Anecdotage of Glasgow
A North Woodside adventure
THE following account is from the narrative of
On Wednesday, September 13, 1769, between three and
four o’clock in the afternoon, I went into a little wood called North
Woodside (situated between two and three miles to the north-west of
Glasgow Cross, with a design to gather a few hazel-nuts. I think
that I could not have been in the wood more than a quarter of an hour,
nor have gathered more than ten nuts, before I unfortunately fell into
an old coal pit, exactly seventeen yards deep, which had been made
through a solid rock.
"I was some time insensible.
Upon recovering my recollection, I found myself sitting nearly as a
tailor does at his work, the blood flowing pretty fast from my mouth;
and I thought that I had broken a blood-vessel, and had not long
to live; but, to my great comfort, I soon discovered that the blood
proceeded from a wound in my tongue, which, I suppose, I had bitten in
my fall. Looking at my watch (it was ten minutes past four), and getting
up, I surveyed my limbs, and to my inexpressible joy, found that not one
"I was soon reconciled to my situation, and I had not
the least doubt of being relieved in the morning; for the wood being but
small, and situated near a populous city, it is much frequented,
especially in the nutting season, and there are several footpaths
through it. Night now approached, when it began to rain, not in gentle
showers, but in torrents of water, such as is generally experienced at
the autumnal equinox.
"The pit I had fallen into was about five feet in
diameter, but not having been worked for several years; the subterranean
passages were choked up, so that I was exposed to the rain, which
continued with very small intermissions till the day of my release; and,
indeed, in a very short time I was wet through. In this comfortless
condition, I endeavoured to take some repose. A forked stick that I
found in the pit, and which I placed diagonally to the side of it,
served alternately to support my head as a pillow, or the body
occasionally, which was much bruised, but the whole time I remained
here, I do not think I slept one hour altogether.
Having passed a very disagreeable and tedious night,
I was soon somewhat cheered with the appearance of morning— light: mid
the melody of a robin-redbreast that had perched directly over the mouth
of the pit; and this pretty little warbler continucd to visit my
quarters every morning during my confinement, which I construed into a
happy omen of my future deliverance, and I sincerely believe the trust I
had in Providence, and the company of this little bird contributed much
to the serenity of mind which I constantly enjoyed to the last.
"At the distance of about a hundred yards in a direct
line from the pit, there was a water-mill. The miller’s house was nearer
to me, and the road to the mill was still
nearer. I could frequently hear the horses going this road to and from
the mill ; frequently I heard human voices and I could distinctly hear
the ducks and hens about the mill. I made the best use of my voice on
every occasion, but it was to no manner of purpose; for the wind, which
was constantly high, blew in a line from the mill to the pit, which
easily accounts for what I heard; and, at the same time, my voice was
carried the contrary way.
"I cannot say I suffered much from hunger. After two
or three days that appetite ceased ; but my thirst was intolerable; and
though it almost constantly rained, yet I could not, till the third or
fourth day, preserve a drop of it, as the earth at the bottom of the pit
sucked it up as fast as it ran down. In this distress, I sucked my
clothes, but from them I could extract but little moisture. The shock I
received in my fall, together with the dislocation of one of my ribs,
kept me, I imagine, in a continual fever. I cannot otherwise account for
my suffering so much more from thirst than I did from hunger.
"At last I discovered the thigh bone of a bull (which
I afterwards heard had fallen into the pit about eighteen years before
me), almost covered with the earth. I dug it up, and the large end of it
left a cavity which, I suppose, might contain a quart. This the water
gradually drained into, but so slowly that it was a considerable time
before I could dip a nut shell full at a time, which I emptied into the
palm of my hand, and so drank it. The water now began to increase very
fast, so that I was very glad to enlarge my reservoir, insomuch that on
the fourth and fifth day I had a sufficient supply, and this water was
certainly the preservation of my life.
"At the bottom of the pit there were great quantities
of reptiles, such as frogs, toads, large black snails or slugs, etc.
These noxious creatures would frequently crawl about me, and often got
into my reservoir; nevertheless, I thought it the sweetest water I had
ever tasted; and, at this distance of time, the remembrance of it is so
sweet, that were it now possible to obtain any of it, I am sure I could
swallow it with avidity. I have frequently taken both frogs and toads
out of my neck, where, I suppose, they took shelter while I slept. The
toads I always destroyed, but the frogs I carefully preserved, as I did
not know but I might be under the necessity of eating them, which I
should not have scrupled to have done had I been very hungry.
"Saturday, the 16th, there fell but little rain, and
I had the satisfaction to hear the voices of some boys in the wood.
Immediately I called out with all my might, but it was all in vain,
though I afterwards learned that they actually heard me; but, being
prepossessed with an idle story of a wild man being in the wood, they
ran away aifrighted.
"Sunday, the 17th, was my birthday, when I completed
my forty-first year; and I think it was the next day that some of my
acquaintances, having accidentally heard that I had gone the way I did,
sent two or three porters out purposely to search the pit for me. These
men went to the miller’s house, and made inquiry for me, but on account
of the very great rain at the time, they never entered the wood, but
cruelly returned to their employers, telling them they had searched the
pit, and that I was not to be found. Many people in my dismal situation
would no doubt have died of despair, but I thank God I enjoyed a perfect
serenity of mind, so much so that on the Tuesday afternoon, and when I
had been six nights in the pit, I very composedly (by way of amusement)
combed my wig on my knee, humming a tune, and thinking of Archer in the
"At length the morning, September 20th, the happy
morning of my deliverance came—a day that, while my memory lasts, I will
always celebrate with gratitude to heaven. Through the brambles and
bushes that covered the mouth of the pit, I could discover the sun
shining bright, and my pretty warbler was chanting his melodious
strains, when my attention was roused by a confused noise of human
voices, which seemed to be approaching fast towards the pit; immediately
I called out, and most agreeably surprised several of my acquaintances
who were in search of me.
"As soon as they heard my voice they all ran towards
the pit, and I could distinguish a well-known voice exclaim,— Good God,
he is still living!’
"Another of them, though a
very honest North Briton, betwixt his surprise and joy could not help
asking me in the Hibernian style,— Are you really alive?’
I told him —"‘Yes, and hearty
"Fortunately at that juncture a collier from a
working pit in the neighbourhood was passing along the road, and by his
assistance, with a rope from the mill, I was soon landed on
"Need I be ashamed to acknowledge that the first
dictates of my heart prompted me to fall on my knees, and ejaculate a
secret thanksgiving to the God of my deliverance."
Unfortunately, the sufferings of Lieutenant Spearing
did not end with his rescue from the pit, but were protracted and
augmented by improper surgical treatment, which ended in the amputation
of his left leg a little below the knee.
The narrative must have been written many years after
the accident, as the lieutenant says at the close
:— "I bless God I do enjoy perfect
health; and I have since been the happy father of nine children."
He concludes in a "P.S." with the following moral
"The above narrative of plain simple facts affords a very useful lesson
to mankind never to give way to despondency; let them rely confidently
on Almighty Providence, and I doubt not that their misfortunes will
terminate as happily as mine,"
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