Victoria Pit Disaster

Terrible Explosion in the Victoria Pit in Nitshill, Renfrewshire

Victoria Pit Diagram

On a beautiful day in early Spring on Saturday the 15th March 1851 a tremendous explosion rocked the small Renfrewshire mining village of Nitshill. The sound was heard more than a mile away. 63 men and boys had been working the "night shift" in the Victoria Pit, the deepest pit in Scotland, being 175 fathoms deep (a Fathom = 6 feet) and were preparing to hand over to the "day shift" who were at the pit head waiting to take over when this terrible incident happened. The explosion caused the destruction of the Free Trader which was in fact a ventilation shaft. This area was consumed by flames and had the effect of drawing fresh air into the Victoria pit. However it was of no help to those trapped, as there were only two survivors, namely John Cochran and David Colville who, although badly burned, did survive.

During Saturday and Sunday as many as 20,000 mainly women and children gathered at the site, all of whom had lost husbands, sons, fathers and brothers. One old lady a Mrs Buchanan was heard to say repeatedly, "Auld Neil’s gone; young Neil’s gone; and Jamie’s gone. I tied up their pieces for them in a napkin, but the’re a’ gone". Detachments of Police from Paisley and Glasgow were called to control the grieving relatives. Later, a troop of the 21st Infantry arrived by express and were to take over from the Police. 

Pit Disastaer Memorial

Experienced miners from Dixon’s Colliery from Govanhill were called in to assist the exhausted local miners who had been working continuously since Saturday morning. The problem facing the rescuers was made very difficult as one of the cages weighing 14cwts which lowered the workers to the underground workings was trapped at an awkward angle 40 fathoms from the bottom of the shaft and it was a considerable time before it could be freed to be used to lower the rescuers, allowing them to attempt to find those trapped.

This accident, terrible though it was, could have been much worse if it had happened half an hour later when the shifts changed over. The death toll could have been more than 140 men and boys. All the same, it was the greatest loss of life in any pit accident at the time. That which came nearest to it was an explosion in the adjoining "Campbell Pitt", in 1805, when 21 men lost their lives.

A public subscription was suggested and was headed with a generous donation by Mr George Coats, the Managing Partner, who expressed the wish that others would join him in subscribing to the fund to help widows and children without fathers as a result of this terrible calamity.

Pit Disaster Memorial

The following year, The House of Commons set up a select committee on coal mining and produced many recommendations which hopefully made the Industry a much safer place to work.

However it was reported that as there was no coroner’s inquest in Scotland and that there seemed to be no one alive who was to blame, no public trial was likely to take place.