Caldwell Colliers by Tom Caldwell

It is a fact that there is no coalmining in Ireland. Most of the coal used in Ireland was exported from the West Coast of Scotland or from Cumberland. Consequently Caldwell’s who emigrated overseas and sought employment in the mining industry would have to have been Scots rather than Irish if they came with any experience.

You don’t necessarily have to have experience to go down a mine but it sure helps.

My family has a history of coalmining in Scotland. A GGGreat-Uncle emigrated to Nova Scotia in the 1850’s to work in the mines there. He was a collier in Scotland and a collier there. In my line my GGrandfather was the first to tear loose from the occupation. His brothers did not.

A brother of my GGrandfather was amongst a boatload of Scottish Colliers recruited to work the goldmines at Gympie in Queensland Australia. They were recruited because the small-shaft and surface miner types who were early on the goldfields had no experience to run a deep shaft mine.

Deep lead mining is a skilled occupation and not one of the most attractive to men. I wonder how many other families came overseas after being recruited from the Scottish mining industry.

It helps if the situation is understood:
Coalmining was a position of serfdom in Scotland until 1799. However the demand for coal had been restricted to coal for domestic use and as fuel for the pans evaporating seawater for salt. The mines were many and generally small – few doing much more than working down from surface outcrops.

The coming of the industrial revolution and the huge increase in demand for coal meant that there was a labour shortage for the new mines that were opened.

Contrary to logical opinion the “serfs” were not a peaceable lot of underdogs but a proud a fierce group who protected their hereditary rights to their occupation.

They would not let other families into coal mining. They were tied to their pit and their conditions were atrocious however they fought to keep their “monopoly”.

They were paid and as the demand went up so did their wages until the Scots miners were paid considerably more than their “free” Cumberland bretheren.

I have seen comments about the “remarkably unservile serfs” and “negotiation by riot” made when considering demands for pay increases and better conditions.

Consequently the seemingly enlightened act of parliament to “free the coalmining serfs” was not so much as an emancipation from the goodness of heart but rather an early piece of legislation to break up the Collier’s family monopoly of their occupation. We might now see it as an early form of Trade Union and the Act of Parliament as being a strike-breaking action.

Be that as it may the facts are that from the turn of the century up to about the 1850’s coalmining flourished in Scotland and it was an honourable and reasonably well-paid occupation. The influx of labour into the industry after the passing of the Act of Emancipation and eventual closure of many small workings was pushing the relative cost of labour down even by the 1850’s. Things became gradually worse and by the late 1800’s and into the 1900’s the miner’s lot was poor wages and terrible conditions.

It is little wonder that so many emigrated when they had the chance.

Do you have coal-miner ancestors?
Did they come from Ayrshire?
Were they Caldwell’s?

Chances are they came from a very select group of families who did nothing else but mine coal and stick together.

Mind you – Ayrshire was an agricultural shire. There was not much else to do there besides farm or raise coal.