What an interesting subject this is! The Scotsman on 24th October 1877, reported that
“A preliminary meeting was held in the afternoon in the vestry of the Established Church, Blantyre, for the purpose of taking steps to raise a national fund on behalf of the sufferers by the High Blantyre Pit explosion. Provost J.C Forrest , Hamilton (who presided); Revs. Messrs Stewart, Wright, R. M’Donald (Free Church); T. Frawley (R.C.); A. Doak (Free Church, Bothwell) ; Mr H. M’Callum, banker ; Mr James Addie, and Mr James Paterson , formed themselves into a committee for carrying out this laudable object, with power to add to their number. the following, among other gentlemen , are to be invited to join the committee : Lord Blantyre , Messrs W. S. Dixon , Colin Dunlop of Quarter, J. M. Thomson, Ralph Moore, Colonel Austine, W. Neilson, Mooscud; A. Macdonald, M.P.; Rev. J. Danaher (R.C.), Sheriff Birnie, Mr J. Fernie, Monkland Iron Works ; Commander M’Hardy, Colonel Reid, Mr Whitelaw , M.P.; Mr Ramsay, M.P.; Sir Edward Colebrooke, Bart., M.P.; Sir Windham Anstruther , M.P.; Mr Charles Cunningham, the Lord Provosts of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and other Scotch burghs, as also the Lord Mayor of London and the Mayors of the chief provincial towns in England.
The Rev. Mr Wright remarked that he thought they were justified in making this appeal a national one, seeing that by the terrible calamity which had overtaken the district over 200 men and boys had been killed , and had left behind them so many mothers, wives, and children. Whole families, he said, had been swept away. It was agreed that Mr Brown, solicitor , Hamilton, should be asked to officiate as secretary to the fund , Mr M’Callum , City of Glasgow Bank, Blantyre, as treasurer, the secretary being instructed to issue circulars in regard to the matter, and ask the banks to open subscription-lists . Mr Wright stated that the firm of W. Dixon (Limited) had handsomely promised to head the subscription-list with £1000 ; and it was also mentioned that arrangements had been made whereby the local grocers should supply the bereaved families with groceries, so that none might be in actual want.”
The action by Dixons of starting the fund with £1,000 was certainly welcomed at the time, but in time would turn out to be a little two faced. For in the coming months, the widows and families of those miners were to be shamefully ejected from the colliery homes, to make way for the new workforce. This controversial incident raises a lot of questions as to where they went and how they managed to cope. Fund records exist but have been difficult to trace or get hold of.
What happened next?
Six months after the explosion, thirty four widows, whose husbands had been killed in the disaster, appeared at Hamilton Sheriff Court.
They had previously received letters from the colliery, owners informing them that they must leave their tied cottages. Having failed to do so, William Dixon Limited had raised summonses against them.
When asked by the Sheriff why they had not vacated their homes, the Sheriff asked, “Are you not getting enough money from the relief fund?” Each widow replied “I have not the means to pay a rent with. ”
The Sheriff stated that it was out of kindness that the company had allowed them to remain in their houses for so long.
One widow claimed that they had a cruel way of showing their kindness and that the firm should have carried out the evictions on the day of the explosion as the public would have taken her by the hand. The Sheriff stated that he could scarcely agree with her and suggested that both the firm and the public had been extremely kind and generous. He then decreed that the thirty-four widows and their children should be removed from their homes in two weeks later, on 28th May 1878. The evictions were carried out and replacement miners were allocated their homes. No-one knows what became of these unfortunate widows and their children.
It is written by others that in all probability they had to seek accommodation in the Poor House but i don’t think this was the case. There is no evidence of an influx of women and families to the poorhouse which was located on Bothwell Road.
There are rumours they were accommodated in temporary homes at Niaroo, but this has proved difficult to verify and is more likely they remarried or took up residence elsewhere. The ejection of the Blantyre widows was a sad and disgraceful end to the tragic story of the Blantyre explosion.
My friend Alex Rochead is tracking down what happened to those widows in due course.
Content sourced from Scotsman Archives, Scottish Mining website with Blantyre Project added facts. (c) 2016
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Alex Rochead Your right Paul as the widows were receiving money from the disaster relief fund it is unlikely they would have qualified for poor relief. Many of the ladies remarried and were given a dowry of £20 to £25 pounds when “a widow throws off her weeds “. Three of the widows who had remarried and then later got into difficulties had to claim poor relief. Elizabeth MacFarlane widow of Andrew Morrison, Mary Burns widow of Hugh Wilson and Catherine Richards widow of James Smith.
The Blantyre Project With such large families, i bet quite a few of the widows “rushed” into marriages for support. Looking forward to Friday, see you then.