Wednesday, 15 July 2015

From Disaster - One of First Pieces Safety Legislation in NZ

Sign indicating Site of Kuranui Battery - photo C R Ball 2010
Currently in New Zealand, the Health and Safety Reform Bill,   introduced in June 2015,   is being tracked through Parliament . One of the contributing reasons for this reform was the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy of 2010. Another piece of Health and Safety Legislation - 140 + years after one of the first legislation pieces introduced in NZ. Then it  was the outcome of another mining disaster -  on the not long opened Thames Goldfields. Campbell in 1987  was to write the following:
“However in 1874 the Inspection of Machinery Act was passed, it no doubt stimulated by a fatal boiler explosion that had occurred on the Thames gold field”. (Campbell, 1987, p.13)
This was what came to be known as the Kuranui Boiler disaster which occurred at the Kuranui Company in one of the battery machines. The Kuranui Battery was close to the Shotover Mine - this Mine famous for the first major official discovery of gold on the Thames Goldfields. Both mining sites were close to the shoreline. 
The Shotover on Kuranui or Shotover Creek - Photo in
Grainger, John Thomas. The Amazing Thames. The story of the town and the famous goldfield from which it grew. Wellington: A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1951.

According to the Thames Miners Guide, one of the first crushing machine's was purchased, it was said , for £1500 from the firm of Fraser & Tinne by the Kuranui Company and erected in those early Thames Goldfields Days about November 1867. The Thames Miner's Guide wrote outlining Machinery on the Thames Goldfields: -
Kurunui Battery (late Fraser and Tinne's) of six stampers, and a one stamper specimen battery with Berdans at the end of tables to grind the tailings. The battery has three stampers in each box, double cams, quicksilver placed in battery boxes, grating perpendicular, with round holes. The copper-plate tables are about 12ft. long by 5ft. wide, and raised about 14in. above the blanket boards; a slide dividing them is raised about l 1/2 in. at the bottom. The blankets extend about 10ft. They appear to be ordinary grey blankets of a very inferior description. There is no appliance for saving the tailings, the sluice being only 10ft. long, terminated by a small tub. There are no amalgamators connected with this battery. The engine is powerful, and reflects credit upon the engineers, Messrs. Fraser & Tinne. Nevertheless, there is room for much improvement, to render the saving of the finer particles of gold complete." ( Thames Miners Guide, 1868) 
 The diagrams below shows what two stampers used to crush quartz rock looked like.

Stamp Mills in  Johnson, J.C.F. Getting Gold A Gold-Mining Handbook for Practical Men., 2013.

The disaster occurred on 24 January 1874, causing the serious loss of three lives. The Daily Southern Cross, after the accident, and after some of the evidence given in the inquest reported
 “The cause of the accident is briefly this, so, far, as it can be understood: The boiler had 'been repaired and cleaved about a week ago, land has only been at work five days. It was discovered today that a thick coating of saline deposit had crusted the iron in the crown of the boiler to a thickness of half an inch. This prevented the water from coming in contact with the iron, consequently the latter became red hot over the furnace, and owing to the pressure of the steam it collapsed, as much as the tension of the iron allowed, but when the utmost extent of its expansion - was" reached the iron rent along the seam." The consequence was that the steam and water together burst into the furnace and rushed through the flues, carrying death to the poor fellows.”( DSC 26/01/1874, p.3)

The three lives lost were those of Alfred Cook, Amalgamator, Kuranui Company. Richard Watson, crushing supervisor, Queen of Beauty Company. Matthew Paul, crushing supervisor, Crown Prince Company. In the aftermath of the disaster, the inquest with recommendations at its conclusion and concern for the safety of machinery on goldfields, rose in several quarters before, there were calls for action. Amongst these was that of Mr. John Sheehan, MHR.  The Wellington Independent reported that a Royal Commission appointed would be appointed to investigate the accident causes and to make recommendations. (Wellington Independent, 11/02/1874, p 2)
 Members appointed to the Royal Commission were Joseph Nancarrow, James Stewart and Charles O’Neill. All three had both practical and technical knowledge of boilers and steam machinery, Nancarrow being Colonial Chief Inspector Steamers and Stewart Inspector of Steamers Auckland – both with the then Marine Department. O’Neill formerly mining surveyor for the Thames goldfield and engineer-in-chief of railways, tramways and wharves and elected MHR representing Thames 1871 – 1875. 
Two of the Members  Appointed to the Royal Commission
By mid - March the work of the Commission had begun with the Daily Southern Cross reporting the official opening of the Royal Commission , Charles O’Neill Chairman of the Commission.
In what could be said to be a relatively short time for reports of this nature to emerge, the Daily Southern Cross in July 1874 (four months later) reported the result of “The Steam Boiler Commission” writing:-

“The Kurunui Boiler Accident Commission, in an elaborate report, say they are of opinion that such accidents can be prevented by a carefully revised and well balanced enactment. The Board of Trade system of marine inspection and tests for engineers they consider unsuitable. Rules for the examination ought to possess an elasticity which would be respectfully applicable to the goldfields as inapplicable to the Marine Engineer tests should be based on the nature of the work they have to perform.” (DSC, 04/07/1874, p 3) 
In the  Royal Commission Report to both Assemblies of the house the Commission's members concluded:-

"All the evidence points to sufficient water being in the boiler, and there is no reason for doubt on this point. The incrustation, then, we are assured, was the immediate cause of the collapse; and we have as little doubt that the incrustation was only the effect of undue saltness of the water in the boiler. This even those in immediate charge admit, although they state that they are unable to account for it. But the fact is incontestable, in our opinion ; and a careful study of the evidence, and an actual testing of the salinometer in use, together with calculations relating to the evaporation, feed, and blow-off of the boiler, lead, not to wonder that the salting took place, but to astonishment that it did not work its effect long ago." ( AJHR 1874 I, H-06)

Outlined also in the report  were recommendations for an Inspectorate system - their skills base, personal character qualities and work procedures in the field - duties.  By September 1874 the Inspection of Machinery Act was passed, providing one of the first pieces of New Zealand Occupational Health and Safety Legislation. The Star reported on the new Machinery Act.
“The Inspection of Machinery Bill passed through the Assembly during its last session is a valuable measure, supplying, as it does, a want that had for a long time/existed. The Act is in five principal parts. (Star, 04/09/1874, p 2)

The first Inspection of Machinery Act 1874 while it covered other “land based “did not cover steamers and their machinery. This was covered by the already implemented Steam Navigation Act, 1866, administered by the Marine Department and their Inspectors of Steamers. A role that both Nancarrow and Stewart had been undertaking for the Marine Department since this act’s inception. Likewise engines or machinery under Government Railway control were also exempt. There was also an innovative provision that prohibited children under the age of 10 to work with or assist with the running of machinery.

 The passing of the Machinery Act 1874 was followed shortly after by the Regulation and Inspection of Mines Act which also carried provisions for safety. By December the first Chief Inspector of Machinery for the colony was appointed. This was Joseph Nancarrow. 
Into 1875 Thames goldfields saw the Machinery Act 1874 in place – and even though there were detractors, this was a first step in health and safety in the workplace and towards prevention of likes of a recurrence of such as the “Kuranui Boiler Disaster.”
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