Main Road Fire December 1859

From Hotels of Ballarat

The fire in Main Road in December 1859, destroyed 21 shops, hotels and houses.

This part of Main Road, was was later renamed Bridge Street (1859) and the Bridge Mall in 1980.[1]

History[edit | edit source]

DISASTROUS CONFLAGRATION AT BALLARAT. The Ballarat Star publishes details of a very extensive and destructive conflagration which occurred in that township on Sunday morning :—

"Twenty-one hotels, stores, and dwellings, a large number of outhouses, and property valued altogether at about £25,500, were destroyed in the Main-road on Sunday morning, in about 50 minutes. This was the fiercest and fastest of all the fires which have made Ballarat notorious and this month appear especially fatal ; and it was also the most destructive in respect of the value of property. Heated to a state of semi ignition- as all combustible things were by the hot winds that have prevailed for several days the break-out of a fire was certain to be highly dangerous ; but with a hot wind still blowing, and the fire already powerful when discovered, the fearful rapidity of the flames, which licked up house after house in about two minutes' time each on an average, is as not so very wonderful. Add to this want of practice with the hydrants and their hose attachments, and still less room is left to wonder at the terrible fire which rushed along the south side of the road yesterday from the London Tavern to Humffray's corner, and left, in the short space of time we have mentioned, nought but a waste of blackened, smouldering ruins, and distracted groups of houseless, and we fear in some cases all but ruined, men, women, and children.

The first alarm of fire was raised at about 30 minutes after 7 o'clock, and by 15 minutes after 8 the destruction had been accomplished. When we first saw the scene, at 20 minutes to 8, huge volumes of smoke were rising from the premises of Messrs. Wittkowski, tobacconists, by the bridge, on the east side, and the Liverpool Arms Hotel adjoining. Immediately large flakes of flame rushed out in every direction, and it became at once apparent that a large conflagration must ensue. A light breeze was blowing from the northward, and in a few seconds the flames leapt across the Yarrowee Creek to the Temperance Hotel, and that block was doomed; while with equal rapidity the fire raged away on the other side, house after house igniting on either side of the creek, as if in derision of the distraction of the inmates and the rapidly gathering crowd. At the first alarm of fire Councillor Scott ran up to the Sturt-street standpipes, and told the man in charge to turn on the water, while Mr. Barker, the lessee, hastened down also to give the same directions. In the other direction the alarm spread, the fire-bell rang, and the ever-prompt Fire-Brigade, with all their valuable apparatus, were on the spot while yet the flames were just leading on eastward from the Liverpool Arms. After a delay of a few minutes the water was turned on, and the Brigade got to work with five streams of water, supplied by their own engine and the hydrants along the kerb on the north side of the street. Superintendent Winch and Inspector Nicholas, with their force, were also as promptly on the spot, and the work of preservation went on as fast as was possible under the circumstances. But it soon became obvious that to pour water on the fire from the not very large source available was not of any great service, and the only chance of arresting the progress of the flames was by pulling down some houses, and thus making a gap, on which the water might be thrown with effect. In a few minutes the fire had spread to King's ironmongery stores, and east to the Dan O'Connell Hotel, and nothing saved; the inmates themselves being in some instances with difficulty roused from the slumbers of their late Saturday night beds, while rumours of persons missing were already flying about. Now the hook and ladder company, with assistants, commenced the work of pulling down the boot store occupied by Mr. Pearmain, being the first, an empty house belonging to Dr. Carr, and another occupied by a hairdresser sharing the same fate. By this time the fire had dominion over the extensive works of Messrs. Ivey and Jeffrey, machinists, whose high promises held back the fire, and permitted the pulling down of the places already mentioned, and by means of which the progress of the flames was arrested eastward. Meanwhile ropes were laid to the verandah poles in front of the premises on the west side of the Bridge, and gallant fellows hauled on till driven back by the fierce heat of the blazing houses.

An alarm now spread to the effect that large quantities of gunpowder were contained in King s ironmongery stores, and two or three slight explosions helped to increase the panic. The devouring fire, however, waited for no alarms, but rushed on from King's to Davis's, to Bergenstein's, to Wilson's, to Jackson's, and then fastened on the two-storied premises of Mr. Baird, oil and colour merchant and paper hanger, and those of Messrs. Humffray, booksellers and stationers, at the corner of the block. The dimensions as well as the highly in flammable nature of the stocks and buildings here made the work of destruction both fast and furious, the volume of flame being at this juncture especially great. The crowd was driven away even from the opposite side of Sturt-street, and Harris's Hotel, at the opposite corner, as well as the houses adjoining on the north side of the Main-road, began to hiss and smoke and give way to integumental crumplings. Coats of paint peeled off, shutters and cornices and verandahs were charred, and but for incessant application of water from buckets over blankets and sheets, and from hose-pipes, by daring people perched on verandah-tops, cornice-edges, and roofs, the north side of the road must inevitably have gone, and, with its ignition, the spread of the fire would have been truly awful to contemplate; as the immense aggregation of heat would have rendered the progress of the fire even more rapid, while the water-plugs would have been unapproachable, and the efforts of the Fire Brigade and everybody else would have been paralysed. As it was, the merest chance seemed ever and anon to save the opposite side of the street. At Lang's, at Brun's, and adjoining premises on that side, and at Kaul's, at Twentyman and Stampers', and adjoining places on the other side, the fire was kept at bay only by the most strenuous exertions and an ample supply of water from tanks at the rear ; while, as it is, all the premises present now deplorable signs of scorching, window smashing and partial dismantlement. The fire on the south side was arrested by the pulling down and free use of water on the east of Ivey and Jeffrey's premises, and at the extreme west end Messrs. Humffray's premises were the last of the frontages destroyed. The flames, however, carried by the north wind, leaped back from out-house to outhouse and from fence to fence, to a depth of from 200 to 300 feet, destroying also the premises of Messrs. Sharwood and Morrell, wheel-wrights, in Grenville-street, and putting in imminent peril the front offices of the Ballarat Gas Company. At this juncture, one of the latter showed signs of ignition, and Sturt-street south, between the bridge and Lydiard-street, seemed to be destined to fall a prey to the flames. Residents there began to clear out, and the work of destruction by rashness was commencing, when it was discovered that the danger of further progress westward was over. It was now about half-past 8 o'clock, and tolerably clear that the spread of the fire in any direction was not to be anticipated. The efforts of the Fire Brigade and their aids were now turned, therefore, to the burning debris, upon which volumes of water were kept pouring from hose and buckets, from engine, plugs, and carts, till noon had come, and all danger was over.

The following is the list of premises destroyed, with estimated loss :-

  • Messrs. Wittkowski Brothers', tobacconists- insured, stock and building, in the Australian, and stock in the Colonial, £1,350 ; loss, £3,000.
  • Mr. Buchanan's, Temperance Hotel -uninsured ; loss, from £1,000 to £1,500.
  • Messrs. King and Co.'s, ironmongers and general dealers- insured in the Colonial and another office, £2,000 ; loss, £4,000.
  • Messrs. Edwards and Davis's (Aldridge, owner, uninsured) tentmakers-stock most part saved.
  • Mr. Bergenstein's, jeweller (Aldridge, owner, uninsured)-stock most part saved.
  • Mr. Wilson's, dentist (Jackson, owner, uninsured)-loss in stock, £100.
  • Mr. Jackson's, blacksmith-uninsured ; loss, including premises occupied by Mr. Wilson, £1,500.
  • Mr. A. K, Baird's, oil and colour, glass and paper warehouse-insured in the Melbourne for £1,000 ; loss, £2,050.
  • Messrs. Humffray's, booksellers and stationers -uninsured ; part stock saved ; probable loss, £1,500.
  • Messrs. Sherwood and Morrell's, wheelwrights -uninsured ; loss, £300.
  • Mr. Burridge's, Liverpool Arms Hotel (owners, R. B. and S. Gibbs)-insured ; stock and furniture uninsured ; nothing saved.
  • Mr. Ardagh's, bootmaker-uninsured ; loss, £600 or £700.
  • Mr. Fox's, bootmaker-loss unascertained.
  • Mr. Dunk's British Queen-insured in the Victoria for £200, and elsewhere for £700; loss unascertained.
  • Mr. Madigan's Dan O'Connell Hotel-late insured in the Melbourne for £500, but supposed to be expired on Saturday ; loss, £1,400.
  • Messrs. Ivey and Co.'s dwellinghouse and carpenters' shop.
  • Do., foundry and moulding shop-uninsured ; loss, £3,000.
  • Mr. Pearmain's, bootmaker (owner, Mr. O'Meara) -pulled down.
  • Mr. O'Meara's, grocer (owner, Dr. Carr) pulled down.
  • Mr. -'s, hairdresser (owner, Dr. Carr)-pulled down.
  • Mr. Fox's --pulled down, and, as also in the three previous cases, goods partly saved.

The cause of the fire is, as usual, involved in mystery, but the place in which it originated appears to have been either in the premises of Messrs. Wittkowski or in the Liverpool Arms Hotel, at the side adjoining the premises of Messrs. Wittkowski. The alarm was given by a person from without, who had left a ' swag' at Wittkowskis shop, and who was waiting for the shop to be opened. He and some of the inmates of the Temperance Hotel saw smoke issuing from the centre of the premises, and they at once aroused the inmates. Mr. Wittkowski tells us that when he awoke in his bedroom at the back of the shop the ceiling of the room was on fire. He roused his brother and the servant girl, who escaped sans their ordinary attire, and saved the following property-£1,315 in bank-notes, 133oz. 6dwt. of gold, acceptance for £38 5s. 4d , IOU for £10, and £112s. 3d. in silver ; a cash-box with £25 in notes, charred, being also recovered, and a bag with 200 oz. of nuggets being lost as yet. Besides these things everything was lost including two dogs, a horse at the rear being rescued. A poor duck in the premises of the Liverpool Arms outlived the conflagration, and was recovered by Mr. Dyte, in a singed state, and kept by the Brigade, by way of salvage. Mr. King was absent in Melbourne, and his manager had only left the premises a few minutes to get a bath, when the alarm was raised. He succeeded in having the books of the firm, and with the help of Mr. M'Lean, of the Emeu Hotel (sic), and others, bundled out a fearfully heavy stock of gunpowder in casks, the explosion of which would have been, attended, in all probability, with most fatal consequences. The case of Mr. A. K. Baird, whose valuable stock-in-trade, and many valuable engravings, prints, and drawings, and ornithological and other specimens, were lost, shows the propriety of promptitude in matters of insurance. His proposal to the Victoria Company, for an insurance of £1,000 on his stock, had been accepted, and the agent had waited on him on Friday with the usual receipt, but Mr. Baird postponed the ratification of the contract till Monday, and the insurance company in question has thereby saved £1,000. The policy held in the Northern Company by Mr. Buchanan, of the Temperance Hotel, had expired only three days prior to the fire, and the company had refused to renew, and a correspondence was still going on in the matter. The policy held in the Melbourne Company by Mr. Madigan, of the Dan O'Connell Hotel, also happens to have just expired, though Mr. Madigan informs us he is even now hardly sure whether the policy extends over the fatal Sunday or not. The valuable foundry and machinery of Messrs. Ivey and Jeffrey is a loss to the district. That enterprising firm had only nine months since completed their superior plant, and were in full operation, with a large stock of rare machinery and tools, the loss of which it will be extremely difficult to replace. We are sure that they, in common with all the sufferers by the fire, will have the warmest sympathy of their fellow-townsmen generally.

Great as has been the destruction of property, it is easy to see how it might have been much greater, and under more melancholy circumstances. Had it happened but an hour or too earlier the loss of life would inevitably have been great, and had the fire happened on the north instead of the south side of Sturt-street, or had the wind been blowing from any other quarter than that it did blow from, the consequences would have been much more deplorable. As it was, we are happy to state that no life was lost nor any personal injury of a serious nature sustained. Women and children escaped, it is true, only with their lives, and in some cases with the loss of all they possessed ; while in one or two places the hard sleepers were with difficulty roused in time to escape.

Whilst, however, the fire was raging on the Main-road a few sparks, wafted by the wind, set fire to the Victoria Cement Company's works on Golden Point, when the carpenter's shop, smithy, &e., were totally destroyed. One of the men of the company whilst engaged in putting out the fire, fell from off the stage, a distance of 10 or 12 feet, and had his lip cut open, which necessitated the attendance of a doctor, who sewed up the wound. The damage is estimated at £100. Tredinnick's Quartz Crushing Company's shed and outhouses were also nearly consumed from the same cause ; but, owing to a plentiful supply of water, the fire was extinguished before it did much injury. A house higher up on tho Golden Point-road was also set on fire, but happily the fire, in this instance, was also extinguished without doing much harm.

The exertions of the Ballarat Fire Brigade deserve our highest commendations and the heartiest thanks of the public. We hear that, remembering the usual fatality attending the race week and the 3rd and 4th of this month in Ballarat, several of the Brigade sat up all night in readiness for a fire, and thus, if weary, were ready and willing to act at once. We know too, of one or two who forgot their own premises (which were in imminent danger during the whole of the fire), and at the first alarm rushed away, true to their voluntary duty as firemen, and helped to got up the apparatus. Where all the members were alike active and persistent till nearly worn out, it would be invidious to particularise, for from the captain downwards every 'brigadier' was to use a significant colloquialism 'all there.' At night, too, not satisfied with their hard day's work, a detachment of the Brigade mustered again as some of the embers showed signs of liveliness under the changed wind then blowing from the westward and south ward, and laid out the hose again, giving the smouldering débris another good soaking. In the onerous labours required for the working of the engine, &c., the Brigade was most actively assisted by the public generally. The police, too were prompt and watchful, and by the excellent understanding subsisting between the superintendent and the Fire Brigade, the arrangements alike for the protection of property and the maintenance of space and order were all that could be desired. With respect to the use made of the hose belonging to the two Municipal Councils, we would suggest that it should, in case of fire, and in the absence of a western brigade, be placed at the disposal of the Ballarat Brigade, whose experience and aptitude in these matters must be very much more worth, we fancy, than anybody else's.

The intolerable heat of the day, and the whole atmosphere surcharged with dust and smoke, had an exciting yet depressing effect upon the townsfolk. During the raging of the fire the scene was like what describers of war-burned towns have given us-alarm, confusion, smoke, and flames prevailed apparently everywhere around at one time, and the place seemed doomed to one of those terrible fire-sweeps which have made American towns so celebrated. All day the scene of the fire was crowded with sight-seers, in spite of the unequivocal ' brickfielder' that was blowing ; and at nightfall another alarm of fire was raised, but it fortunately turned out to be only a distant bush-fire, although the faint alarm raised sufficed to occasion a frantic rushing and shouting both of civilians and police."[2][3]

Inquest[edit | edit source]

INQUEST ON THE BALLARAT FIRE. An inquest was held by Dr Clendinning, the District Coroner, at the North Grant Hotel, into the circumstances connected with the origin of the fire in the Main road on Sunday morning last. The inquiry was held at the instance of the Insurance Companies, whose agents, Messrs Wilson (Australasian), Lazarus (Melbourne), and Green (Colonial), were present during the proceedings. After some delay a jury was impanelled, and the inquiry commenced.

Isidor Wittkowski deposed that- His premises next the Yarrowee Bridge were burned down on the 4th instant. He awoke about a quarter past seven, in the room next the office leading to the shop. The crackling of the fire awoke him, and when he awoke the ceiling was all on fire. He then ran and woke his brother, and from him to the cottage in the yard, to wake the housekeeper. Came back and told his brother to save what he could from the safe in the office, and he could save what he could from the shop. Then ran to open the front door, but people were already hammering away at it, and by reason of that he could not unlock it, and had to open the bolts. The door was then burst in, and immediately the cigars on the shells were all in a blaze up to the ceiling. He was in his night shirt, and ran about for half an hour before he could get anything to put on. Could not save anything from the shop, nor go back through for the flames, and he was very much agitated for fear his brother was in the flames. Could not say how the fire took place. There was nothing in the place to catch on fire but one original unpacked case of matches. All was safe when he went to bed at half-past twelve, and the housekeeper had no fire after ten. The stock was worth about L4000, and the premises cost L1200. Was in such a fright could not say if one side was more burnt than the other, but it seemed most over the safe, in the middle of the wall, next his brother's room. That was not on the Liverpool Arms side, but as all was on fire over head when he awoke he could not say where it began. There was no skylight to the roof. Would take his oath the fire did not arise from spontaneous combustion on his own premises. Could not say if it was possible the fire began in the next house, or whether or not it was at first confined to the room in which he slept, and which joined the Liverpool Hotel, the two walls being close. When out in the yard to call the servant, the blaze was over the office, on the creek side. (A pencil plan of the premises was here improvised and submitted to the witness, who pointed out the locality of the fire as being on the creek side of the bed-room. The roof was of zinc. No loose matches were kept about, and after the discovery of the fire, saw the case of matches all safe in the shop. The back door was barred as usual when he went and roused the housekeeper.

Joseph Wittkowski, younger brother to the former witness, deposed that his room was next to his brother's. Saw no fire in it when aroused. Went and saw the next room was on fire, rushed back for the keys under his pillow, and saved several things from the safe. Couldn't give the least account of the fire, or how or where it began. (Mr W. C. Smith, agent to the Victoria Company, appeared.) Had to pass through the dining room two or three times while it was all on fire in order to get the safe and keys, and remove the safe valuables. Had no clothing on but a night shirt. The whole roof was on fire, but not the walls. Was not burned, but very much confused, and his brother lost his mind altogether. There were no shelves in the office or dining room.

Mary Finnighan, the housekeeper, deposed that the kitchen and her room were attached to the house. She had been awake some time when she heard Mr Wittkowski calling his brother and shrieking, but she had no idea of fire. Sprang from bed and began to dress, and saw the dining room opened by Mr Joseph Wittkowski, and the smoke coming out. The first she saw of the fire was the partition on fire, between her room and that of Mr Wittkowski. There was only one fire place, and that was an American stove, in the kitchen. The dining room was lighted by candles, but none were left burning overnight. Heard no noise of any sort till she heard Mr Wittkowski shriek out.

Samuel Burridge, the landlord of the Liverpool Arms Hotel, deposed that he was roused about half-past seven by his youngster, who called out "Father, fire!" The boy was up then, taking in the milk. He (witness) had been up about six o'clock to let some lodgers out, and if there had been the slightest smell of fire about he would have been sure to smell it. Went to bed again, and was awoke as described. Went at once to the front window up stairs,on Whittkowski's side, and saw nothing, but heard the crackling of fire; his son being in the street, shouting " Fire!" opposite Wittkowski's door to witness whom the boy knew to be awake. Knowing the danger, he was almost out of his mind, and missed the children, whom he supposed had gone out by another door. First saw the fire rushing out of Wittkowski's roof. He went in and up stairs again, but just as he got two steps up, the fire had got in and rushed him from the bannisters, and he had enough to do to save his life. The lodgers went out by the front door. Two bed-room windows opened near Wittkowski's premises. Had a cigar been thrown out of window it could not have fallen between the two houses, but in a shoot underneath. The lodgers who went out did not sleep in that room, nor were they smoking when they went out. Did not hear Mr Wittkowski's alarm till after the boy roused him. It is possible the diggers sleeping in that bedroom were in the habit of throwing out matches, but even then he could not see how it was possible the light should ignite. Those diggers were not regular lodgers, and they worked, he thought, in the Homeward Bound on the Inkermann. Did not know their names, but if it was any great matter he could perhaps find them. They rushed out as fast as they could like the rest. One of the men who were let out at six o'clock slept in one of the rooms overlooking Wittkowski's premises. Would almost positively swear that neither of the men let out was smoking when they went out There was no fire in the house after tea time, at six o'clock. Had there been fire in his house when alarmed, they could not have gone down stairs, but would have had to jump out of window.

Henry Swayne, corn chandler, deposed that about half-past seven or twenty minutes to eight he was coming down from the township, and he got as far as King's Ironmongery store, when he saw some of the Temperance boarders rushing to wards Wittkowski's, calling "Fire " and calling for axes. Saw the smoke coming through the roof of Wittkowski's place on the side near the creek. The door was broken in, and Isidore Wittkowski appeared in shirt and night cap calling out Fire.', There was no appearance of fire at the Liverpool Hotel for several minutes after the discovery at Wittkowski's.

Charles Harris, laborer, deposed that he boarded at the Temperance Hotel, and lived on Soldiers' Hill. Had just breakfasted at the hotel, and it was about-twenty or twenty-five minutes to eight when he came out with one Judds and stood on the bridge. Was looking at Wittkowski's place and saw a little smoke, like a puff from a man's mouth, come up through the roof near , the office window looking into the creek. Looked about a quarter of a minute and then saw a small blaze of fire like a candle light burst through the roof. Gave the alarm and went and kicked five or six times at Wittkowski's front door before he heard any one inside, when Mr Wittkowski cried out and said he could not unlock the door. We and others then forced the door, but the inside was too hot to go in, as the fire rushed from the creek window side as if from some paper already dried by the fire. The paper on the roof was alone on fire then, but the fire was dropping down. If any one from the back then, as far as he could see, had thrown a bucket or two of water, the fire could have been put out. All the fire seemed to be in one place by the creek window. His opinion was that the fire must have originated in Wittkowski's place. He was in the habit of buying tobacco there, and when he entered the shop it appeared to be as usual Neither Mr Wittkowski nor his brother attempted to throw water on the fire.

Councillor Scott deposed that he had been to the Victoria baths when the alarm was raised. He continued-I dressed and ran up to the water works in Sturt-street. Saw a man by the door of the waterman s house. I afterwards discovered he was the man in charge. Called out, I think, " In the name of God why don't you turn on the water when you see the Main-road on fire ?" or words to that effect He made no answer, but got a pick and came out to the place where he supposed the water (plug) was. I believe that from his position he must have seen the fire. He got a pick, and the key to the stop valve, and began searching for the valve, and after removing the surface to between two or three feet square, the valve was found about two or three inches beneath the surface. I observed there was an iron plate with lock over the valve. The man displaced that and turned on the water. Mr W, C. Smith-What time did that occupy ? Witness-Between five and seven or ten minutes, because he had to try one or two places before he found it. Mr Wilson-What time passed between your first alarm, your going on to the man who was looking on at the fire, and the turning on of water? Witness-I should say about 15 or 20 minutes. Can't say whether or not the hose was waiting for the water. Mr Barker (the lessee) was also down to turn on the water before the valve was found. I think I ought to state this on oath in justice to Mr Barker.

William Burrows, Captain of the Ballarat Fire Brigade, deposed-About half-past seven on Sunday morning was awoke by the ringing of the firebell. Got up and went to the engine house, when the hose and hook and ladder trucks were outside the engine house, and going off to the fire. A man was harnessing the horse to the engine, and I told him to follow me. I went on and by the time I got to Bauer's premises, by the fire plug, the engine was close behind me. I stopped the engine there, and got out from the engine a section of municipal hose pipe that fitted the fire plug, and told the man to screw it on, put the tub under; and turn on the water. The hoseman hooked on and went away to the fire. I went on and the branch hoseman came up behind me. I asked why there was no water, and he said there was none. I had told Mr Dyte to turn on at the fire-plug. Went back to the engine to see what was the matter, and finding there was no water coming in the pipes I stopped a water cart so that we might make a start. Went back to the fire again. Had water for a minute or two, and then were at a standstill as the cart was run dry. About eight minutes elapsed from the time we connected with the fire-plug before the water came. It came on sufficiently strong then. The Bridge Hotel had not caught when I got there. I believe we would have stopped the fire earlier if we had water earlier. Ivey and Jeffrey's place caught before we had water; but had we water in time, I believe we could have saved Ivey and Jeffrey's machine place. I believe a good supply of water would have enabled us to save all the places on the west side of the bridge, as just then the wind blew for a while down the road. One man had his hose in hand and was obliged to look on and do nothing, because there was no water. To Mr Humffray-It was my opinion that the Temperance Boarding house, and all that block, could have been saved had there been a good supply of water. To Mr W. C. Smith-I think it was in the eight minutes, but am not positive that the Temperance Boarding house caught. To Mr Humffray- The Temperance Boarding house was in flames when I got that end. It was not on fire in front when I first came up to the other end. Could see from 15 to 20 feet of the other side of it when I came up first. I thought then the greatest danger was this (the east) end, as the wind was blowing that way. When I last saw the Temperance Boarding house it was not on fire and was by Ivey and Jeffreys. To -Mr W. C. Smith- Two or three minutes perhaps elapsed after the water cart came be fore we got a supply in the pipes. Mr W. C. Smith-So then you had to wait about five minutes.

Joseph T. Beaney, mechanical engineer, deposed-I live next door to the Hamburgh Dispensary, opposite the Liverpool Arms Hotel. About half past seven I was awoke by the alarm of fire, and immediately put a hose on the fire plug, but found there was no water. There was no flame outside when I got outside and attached the hose. I had one of the municipal hose by me for the purpose of fixing some connections for the use of the Fire Brigade. Sent my young man to the water works to get the water turned on. It was then twenty minutes to eight to a minute by the Post-Office clock. It would be over twenty minutes after that time that the water was turned on. I believe every house could have been saved but Wittkowski's had I had water at first. Mr W. C. Smith-In spite of the high wind ? Witness-Yes, by playing on the side of the hotel it could have been kept cool. To Mr Humffray-The Liverpool was down before the Temperance caught. All that block could have been easily saved had there been water turned on at first. To Mr W. C. Smith-The fire had reached Dunk's before the Temperance caught. To others-Have no doubt the fire originated at Wittkowski's. There were six houses between the Temperance and Mr Humffray's. There was nothing in Wittkowski's so far as I know that was likely to ferment or ignite spontaneously. To Mr Humffray- Only a few seconds elapsed from the time I first saw the smoke till the flames appeared.

William B. Withers deposed, that it was twenty minutes to eight by Bath's clock when he passed the Sturt-street stand-pipes and saw Councillor Scott standing beside the man working with the pick at the valve. No flames were visible from the hill, but a large cloud of smoke hung over Wittkowski's premises. About ten or twelve minutes elapsed before the Temperance Boarding House was on fire, and about an equal space of time more before the water was on. Alexander Young, one of the jurymen, deposed, that he run down to the fire by the time it was at Dunk's. The Temperance Boarding House was not then on fire. There was a man then standing with hose in his hand, and no water to use.

This concluded the evidence, and the Coroner briefly summed up to the jury, who retired for a while, and returned with the following verdict "That the fire took place on the 4th inst. at Messrs. Wittkowski's premises, on the Main road, next the bridge, in Ballarat East, but there is not any evidence before us to prove how it originated therein. And we are further of opinion, that had the water been laid on in the pipes, it would have materially assisted the efforts of the Fire Brigade, in arresting the progress of the fire eastward, and the whole of the block of buildings, from the bridge, over the creek to Humffray's corner would have been saved from the fire. And we are further of opinion, that there is not any blame whatever to be attached to the Messrs. Wittkowski."[4]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. City of Ballarat, 5 January 2012. Roads and Open Space Index, pg. 9, Ballarat: City of Ballarat
  2. 1859 'DISASTROUS CONFLAGRATION AT BALLARAT.', The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), 6 December, p. 5. , viewed 25 May 2018,
  3. 1859 'MAIN ROAD CONFLAGRATION.', The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), 5 December, p. 2. , viewed 25 May 2018,
  4. 1859 'INQUEST ON THE BALLARAT FIRE.', Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 - 1929), 9 December, p. 3. , viewed 22 Dec 2018,

See also[edit | edit source]