9 June 1899, 30 mineworkers die in a dynamite explosion at the Kimberley Mine.
9 June 1940, Foundation stone for the new Catholic Cathedral laid.
Pictured is the Kimberley Mine Main Shaft in circa 1910. The headgear is now at the mine museum while the brick building on the right are the ruins one drives/walks past on North Circular Road.
Disaster at the Kimberley Mine (Big Hole)
Kimberley’s second worst mining disaster happened a few minutes after 09h00 on Friday 9 June 1899 when the dynamite magazine at the 1480 feet level of the Kimberley Mine (Big Hole) exploded. Initially it was believed that 18 miners had been killed, but the toll climbed.
Seriously injured at or near the scene of the explosion were another 42 miners, 27 black and 15 white, most of whom were in critical condition. Two would die within hours, another ten over the following few days in hospital. Many would lose limbs. By 19 June there were 29 deaths, the 30th and final victim succumbing a few weeks later.
The mine manager, Mr Thomas Jackson Woodburne, was underground at the time of the explosion, and said that there was a massive concussion, two “shocks” and a “rush of air” at the time. The explosion also blasted the electrical light system and plunged the entire area into darkness. Dust and smoke soon rose from the shafts as the miners all tried to escape. The two “shocks” were two explosions, the second following shortly after the first, and the second was the one that caused the most damage, many of the dead and injured being blasted some 200 feet from the site.
Reaction to the blast, which was heard above ground in the streets of Kimberley, was immediate.
Woodburne controlled the immediate aftermath and rescue parties were soon on the scene bringing blankets, stretchers, medical supplies and brandy. On the way down, the rescuers passed dozens of miners all dirtied and blackened with dust and smoke from the explosion all making their way to safety above ground. When the survivors were brought out they were all in a state of shock. Many had severe injuries and all were suffering from fume and smoke inhalation. Many too, had severe burns.
Among the rescuers underground were assistant General Manager Alpheus Williams, engineer George Labram, as well as Doctors JE McKenzie and EO Ashe.
Other Kimberley doctors rushed to assist at the compound hospital, making preparation for the influx of injured that would soon arrive. Many volunteers assisted quite admirably. A Mrs Cruickshank, a relative of the compound manager and being a trained nurse, was one of the first helpers to arrive.
The dynamite supplies underground were all kept on different levels and were in cases kept stored in locked sheds, there being regulations to guard against any accident.
“There doesn’t appear to be any serious damage to the mine at all, so far as we can see at present.” said Woodburne, “We have no idea how it happened. Whether it will ever be found out it is impossible to say.”
Bravery underground, always to the fore in such incidents, saw at least one Black miner bring our 14 other miners who were all in such a state they could not help themselves.
One of the most fortunate of the survivors, and who was at the site where the explosion occurred, was miner and South African champion lawn bowler “Bob” Sumner.
It had been a terrible day.
Blasting was done by contractors to the De Beers Mining Company, and the inquest held a few days after the terrible accident unfortunately shed little light on what had transpired as those closest were all killed or horribly injured. But safety procedures would change with nearly immediate effect.
The boxes of dynamite were kept at the 1480 feet level, in a safe, cool and well ventilated section of the tunnel – in what was termed the dynamite magazine.
On this particular day there were five boxes of dynamite that were to be used for blasting and the mine workers, led by contractors, were carrying the said boxes to where they were going to be used. It is uncertain as to what then happened. It is presumed, remembering all around the immediate area were killed or died shortly afterwards, that a box had been accidentally dropped.
This had then resulted in an explosion which sympathetically detonated all the boxes of dynamite with the resultant fatalities.
The storage of the dynamite underground was highlighted at the inquest and new regulations concerning this practice were introduced shortly after the tragedy. No longer would dynamite be stored underground but would be brought down on a daily basis when needed. It would also be carried in a strong and specially constructed metal container on a cocopan chassis. While still not guaranteeing there would not be a premature explosion, it did eliminate any possible human error in transporting dynamite to where it would be used in the mine.
May all those who died from the explosion that day in the Kimberley Mine rest in peace.