1912 North Mount Lyell Disaster

1912 North Mount Lyell Disaster

The 1912 North Mount Lyell Disaster (also known as the Mount Lyell Disaster and North Mount Lyell Fire) refers to a fire that broke out on 12 October 1912 at the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company operations on the West Coast of Tasmania. The mine had been taken over from the North Mount Lyell Company in 1903.[1]



The fire started on a Saturday morning, between 11:15 and 11:30 am, when the pump house on the 700 ft level of the mine was reported as being on fire. Initially the status of the fire, numbers casualties and survivors were confused in the first day or so. Considerable problems occurred removing men from the mine who were still alive. Many became trapped as they were working in romote stopes and didn't know of the fire until it was far too late, as there was no emergency warning system operating in the mine. Instead, men had to run along the levels and drives calling to the men, warning them of the serious danger that faced them.[2]

Rescue attempt

The rescue attempt involved the transporting of breathing equipment from one of the Victorian mining towns to Queenstown, via a speedy shipping across the Bass Strait and the alleged fastest times by engines on the Emu Bay Railway, the Government Strahan-Zeehan Railway line between Zeehan and Regatta Point, and from there by the abt line to Queenstown. [3]

Such was their rush to get the rescue gear to the mine, the S.S. Loongana, the ship which crossed Bass Strait carrying the equipment, made the crossing in 13 hours, 35 minutes - a record which stood for many years. Also the train travelling times between Burnie and Queenstown were never bettered.[4]


As a result of the fire, initially 42 lives were lost; the bodies were buried in unmarked graves in the Queenstown General cemetery. Initially, the first two bodies to be recovered were buried in the Linda Cemetery, however when the final victim (John Bourke) was recovered, the pair were buried at Queenstown at the same time as Bourke. Within a few months of the tragedy, one of the miners who escaped death and then re-entered the mine to assist in the rescue efforts, Albert Gadd, died from carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of the disaster. Gadd should be known as the 43rd victim of the mining tragedy.

The royal commission that was held at the time of the retrieval of bodies after the fire, and despite various theories as to the cause of the fire, an open verdict remained.[5]

Although Blainey covers the details of the disaster in The Peaks of Lyell, writing 40 years after the event, there were still variations upon the "official" versions of the event, amongst "old timers" in Queenstown. Some of these are aired and detailed in Bradshaw's verbatim record of the newspaper reports and the royal commission, as well as being incorporated into Crawford's recent novel.

A number of themes arise from reading Blainey, and others on the subject: the rise of trade unionism on the west coast at the time, and the lack of preparedness for such disasters by the mining companies. Also one recurring theme in some of the stories was the rumour or suggestion of the presence of a woman disguised as a man working underground.


This following list of victims is sourced from various sources. The names were sourced from the Archives Office of Tasmania Tasmanian inquest number 13222. The ages and places of origin were sourced from the Queenstown Cemetery's records, these details completed by families of the deceased. Albert Gadd's information was sourced from the Archives Office of Tasmania Tasmanian inquest number 13169.

Name Age Address/Place of Origin Notes
Valentine Bianchini 48 Austria Identified by his earing
John Bolton 38 Gormanston, Tasmania Resident of Gormanston, Tasmania
Samson Rodda Bray 33 Bendigo, Victoria
John Bourke 24 Victoria Mother lived at Daylesford, Victoria. His body was the last recovered.
William Henry Bowker Ballarat, Victoria died 1 September 1919
Louis Burke 43 Sweden Wife residing in Hobart, Tasmania
John Bawden 25 England Resided at Linda Valley, Tasmania. Had relatives living in Trura, Cornwall, England
John Creeden 46 Westbury, Tasmania Identified by his gold crowned front tooth
James Davey 37 Victoria Wife and four children living at Linda Valley, Tasmania
Albert Mansfield Gadd died 20 February 1913
George Gard 21 Queenstown, Tasmania His married sister lived in Queenstown, Tasmania, and his mother lived in Victoria.
Thomas Gays 22 Victoria Gave up his place in the last rescue cage to a married man.
Charles Green 22 Launceston, Tasmania
Francis Henry Guy 27 Victoria Wife and three children residing in Queenstown, Tasmania
James Thomas Hall 32 Mount Lyell, Tasmania Brother rescued from the 1,000 ft level
Eden Aloysius Hills 21 Hobart, Tasmania
William Horne 45 Black Lead or Buninyong, Victoria
John Jenkins 28 Hobart, Tasmania Wife of twelve months residing in Hobart, Tasmania
Henry Jones 22 Hobart, Tasmania
John Martin Leeman 27 Victoria Body identified by his brother Charles
Zephaniah Lewis 41 Victoria Wife and seven or eight children living at Gormanston, Tasmania. Body identified by oldest son William.
Thomas Maher 31 Victoria Wife in Linda Valley, Tasmania
Joseph McCarthy 40 New South Wales Wife and child residing at Linda Valley, Tasmania. To them a letter pinned to the wall by a "spider", was addressed.
Eugene Felix McCasland 27 New South Wales Engaged to a girl from Linda Valley, Tasmania
Edmund Michael McCullagh 49 Richmond, Tasmania
James Bede McGowan 23 Queenstown, Tasmania Identified by his brother Martin
Bernard. McLoughlin 35 Ballarat, Victoria Never saw his youngest child as it was born after he left for North Lyell
Arthur McMaster 27 Victoria Identified by brother-in-law, Thomas McHenry
Herbert John Mitchell 23 Victoria
Peter Moore 48 Ireland
Cornelius O’Keefe 26 Tasmania Identified by his father, John
James Robert Park 37 Victoria
Christopher Quake 50 Victoria
Patrick Reiley 46 Tasmania
Francis John Rolfe 31 Victoria
James Roland Rolfe 22 Victoria
Thomas Saunderson 37 North Lyell, Tasmania
Leonard Sydney Scott 22 Victoria
James William Smith 19 Tasmania
John Studwell 20 Tasmania
James Tregonning 17 England
William Tregonning 19 England
Richard John Treverton 34 Queenstown, Tasmania
Henry Wright 54 North Lyell, Tasmania
John Olive Lees 51 Queenstown, Tasmania


  1. ^ The Peaks of Lyell Fourth Edition, end of chapter 17 The Fall of an Empire page 161
  2. ^ The Peaks of Lyell Fourth Edition, start of chapter 22 The Disaster page 214
  3. ^ Singleton, C.C. and Burke, David (1963) Railways of Australia, Angus and Robertson, Sydney - pp132-135 regarding the 15th October 1912 train trip - and Emu Bay and Mount Lyell railways contexts
  4. ^ The Peaks of Lyell Fourth Edition, middle of chapter 22 The Disaster page 222
  5. ^ Rimon, Wendy. "The Mount Lyell Fire", page 244 of The Companion to Tasmanian History.

Further reading

  • Blainey, Geoffrey (2000). The Peaks of Lyell (6th ed. ed.). Hobart: St. David's Park Publishing. ISBN 0-7246-2265-9. 
    • First written in the early 1950s, Blainey had access to some people who were alive at the time of the disaster
  • Bradshaw, Noeline. The North Lyell Mining Disaster. Queenstown: Galley Museum Volunteer Committee.  (Available at Galley Museum)
  • Crawford, Patsy (2004). God Bless Little Sister. Margate: Red Hill Books. ISBN 0-9752152-0-5. 
  • Rae, Lou (2001). The Abt Railway and Railways of the Lyell region. Sandy Bay: Lou Rae. ISBN 0-9592098-7-5. 
  • Whitham, Charles (2003). Western Tasmania - A land of riches and beauty (Reprint 2003 ed.). Queenstown: Municipality of Queenstown. 
2003 edition - Queenstown: Municipality of Queenstown.
1949 edition - Hobart: Davies Brothers. OCLC 48825404; ASIN B000FMPZ80
1924 edition - Queenstown: Mount Lyell Tourist Association. OCLC 35070001; ASIN B0008BM4XC
  • Whitham, Lindsay (2002). Railways, Mines, Pubs and People and other historical research. Sandy Bay: Tasmanian Historical Research Association. ISBN 0-909479-21-6. 

Primary sources

(in some parts Bradshaw has direct transcription from the Zeehan and Dundas Herald for similar dates)

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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