Case Study

On 1 September 1923, explosions and fires underground killed 21 men at the Bellbird Colliery near Cessnock, NSW. This included the manager of Aberdare Colliery who lost his life due to further explosions during the rescue attempt.

The fire started immediately after the morning shift when 450 men left the mine.

Inquests were unable to explain the cause of the fire. However, some accounts were critical of many unsafe work practices, including smoking in the mines, unreliable emergency phone lines and lack of hazard reporting and control. The inquest also revealed that some workers did not have safety lamps.

Fifteen bodies were recovered from the site by rescue parties, immediately following the explosion. The Coroner found that the mine workers had died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

In 1924, trained volunteer rescue teams, using Proto breathing apparatus, recovered the bodies of the six entombed miners. This demonstrated the value of a professional approach to mines rescue and advanced the cause of mines’ rescue stations. It created a greater public awareness of mining safety and the need for emergency equipment and trained emergency and rescue officers.

This disaster is considered the catalyst for the formation of the Mines Rescue Service in NSW in 1925. Coal Services Mines Rescue continues to provide training for rescue brigades in underground coal mines and has rescue stations in major coal fields in NSW.

This incident claimed the lives of 21 people.

Malcolm Bailey, John Brown, George Chapman, Andrew Corns, Frederick Fone, Jack Graber, William Griffin, William Hartley, Alfred Hines, Maurice Hyams, George R. Kelly, Joseph Lambert, Gordon Locking, J. McLaughlin, Charles A. Mills, Frederick Moodie, John Morgan, Harold Richards, Phillip Roberts, George Sneddon, John Stewart.