Remembering the Udston mining disaster in Hamilton that devastated the community 137 years ago

The Udston Disaster Memorial, Hamilton
-Credit: (Image: Scottish Mining Website)


137 years ago today, tragedy struck Hamilton when the second worst coal mining disaster in Scotland devastated the Lanarkshire town.

Always a dangerous job, Scotland has witnessed a multitude of tragedies related to coal mining before the country's final pit closed in Logannet in 2002. However, few were as devastating as the Udston mining disaster which resulted in the deaths of 73 miners after a firedamp explosion.

Early on the Saturday morning of May 28, 1887, more than 180 men entered the mine. At 9am, having already been working for some hours, they downed tools to eat breakfast. The Udston mine had been sunk some years prior to the incident to make use of three seams - called Ell, Main and Splint.

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Just minutes after 9am, a huge explosion ripped through the mine's Splint seam, destroying everything in its path. Huge volumes of fire and dust erupted, with wooden sheds bursting into flames in the wake of the explosion.

Injuries were devastating, with Dr Robertson of Hamilton's examination of the bodies confirming that 53 were burned and 20 were suffocated.

A rescue operation was immediately underway, with volunteers joining experienced miners from other nearby collieries rushing to help. All miners in the adjacent Ell and Main coals were evacuated by 3pm. While some survivors were found alive, the rescue mission soon turned into efforts to recover the bodies of the deceased.

An investigation was launched into the disaster by Inspector of Mines, Ralph Moore who concluded that the firedamp explosion was a result of unauthorised shot firing.

The impact of the tragedy was far-reaching with families throughout the region devastated in its wake.

A plaque commemorating the men killed in the tragedy was put in place at the miners' statue outside Brandon Gate council offices in Hamilton.

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The Scottish Mining Website displays the full list of men and boys killed in the disaster, with the youngest just 13 years old while the oldest was 58:

  • James Alison, 44, bottomer, Udston Rows, married with 5 children

  • Hugh Auchterlonie, 41, miner, Kirkton, High Blantyre, married with 3 children, stepfather of James Nelson

  • William Bates, 41, miner, East Kilbride, married with 7 children

  • Thomas Berry, 25, miner, Auchentibber, married with family, brother of William

  • William Berry, 22, miner, Auchentibber, Blantyre, unmarried, brother of Thomas

  • Christopher Boyce, 20, miner Auchentibber, unmarried

  • Joseph Boyce, 18, miner, Auchentibber, unmarried

  • William Boyce, 23, miner, Auchentibber, unmarried (3 brothers, also brother-in-laws of James Crichton & William Harrison, cousins of William John Boyce)

  • William Boyce, 23, married 2 children, cousin of Boyce brothers

  • William Brown, 53, miner, Auchentibber, married with 4 children

  • Andrew Buddie, 28, underground fireman, Burnbank, married with family

  • Isaac Cameron, 35, miner, Udston Rows, married, no children, brother-in-law of James Gaw

  • James Cook, 17 miner, Foundry Row, Greenfield, Hamilton, unmarried, son of Richard

  • Richard Cook, 50, miner, Foundry Row, Greenfield, Hamilton, married, father of James & Thomas

  • Thomas Cook, 20, miner, Foundry Row, Greenfield, Hamilton, unmarried, son of Richard

  • John Crewe, 23, miner, Udston Rows, unmarried, brother of Washington

  • Washington Crewe, 25, miner, Udston Rows, unmarried, brother of John

  • David Crichton, 21, miner, Auchentibber, unmarried, brother of James Crichton

  • James Crichton, 31, Daisyknowe, Auchentibber, married with 5 children, brother of David Crichton, brother-in-law of Boyce brothers

  • Joseph Cummings, 28, miner, Loanfoot, Blantyre, unmarried

  • George Davies, 32, miner, Udston Rows, married with child, son-in-law of Andrew Watson

  • Thomas Dennistoun, 17, miner, Turners Buildings, Stonefield, unmarried, brother of William

  • William Dennistoun, 23, miner, Turner's Building, Stonefield, Blantyre, unmarried, brother of Thomas

  • George Dingsdale, 23, miner, Udston Rows, married with child

  • John Dodds, 13, miner,9 Watson St, Burnbank, Hamilton

  • William Drain, 19, miner, Udston Rows, married with child

  • David Fleming, 27, lodging at Udston Rows, native of Strathaven, unmarried

  • James Gaw (or Gauld), 13, miner, Udston Rows, unmarried

  • George Harkness, 30, 42 Gladstone St, Burnbank, married, brother of John

  • John Harkness, 25, miner, 42 Gladstone St, Burnbank, married with child, brother of George

  • William Harrison, 36, miner, Auchentibber, married with 6 children

  • William Hughson or Houston, 44, miner, Udston Rows, recently arrived from Durham

  • James Jarvis, 31, miner, Maxwelltown, East Kilbride, unmarried

  • Edward Jones, miner, 15, Craig Row, Auchentibber

  • James Kane, 14, miner, son of Cornelius Kane, miner, 10 Udston Rows

  • Andrew Lawson, miner, 16, Little Udston, unmarried, eldest son of William

  • William Lawson, 41, miner, Little Udston, married, father of Andrew

  • James Leadbetter, 39, ostler, 15 Barrack St Hamilton, married with 5 children

  • James McCulloch, 14, miner, East Kilbride, son of James McCulloch

  • James McCulloch, 40, miner, East Kilbride, married with 5 children, father of James McCulloch

  • John McDade, 21, miner, Auchentibber, unmarried, brother of Michael

  • Michael McDade, 32, miner Auchentibber, married with 4 children, brother of John

  • John McGinnes, 16, miner, 47 Hill St, Blantyre, unmarried, brother of Peter McGinnes

  • Peter McGinnes, 22, miner, 47 Hill St, Blantyre, unmarried, brother of John McGinnes

  • Francis McGurty, 49, miner , Udston Rows, married, father of James

  • James McGurty, 17, miner, Udston Rows, son of Francis, lived with parents

  • Alexander McLean, 50, Auchentibber, married with 6 children

  • Robert McNiven, 25, miner, High Dykehead, married with family

  • James McTavish,19, oncostman, 23 Ann St, Burnbank, unmarried, lived with parents

  • Gavin Russell Malcolm, 15, miner Auchentibber, unmarried

  • William Murdoch, 26, miner, Udston Rows, married with child

  • James Nelson, 16, Kirkton Blantyre, brother of John, stepson of Hugh Auchterlonie

  • John Nelson, 14, Kirkton Blantyre, brother of James, stepson of Hugh Auchterlonie

  • Joseph Nelson, 22, miner, Udston Rows, unmarried

  • John Navall, 31, Cemetery Walk, Blantyre, married with 5 children

  • Thomas Penman, 20, pony driver, High Dykehead, unmarried- brother of Walter

  • Walter Penman, 22, pony driver, High Dykehead, unmarried - brother of Thomas

  • Michael Quinn, 21, Causeystanes Blantyre, married with child

  • John Reid, 24, miner, 24A Beckford St, Hamilton, married with 2 children

  • James Richmond, 58, miner, Station, High Blantyre, widower with family

  • Daniel Robertson, 15, drawer, Auchentibber

  • Terence Rooney, 55, miner, Auchentibber, unmarried

  • David Shanks, 45, miner, Auchintibber, married with 4 children, father of David Shanks

  • David Shanks, 13, son of David Shanks

  • John Smith, 34, miner, Larkfield, Blantyre, unmarried

  • James Spiers, 38, miner, Old Calderwood, East Kilbride, married with 5 or 6 children

  • Allan Stirling, 22, miner, Earnock Colliery, Parish of Hamilton, unmarried

  • Alexander Torley, 26, fireman, Udston Rows, married with child

  • Felix Torley, 43, miner, Udston Rows, unmarried

  • Andrew Thomas Watson,, 48, bottomer, Udston Rows, married with family, father-in-law of George Davies

  • James Wilson, 40, miner, 50 Udston Rows, married with 7 children

  • John Wilson, 20, miner, Udston Rows, unmarried

  • Walter Winter, 22, drawer, Udston Row, unmarried