Story: Workplace safety and accident compensation

Miners' thumbs

Miners' thumbs

Losing a thumb in a workplace accident was worth £400 (the cost of a small house) in compensation to a miner in the 1920s. As a result, hard-up men sometimes arranged for a friend (such as a butcher) to cut off one of their thumbs. Miners' wages were not high at the time, and the money was often used to build or repair their homes or to pay off gambling or pub debts. Eventually the mining company's insurers refused to pay out on neatly severed thumbs, so the miners began to use detonators, sometimes with horrific effects.

Two severed thumbs are preserved in the museum at Waihī, where a large goldmine has operated since the 19th century.

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Waihi Gold Mining Museum and Art Gallery

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How to cite this page:

Hazel Armstrong, 'Workplace safety and accident compensation - Workplace compensation, 19th and 20th centuries', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 April 2021)

Story by Hazel Armstrong, published 11 Mar 2010, reviewed & revised 18 Apr 2016