise in consequence of the difference with the nature of the lode. Mr Barrat was from home during the most of the time the men were employed at this job & returned only 3 or 4 days before the accident. He was not to blame and did not see the stone. I did not say anything to him on the subject.

Cameron was killed by the falling in of the stone in question. I think two feet had been cut from the stone under part of the stone in question - there was nothing cut under the stone at its east end.

Signed Donald Cameron.