Fife Pit Disaster of 1901- Moss Morran
3rd September 1901 The Fife Pit Disaster.
While much was accomplished at Moss Morran yesterday, it is only as the work proceeds that the extent of what has yet to be overtaken can be realised. Chief interest centres in the construction of the new shaft, in the middle of what has come to be known among the workmen as “The Hole”. Naturally so, for on the successful completion of this undertaking depend not only the clearing of the pit, but the ultimate preservation of the property. Fortunately, the weather has been of the most favorable description. Had there been any heavy rains, it is difficult to conjecture what might have been a treacherous bog. As it was, the moisture in the middle of last week was within an ace of knocking the shaft, which was first erected into matchwood, and a continuance of the rain would have rendered the task of constructing a new shaft one of very great difficulty. Even under the most favorable conditions, the job, which has now been essayed, is one of no means importance, and it only requires a glance down the ugly hole to convince one of the obstacles, which have to be encountered, and the courage and daring which are necessary to brave the hazardous work. All around the aperture hang heavy masses of moss, which, were they to travel, night annuls all that has been achieved. The greatest precautions are accordingly being taken, and all that is possible is being done to ensure the safety of the plucky men who are working in shifts, under the direction of MR DAVID ANDERSON. It has to be borne in mind hat the shaft is not being sunk for the purpose either of bringing to the surface the bodies of the eight men known to be entombed, and now, there is no good reason to fear, beyond human aid, or of hoisting up the hundreds of tons of moss, which have been hurled underground. The chief object is to prevent more of the bog sinking into No 12 Pit, and it is therefore imperative that the strongest material employed should be of the strongest, and the workmanship the most careful.
While men’s minds are directed to Moss Morran and what is going on there, a pleasant episode occurred at Cowdenbeath last night to vary the now somewhat monotonous course of events. A great demonstration took place at the jubilee Fountain, at which four of the heroes of the disaster were each presented with a hundred pound note from MR ANDREW CARNEGIE and it was announced that MR ROBERT W WALLACE, the chairman of the Fife and Clackmannan Coal Owners Association, had signified his intention of contributing £250 to the permanent fund which was established after the Hill of Beath disaster.
By the breakfast hour yesterday morning the four heavy beams which are to form the corners of the shaft had been placed in position and made thoroughly fast. The old “cleading” was so far removed, and at that point about 12 feet down cross beams, seventeen feet long, were inserted into each side of the moss, to the extent of from 2 ½ to 3 feet. At the bottom of the shaft the same measures are to be adopted, with a view to obviating as much as possible the pressure upon the sides. Good progress was made with the lining of the upper part of the shaft, and to- day a start will be made with the concreting work. The beds of concrete will be about 3 feet deep, and as such bed will require a few hours to put in place, besides about a day afterwards to set, it can be easily seen that, even supposing no unforeseen difficulties arise, more than a week must yet elapse before the shaft is finished.
In the morning it was thought that the water difficulty had been all but overcome, notwithstanding that a rehabilitated (Sic) pump in No 12 pit had broken down. The water had been so far reduced as to permit of the large drowned out Dunfermline splint bottom of No 15 pit being repaired and rendered fit for work before midday. All went well for an hour or so, when another unfortunate occurrence took place. This time the donkey engine, which supplies all the boilers with water, gave way, and applied a complete closure of the pumping operations for the day. The boiler fires had to be drawn out, and nothing could be done but to set about repairing the donkey engine. This involved a delay of six to eight hours, but as the flow of water had greatly decreased, it was not expected that is would have time to rise to the large pumping engine before it could be restarted, and that before midnight it would be possible to remove the stopper, which was erected six hundred yards east from the bottom of the shaft, and beginning to remove the moss which had accumulated along the level road behind it. Observations were made at the top of the stopper during the day, when it was ascertained that the moss had fallen at least eighteen inches. This was taken to indicate that the water had been rapidly draining off, and a hand test, which proved that the moss was solidifying into peat.
For the first time since the disaster, two of the four pits belonging to the Donibristle Colliery Company (The Marion and the James) were thrown open for work. There was not a full resumption, but at the other collieries in the district work was proceeding as usual…
GIFT BY MR CARNEGIE TO FOUR RESCUE HEROES
Something of the nature of a demonstration took place at Cowdenbeath last night. It was known to a few that MR JOHN ROSS, Solicitor, Dunfermline, was to be in the burgh in the evening for the purpose of handing over to ROBERT LAW, JAMES DICK, JOHN SHEDDON, and JOHN JONES, four of the men who risked their lives in the rescue of others, with £100 each from MR ANDREW CARNEGIE, in recognition of their heroism. The intention was that the presentation should take place privately in the Fife Coal Company’s office, but the views of MR ROSS were over rulled, and arrangements were made for having a public ceremony. The bellman was sent down the different street, announcing that a meeting would be held at the Jubilee Fountain, and the Cowdenbeath Public Band were called out. Playing a Hymn, the band marched from the North end of the Burgh to the Fountain. The four Heroes were accorded a place of honour, and beside them were, MR ROSS, MR JAMES INNES, the president of the Fife and Kinross Miners Association, and MR HENRY ROWAN, Fife Coal Company Manager.
MR INNESS, who presided, said that the meeting was the most unique that had ever been held in any colliery district of the county. He spent all of his life in Cowdenbeath, and during his time a sadder,a wearier, or more grievious week had never been spent. Widespread anxiety had been manifested in regard to the disaster, which would be remembered for ever, by even the youngest among them. While pleased that the noble services of Law, DICK SHELDON, and JONES were being recognised, probably the heroic work of others would also suitably acknowledged. Those interested in the Mining industry in Fifeshire would doubtless see that the services of all who played a heroic part would be recognised in a most tangible way.
He concluded by making an appeal on behalf of the widows and families of the sufferers.
Mr Ross said he was sure that the meeting was not of the choosing of the four men who were the heroes of the present moment, because so far as he could gather they were as distinguished for their modesty as they were for their intrepidity. They were not men who sought to posture in public, but after full inquiry, he found that they were men calm and determined, who knew exactly what they were about when they resolved to descend the mine in an endeavor to rescue their fellow workmen from a slow and painful death. He was there as the deputy of Mr Carnegie, who with his usual generosity had asked him to present to each of them the sum of £100. Mr Carnegie, as well as the community generally, was aware that the four men were not in some senses exceptional, because whenever danger arose, whenever an act of heroism was to be performed, he knew there were men in Cowdenbeath who were willing to risk their lives in any similar enterprise. Mr Ross referred to the subscription of £250 by the members of the London Stock Exchange as showing that other rescuers were not being overlooked, and went on to say that the promptitude of Mr Carnegies gift, instead of drying up sympathy, would be rather provocative of the sympathy of others. Before proceeding to read the letter accompanying the gift to each of the four men, he desired to read the following letter, which he had received from MR Wallace, the Chairman of Fife and Clackmannan Coal Owners Association:- Hawthorne Bank, Dunfermline, Sept 2 1901.
Dear Mr Ross- Having just returned from a weeks absence, I take this opportunity of expressing my deep sympathy with the sufferers from the appalling disaster at Donibristle, and the admiration which I am sure is shared by every member of our Association, as well as by the general public, for the heroism and self sacrifice of the rescuing parties in their endeavor to save life, in which they have been so largely successful, although some have perished, in all human probability, in the attempt. As the munificence of Mr Carnegie and others has already been devoted to the recognition of the brave acts done, I would like to support Mr Macbeths plea for a large increase of the disaster fund already instituted and to intimate my desire to subscribe £250 pounds to it. Should there be need for funds to give relief for the pressing needs of those who are bereft of bread- winners, you have already my authority to act for me. I am yours Faithfully ROBERT WALLACE.
Continuing Mr Ross said that he was glad that the last paragraph of Mr Wallace's letter afforded him an opportunity of referring to the widows of the men who lost their lives. The poor widows and orphans in their homes, might think that they were being forgotten, while others were being remembered, but that feeling, if it existed, would now be dispelled from their minds. Afterwards, Mr Ross handed to each of the four men an envelope containing a £100 banknote and the following letter:-
Royal Bank Buildings, Dunfermline.
Dear Sir, -I have been instructed by Mr Andrew Carnegie of Skibo to ask your acceptance of the enclosed sum of £100 as a mark of his admiration of the eminently heroic conduct recently displayed by you, whereby you had the great honour, at the risk of your own life, of assisting to rescue several of your fellow- workers from a terrible death, arising from the collapse of the mining workings in Donibristle Colliery. Mr Carnegie, entertains a great respect for your heroism, and desires me to say to you that in his opinion, while the man who kills his fellow is the hero of barbarism, the man who risks his own life to save the lives of others is the only true hero that, a civilisation can honour –I have the honour to be, sirs, yours faithfully, JOHN ROSS
Jones and Dick publicly acknowledged the gift, the former taking the opportunity of acknowledging his indebtedness to God for the gift of eternal life, and the latter remarking that he would rather have gone into the hole twice than occupy such a public position. MR INNES replied on behalf of LAW and SHEDDON