Saturday, January 30, 2010

Benge & Pratt Store Fire and Explosion, The Funeral Procession, 31st March 1914, Upper Hutt #6

The Funeral Procession for four of the those killed in the Benge & Pratt store explosion, 31st March 1914. Photo: Joseph Zachariah. Alexander Turnbull Library.

The funeral for four of those killed in the Benge & Pratt store explosion on 28-29 March, 1914 was held on 31st March. Constable Mahoney, Postmaster Comeskey, Messrs Flynn and Toohey were interned in Upper Hutt while separate funerals were held in Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt respectively for Messrs Vivian and Taylor on the same day. The last named was given a military burial in Wallaceville.

The funeral cortege assembled outside the police station and post office directly opposite the site of the disaster. It then proceeded south down Main Street to the Roman Catholic Church where all four of the deceased were members.

The funeral procession was headed by a large contingent of police followed by uniformed railwaymen. They have already passed the place where the above photo is taken as the four caskets borne by pall bearers follow. Immediately following the caskets are family members of the deceased with the next group just making the corner turn including the mayors of Upper Hutt and Wellington, the local MP, Mr Wilford, and the Ministers of Internal Affairs, Justice and Public Works. Some 250-300 members of the public were estimated to have participated in the procession. 

Source: The Evening Post, 31 March 1914, p. 8.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Benge & Pratt Store Fire and Explosion, 28 March 1914, Upper Hutt #5

The Benge & Pratt Store Fire & Explosion. The body of William Flynn, 35, railway guard, was recovered approximately where the man is standing on the footpath in the middle of the picture. The Provincial Hotel may be seen in the background. A garden hose was deployed from the upper landing on the staircase in a futile effort to hold the flames back. Click on image for larger view. Photo: Joseph Zachariah, "Zak", 1914. Alexander Turnbull Library

Renowned Wellington photographer, Joseph Zachariah, was quickly on the scene of the Benge & Pratt store fire and explosion in the days following. In the early 1900s, photographs were not yet printed in daily newspapers. By 1914, they were starting to appear as seen in yesterday's post from the Evening Post of 30 March 1914. 

Residents of a community instead relied upon local photographers to capture images of local happenings such as parades, sports events, and disasters. Typically, these would be sold as real photo postcards by photographers and buyers would either keep them in their personal collections or send them to family & friends elsewhere to keep them up to date on the local happenings. The emphasis was on timeliness so photographers such as "Zak", who became a master at the art, would appear on the scene smartly to take photos and within just a few days have copies for sale from their premises, newsagents, bookstores and the like.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Benge & Pratt Store Fire and Explosion, 28 March 1914, Upper Hutt #4

The scene of the Benge & Pratt store explosion the day after. J A Hazelwood's store can be seen in the background, the photo was most likely taken from the balcony of the Provincial Hotel. Two white crosses are shown in the photo to mark where the body of Mr Flynn, railway guard, was found on the footpath and that of Constable Mahoney in the interior of the building just above the sheets of galvanised iron. Click on image for larger view. Note that the 1910s marked the very early use of photographs in newspaper editions and the quality of the reproduction suffers.  Evening Post, 30 March 1914, p. 7.

Speculation quickly turned to causes of the fire and subsequent explosion. The most favoured initial suggestion as to cause of the explosion was an acetylene gas leak from the lighting system used in the store. 

Carbon deposits on charred timbers were said to be hallmarks of a gas explosion, but the store owners reported they had turned off the gas when locking up for the evening and no one had reported smelling gas either at the outset of the fire or during the recovery effort inside the store during the fire. 

Certainly, it was said, if there had been any hint of gas, the helpers would have stayed out of the store when no life was otherwise at risk from the fire.

As to the cause of the fire preceding the explosion, it was said to be a mystery.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Benge & Pratt Store Fire & Explosion, 28 March 1914, Upper Hutt #3


Evening Post, 30 March 1914, p. 7

The massive explosion that ripped through Benge & Pratt's store at 12:10 am on  29 March 1914, killed five men instantly, a further three were to die of their injuries later, and another 6 or so were injured. 

Just prior to the explosion, Constable Mahoney realized that the fire had taken such hold that it was now time to abandon rescue efforts and he declared it was time to go in and get the boys out. As he entered the building, it was the last time he was seen alive.

A bystander observed that when the explosion occurred, the roof of the store opened up like the petals of a flower and a spout of flame shot high up into the air with a deafening roar. Those gathered outside were knocked to the ground, stunned. Windows were blown in up to half a mile away, while the post office across the street received the full blast of the explosion. 

A shower of  glass, corrugated iron sheets, heavy verandah posts, and heavy scantlings rained down on the surrounding area. All who were present or who saw the aftermath were amazed that more were not killed or injured.

The explosion was heard in Lower Hutt and Petone, and even as far away as Kaiwarra gorge. 

Three helpers seriously injured by the explosion were rushed by special train down the line to Wellington Hospital, but all ultimately succumbed to their injuries over the following month, raising the final death toll to 8.

Evening Post, 30 March 1914, p. 7

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Benge & Pratt Store Fire, 28 March 1914. Upper Hutt #2

Evening Post Headline, 30 March 1914, p. 7

By the time Constable Mahoney arrived back at the scene of the fire with Messrs. Benge & Pratt, a group had gathered outside the grocery & drapery store and steps were taken immediately to begin retrieving merchandise and other property from the premises. 

A group of a dozen or so railway employees had come down from the Upper Hutt station where the late train from Wellington had arrived a short time earlier. The postmaster, Mr James Comesky, had hurried across the street from the Post Office to render assistance. Soon, some 30 or so men were hurrying in and out of the store as part of the effort to rescue as much stock as possible before flames completely engulfed the building.

The business' books and the safe were removed and Messrs Pratt and Benge worked with others to remove items from the bake house at the rear of the premises. The postmaster set about pulling a telephone off the wall in a zealous effort to save government property that ultimately cost him his life.

Although it was a calm, warm night so that no winds fanned the flames, the absence of a fire brigade in Upper Hutt meant that fire fighting measures were minimal. 

A high pressure water supply had recently been installed in the town, but the only fire fighting equipment consisted of a hydrant and the town hose, of some 150 feet, that was locked up on the Town Board's premises. Valuable time was lost breaking open a gate to get at the hose. 

Meantime, the operation of removing stock proceeded without any fire fighting apparatus to speak of, a couple of garden hoses ineffectually being used to try to retard the fire's spread to neighbouring buildings.

At approximately 12:10 am, some 30 minutes after the fire was first observed, a massive explosion decimated the building and those inside engaged in the rescue operation.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Benge & Pratt Store Fire, 28 March 1914. Upper Hutt

Evening Post Headline, 30 March 1914, p. 7

It was an ordinary Saturday's business from all accounts at Benge & Pratt's grocery and drapery store in Upper Hutt, Wellington on 28 March, 1914.

At 9:30 pm that evening, the two partners Herbert Benge and Herbert Pratt closed up the premises, shutting off the acetylene gas that provided lighting on the ground floor of the two storey building. Around 10 pm, Benge returned to the store after he thought he saw a light in the upper floor. Finding nothing amiss he again left the premises.

About 11:40 pm, Mrs Crabtree, wife of the proprietor of the Provincial Hotel across an alley way adjacent to Benge & Pratt's store saw smoke percolating from the store's roof and raised the alarm.

Constable Denis Mahoney, Upper Hutt's police officer, was promptly on the scene and summoned Messrs Pratt & Benge back to the store.

The Benge & Pratt building in a circa 1906 photo is on the left of the picture, across an alley from J A Hazelwood's store. Benge & Pratt's store as it was to become by 1914 was divided into two sections, the grocery and drapery. The fire was subsequently determined to have likely started in upper storey at the far left of the picture. Alexander Turnbull Library.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Railway Station, Upper Hutt Wellington, circa 1910

Upper Hutt with Railway Station. Christopher Aubrey. 1890. watercolour. 

Upper Hutt Railway Station, circa 1910. Alexander Turnbull Library 

A load of hay arrives by truck at the Upper Hutt railway goods shed with a wagon load of timber nearby, circa 1920s. Alexander Turnbull Library.

Late on the evening of Saturday, 29 March 1914, soon after the last train from Wellington arrived at Upper Hutt, a dozen of the Upper Hutt railway staff found themselves caught up in a conflagration on Main Street...

Friday, January 22, 2010

J A Hazelwood Grocery Store #4 - 1940s - Upper Hutt, Wellington

Main Street, Upper Hutt, 1940s, showing J A Hazelwood's store on left past Provincial Hotel (click image for larger view). Post Office is in right foreground while the Bank of Australasia is on the opposite corner. Alexander Turnbull Library.

Hazelwood's store frontage can be seen in right foreground in a circa 1940s photo of Main Street, Upper Hutt. The store continued to operate at least into the 1950s based on photos of the period. Alexander Turnbull Library.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

J A Hazelwood Grocery Store #3 - 1904c to 1922 - Upper Hutt, Wellington

 J A Hazelwood Drapery & Hardware Store, circa 1900s. People identified as,from left to right: L Greenwood, H Hazelwood (brother of J A), J Gillies, P Hazelwood, J A Hazelwood, W N Pepperill, Fred Hill (baker), F L Brace (accountant), George Morgan (Akatarawa farmer). Photo: C Davies. Alexander Turnbull Library. (click on image for larger view)

Finally back to continue the series of Upper Hutt posts...

Around 1904, J A Hazelwood moved into his third store, this time a two storey brick building built for the purpose. It was eventually to be destroyed by fire on 1 February, 1922.


Group, including members of the Hazelwood family, standing outside J A Hazelwood's general store, Upper Hutt, circa 1906. Photographer unidentified. Left to right: W N Pepperell; F C Brace; (back) J Gillies; (kerb) Charlie Morris; Herbert Hawks; Percy Hazelwood; May Hazelwood; J T Hazelwood and J A Hazelwood. Left of centre - right of way. Far left - Brace & Pratt. Alexander Turnbull Library. (click on image for larger view)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

J A Hazelwood Grocery Store #2 - 1900c - Upper Hutt, Wellington

This is probably J A Hazelwood's Second Store on Main Street, Upper Hutt, circa late 1890s to early 1900s. Alexander Turnbull Library.

James Alfred Hazelwood is on the right with a bicycle. The man with the child is probably Mr Gillies. Bill Wilkie is one of the other men. A group of children and a dog stand in the centre. They stand with tools of the trade around them - bicycles for deliveries and a hand cart  for heavier loads, such as the parcels pictured, is on the right.

The Hazelwoods vacated these premises around 1904, moving into a larger brick building in that year. 

Must dig deeper...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

J A Hazelwood Grocery Store #1 - 1890s - Upper Hutt, Wellington

James Alfred Hazelwood's first grocery store, Upper Hutt, circa 1890s. J A himself stands outside his store with a young man, perhaps a son. Alexander Turnbull Library

The family business of J A Hazelwood was a mainstay of the retail establishment of Upper Hutt for well over fifty years. At least from the photographic record, Hazelwood stores can be seen on Main Street in Upper Hutt from the 1890s to the 1940s.

J A Hazelwood's First Bake House, Upper Hutt, circa 1890s. Alexander Turnbull Library

 Must dig deeper... 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A & W Keys, Butcher, Upper Hutt, Wellington, 1910s

A & W Keys, Butcher's Shop, circa 1910. Alexander Turnbull Library

Digging further, on the left hand side of the Troops Marching picture, (see previous post), is the butcher's shop of A & W Key. Here, a wool wagon brings bales down from the hills and on to the stores of Wellington prior to shipping out through the port.

A crowd celebrates the Coronation of George V in 1911 outside the premises of A & W Keys and H R Gibbs, chemist, Main Street, Upper Hutt. Alexander Turnbull Library.

Could Upper Hutt get anymore exciting than a coronation celebration? Dig deeper...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Main Street, Upper Hutt, Wellington, Town Hall & Post Office

Post Office, Upper Hutt, with Town Hall to the right, circa 1910s. Photo: Tanner Bros. Alexander Turnbull Library.

The problem with historical images is you start digging. Deeper and deeper you go...

Above, the Upper Hutt post office, visible in the previous post below, pictured there on the right hand side of the street as the military procession passes by. By its side, the Upper Hutt town hall, doubling as the Cosy Theatre and home to People's Pictures.

Upper Hutt Town Hall, circa 1910. Alexander Turnbull Library

The local venue for entertainment in small town New Zealand in the early twentieth century, pictures one night, a dance the next. Weekend after weekend.

Keep digging... more to come on this stretch of small town, Upper Hutt.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Troops Marching Through Upper Hutt, 1915

 Troops Marching Through Upper Hutt, Wellington, 1915.
click on image for larger view.

This image of troops marching through Upper Hutt haunted me through the month of December as it was that month's offering on a calendar that had as its theme New Zealand history.

A long column, seemingly endless, freshly minted at the nearby Trentham army camp, marching off to God knows what on the other side of the world as part of the Great War, the War to End All Wars (sic). Young lads running alongside the brass band heading up the column, the commanding officer on his steed, the stray dogs, and a few passers-by stopping to watch the parade.

Of the 103, 000 New Zealand troops who served overseas, 18,500 died in combat or as a result of the war, with 50,000 more wounded.

Little did they know what they were marching into.

Infantry from the 2nd Battalion, Auckland Regiment, New Zealand Division in the Switch Line near Flers, taken some time in September 1916, after the Battle of Flers-Courcelette
Source: Wikipedia using a photo from the Imperial War Museum Collections.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year 2010!

May you have a safe, healthy, engaging, fun and prosperous New Year, 2010!