26th August 1901

Donbristle mine collapse kills eight

“Serious mining accident at Dumfermline,” ran the story in the Elgin Courant and Moray Advertiser on 27 August 1901. The spelling mistake (“Dumfermline”) was its own.

“A Dunfermline telegram says a serious mining disaster occurred yesterday at the pits of Donbristle Colliery Company, Mossmoran Moor, Fifeshire,” the paper continued,”Dunfermline in 1901 and fourteen men are now entombed. An air shaft was being made, when suddenly two acres of moorland collapsed on to the workings, which became choked with sand and moss. Ten men were cut off and four who went to their assistance were also entombed.”

Ten men entombed

Three days after the incident, the Stonehaven Journal revealed that the men had been 20 or 30 feet below ground at the end of a shaft where the coal was almost exhausted. “Seven miners were able to make good their escape, but the other ten were entombed and it is feared that they may have perished. Even if they escaped burial it is thought the air must have been affected to such an extent as to make it impossible for them to live.”

In fact, just four men had been killed by the initial collapse, while six others were trapped. A further four men, who formed a rescue party, were also killed after venturing into the mine.

Rescue work begins

Rescue workers immediately placed long timbers across the resulting crater and started to dig an angled passage through the collapsed moss, which they reinforced with wooden planks.

On 29 August, the Edinburgh Evening News wrote that “though the voices of the miners below were distinctly heard at 3.30, the experts deemed it best not to respond to the poor men’s appeals to send down the rope. As one of the experts phrased it, ‘We are now making a job which we expect to defy the inroads from the moss, and we will prefer to rescue with a complete job rather than attempt a precarious and doubtful rescue with incomplete work’.”

Eventually, the rescuers lowered down ropes and brought up five of the surviving miners.

Public inquiry

In the public inquiry that took place the following month, one of the partners that owned the colliery said the idea of a shaft, like the one that had caused the collapse, had been discussed, but he thought the plans had been abandoned. The colliery manager, likewise, said he was unaware of the workings, as the foreman had ordered it without his knowledge.

Other evidence presented at the inquiry, recorded by the Aberdeen Press and Journal of 26 September 1901, “showed that there was [a similar] in-rush of moss over thirty years ago, and that a plan dated 1662 showed Mossmorran Moor as a lake.”



Other events that occured in August

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