Collier, Robert Hamilton, known as Bobby, remembered by his daughter, Mary

My father Bobby Hamilton was born in 1919, he was a ‘middle ‘child in a family of twelve, six boys and six girls. Sadly my Aunt Agnes MacKenzie, 96 years old is the only remaining sibling. They were brought up at Trodigal Cottage or Bobbins’s Cottage at Kilvivan, between Machrihanish and Drumlemble, The cottage was so called because the my grandfather, Robert, was known as Bobbins.

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Four members of the Hamilton Family. L-R Bobby, Agnes, Stewart and Malcolm, Photograph courtesy of Mary Hamilton ©

My father joined the Royal Navy as a volunteer in 1937, and when he was ‘demobbed’ he returned to Kintyre and began working in the Argyll Colliery at Machrihanish. He married Jean MacBrayne in 1948 and they had three children, Sheena, Mary (me) and Robert.

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Bobby with his daughter, Sheena. Photograph courtesy of Mary Hamilton. ©

My father had a few accidents whilst working in the Pit and I remember one time, 1960 (I think) that he had hurt his shoulder, back and his left foot. I think coal fell on him.  He could not wear a shoe or slipper and cut his sandal, put holes in the side and crisscrossed this with string and could get this on his foot to walk about in the house. I remember the noise the buckle made when he was walking about. 

My father left the Pit with some other miners from the area, in 1961 or 1962 to work in Corby in Stewart and Lloyds Steel Mills – the idea being that we would eventually move to Corby.

I can remember the Miners Gala days, going to the beach and the Christmas parties, and the old Rex Cinema to see a film.

My mother’s health was not good, however as a child I was unaware of how ill she really was and in March 1964 she was admitted to Campbeltown Hospital. My father came back from Corby.  My mother later transferred to the Western  Infirmary Glasgow and sadly, she died at the age of 46. My father was then a widow caring for three children, aged 13, 11 and 8 years old. He never returned to Corby.  

Not long after my mother died I walked with him to the cemetery and after visiting my mother’s grave, we walked to another gravestone. My father told me that this man had been  one of his closest friends and he had died in an accident in the Pit. This was of course Jimmy Woodcock.  My father had never mentioned this before,  and I never heard him talking about his ordeal being trapped under the coal. [Bobby had a narrow escape in February 1951 when Jimmy Woodcock was killed].

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Extract from the Campbeltown Courier, February 1951. Courtesy of Campbeltown Library.

My father had several labouring jobs after this, he worked when the Jetty was being built at the then NATO base down Kikerran Road, then when the oil tanks were being installed and then later as a storeman. This was the only job that he ever spoke about with disdain, as he felt there was not enough to do and he was indoors.  He then worked in the Shipyard and his last employment on retiring was with the local Council, cutting the grass, maintaining the plants.  He enjoyed this as he was outdoors and was a keen gardener.

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Mary Hamilton, far right. Photograph: Vicky Middleton ©

My father was a quiet man who loved reading books and poetry.  He never had a television, preferring to listen to the radio.  The poems I remember him reciting to us was Ogden Nash, the Camel, The Lama, etc – nonsense poems when we were young, and then later, some of his favourites, usually when he had a ‘wee dram’.  ‘The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God’ by J.Milton Hayes, ‘The Shooting of Dan McGrew’ by Robert Service and of course anything by Robert Burns.

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Bobby Hamilton, left, at Campbeltown Day Hospital. Photograph courtesy of Mary Hamilton ©

My father died in Campbeltown Hospital, aged 86 in 2006.  He is still missed.

Mary Hamilton

Fatal Accident – Sad occurance at the Pit

Mr Neil McAllister – Darlochan, in the Cottage Hospital died this morning from injuries sustained whilst working on the surface at the pit at Trodigal [Machrihanish], Campbeltown Coal Company Ltd, Trodigal. Deceased was employed as a joiner and handyman and he was at his duties on Tuesday morning at the pithead. About ten o’clock he was found lying unconscious having apparently fallen from a height of ten feet. He was seriously injured about the head. Removed to the Cottage Hospital he never regained consciousness and passed away this morning. Coming so soon after the recent fatality at the pit this occurrence has created a feeling of profound sadness among the employees of the Coal Coy. and the whole company will deeply sympathise with the sudden and tragically bereaved.

Deceased, who was 43 years of age, leaves a widow and five of a family (2 sons and 3 daughters) to mourn him.

The funeral takes place on Saturday at 2pm from the Hospital to Kilkerran Cemetery. 

From the Campbeltown Courier, 18th December 1926 and the following is from the Births, deaths and marriages section, on the same page:

McALLISTER – Suddendly at the Cottage Hospital (as the result of an accident). on the 16th inst, Neil McAllister, Darlochan, beloved husband of Margaret McKay – Deeply regretted – Funeral on Saturday, at 2pm from the Cottage Hospital to Kilkerran Cemetery. – Friends please accept this intimation and invitation.

Thanks to Angus Martin.

Fatal Accident at the Drumlembe Pit: John McGeachy

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Report in the Argyllshire Herald on the death of John McGeachy, collier at Drumlemble Pit. He was killed in December 1860, aged 23 years old. Thanks to Angus Martin.

Fatal accident at Drumlemble – the death of Donald Kerr

I was looking through the records on the Scottish Mining website to see if there was anything of interest that related to South Kintyre when I came across the following entry.

1859 July 25th – Drumlemble, Campbeltown (Duke of Argyll) Donald Kerr died aged 40 by getting entangled with the signal wire in the shaft“.

I mentioned this incident to Campbeltown historian and writer, Angus Martin, and he very kindly found this account of the death of Donald Kerr in the Campbeltown Library – this article is from the Argyllshire Herald from August 5th, 1859 and reads as follows:

FATAL ACCIDENT AT DRUMLEMBLE

On the morning of Monday the 25th ult., a fatal accident occurred at the coal-pit at Drumlemble. As three of the colliers were ascending the pit, one of them named Donald Kerr happened to look out of the basket, when unfortunately the recoil of the signal wire which had previously been broken, caught him by the chin and dragged him out of the basket. Before he could be rescued from this perilous position, he lost hold of the wire, fell to the distance of 90 feet, and was killed on the spot. His remains were taken up in a very mangled state. One of the two two workmen who were in the the basket at the time was the son of the deceased. We understand that the men at the bottom of the pit hallooed to the man at the head of it, informing him of the condition in which the signal wire was. Immediately on receiving this intelligence, he communicated it to the person in charge of the engine, at the same time urging upon him to be very cautious, as it was men who were coming up. A widow and seven children survive to mourn the loss of the deceased. It is now 25 years since any fatal accident occurred at this colliery. 

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Article about the death of Donald Kerr, collier at Drumlemble Pit. Argyllshire Herald, 5th August 1885. From the collection at Campbeltown Library.

This account makes harrowing reading – that Donald’s son, Alexander, should witness his father die in such a way is quite horrific. I am left wondering how the family survived after Donald’s death and if the Duke of Argyll ever compensated them in any way…

Jan Nimmo

Dr. Wallace recalls an underground incident at Argyll Colliery

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Dr. Archie Wallace at his home in Campbeltown in December 2016. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

In November 2016, I paid a visit to Dr. Wallace who practised as a family doctor in Campbeltown from 1949, alongside Dr. McPhail. The consulting rooms at that time were in the stone snecked building on the north side of Burnside Square (now the Argyll and Bute CARS/Townscape Heritage Initiative Office). During my visit to Dr Wallace, now in his nineties, he talked about a particular incident where he was called to treat some men who had gotten into trouble in one of the underground roads at Argyll Colliery.

Here is transcript of the interview:

Yes, well I’m Archie Wallace, my age is in the 90s now and my memory is quite good but it’s maybe not just 100% and I certainly don’t want to over-dramatise what went on…. I’ve really got very little idea of when this actually happened or the names of the people that were involved, and, as I say, I don’t want to over-dramatise it….

It was either a Saturday or a local holiday, because the mine wasn’t functioning, but people called deputies had to carry out an examination of the mine every day, including holidays, and a couple of men would to do their usual walk down the roads – they called them roads, which are channels, and these had to be examined. Now I don’t know what raised the alarm – whether the man in the office was expecting them back and they didn’t arrive or whether there was some communication to say that they were in trouble somewhere, maybe a telephone line of some sort, that they had down there or some communication – I’ve no idea. I went to the Cottage Hospital on my way out to Machrihanish to collect an oxygen cylinder in case it should have been needed.

So, anyway, the story I got, I just happened to be on call that day, was that people were in trouble and they might require medical assistance so out I went and I remember that there were four guys or maybe five. I don’t remember who they were except for one man called James Fowler, he stays in Ralston Road, I remember him quite clearly because he’s quite a tall fellow.

Well, we went down one of the roads, and we were going to a part of the mine which hadn’t been worked for a while but it still had to be inspected. We made our way along this road, as they called it, and that was quite scary for me because I’d never been down before and parts of that channel were quite narrow and you had to bend down to get through. As we got further away I did notice that the quality of the air was not very good and not being used to these conditions I was absolutely sweating, profusely, so much so, that it was running into my eyes, and above, there were these awful creaking noises which sounded like the whole thing was going to collapse. These were the conditions that these guys had to work in. 

Well, we got to where they were and they were semi-conscious but they looked quite healthy. The reason they looked quite healthy was because it was carbon monoxide (poisoning) – which when it combines with the blood it turns a pinkish colour – the capillaries of the face turn pink and they don’t actually look all that ill but the quality of the air was terrible. I think what helped was that they were on the ground and the carbon monoxide had risen to the top of the vault. So I was able to give them some oxygen and they recovered a bit but I was anxious to get them up but because I didn’t want to finish up with two of them and five of us and not being able to move them, though we had some oxygen. 

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The entrance to Argyll Colliery. A.C. was a drift mine so the miners were transported underground by rail. Photo courtesy of the Scottish National Mining Museum.

What happened was the main had been on fire, one of the spontaneous fires that mines get, and we used to see smoke coming up from the neighbouring farm, right from out of the ground. Eventually they closed it and sealed it off to see if the lack of oxygen would sort this out and it seemed to do the trick. But it was after that, that this happened. And what had happened was that the carbon monoxide was building somewhere in that area and I don’t know what would suddenly make it much worse and the quality of the air that we were breathing was just not sustainable. If they were to make their way back, that’s what they thought so that’s maybe why they asked for help.

Anyway, the way back was a bit of a nightmare because there were two extra people who had to be assisted and we had to stop every now and again to get our breath back and to get a few puffs of oxygen. About 10 minutes into it I noticed that the dial on the oxygen cylinder was at zero, so I was just praying that we would be alright. A lot of this was just a bit of phobia on my part and maybe I was panicking a bit, but we were struggling; we were breathing heavily, we weren’t getting enough oxygen. That, as I say, went on for about 10 minutes and eventually, I think I was at the front, I turned a corner, and you’ve heard the phrase, “a breath of fresh air”…  And we got a breath of fresh air, and by God, I can tell you it was welcome. And we were home and dry… So it wasn’t all that fantastic…. but nobody seemed to know anything about this. The manager at that time was Mr Seaman, I think that was his name, as I can’t remember the guys’ names and it didn’t even get into the Courier and my feeling was that the Coal Board just didn’t want any publicity about it and maybe they told the mining guys, you know, “just to hush this up”…. And of course I wasn’t prepared to say anything either, except over the years, I gave a talk to the Rotary about it because I thought they would be interested and they really were interested, but that was about all…

And another thing, not that I was looking for anything in any way at all, but you think there would have been a note or something to say thank you for your help, but there was nothing! Not a thing! Extraordinary really! It was almost as though they had decided that – I think that they were afraid that there would be repercussions and that maybe they had re-opened the mine too soon.

 I knew a lot of the miners, they were patients of mine and were golfing friends, like Dan Stalker, and all that crowd, so l knew them quite well but I can’t remember recognising the fellows that were with me.

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Argyll Colliery Rescue Team – Jim Fowler, second from the left. Photo courtesy of the late Jim Fowler ©

When Morag McLean (nee McMillan), Campbeltown, put a piece together for this blog about her father, Kenny McMillan, in an extract from one of his diaries he mentions that “T. McFarlane was Gassed” in 1958. I have asked Dr. Wallace if he may have been one of the men involved in this incident but the name didn’t ring a bell… Dr. Wallace doesn’t remember the date of this incident but it is most likely to have occurred after the big fire of 1958.

If anyone has any other information about this incident please contact me.

Jan Nimmo

Lines to memory of James McArthur: Killed at Drumlemble Coal Pit

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Kilkivan Cemetery, between Drumlemble and Machrihanish, Kintyre, with the Oa of Islay in the background (2007). Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Lines to memory of James McArthur: Killed at Drumlemble Coal Pit

‘Twas a lovely Spring morning in April
And the lark sang his song loud and clear
When we miners set out on our way to the pit
With light hearts and full of good cheer

We laughed and we joked, as we strode on our way
Not a thought of the mine and it’s dangers
For sport was the topic, as usually the case
On the merits of Celtic and Rangers.

When we reached the pit head in the corner we saw
“auld Jamies” swing his lamp to and fro
He was melting his wax, and preparing his light
Ere he’s start on his labours below.

The signal bell rang, and the cage lowered away
Sinking silently out of the light
But little we thought as we watched him go down
Of what was to happen ere night.

Our work down below but two hours begun
When news came in whispering breath
That a fall had occurred at Jamie’s coal face
And we feared he had met with his death.

The doctor was ‘phoned for, and soon he appeared
Anxious to do his best
But alas! our poor comrade had passed away
And lay in Eternal Rest.

We laid our tools and hurried away
Our work for that day at an end
By custom thus showing the respect that we held
For our poor, unfortunate friend.

Our thought flew to his aged mother
Of ten and four -score years
When we thought of her feeble old frame
Our eyes dimmed with tears

He was called away while at his post
No warning was given
But we hope to meet some other time
At the Golden Gates of Heaven.

James MacArthur was crushed under a coal fall in April 1914, whilst working for the Campbeltown Coal Company. The poem was composed by John Lambie who died in an accident, in 1926, at the Wimbledon Pit.