Knockshinnoch Disaster

Knockshinnoch Disaster Thursday 7th September 1950

On this day in 1950, after several days of torrential rain, a large inrush of peat moss from the surface plundered its way into the No.5 heading of the Knockshinnoch Castle Colliery.

The news spread quickly throughout the miners rows of New Cumnock and distraught families gathered at pit-head. News cameras descended on the mining community to share with a watching world the unfolding disaster and the grim realisation that 129 men were trapped underground.

A glimmer of hope in the glorious form of a telephone cable that had miraculously  survived the carnage ensured the imprisoned miners had contact with the surface and those determined to do everything in their power to rescue their comrades.  The plan to bring the miners to the surface by breaking through to the disused working of the Bank No. 6 mine suffered a gut-wrenching set back as the percentage of  firedamp gas in the working became deadlier by the minute. Drastic measures were required. A chain of heroic unwavering rescue brigade men stretched the length of the gas-filled Bank roadway passing Salvus breathing apparatus to a rescue team now based in the Knockshinnoch workings. Here the team fitted and instructed the exhausted miners  on the use of the apparatus , before sending them out and back along the chain.  The last of the 116 rescued men walked through the gas in the early hours of the morning of Sunday, 10th September.

Knockshinnoch crater with the pit-head in the background

By Monday, 11th September, the position at the crater was such that a meeting was held of  the representatives of all the parties at which the decision was made that no further work should be carried out underground from the crater until its sides and the entrance to the No. 5 Heading were properly secured. By this time it was felt that there could be no hope of reaching or rescuing any of the 13 missing men and that there was no justification for risking loss of life among the rescuers.

Knockshinnoch crater with Afton Cemetery in the background

Thirteen souls lost their lives – John Dalziel, James Houston, Thomas Houston, William Howat, William Lee, James Love, John Taylor, William McFarlane, John McLatchie, Samuel Rowan, John Smith, Daniel Strachan and John White.

Their final resting place in the Afton cemetery a short stroll from the Knockshinnoch Memorial, a fitting tribute to the lost men and the gallant rescue teams that risked theirs lives to save those of so many more.


  1. Was the William McFarlane who sadly died in Knockshinnoch related to my Grandfather Thomas McFarlane who had the butchers in New Cumnock? My Father William McFarlane- born in New Cumnock- is not the same person, as my Dad sadly died in 1957 in Wimbledon.

    Many thanks for any information.

    Gavin McFarlane

    1. Hello Gavin, William McFarlane was only 35 years old when he lost his life in the disaster in 1950 and was the son of John McFarlane, also a coal miner. Sorry I can’t find any immediate association with McFarlane’s butchers in the Castle. all the best, Bobby

  2. My maternal grandfather James Riddall (Speed) was trapped and my paternal grandfather Sam Cunningham was involved in the rescue party.

  3. Thank you Gregor, sorry for the delay in replying, just found the comment. It’s incredible to think of both your grandfathers being involved at either side of such an unforgettable rescue.

  4. I wonder if any one can give me information concerning my wife’s uncle,George Miller who was trapped in this terrible disaster .my wife’s name is Eleanor Rafferty nee Mc Anespie

  5. Hi there. Does anybody know Patrick Loy or have any photos of him. He was one of the rescuers.

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