Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Benge & Pratt Store Fire and Explosion, Upper Hutt - Gelignite? What Gelignite?

If the acetylene gas lighting system did not cause the Benge & Pratt store explosion, what did?

The Coroner's inquest now turned to the question whether gelignite was stored on the premises for sale to the public and whether any remained in the store on 28 March 1914 on the evening of the explosion.

On this matter the evidence was contradictory.

John Vivian, 35 years of age, a storeman employed at Benge & Pratt's told both of the partners and another witness during the fire that no gelignite was stored on the premises and, acting on Vivian's advice, Constable Mahoney told others assisting in efforts to remove property from the building there were no explosives stored there. That Vivian went into the building during the recovery effort and stayed there for periods of time indicated he was firm in his belief there were no explosives present, the Coroner concluded. Vivian, however, was killed in the explosion.

Evidence given at the inquest by Mr Pratt, one of the partners, stated that store did indeed sell gelignite. The bulk of it was sold over the counter in cash sales. Not all of these sales were recorded in the books and even if they were some of the books were lost in the fire.

It was established, however, that Benge & Pratt had received a 50 lb case of gelignite on 6th of February less than two months before the explosion. Pratt testified he had been in the south front room upstairs on the day of the explosion where gelignite and a keg of blasting powder were stored. He had not seen any of the gelignite from the 50lb box present then and was not aware of any other gelignite being present, leaving him to assume all of it had been sold.

When asked whether the business held any permit or licence to stock explosives, Pratt admitted that they had "none whatever". Evening Post, 17 April 1914, p. 8.

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