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An Unofficial History of Coal Mining in the Illawarra

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Old Bulli Colliery 1914
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Bulli Colliery Gas Explosion 1887  

At 2.30pm on Wednesday, March 23rd, 1887, an explosion in the mine blew out of the tunnel mouth carrying with it an unconscious boy, Herbert Cope. Eighty one bodies were recovered and subsequently buried at St. Augustines Church of England, with eight at Fairy Meadow Roman Catholic cemetery (Corrimal), some at Woonona churchyard and the unidentified at Bulli. 

Bulli Colliery was a "gassy" pit having high concentrations of "firedamp" (methane) within its coal. Bleeding off into the mine workings, this gas was diluted and removed to the surface by the circulating air of the ventilation system before it accumulated and formed an inflammable mix (methane is inflammable within the approximate range of 5 - 15% when mixed with air so the object is to maintain the gas concentration well below the 5% level).

It was common practice to
remove the safety gauze
from around the flame to
permit more light from the lamp 

The source of the explosion was in the "Hill End" headings, known to be gassy and subject to gas "blowers". Not helped by the fact that the men working these headings had become casual towards the presence of gas and compounded by a deputy who apparently tolerated the use of unlocked lamps in contravention of "The Coal Fields Regulation Act", regulations that required all gas to be reported immediately to management and that locked oil flame safety lamps be used in gassy mines.

Although oil flame safety lamps were in use at the time, it apparently was common practice to remove the safety gauze from around the flame to permit more light from the lamp as this was the miners' only light source. In addition shots were being initiated by lighting the fuse from the open flame of the lamp or by matches.

The special commission and jury was quite scathing in its findings blaming both the miners and management for their attitude towards safety. Even the Government Inspector of Mines showed a lack of information as to what was happening at the mine.

The conclusion reached by the commission was "that the explosion was caused by marsh gas or carbonic hydrate that had accumulated at the face. That the immediate cause was probably the flame from an overcharged shot fired by a miner in the coal in No. 2 Heading." This gas explosion propagated a coal dust explosion and travelled towards the fresh air at the surface. The commission was also of the opinion that the Deputy, Overman and to a lesser extent the Manager, were all guilty of contributing negligence.

The last surviving widow died in 1942 and the sole survivor, Herbert Cope, died in 1952, aged 84.  


 List of Deceased
Bulli Colliery  - 1887

(source - The Illawarra Mercury 26/04/1887)

James Adamson
William Adamson
John Barcroft
Edwin Bean
John Bently
William Birch
William Ottoway Bourne
Felix Bourne
William Bourne
James Bourne
Greener Brodie
William Brodie
Robert Browning
Samuel Carr
Cecil Cavill
John Crane
Joseph Crompton
James Curvis
Thomas Davis
Joseph Davis

Henry Dean
John (or Michael) Doyle
Henry Ehman
John Galloway
Thomas Gibbons
Louis Gorresen
George Graham
Thomas Harris
Frank Harris
John Hay
William Hickmans
James Hicks
Luke Jackson
Thomas Jones
Charles Jowett
James King
John Lansdale
William Lucas
John Mackey
Thomas Mackey

John McBride
John M'Carthy
John M'Lelland
Thomas Melville
Robert Millward
William Neill
Robert Newton
Abel Newton
Henry Olsen
John O'Neill
Isaiah Poppett
George Ralph
John Rees
John Rigby
George Robinson
John Ryan
William Schofer
John Smith
George Smith
Henry Sprowle

George Stephens
John Sullivan
Henry Thomas
William Thompson
John Traise
William Verco
William Wade
Richard Wade
William Walker
George Walker (or Cole)
Henry Walker (or Cole)
Edward Watts
Jeremiah Westwood
William Williams
Lewis Williams
Thomas Wilson
Thomas Wishart
William Woodland
John Wynn

See also:-

Looking Back: Disaster - The 1887 Bulli Mine Tragedy  by Mick Roberts


For more information on Bulli Colliery, see also...

Disasters - Bulli Colliery Underground Fire - 1965
Old Bulli Colliery - History
Photographic Gallery A-L
Minebase 1 (A - C)
Minebase 3 (O - Z)
Timeline 1 (1791-1862)
Timeline 2 (1862-1877)
Timeline 3 (1878-1887)
Timeline 4 (1888-1901)
Timeline 5 (1901-1923)
Timeline 6 (1924-1947)
Timeline 7 (1947-1961)
Timeline 8 (1961-1977)
Timeline 9 (1978-2000)



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