Mount Lyell Fire

'Tasmania's largest funeral', 1913 (W.L. Crowther library)

The Mount Lyell Fire began on Saturday 12 October 1912 in a pump house on the 700-foot level of the large Mount Lyell mine, as 170 miners were working on six underground levels of the North Lyell shaft. Initially there was no panic, as it was believed that once the King Billy pine which lined the pump house was destroyed, the fire would burn itself out and not spread to the wet, heavy timbers which supported the roof of the drives. There was no emergency warning system. The next shift even entered the mine, confident that the fire would soon be extinguished. But deadly carbon monoxide fumes meant rescue work was delayed until appropriate clothing and apparatus came by a record-breaking mercy dash by rail and steamer.

Fifty-one men were finally rescued from the 1000-foot level on Wednesday morning. Forty-two miners died. Despite rumours of incendiarism, a royal commission was unable to detect the cause of the fire.

Further reading: G Blainey, The peaks of Lyell, Melbourne, 1954.

Wendy Rimon