Story: Coal and coal mining

Brunner mine disaster, 1896 (1st of 3)

The photograph shows one of the first bodies to be recovered from the Brunner mine. The worst loss of life in New Zealand mining history occurred at this mine on 26 March 1896. An explosion was heard at 9.30 a.m. Two men who went underground to investigate were later found unconscious from black damp, a suffocating mixture of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. From about 11 a.m. rescuers began bringing out bodies. Many of the rescuers also suffered from the noxious gases and had to be carried out. The final death toll was 65.

In a radio interview recorded on the 50th anniversary of the disaster, 91-year-old H. G. Griffin, who saw smoke from the explosion while working on the railway close by, recalls the dreadful day. The official enquiry found that the cause was the detonating of a charge in a part of the mine where no one should have been working. However, some experienced miners claimed that firedamp – methane gas produced by coal – had accumulated due to an ineffective ventilation system.

Sound file from Radio New Zealand Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Any re-use of this audio is a breach of copyright. To request a copy of the recording, contact Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero (Brunner mine anniversary interview/Reference number DCDR413).

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Christchurch City Libraries
Reference: PhotoCD 2, IMG0072

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How to cite this page:

Alan Sherwood and Jock Phillips, 'Coal and coal mining - Mining accidents', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 13 July 2024)

Story by Alan Sherwood and Jock Phillips, published 12 Jun 2006, reviewed & revised 14 Apr 2021