Thursday, January 29, 2015

1887 Blantyre Riots

During 1886 a new Scottish Miners Federation was formed with 25,000 members. The group was becoming increasingly militant and was led by William Small, secretary of the Lanarkshire Miners Union, and James Keir Hardie, the secretary of the Ayrshire Miners Union.  Many Blantyre miners attended a meeting on 7 February 1887 in Hamilton led by Mr. William Small, who defended the miners' cause and was outraged at exploitation miners endured. Later that night all holy heck erupted in Blantyre.

The miners riot in Blantyre in 1887 made news all over the country from Glasgow to Aberdeen to Edinburgh and many smaller cities and towns. The story eventually made its way to far-away Brisbane, Australia, when it was published on 31 March 1887.

Aberdeen Evening Express

Snippet from the Aberdeen Evening Express 9 February 1887;
image courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive

The "coal crisis" in Lanarkshire, caused by disputes between the miners and the coal owners, has been accompanied by deplorable results. Late on Monday night a disturbance of a very serious nature occurred in Blantyre. The riot originated in the looting of a provision shop. On information reaching Hamilton, a strong force was dispatched to the scene of excitement. So threatening at one time was the aspect of affairs that the Riot Act was read. The mob was ultimately got under control, and by three o'clock yesterday morning peace was re-established.

The miners again began to congregate yesterday forenoon, however, about the premises of Mr. James Downes, licensed grocer, and at a signal from someone the at once tore down the shutters, smashed the windows, and entered the place. Barrels of whiskey were rolled away from the shop, broken open, and the contents divided, ample evidence of which was to be found in the many drunken persons about the streets. Bags of flour also were carried away, and deposited in some place still unknown. In fact the shop was literally sacked and scarcely a single article has been left in it. The front of the shop is strewn with broken glass, paper, and miscellaneous articles, but anything worth carrying away has not been neglected. The police were entirely overpowered, but they were soon reinforced by a large number of men, under Captain M'Hardy, with whom was Mr J. C. Forrest, Honorary Sheriff-Substitute. The reinforcement did not arrive a moment too soon, for the mob had turned attention to the shop of Mr M'Farlane's shop, almost opposite. The police, amid showers of stones, scattered the crowd, and drew themselves up in front of the building. The men then retired, but the police had constantly to be on the watch lest other shops should be looted. After leaving Mr M'Farlane's who, from which a number of articles had been carried away, the mob endeavored to break into Dixon's stores, the the police were able to cope with them, and prevented any damage from being done.

Sheriff Birnie, who next arrived, at once read the Riot Act, after which the police managed to clear the streets with drawn swords. In their march they were subjected to a good deal of abuse from the men, who hooted and groaned at them and threw stones. It was deemed advisable on the part of the shopkeepers after what had transpired to keep their places of business shut the whole day. Consequently, there was not a shop open. About one o'clock a meeting of shopkeepers was held, when they to apply to the authorities for more assistance. It is believed that on account of this application, together with the serious aspect of affairs, the military in the Hamilton Barracks are ready to march to the place whenever required.

Yesterday, large crowds of peopled walked up and down the streets. They were not all inhabitants of Blantyre, as great numbers have come in from the surrounding districts. There must have been at least between 10,000 and 12,000 persons about the streets. At two o'clock the police, who were scattered about in different places, and were brought together when necessary by conveyances, received the announcement that an attack was being made upon the co-operative store in Dixon's Row. The mounted police at once proceeded to the shop, having to encounter showers of stones on the way, and found a large mob endeavoring to enter the place. With the aid of policemen on foot, who had driven up in a wagonette, the mob was driven off, but not without trouble. Missiles of every description were thrown at the guardians of the law, and a number of them received rather severe injuries. However, they managed to preserve the store intact, though the men continued to loiter about the place during the day. Two apprehensions were made. The names of the men arrested are John Fury, miner, Dixon's Row; and Wm. Lena, miner, High Blantyre.

The district was much excited and, and fears were entertained that the rioting would be resumed last night. Sheriff Birnie remained with Captain M'Hardy in Blantyre all day yesterday to be ready for any emergency. An urgent telegram was received in Glasgow from Hamilton yesterday afternoon requesting a force of about 200 constables to be sent to the scene of the riots. A hastily-convened meeting of the magistrates was at once held in Captain M'Call's room, Central Police Chambers, and orders were given for the police to be in readiness, and the force shortly afterwards started, with Captain M'Call and Lieutenant Cameron in command. In response to a communication from Chief-Constable M'Hardy, Sheriff-Principal Berry proceeded yesterday afternoon to the scene of the riot.

Between four and five o'clock yesterday afternoon considerable excitement was caused in the vicinity of Glasgow Cross by a troop of about fifty of the 4th Hussars from Maryhill Barracks, with drawn swords and complete accoutrements, passing along Trongate and thence by Gallowgate en route to Hamilton. They will be held in reserve in that town in case Sheriff Berry should find it necessary to call for their assistance in quelling further disturbances.

Another report says that the spirituous liquors were dealt round in pails, jelly jars, and, indeed, in any available vessel, to men, women, and children, while the goods where handed out and carried away in loads by the people resident locally.

Glasgow Herald

At the end of an article that appeared in the Glasgow Herald on 10 February, the following list of the men and women arrested was included:

William Aiten (31)
Michael Banner (35)
William Bannan (23)
Michael Bannon (34)
Rose Barry, wife of James Wilson
Robert Brown (23)
James Burton (27)
John Cairney (53)
Michael Connelly (32)
David Copeland (50)
Daniel Donnelly (23)
Grace Donnelly (50), wife of James Mullan
John Dorran (19)
John Doyle (27)
William Ferd (40)
Robert Ferguson
Patrick Ferns (33)
Hugh Flynn (21)
John Furrie (24)
John Hannagan (35)
John Heron (37)
Cormick Higgins (62)
John Higgins (22)
Patrick Higgins (21)
William Hunter (29)
John King (23)
Thomas Laird (34)
Edward Laughlan (30)
Patrick Lawson (33)
Catherine Lynch, wife of Owen Carrel
John M'Aulay (21)
Charles M'Callum (50)
James M'Geachie (33)
James M'Govern (19)
Peter M'Guinnes (21)
Edward M'Guire (17)
James M'Guire (50)
Patrick M'Guire (40)
Rodger M'Guire (24)
Hugh M'Mahon (18)
Isabella Mooney, wife of John Weather
James Mullan (40)
Patrick Mullan (18)
Patrick Nimmo (53)
John Rafferty (25)
Archibald Robertson (51)
James Scullion (22)
William Tonner (21)
John Weatherall (38)
Henry Wilson (25)
James Wilson (40)

I don't see any Muir ancestors on the list, but the event must have been the talk of the town for quite some time.

The Aftermath

On 17 February 1887 most of those arrested, who had been jailed in nearby Hamilton, were released without trial. Nineteen of the men remained in prison for two months and appeared at the Hamilton Sheriff Court on 9 April. Most of them were charged with breach of the peace and rioting. The sentence was 60 days confinement, which had already been served; so the men were released.

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