New Zealand Disasters

2Ralph’s Mine

On 12 September, 1914, there was an explosion in Ralph’s Mine in Huntly, Waikato. 43 people died out of the 60 who were working that day. As a result of the tragedy, safety lamps were introduced into the Huntly mines.

What happened?

Coal was first mined at Huntly, on the banks of the Waikato River, during the 1870s. Ralph’s Mine, a source of good quality coal, was situated almost in the centre of Huntly, with its main shaft next to the railway line.

At 7:20am on September 12, 1914, an explosion was heard coming from the mine.

Because it was a Saturday, there were fewer men at work than there would normally be during the week. Only 60 men instead of the usual 250 men were working.

Rescue was difficult because of a fire in the mine as a result of the explosion. Many of the rescued miners were badly burned. Some miners escaped in one of the cages used to transport shifts of miners up and down the shaft. Others were able to escape up the ventilation shaft.

Rescuers finally reached the site of the explosion in the late afternoon, and brought out 7 bodies. Rescue work continued for the next two days, but was held up on Tuesday because of the gas which had built up in the mine. By Wednesday, rescue workers were able to go back down, but had to carry fire hoses because a number of small fires had broken out in the mine.

The next day more workers were able to enter the mine as the ventilation system was working again, but it was not until the 27 September that the last body was recovered, two weeks after the actual disaster.

Fire damp

Miners’ name for a gas of mostly methane which forms as decaying plant matter turns into coal. It becomes explosive when mixed with a certain amount of air.

How many died?

43 people died.

Other events and outcomes

The commission of inquiry ordered the immediate introduction of safety lamps into the Huntly mines. One body had been found in a part of the mines which was no longer in use, and where fire damp had accumulated. The explosion was caused when the naked acetylene cap-lamp worn by the miner came into contact with the gas in the air.

It was also found that the coal dust in Ralph’s Mine was extremely inflammable, and this meant that the force of the explosion through the tunnels was greater than would be expected.

Sources

  • Huntly Mine Disaster, September 12, 1914. Information Files, Christchurch City Libraries.
  • New Zealand’s heritage, Vol. 5. Wellington, [1971-73]
  • Search our catalogue for information about Ralph’s Mine.

Disasters