Strontian Mines Inquest

by John Dye


He had worked at Strontian for three years, at first on the surface, but later as a blaster

Strontian 11 August 1851

Compeared Alexander MacPhee, Miner residing at Anaheilt in the parish of Ardnamurchan & Shire of Argyll who says:

I am 21 years of age. I have wrought at Strontian mines for the last 3 years. I wrought on the surface and was paid by days wages for the first two years. I went below in the beginning of January last and acted as a miner and wrought at day's wages up till the beginning in the middle of July last. I was paid at the rate of 9 per week.

James Floyd is the Superintendent of the work underground. Donald Cameron woodman acts as sort of overseer underground under Floyd but he can do nothing unless he gets Floyd's instructions. About 5 weeks ago & I think five weeks ago today, Alexander MacMaster and I took a job from Floyd & I concur in MacMaster's statement with the following additions and exceptions -

He agreed substantively with Alexander McMaster's account, but added he had also spoken to the woodman about propping up the stone

I don't recollect of any conversation taking place on the day we took the job regarding the stone which overhung our work and which was loose. On the second day after we began our work Donald Cameron the woodman came to where we were at work and I told him about the stone and asked him to secure it or get it removed. Cameron struck the stone with a pick and after doing so said "the stone was not safe for removal". He made no further remark. From that period up till the day on which the accident of Cameron's death occurred I had no conversation with Floyd regarding this stone, tho' MacMaster had conversations on the subject regarding it & that our lives were in danger while setting at or under it. We sometimes propped it with wood but the explosion & the blast invariably removed these. The stone was about 6 or 7 feet high and 10 or 11 feet broad, was open at the top & both ends and apparently solid at its base.

On the day the rock fell and killed Cameron, Floyd came to chide the gang for not working faster

We wrought in shifts as described by Alexander MacMaster up till Thursday 7 August 1851. On that day about 1 pm, Floyd came to where MacMaster & I were at work. He scolded at us for not getting on faster. He said that Lowrie was absent for a week that I was absent for a day and that tho' we had £10 for the job per fathom we would not make 6d per day.

We replied that we were working as well as we could and that we could do no better. I was working near the bottom and near the end of the stone in question when Floyd was there and he desired me to strike it near the centre three or four times. It sounded as if no more loose and Floyd made no remark. Seeing that Floyd did not speak I told him that he (?) refuse to take the stone down, that it was dangerous to our lives to work under it. He answered I would take it down today but will wait until you get on with the stope or cutting. McMaster did not say anything that day that I heard. I quitted work that day about 3 pm. I went out of the pit a little before McMaster.

When he left at the end of his shift, he met Cameron and Lowrie going down

I saw Duncan Cameron and Alexander Lowrie at the surface on their way to supply our places and to work out their shift. I didn't speak to them.

Almost 2 hours afterwards I heard from Alexander McMaster that Duncan Cameron had been killed in the mine and that Alexander Lowrie had been hurt and after ascertaining from some workmen who had wrought at the mines but who had left that the information given to me by McMaster was true.

After hearing the bad news, he returned to the mine and saw them bringing out the body of Cameron on a cart

I hurried off to the mines, I met a number of the miners about a quarter of a mile from the Entrance to the mines walking beside a cart in which I observed the dead body of Duncan Cameron.

I had previously met Lowrie who was being taken home in a cart - I did not speak to him. Before I got to the mines I heard from some people whom I met in the road that a large loose stone had fallen in upon the workmen & had caused Cameron's death. I did not go into the pit since, but as I am so much afraid I have made up my mind not to go back. As I am a stranger to that sort of work I am not prepared to say whether the danger(?) alluded to (?) mines. I have never Wrought in any other mine.

He criticised management for the poor running of the mine

There is a general feeling which is given expression to by the whole workmen that the mines are not managed with ordinary caution or that sufficient precaution is adopted by the management for the prevention of accidents and preservation of life. Cameron was the tallest and strongest man at Strontian. He was upwards of 6 feet and about 33 or 36 years of age. He was in perfect health when I saw him about 2 hours before he met with his death.

Signed Alex McPhee 11 August 1851