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An Unofficial History of Coal Mining in the Illawarra

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 M t   K e m b l a   C o l l i e r y
 G a s   E x p l o s i o n   -   1 9 0 2


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For more information visit the web site of the
Mount Kembla Mine Disaster Centenary Committee


Mt  Kembla  Colliery Gas  Explosion  -  1902

Mt. Kembla 1902An explosion at 2pm on July 31, 1902, at Mt. Kembla colliery killed 96 men and boys. The sound of the explosion could be heard in Wollongong, some 7 miles away. At the end of the day 33 women were widows and 120 children were fatherless.

The hundreds of rescuers were headed by former Keira Mine manager and ex-mayor of Wollongong, Major Henry MacCabe who had played a vital part in rescue efforts at the Bulli Mine disaster in 1887 which killed 81 miners.

MacCabe and Nightshift Deputy, William McMurray were to lose their own lives during the rescue effort to the effect of "overpowering fumes", adding 2 more deaths to the 94 miners.

Mt. Kembla after the 1902 disasterThe Mine Manager,
William Rogers, stated
that the mine was
"absolutely without
danger from gases"

During the inquiry that followed, several theories as to the cause of the disaster were submitted, seemingly to protect the mine's reputation as a "safe, non-gassy" pit.

When speculation arose that dangerous gas levels may have been involved, a series of denials by influential persons was forthcoming. The MP for Wickham and former Minister for Mines, John Fegan, stated that Mt. Kembla had never been regarded as a 'fiery' or any way dangerous mine and was backed up by fellow MP for Shoalhaven, Mark Morton. The Mine Manager, William Rogers, stated that the mine was "absolutely without danger from gases", the Illawarra Mercury reported that "gas had never been known to exist in the mine before" and the Sydney Morning Herald recorded "one of the best ventilated mines in the State".

'In the nineteen years that the mine had operated, statistics show that its safety record was but average, ten men having died and thirty eight seriously injured.'

A group of mine managers examined the mine on August 7th and concluded that the explosion was not gas initiated but the result of a 'windblast' created by a goaf fall, raising a coal dust cloud that was ignited by the naked lights of the miners.

However, evidence did emerge that gas did exist in potentially dangerous quantities and that mine officials had been fully aware of this fact.

Brothers William and Henry Meurant and William Nelson had been chosen to be the focus of the Inquiry, the coroner stating that by extension the verdict would be a finding of the cause of death of all the victims.

The first official inquiry into the disaster returned a conclusion that Mt. Kembla Mine was both gassy and dusty and that the Meurant brothers and William Nelson "came to their death from carbon monoxide poisoning produced by an explosion of fire-damp ignited by the naked lights in use in the mine, and accelerated by a series of coal-dust explosions starting at a point in or about the number one main level back headings, and extending in a westerly direction to the small goaf, marked 11 perches on the mine plan."

A Royal Commission into the disaster held in March, April and May of 1903, confirmed the gas and coal-dust theory accepted by the earlier coroners jury. Rather than holding any individual official of the Mt. Kembla Company responsible, the Commission stated that only the substitution of safety lamps for naked lights could have saved the lives of the ninety-six victims.


 List of Deceased
Mt. Kembla  Colliery  - 1


Aitken, Henry
Aitken, John
Annesley, Prosper
Bellis, Richard
Best, Thomas
Blackett, Albert W.
Blackett, Robert
Brasher, William
Bray, William
Brennan, Micky
Bryson, John
Carter, Arthur
Church, Charles
Dixon, George H.
Doherty, William
Dungey, Frank
Dunning, Thomas R.
Dunning, Joseph
Dunning, Fred
Egan, Thomas
Egan, Dan
Egan, Michael
Egan, Edward
Filby, William

Gallagher, Michael
Gallaher, Edward
Gallaher, Daniel
Gleeson, Stephen
Gill, Edward
Hartley, George O.
Head, James
Healey, Daniel
Hewlett, Alfred
Hewlett, William
Hitchins, John
Howell, Thomas
Hughes, Thomas
Hume, Reynold
Hunt, William
Hunt, Percy Alex
Hunt Percy S.
James, John H.
James, Henry
Jeffrey, John
Jones, Robert
Kindred, Thomas
Lane, Richard
Lane, Richard C.


MacCabe, H. O.
McCann, P.
McDill, J.
McLister, H.
McLister, James
McMurray, William
Meurant, Henry
Meurant, William
Morrison, Henry
Morrison, Alexander
Morris, George
Morriss, Thomas P.
Morriss, Walter
Muir, John
Muir, Peter
Murphy, John
Nees, John
Nelson, William
Nelson, Jacob
Nixon, William
Peace, Matthew
Price, William J.
Purcell, James senior
Purcell, James junior


Purcell, John
Purcell, Patrick
Purcell, Thomas
Rich, Henry
Rich, James Henry
Robson, Edward
Russell, George
Ryan, John
Scott, Daniel
Silcock, William
Skilling, Albert
Smith, Frederick
Stafford, William
Stafford, Kembla
Stafford, Claude
Stewart, Francis
Thomas, Richard
Tost, Thomas
Walker, Richard
Walker, William
Walker, John
Wilkinson, Joseph
Woodruff, Charles
Youngman, George

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