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INQUEST ON THE RECENT FIRE IN TANCRED STREET.

An inquiry was hold yesterday at the Courthouse, on the late (ire—before Mr. I l ’. Guinness and a jury, of whom Mr. 1). Williamson was chosen foreman :—D. Williamson, C. Reed, W. Anderson, G. M. RobinsOn, W. Sparrow, A. Orr, T, Brnadbolt, W. Power, T. R. Redder, Thos. Quill, Jaa. Mutcb, G. St. Hill, IJ. Henderson, R. Bean. Mr. Branson appeared to watch- the case on behalf of Mr. John’ Fowler. Inspector Pender conducted the inquiry. The Jury having visited the scene of the fire, the following evidence was taken : Miv W. 11. Gundry—Am a partner of the firm of Edmiston Bros, and Gundry. Our firm are agents for the South British Insurance Company. I know Fowler,i premises, which were destroyed on Nov, loth last. There were two fllopa ia the building, one occupied by MK Fowler, and the other by Mr. Hicks. Mr. Fowler effected an insurance on the two buildings on Nov. 15th, 1877—0 n his ovn for L2SC„ and on Hicks’ for Ll5O. , liere Was also* an insurance for LSOO on Fowler’s stock,, which was effected on Oct. 16th, 1877, int our office. The policies were in force bhi *the day of the fire. The policy for thei L4OO expired on <he <lay of the fire, andl was renewed on that date. In September; last Fowler’s insurance on his stock was; L4OO, in the London and Lancashire' ini addition to the risk ofLSOO in the’ SOiitlu British. We objected, to the amount; aiull the insurance was reduced in the London; and Lancashire to L2(X). The reason we> reduced the risk was btcause we did nob think the stock enough to cover LOW). F dopot know of any other insurance ®tu We buildings or ptock ether than 1 hast® mentioned. , I have examined tw«n Mr. Fowler’s day-books. The one produced, marked A, wasigiven to m® by Mr. Fowler after the fire I obtainjedi the other front among the salrage stock on ttlue morning after the fire, k ledger was also found, which I returned ti> Mr. Fowler, as being of no assistance to me in exauiihing the accounts. 1 eodd not havearrived at a correct estamah of the stuck: without the, book markedl|X I made ai careful examination of'the >ooks. I was; able from these books, to rrivo at thegoods sold from JSuue 11th t> the date ofi the tire. I ajso bar® a. list of all Mr.. Fowler’s purchases from mediants during; that time,. I estimate the alue of thei stock ow; Nov kSth was LC4O. By Mr, Brausoa—We do nt insure. fio> tlift value of. goods, generally bout tbjKimi fourths of ttbuf* value. We wee sati-Meity, j when my partner inspected tlnstock.thatr. there was sufficient value in tl> slcee, on; Sept. 20th, leaving a fair mariu. (>nrpolicy on the stock vas the ,fi;t in date . and with “ur consent a furUiniak was; taken in the Loudon and Laiic^ure. Uy Mr. Orr— 1 could not nsfetain from i (he books the anioun rof go,oil sold for■cash, but I took the ;.verag-* M. Fowler.gave me of bis ca- h takv'igs, vhich he ■ said wej-o about L4O per loiontli. I have-' not ■ received any casbrfiook. hiid an estimate of stock giv>m hy Mr. : , ; ,wlev attlie meeting of his ci editors on prij Bth 187!». ” ” .By Mr. St. Hill—Mr. Fowler.-tme me evt'iy.assistnqfe he could in miing the; estimate. IleVstiinated liis stoclct Llo2oi ’ a few days after the fire. ' By Mr. Quill—Mr. Fowler ejmatedl his stock in April at L4BO. I tlix the; L4OO on the buildings a fair figui Mr. Fowler told, me he did not kee^cath^

book. The buildings have deteriorated in value suit e they were insured in 1877. 1 They were insured in the name of the ! ■ Land and Building Investment Society of ■■• Christchurch. The stock was insured in Mr. Fowler’s name. ' Sergeant Tratt deponed— Recollect hearing the fire beil about 10.30 p.m. on Nov. loth, and went to Fowler’s store. The upper part of the building was on fire. The flames had not extended to the lower floor of thu shops. Hyde’s and Hicks’s shops were both on fire ; all three shops wbi e joined together. I was on the spot within five minutes after the fire bell rang. The Fre Brigade had just arrived. The buildings were all destroyed. I went to the rear of buildings, and saw that the fire was confined to the upper portion of the buildings. I saw Mr. Fowler, jun., assisting at the engine. Saw Mr. Fowler after the fire at his own house, about 2 a.m. When I went he was lying on the sofa. 1 asked him if he could give any information as to the origin of the fire. He said he could not tell how it started, and he had. only saved two books and a cash-box, which he had brought away with him. The cash-box contained the policy. Mr. Fowrlov said the fire had quite upset ' him ; he had been doing a good business ; he had been banking LIOOO a month, as liis bank book would show ; there was L10X) worth of stock in the shop when riie fire occurred, and LSOO worth not paid for. He had left the shop about a ■quarter to tin that night, but had let Amos out by the front door. He then fastened the door and turned out the gas ; then went into the office, where his son was with a candle ; poured some water on the fire in the grate ; picked up some Imoks and the cash-box and went into the ;y ard. His son put out the light and followed him ; he then locked the door and they went hope. They had just arrived when they heard the fire tell. ' They went towards town when they f nww met by a person who told tliarit was his place (Fowler’s) was on fire. He then gave the keys to his son, ’and todd him to run on and let the horses but of the stable. . Fowler’s house is ab:>ut a quarter of a mile from the store. The two kerosene tins produced (the sergeants,lid) I found at the back of the office. ’ The oil can produced was given to me by the boy Hyde. The fire burnt -yery rapidly. ' .• By Mr. Branson—There was no fire nex’f the tins when I came there first. Tho.v smelt strongly of kerosene, but they may have been empty for months. Don’t ‘ know if Fowler had gas on his premises ; understood so from him. Don’t know if he,used kerosene on his premises. Young Hyde got the oil tin near Hicks’ bakery. There were a good number of people JaJoout that night. I could see that the bulk of the fire was in the top of f IjViWler’s rikop- There was a chimney in this shop, alia one in Hyde’s, and another in Hicks’. Hyde is a tinsmith, and I am not certain if he had another chimney. ’By"Mr. Quill —I went in at the back ■ door, hut there was no appearance of fire ■ downstairs. By the Coroner—Fowler told me he always took his books , home since a pre..yiaus fine occurred in his shop. '' Henry Fowler, sworn, deponed —Am a fson of John Fowler,.,' and assisted in .the store. The (business was a general •one. I looked lifter the drapery moat of ttne time. Me. Aanos kept the books. , IThe store was about SBO feet by 20. The wines and spirits were kept in a small j i&ace between the office and drapery. T here were three rooms upstairs. There wa * mothing stored upstairs but crockery and’ iclothes pegs. These rooms were rou< -lined. There was nothing stored there ’lßfcely to explode. My father, Amos, and m were at the store all day. I don’t. wnsjgnise the tin with a tap in ; we had qm iamnething like at in the store, but don’t tl arikihe one in Court is ours. We usually laqptthe one we had outside. Ours was omp %’tflbat day. Wo only had one tin in st »lk that day ; it was kept in Hick’s ft wtUheuse. The tin was about three-part. « ifulL After the fire I found ! i kre .tin in the trap shed. Id ariltftmßw who put it there. It. seemed to . Wie<abeut the same quantity of kerosene 5n iit. We only did a small tiade in ket wsone. I was in the store on thepight, />»,;! (ffiie ffum till nearl.v 10 p.m. My father s ®# myself left toget her. He blew the can oi.'t, locked the .door, and we came awa} (together. We had 1 gas laid on, which was'J turnac.’ out shortl y before w,e left. Th e gas was' confined to the store, and the pipes were fixed under the ceiling. There ha d been a fi*®.- l “ the office that day—a coal fire * whiclr niy father threw some y /ater on be. foT ° Everything seemed safe when v’*•***“ rj there had been a fire up stairs ’ 1 have seen it befem . leaving. Ai '*• 'j two or three must ites before we > _ w«a in the shop ud l en he left ti l ' my i and ! left. W®& xi no safe. We use take home the Lad- -rer and cadi book a day book every n : ight. We kept a cas ' book, but did. nc ,t take it home except occasionally witen we wished to balance. Wo had a» securnc [ ledger which was kept ,in the-officei. 7 Jhe two books we took homeuhowwfi th 3 state of our affairs. e took'them home every night. We kep po. record offeaal 1 sales, and could not tell the extent affonr r transactions at the end of tlie. week. Did not always take the boolt 1 ©me, as the records •ifijere? made ik) the day book as well, bemgTiomexnf 'ewminutes, heard the fire fyU ringing ;,a id my father and I went out. and me it I ■ ,fr. Tait on the road. He told us thfedgn. , was in our store. I ran there andfiM the horses loose. The roof was-allindMn ie3 -when I arrived. I tried to getbinttoith e office but could not get in for amokce.l believe the insurance policies were uaaril; j icept in the cash box. I knowt&atcnr • y father was trying to dispose of thattinsiar - JBg previous to the fire- We wereribihger ery well, his reason for wishing to gjire .usiness was bad health. There wa*s tftrisw .laT amount of stock in the plftod: ‘"Wi .• . , en xe ran out of stock wo got small'(plan titles to cany on from Bullock an<D Cftv and others, but dealt mainly with/Offlr .stchurch merchants. We got . stocks" off< lotliing and bouts in just before the firoa Our stock was usually L9OO to LlOhO I® 1 value. Am sure there was no q!)0 Idfil fter we did. Jiy -'lf r , Branson—The roof was of shiiljj^B», T ‘ and there was no lining on the ' „p stairs. There were three chfpiaeg , ■ i n the pudding. Hyde also had ■ a fIMSf ' ,tove in his workshop ; the smoke * ’, e ,i awav by a pipe, which was • onTjroa; - U p to the height of the de- - * ’ ‘Wilding. The spark from this pipe woaldft we driven with the breeze that night ops tt»( jut shop. The wiai was blowing

directly across Tancred street. There wore three seperate roofs on the building, and when I got there they wore all on tin-. I have seen sparks c ;raing out of Hyde’s chimney. It was about six or seven yards from our roof. By a juror—Did not know the amount of Hie cash sales. About 18 months previously a fire broke out in the store. We did not burn kerosene in the store. Knew Hyde did not hare gas laid on. By the Coroner —It would bo about twenty-five minutes from the time we left the store till I got back. David Amos, deposed—Was storeman for Fowler up to the date of the fire. _ A few goods were sent out that day. Think there was a whole tin of kerosine sold that day. There was a very small quantity left any how. The tin with a tap is one we used : it was kept outride, Mr. Fowler sold some small quantities that day. The gas was turned off when I left the store. I loft at the usual time, about 10 o’clock. There was one candle burning in the office when 1 left. I was generally the first to leave. Heard the lire bell first as I arrived home about 20 minutes after leaving. The flames were in the shop when I got back. Mr. Fowler always carried the ledger, daybook, and cash-box home with him at night. The books saved would not show the whole of the accounts. I to keep the books. The business was doing very fairly ; can’t feay the extent of it. Mr. Minnis left just before me. I don’t recollect having any conversation about fire or insurance that morning.

By Mr. Branson There was no shutter to the shop ; there was a blind on the drapery window, but none on the other windows.

By a Juror —A person in the street could have seen a light in th® window upstairs. Mr. Fowler kept the cash-book himself. VVe sometimes put the cash sales in the book. I have never seen sparks coming out of Hyde’s chimney. It had a cap on it, and was lower than the store, and about 14 feet from it. The fire in the office was nearly eut when I left. Ada Gates —I recollect the fire at Fowler’s. 1 was at the store on the mom ing of the fire between 10 and 11. I heard Mr. Amos say that the buildings were old. and if one was burnt down the rest would be. Don’t know who he was talking to. I heard the words “ insurance on fire ” made use of. I knew Mr Amos previously to this. He was putting some parcels into a cart at the time. _ . t The inquiry was continued at Quill s sample rooms at 8 p. ra. John Fowler deponed—l was owner of the premises burnt down. Inspector Pender here desired Mr. Fowler to make a statement. Mr. Branson objected to his being called upon to do so, and Inspector Pender refused to ask any questions. The Coroner said any of the jury could ask questions. By Mr. G. M. Robinson —I estimated ray stock at LIOOO. About I*soo worth of that stock was not paid for. There was an alarm of fire once before, but I was at the time absent in Christchurch. No damage was done on that occasion. I was then residing there. By Mr. Broadbelt—On the last occasion I extinguished the light myself. I have seen sparks coming from the chimney at Hyde* workshop. I complained to him about % and he put a top on it. The monthly sales of my business were about L4OO. I can’t say from memory what amount oif goods I have purchased since I made an arrangement with my creditors —I think sbest L3OOO. By Mr. Botanson—My cash sales were about L4O asaontb- I kept a cash-book occasionally. B *** destroyed. I think it was about twenty from the time I left the shop tiß I heard the bell. I returned at once. The lire seemed to be a|l ’ °° the roof. The two centre gables seemed to be on fire. On my arrival I went into the office ; it was full of smoke. The kerosine tin with the tap In It had been put near Hick’s fowl-house a fortnight previous. I deal in kerosine, and I sold some on the day of the fire. There only remained about half a tin after th© fire. Don’t know if the chimney in the office was foul or not. Since the fire I have seen a crack in the chimney. It is possible the fire may have been caused by that; it was about on a level with the upper floor. The upper rooms were not lined, and the rafters were exposed to view. The roof was of rough lining covered with shingles. I left the premises about two minutes after Mr. Amos. I think it was he turned the gas off. I saved a rug and a coat out of the office when I went in. I think I stayed about half an hour at the fire before going home. I did not feel well. The dry book I took home had about ten weeks entries in it. The other one saved went back fffiout five months. I think my bank book must fcave been burnt. I don’t think I stated Sergeant Pratt that I was doing a bnsi- [ of a LIOOO a month. I stated that I t rtf passed a LIOOO through the bank in 01 anson ere attention been impop Bible for me to go from the office to opS l*e frontdoor, and had 1 opened it it*would have taereased the draught and made the fire boro more fiercely. I was not up stairs mvriU that day, nor do I 1 ‘ « .nvniw else having been up. know of anyone eiws ■*=”' » r . Emma Hyde, smith —We lived next d»wr to Mr. FowW r store. There were five rooms in our house. There was a workshop detached children h»| P o *, 4 ? {“i-Fiifthl before the’ fire occurred; I was in tne kitchen. I heard Fowler’s office door locked five or ten minutes before the fire. I heard a crackling, and went out to the back and saw that the fire was up stairs. Kould see a glare through the window It was not n**o than ten mmutes after I heard the door locked till I * a , wth ® fi /r , Mv husband wsa in the workshop, »nd l told him of the fire. I went in again to fetch out the children, and when I came out again the roof was on fire, be coming through our part of*he housocoming from Fowler a. 1 got the children out and went away, bell rang W a few minutes after the fire broke out. My husband had a fire in the workshop when I went out. The room in whten I the fire first was over Fowlers Whop. Joseph Hyde, sworn—Am a I occupied a store next Fowler s. On the night of the fire I was in ray woAship. It was about six feet from the im*m buildag, I bad no fire that night, nor all day.

Fowler had complained about the danger I of the chimney in my workshop. I ..then I lengthened the chimney, and pat a cajton ! the top. When my wife told me or the • fire it was a little after ten. Ther e was ( no fire on the roof when I first came : tt. I saw the light in Fowler’s upstair window. That was all the fire I saw then. I took it to be the. light of a candle, and shortly afterwards saw it increase rapidly. 1 then fpve Chapman the alarm. There was no ight below, and there was no appearance of fire near the chimney. After sending the children out I came back to the fire. I was away about two minutes. My upstairs room was full of smoke. I tried tq* save my goods, and did not observe the fire. I was not insured at the time of the fire. I was about to leave the shop, and had given notice to the landlord. By Mr. Branson—l was very much excited at the fire. There was one window up stairs in my shop, two in Fowler’s, and two in Hicks. The window .1, first saw the fire through was one of Fowler’s. There was no fire on any of the roofs, when I first looked at them. I could see all over the roofs.

Thomas Hicks—Am a baker. I occupied a shop in Fowler’s block. Tho bakehouse is some 30 yards away from' the building. I rented the place from Fowler. I whs about to leave the place, as the lease was out. The building was insured by Fowler, and my stock and furniture were insured. I was in the habit of going to his store every day. I did not take any notice of the stock before the fire. I was a customer of his. He was out of white sugar shortly before the fire. I went to my bakehouse at 10 o’clock, and came back in five minutes. I could see all the buildings. I saw a light in Mr* Fowler's office, another in the shop, and one upstairs. The one upstairs was a steady light. My wife had been in bed about an hour or so, and I went to bed about eight minutes After, wards ; my bedroom is up stairs next to Fowler’s, and I shortly afterwards heard a;cry of “Fire” from the street. About 10 or 15 minutes elapsed between the time I went in and the alarm. I went out into Tancred street. Did not see any fire from there. I then went to the back and saw fire coming through the roof ; it was, a large blaze, in about the middle of the roof, it was near the chimney. lam sure the light I saw up stairs was in Fowler’s, there was no light in my bedroom when I went up stairs to bed; there would an interval of 25 minutes between the time I saw the light, and the breaking out of the fire. I thought the light up stairs was a candle.

By Mr. Branson —I did not notice anyone in the shop ; it was open. Did not see any figures or shadows moving about up stairs. Mary Anne Hicks, wife of Thomas Hicks, sworn—Lived in the premises burnt down on Nov. 15th last. I went to bed about 9 o’clock that night ; I was awake when my husband came to bed, about 10 or 15 minutes past ten ; I heard Mr, Fowler and his son and some other person talking in the shop up till the time my husband went to the bakehouse. I heard a crackling noise like wood burning a few minutes after he came to bed; the sound seemed to come from Fowler’s shop ; 1 called my daughter and asked her if she was putting wood on the fire, she answered “ No,” and I then heard some one call “ Fire;” the crackling noise kept 011 increasing; the sound seemed to come from below; before I had time to dress the fire had reached the partition near my bed. About ten or fifteen minutes elapsed between the ceasing of the conversation in Fowler’s shop until I heard the crackling. I saw the flames coming through under the skirting boards, I don’t think it was more than 3 or 4 minutes after my husband was in bed that 1 heard the noise. I did not hear any person up stairs in Fowler’s after I went to bed. I had to be assisted out of the house as the flames gained so rapidly. If any one had been walking in the adjoining room I could have heard them moving about. W. x\ Davison, storekeeper, sworn —I keep a store in Tancred street, near the site of the late fire. I heard an alarm of fire that night. I saw Mr. Fowler and his son about ten to fifteen minutes before the alarm, on their way home. By Mr. Branson—lt might have been a quarter of an hour, but I can’t be certain.

William Hyde, aged ten, son of Joseph Hyde, was sworn—Know the oil tin produced. Saw it on the morning of the fiie at Mr. Fowler’s back door. I saw Mr. Fowler emptying another kerosene tin into this one. There was no kerosene in it when I showed it to Sergeant Pratt. By Mr. Branson—l found the tin by Hicks’s on Sunday about 9 o’clock. Am sure it is the same tin. Mr. Branson asked that Mr. Fowler be allowed to deny the hoy’s evidence. After argument, Mr. Fowler was examined by the Coroner—l did not pour any kerosene into the tin in Court on that day. I poured some into a bottle. I did not move the tin that day. By the Jury—l had noothertinslikethat on my premises. The kerosene I had was in a tin with a patent tap. The kerosene is booked to Neville on that date in the day book produced. The Coroner pointed out to the Jury that Hyde’s evidence was not reliable. Hicks’ evidence was important, as he swears to having seen the three lights in Fowler’s, and Mrs. Hicks’ evidence also bore out her husband’s evidence. He called upon the Jury to give their attention to the case.

At a quarter past one this morning the following verdict was given by the foreman ;—“ That the fire originated on the premises of John Fowler, and was the act of #n incendiary, but who that incendiary was ihere is no evidence to show. ” The ectroner said that the verdict returned was neither an open one or sufficiently explicit to show the intention of the incendiary, and directed the jury to find a verdict to the effect that the incendiary committed the act with the intention of defrauding an insurance company, or of injuring a certain person. Several of the jury expressed an opinion that the intention of the incendiary was to defraud the insurance companies, Mr, Hodder asked if it would not be competent to return a verdict simply that the act was one by an incendiary. The jury then found that some person or 'persons unknown did wilfully and maliciously get fire to the building with the intention of defrauding the South British and London and Lancashire Insurance Companies. .The jury were dismissed at 2.30 a.m.

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INQUEST ON THE RECENT FIRE IN TANCRED STREET. Ashburton Guardian, Volume I, Issue 35, 16 December 1879

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