VICTORIA. Nithshill, Renfrewshire - 15th March, 1851
The colliery was the property of Messrs. Coates and the explosion left sixty one dead. The colliery had a good upcast and downcast shaft fitted with a tube from a furnace. The manager thought the ventilation so good that the furnace had been stopped for several months.
Many of the principle stoppings were constructed of brick and others of deal. There were no sheath stoppings in the waste. The workings occupied about 50 acres and the coal was worked by passages about 18 feet wide crossing each other at right angles leaving pillars of coal about 18 by 11 yards. The part of the coal that was being worked was in the north of the pit. The air was carried along the face to these workings by wooden brattices and the old workings were closed by brick stoppings.
Fifty to sixty men had gone down the pit about 3 a.m. and worked as usual until about 5 a.m. when there was a sudden explosion which blew the headgear down and dense clouds of smoke came from the pit which was 120 to 130 fathoms deep. Early attempts to get down the pit failed and engineers were summoned from Glasgow.
Mr. Peter Niven, the overseer, said that he thought the explosion had occurred as there had been a fall which had interrupted the ventilation. The seam was known to be fiery and the local papers commented that it was remarkable that the colliers used naked lights and not Davy safety lamps.
Efforts to explore the pit and look for possible survivors went on day and night but the work was very difficult because the cage was stuck in the shaft however voices could be heard from below. At last one man, John Cochran, was brought to the surface, alive.
He told those at the top that there was another survivor below.
One of the two men who were saved David Coleville described the explosion. He said:-
“At the moment of the catastrophe I was working with three others, stone cutting at the extremity of the West level. The explosion was indicated by a treacherous rush of air which was driven in advance of the fire-blast and looking forward, we saw an immense mass of flame roaring and advancing towards us. It fortunately took the first ‘open’ which it met in the direction of the Victoria shaft which was fifty to sixty yards from us. The flame and vapour rushed up this shaft with incredible fury but it partially rushed on and met the men who were going for the shaft. Maxwell and Mahan, after half the distance, were fairly overpowered and fell down but Coleville and Cochrane, while in a staggering state, happily got a ‘puff’ of fresh air which revived them and they were able to reach to the bottom of the shaft. At this spot after the fiery blast had ascended upwards a full current of air rushed consequently downwards. We suffered, however from the excessive cold but more from the agonising suspense endured by us by the forty five hours we were imprisoned in the bowels of the earth. Our hope was excited when we heard goings on in the shaft above us.”
When the explorers got into the pit, they found the body of the manager at the pit bottom.