Strontian Mines Inquest

by John Dye


John Cameron had worked at various mines for many years on an occasional basis, including a spell for Sir James Riddell

Compeared John Cameron 'Smith', Miner residing at Scotstown in the parish of Ardnamurchan and Shire of Argyll who says:

I am about 40 years of age, on Thursday 7 August 1851 I was employed in the mines at Strontian putting out water at the bottom of Bellsgrove - I am generally employed as a blaster.

I have been engaged occasionally in Mines since I was able to work tho' I have been employed at other jobs during that time. I wrought about 9 months in the mines at Leadhills, I wrought better than half a year in the mine at Carsphairn, I wrought better than half a year at the sinking of a shaft and driving a level of discovery at New Cumnock, Ayrshire, I wrought driving a level in the neighbourhood of Inverary searching for copper ore, I was engaged about 9 months, I wrought for the last three months in the Strontian mines under Mr Barrat. I wrought in these mines before Mr Barrat became manager. I was working on my own account. I wrought also about three years under the proprietor of the mines, Sir James Milles Riddell driving the present level to Bellsgrove Quarry. Since I wrought to Mr Barrat I have been paid 2/- per shift, except 12 days I wrought quarrying a found for a house.

When he left work, he dug peats and afterwards called at a house near the mine entrance to light his pipe

On Thursday 7 August 1851 I wrought in the mine till 3 pm - and went home for dinner. After taking it I went to work at peats for myself and called at a house belonging to the company occupied by Irishmen of the name of Doyle and Burns for the purpose of lighting my pipe. This house is situated about 300 yards from the entrance to the open cast where I knew Duncan Cameron and Alexander Lowrie were employed at work. While I was in the house a woman came into the house and said that something was wrong in the open cast and I went out.

He heard there had been an accident and went and found Lowrie injured and Cameron dead

I observed men standing near the opening & I heard one of them groaning. I went immediately to the place & found an Irishman whose name I don't know standing with Lowrie. I asked Lowrie what was wrong. He answered "Duncan Cameron's killed" & that he was hurt himself by the falling of a piece of rock from the hanger wall. After I had been there a few minutes, about 20, Floyd came up along with a number of others. I could not go to the spot myself as I had never been there before, I did not know the way. Lowrie was still there waiting a cart to take him home. I don't know whether or not Floyd spoke to Lowrie as I was at the entrance to the pit waiting for someone who knew the way to accompany me.

He went into the mine with Floyd and there they found Cameron covered in large stones which they removed with difficulty

Floyd came up and went into the pit, I followed him. I told Floyd to make haste and shew the place. He lost no time. James McMaster Boy and an Irishman of the name of Doyle also went down. On getting to the place of the accident we found Cameron's body all covered with heavy stones except a portion of the back of his neck. We proceeded as quietly as possible to remove the stones. The large stone which pressed on the head & neck of Cameron was so heavy that three of us could not turn it. 4 of us then got round it and turned it over, with difficulty. We could not get at it properly which made the work more difficult. Another stone was lying on Cameron's legs. This stone was heavier that the one on his head and shoulders before referred to. We removed this one also by getting it pushed to the side. Cameron was quite dead.

The body was in a half sitting position, the head was lying on his breast, the neck having apparently been broken. The hammer with which he had been working was under his oxter. His hands were both down upon his knees. His legs were stretched out before him. I did not see any marks of blood or any marks of discoloration on the body but I did not examine it particularly. His jacket was off, but all his other clothes were on.

They carried the body to the surface

I got his body carried to the surface & it was immediately put into a cart & taken to his brother's house at Anaheilt. I did not go with the cart, I did not hear previous to this any complaints about a loose stone which was said to overhang the place where Cameron had been engaged at work.

He criticised management for not being safety concious or as cautious as other mine owners elsewhere

I have several times heard the workmen say that the mines were not managed with proper caution and that the management therein made were not sufficient to guard against accidents. That the workmen were not properly supported. This talk has existed since Mr Barrat began to work the level above Bellsgrove - more than two years. These mines are not wrought in the same cautious systematic way that other mines already mentioned in which I have been engaged except the Strontian mines were packed up and properly supported. The Strontain mines are not supported an I never saw the like before.

Signed John Cameron, Signed Wm Robertson