Main Road Fire, November 1862

From Hotels of Ballarat

A large fire in Main Road destroyed at least 30 buildings in 1862.

Background[edit | edit source]

In 1862 Main Road was a crowded and winding street, with many weatherboard buildings. A huge fire in January 1861 had destroyed 60 buildings and damaged another 40 on the opposite side of the road.[1]

Event[edit | edit source]

A fire began in a boarding house on 26 November 1862, and quickly spread to other buildings. Over 30 buildings were destroyed, including hotels, shops and houses. A newspaper report described it as:

ANOTHER DESTRUCTIVE FIRE AT BALLARAT. (FROM THE BALLARAT STAR, NOV. 26.) At a quarter past two o'clock this morning, one of the most destructive fires which have occurred on Ballarat broke out on the Main road, in a two-storey boarding-house near No. 1 Sludge Channel, opposite the Duchess of Kent Hotel. The fire speedily consumed this building and that immediately adjoining, occupied as a restaurant. It then proceeded to attack the building to the south-eastward, and, aided by a strong wind from the north-west, made fearful progress. The fire-bell of the Eastern Brigade rang out at the moment the fire made itself visible, and the brigade itself was soon upon the spot. Water seemed at first very scarce, and water-carts even from Peel-street stand-pipes were in great requisition. The fire speedily spread to the premises occupied by Mr. Bursch, tailor, and those adjoining tenanted by Mr. Hardy, of the King's Head Hotel, and Mr. Squires, of the Thompsonian Dispensary. Other premises destroyed including the Old Blarney Store, Mr. Searle's bakery, the Victoria Oil Company, the Horse Bazaar and Horse Bazaar Hotel, the Golden Age Hotel, the Lord Nelson Hotel, the Belfast Hotel (formerly the Bank of Australasia), besides other building's extending to the premisses of Messrs. R. and S. Gibbs intervening between the flames and Eureka-street, Specimen hill. The fire seemed to take the direction of Specimen-hill, and Scrags and Ainley's brewery but as the wind blew from an opposite direction, this danger was averted.

Meanwhile the Western Brigade appeared on the spot without loss of time, and took an active part in the proceedings, the chairmen of both municipalities being on the ground, and lending assistance. The enormous heat, and the direction of the flames, caused several premises on the opposite side of the Main-road to ignite but owing to the exertions of the firemen, the flames were soon put out, not without causing a vast destruction of property. Among these were the premises of I Davis and Co, pawn brokers, and the Star Hotel. Owing to the storage within the premises of the Victoria Oil Company of large quantities of kerosene, the fire became for the time of much greater magnitude, and the flames reaching right across the street entirely gutted the premises of Mr. N. W, Thomas, chemist and druggist; those of Mr. Roberts, draper, and of others to the site of the old Montezuma Theatre including the Greenock Hotel.

P.S.-As we write (four p.m.), the fire seems to be nearly stayed, but not before fully thirty buildings, of various sizes; and materials, had been destroyed—the street reeking with spent water and kerosene oil, mingled with vast quantities of property hastily retrieved from the houses on the line of the fire. Messrs, 'Gibb's store, which is of brick and cement, has been saved, but a quantity of goods stored at the back of the premises have been utterly destroyed. The back-ground on either side of the street is covered with furniture and goods, with houseless women and children seated thereon.[2]

List of damaged buildings[edit | edit source]

The damage from the fire was extensive:

An investigation into the losses occasioned by calamitous fire of Wednesday, in the Main Road, shows them to be very heavy. Altogether thirty-three tenements became a prey to the fury of the flames:

  • One-half of Mr Dunn's blacksmith's shop is completely destroyed, and he estimates his loss at about L75; uninsured.
  • Mr De Saxe's premises, occupied by Mr Foley as the Shamrock, uninsured ; Mr De Saxe estimates his loss at L150, and Mr Foley at about L100.
  • Mr Dancyger's premises, where the fire commenced, occupied by parties whose names we are unable to discover; house insured in the Australasian Company for L150.
  • Mr Minton's paper-hanging shop, uninsured; he estimates his loss at L250 ; Mr Minton had only purchased the premises a few days since.
  • Mr Jones, greengrocer, uninsured; we were unable to ascertain the amount of the loss sustained.
  • Mr Mumby's premises occupied by Mr S. Dempster, gasfitter, &c; Mr Dempster estimates his loss at about L50 ; the building was uninsured.
  • Mr Murphy's premises, the Blarney Store, occupied by himself, uninsured ; the loss is estimated at about L300.
  • Mr Searle's pastry-cook shop, uninsured; estimated loss, L500 ; Mr Searle had only lately received some goods from England, of an expensive description, and he did not succeed in saving anything of importance.
  • Mr Bursch, tailor, uninsured; loss not known.
  • Mr Squire's millinery esablishment, and Thompsonian Dispensary, uninsured; estimated loss, L250.
  • Mat Hardy, uninsured; estimated loss, L120; this building was owned by Mr Martin, of Specimen Hill, who was uninsured. We were informed that he was just on the eve of receiving a policy of insurance,
  • Mr M'Lymont, butcher, uninsured; estimated loss L250.
  • Mr Creighton, oil store; house insured in the Australian Alliance Company for L300 ; stock uninsured ; estimated loss L250.
  • Mr Pleydell, Lord Nelson Hotel, uninsured; estimated loss L700.
  • S. Shappere, Golden Age Hotel, occupied by Mr Bourke; we were unable to ascertain whether either party was insured.
  • Two shops occupied by Mr Powell and Mr M'Kell, uninsured; the estimated loss was not discovered.
  • Mr Hancock, blacksmith, uninsured. ;
  • Mr Crosbie, saddler, uninsured.
  • Mr Henry Morwitch (brother of Abraham, Lyon and Samuel), auctioneer, &c., uninsured ; the properly was mortgaged by Mr A. P. Bowes to Messrs Oliver and Bartlett; the estimated loss is L300.
  • Mr Crosbie's Horse Bazaar Hotel, occupied by Mr L. Morwitch, insured for L500.
  • Mr Swayne's Belfast Hotel, occupied by Mr M'Adam ; both parties were uninsured; Mr Swayne estimates his loss at L350, and Mr M'Adam at L175.
  • Messrs R. S. Gibbs, fully insured; there was hardly any damage done, except to the skylights; some sugar, &c., in the store also got slightly injured by water;
  • Star Hotel, owned by Mr Farley, and occupied by Mr. Irwin ; the building was insured for L500; Mr Irwin was uninsured, and estimates his loss at about L100.
  • The premises of Messrs Simmons, Franz, Johnstone, and two other persons, have, suffered no injury beyond a severe scorching.
  • Mr Rogers, Compton House, stock injured by water only, uninsured premises owned by Mr T. Evans, Melbourne, uninsured; estimated damage done in the shop, L40.
  • Mr. N. W. Thomas, druggist, house and stock uninsured; estimated loss, L250.
  • Mr Bornstein, fancy repository, uninsured ; loss not known.
  • Three small shops owned by M'Farley, uninsured; two were untenanted, and the other was occupied by a green grocer whose name was not discovered.
  • Mr Heath, bookseller, insured for L600 on stock and premises.
  • Mr Trestrail, Horse Bazaar, uninsured ; estimated loss L450.
  • D. Thomas, Greenock Hotel, house insured for L350, stock and furniture uninsured ; estimated loss L230.
  • Mr Hambley, boot and shoe shop, uninsured; we were unable to discover the loss he has sustained.

This concludes the list of sufferers, exclusive of those who were lodgers or residents in the different hotels. Mr Carruthers, of the Royal Mail Hotel, had a number of articles taken away in the confusion, the value of which he has not yet ascertained. On the occasion of our visit yesterday afternoon the different vacant allotments were occupied by carpenters, who were busily engaged in erecting temporary premises for the accommodation of those who were rendered houseless. Mr Searle, Mr Pleydell, Mr M'Lymont, and Mr Thomas, of the Greenock Hotel, had already frameworks fixed for their respective places of business.[3]

The fire[edit | edit source]

A detailed report on the fire was published in the Leader:

During the day some thousands of persons visited the scene of the fire, the still blazing remains of which afforded great excitement to those who had not chosen to issue from their domiciles during the crisis of the conflagration. The long reach of fire extending from near the first sludge channel down to near Eureka street presented a series of tottering partition walls and ricketty chimnies, alone giving indication of the dwellings which had once occupied the spot. The houses which were saved on the opposite side of the street bore ample traces of the fierceness of the blaze which had so nearly threatened their safety, the shutters and window frames being charred and the glass in most cases shivered to atoms. As before indicated, the fire acquired additional powers of destruction: as soon as it reached the premises occupied by Mr Mitchell Creighton, and known as the Victoria Oil Stores. In this building there cannot have been less than sixty drums of kerosene oil deposited, the explosion and consumption of which caused an immense increase to the body of flame, and led to the destruction of several valuable properties on the opposite side of the road. This fire is the first that ever fairly crossed the road, though there have been very many narrow escapes before, and in this case the great intensity of the fire may be judged from the fact that several of the buildings destroyed on the opposite side were built of brick. The water, never supplied in sufficient quantities, did not seem to have the slightest influence in reducing the flames arising from this dangerous oil, and as drum after drum exploded either on the premises or on the roadway, it was found that no other course was, open to the firemen but to allow the oil to blaze away and expend its fury. Several members ot both brigades were rendered insensible for some time (in one or two cases picked up out of the water channels) by inhaling the fumes of the burning oil, and Hugh Reid, one of the most serviceable members of the Ballaarat West Fire Brigade, was severely scalded by the boiling and blazing liquid, on the right arm and left leg...Had it not been for the presence of the brick walls, of what was once the Bank of Australasia, and Messrs Gibbs' store, the fire must inevitably have crossed Eureka street and swept away all the buildings a long distance further down. As it was, the roof of Messrs Gibbs' store several times caught fire, and the flames were extinguished with difficulty.[4]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1861 'THE CONFLAGRATION ON THE MAIN HOAD.', The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), 12 January, p. 2. , viewed 29 Dec 2016,
  2. 1862 'ANOTHER DESTRUCTIVE FIRE AT BALLARAT.', Gippsland Guardian (Vic. : 1855 - 1868), 5 December, p. 3, viewed 9 November, 2014,
  3. 1862 'THE LATE FIRE AT BALLARAT.', Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 - 1929), 29 November, p. 3. , viewed 31 Aug 2019,
  4. 1862 'FURTHER PARTICULARS.', Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 - 1918, 1935), 29 November, p. 6. , viewed 02 Sep 2019,

External links[edit | edit source]