Main Road Fire 1855

From Hotels of Ballarat

On 1 December 1855 there was a great fire in Main Road which destroyed many buildings.

Site[edit | edit source]

The fire is believed to have started in the United States Hotel in Main Road, and burned buildings on both sides of the street:

Between twelve and ono o'clock this morning, a fire broke out in the United States Hotel, Main road, Fortunately the wind was light or the consequences would have been even more disastrous than they were. As it was, the stores of Moody, Nicholls and Co., and Hemingway, and Jones to the westward of the United States Hotel, were consumed, and with the greatest difficulty the Charlie Napier Hotel was saved. To the eastward, on both sides of the Main-road, all the stores up to the branch road which leads to the Arcade Hotel were destroyed.[1]

The fire[edit | edit source]

AWFUL FIRE AT BALLAARAT. (FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT) Saturday Evening, 1st Dec, 1855. On Friday evening all seemed quiet and right on Ballaarat and its teeming population then little thought that a few short hours would awake them to a sense of danger alike imminent and awful. At about one o clock the alarm of fire was given on the Main road, at the United States Hotel, which was situated in the most densely populated part of the diggings. The flames spread with a rapidity only to be expected from wooden and canvas buildings and were solely arrested by the timely and almost immediate arrival of the military and police, the former under the command of Captain Broadhurst and the latter under Inspector Foster who at once proceeded to pull down such erections as they deemed it necessary to remove in order to stop the progress of the fire, and at the same time to use their utmost exertions for the preservation of life and property. The loss of life, as at present known from the most authentic sources, amounts to about four, including Mr A. H. Nicholls and Mr Ackroyd; the other two names unknown.

The Wizard Jacobs, who was stopping at the United States Hotel had a very narrow escape, having jumped from an upstairs window and luckily alighted on a canvas tent below, which broke his fall, and saved the loss of limb, or perhaps even worse consequences. The whole of his conjuring apparatus, however, or very nearly the whole, has been destroyed, and he will have to retrace his watery way to the mother country before such a loss can be replaced. The night, most providentially was still, or the chances were that all Ballaarat would have been a heap of ruins.

I subjoin a list of buildings, &c, destroyed, which may be depended on as correct:

  • Solomon's store total loss
  • United States Hotel, do.
  • Moody and Smith's (better known as Adams's Express), do.
  • Nicholls and Co.'s Adelphi Theatre, do
  • Hemingway and Jones's (a new store, embracing a triple frontage) do.

The Charlie Napier, situate at the side of the street, had a narrow and almost miraculous escape from destruction. On the north side the damage was as follows :-

  • Lugg's, blacksmiths (pulled clown to prevent the fire spreading).
  • Smith's new store, burned down, not a vestige left.
  • Robinson's dwelling, totally destroyed,
  • Neeham's, butcher, shop and dwelling burned down.
  • Armstrong's, barber, shop and restaurant, both destroyed.
  • Walkley's, oil and color and general store, destroyed. The fire here was very fierce, from the inflammable nature of the goods, as it also was at Moses and Son's iron store, in which was a quantity of spirits. The iron store, however, materially checked the progress of the fire, and Mr. Nicholls's boarding-house being pulled down, the fire was most providentially got under.

The loss is estimated at about £50,000, irrespective of private property, which cannot at present be ascertained, and some few miners tents which have suffered in the conflagration. Several masses of bones have been found --supposed to belong to human remains, and I fear the absolute loss of life has not as yet been correctly ascertained. I shall send the very fullest further particulars the moment they are accurately known. This awful visitation will, I trust, awake a very supine population to a sense of their danger, and cause the immediate formation of an efficient fire-brigade, such as already exists at Bendigo. Why and how is it that Ballaarat should ever be so far behindhand in almost every necessary and self-beneficial movement?[2]

Another report[edit | edit source]

THE FIRE AT BALLARAT. We glean the following additional particulars from the Star Extraordinary : — It is stated that large quantities of specie and bullion have been lost in the Express store, but as a guard is still maintained, it is likely to be recovered. Messrs Seekamp and Magill were particularly active during the morning recovering the remains of the unfortunate men who perished in the flames. Mr Needham, the butcher, had his place burnt down. He lost a large sum of money in the fire, and a valuable mare escaped during the confusion. The following report of the inquests on three of the bodies gives all that is known of the lamentable accident.

Star Office, 5 p.m. We have delayed publication till the latest moment, in order to publish the latest and most accurate intelligence. We are hereby enabled to state that, with the exception of those mentioned in the inquests, no more bodies have been taken from the ruins. A body of soldiers patrol round the burning remains, about which an immense concourse of people is assembled. Mr Nicholls' funeral will take place at two o'clock to-morrow (Sunday), from the Royal Mail Hotel.

After the inquest previously reported, the coroner proceeded to the Montezuma Hotel for the purpose of holding an inquest on the body of Mr Nicholls, proprietor of Adams' Express Store, and part proprietor of the Adelphi Theatre and the United States Hotel. Henry Holton Moody sworn : I was awakened last night about one o'clock by the cry of fire. I got up and went to the door. I saw somebody on fire rolling in the middle of the road. I went to the body; I thought it was Mr Nicholls, but I was so agitated, and the body was rolling so much in agony, that I could not make sure. Some men came up and carried him away. He did not speak to me. He was carried down to Mr Smith's store near the Montezuma Hotel. William Rough sworn : I was awoke this morning about a quarter to one by the crackling of burning timber. I went out and sawMr Nicholls come out through the private door of the United States Hotel. He was quite destitute of clothing, and burned all over ; pieces of skin as big as my hand were hanging about him. He asked me to get some doctors for him. .Some others came up, and we got him on a stretcher ; we then carried him to Mr Smith's store. Verdict, ' Died from accidental burning.'[3]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1855 'BALLAARAT.', Bendigo Advertiser (Vic. : 1855 - 1918), 4 December, p. 2. , viewed 30 Dec 2016,
  2. 1855 'AWFUL FIRE AT BALLAARAT.', The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), 4 December, p. 5. , viewed 29 Dec 2016,
  3. 1855 'THE FIRE AT BALLARAT.', The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), 4 December, p. 5. , viewed 30 Dec 2016,

See also[edit | edit source]