Thursday, February 4, 2010

Benge & Pratt Explosion, Upper Hutt - Coroner's Verdict -- Death By Gelignite!

On 28 April, 1914, the District Coroner, W G  Riddell, S.M, rendered his verdict just three days after conclusion of proceedings.

He found, balancing the evidence, that the cause of the explosion was due to gelignite and that this explosion caused the death of the eight men in and around the store that night.

The evidence proffered at the inquest could only account for some 16 lbs of gelignite being sold from the 50 lb case of the explosive received at the store on the previous 6th of February, leaving some 34 lbs unaccounted for.

Other witnesses had failed to come forward to attest to purchases from the store between the 6th of February and the day of the explosion.

This might be accounted for in part because to come forward was to likely result in self-incrimination in illegal use of the gelignite. There was evidence suggesting some of this over the counter trade in gelignite was being used to blow up trout in the Akatarawa and other streams in the Upper Hutt area along with the fact that Benge & Pratt's sales of gelignite were illegal since they had no license or permit to do so.

Both partners, Benge and Pratt, each testified they were not involved directly in the sales of the explosive. The Coroner found that "this might easily have happened". [This surely does not absolve them of responsibility for or knowledge of the sales, thought this was not a criminal proceeding].

The Coroner had heard expert testimony that as little as 10 lbs of gelignite would be sufficient to cause the type and size of explosion that destroyed the Benge & Pratt store and caused the deaths of eight men. He concluded that "one is forced to {the] conclusion that it [the explosion] was due to gelignite in the room above the grocery department".

As to the cause of the fire preceding the explosion, the Coroner could reach no definite conclusion. 

"Due to Gelignite", Evening Post, 28 April 1914, p. 7.

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