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DESTRUCTIVE FIRE IN THE OCTAGON, DUNEDIN.

ELEVEN LIVES LOST. One of the most destructive fires that has occurred in Dunediu, and certainly, so far as results are concerned, the most disas- | trous, broke out in. the building known as Waters's Cafe, in the northern end of Ross's buildings, Octagon, shorly after two o'clock on Monday morning. The fire was first discovered by Mr Hall, of the City Dye Works, who at once gave the alarm. By the time the hell was rung the fire had got a firm hold of the building. Adjoining the cafe* was the shop of Mrs Wilson, milliner, and keeper of a servants' registry, and besides her family, several females were sleeping on the premises ; indeed so denseby peopled was this block that it is estimated that nearly fifty people slept in the building. Amongst the first, to escape from the burning building was Mr William Waters, proprietor of the Octagon Cafe\ So far as he was aware there were thirty persons sleeping in the buildings on the night previous to the fire, the major portion of them being on the top floor. Shurdy before midnight he retired to bed, the whole of the inmates of the house, with tho exception of hims "If, having prior to that gone to their apartments. Some time subsequent to this a servant named Brodrick came to his room and told him that one of the boarders had boon locked out and wan endeavouring to procure admittance. He gave Brodrick the key, and after the man had bjen admitted, he received the key back again and went to sleep ; but was soon awakened by loud and excited cries of " Fire." Jumping out of bed he secured egress by a passage leading from his bedroom to the archway. At this time flames were issuing from the whidows in the central floor of the cafe. This statement is corroborated by Brodrick, who adds that he was awakened by Mr Waters, whom he saw run out of the house and heard him calling out for some one to get a rope. At about the same time a man named John Taylor jumped from the top storey of the buildings, a distance of about 30ft. , and was picked up bleeding from the head and neck. He was instantly removed to the Octagon Hotel, where he promptly received every attention from Drs Martin, De Zonche, and Reimer, but their efforts were unavailing, and he died about twenty minutes after he was picked up. The only other person whom we have heard of as having escaped by the passage was Mr J. Metz, who informs us that he was awakened by a choking sensation of smoke, and hastily seizing some articles of wearing aparel he made his way out, giving the alarm as he went along. The next person seen to come out of the building was a woman, who jumped out of a window on the centre floor. A blanket was held for her reception, but she unfortunately fell wide of it and was seriously hurt. This person turned out to be one Annie M'Fadyen, who was j sleeping at Mrs Wilson's prior to going out to service. " A young man named Deans, cook in the restaurant, was awakened by the fire, and being unable to make his way downstairs, owing to the density of the smoke, he states that ho climbed on the spouting, and, crawling along it, got to a window, which he opened, and on entering the room found a clothes-line, with which he and several others managed to slide down into the street, all being more or less burned. A good supply of water was, fortunately, to hand, and in an hour's time the fire was got under. The brigade, though late in. putting in an appearance, worked remarkably well. Between six and seven o'clock two portions of the parapet were pulled down, and shortly before seven it was known that the bodies of the Wilson's had been seen. An hour later the remains of Mr and Mrs Wilson, their eldest boy, and two girls, were found all huddled together near to where the bed had stood, but they were beyond identification. At an earlier hour two of Mrs Wilson's daughters — Louisa and Elizabeth — had been removed to the Hospital, the one' severely burned, the other only slightly, one member of the family still being unaccounted for. There had also been admitted to the Hospital one David Thomson, who had received a severe shaking in jumping from the back . portion of the building. The next body found was that of a shoemaker named Swan. The next remains discovered we\*e those of a woman, who at the present

time remains unidentified ; and at one o'clock those of a young man, believed to be George A. Martin-, were discovered in his bedroom. Martin will be remembered as assistant librarian to the AUioncuum at the time of the fire there, and as one of the principal witnesses for the Crown against (Hummock. The whole of the inmates on the lowr-r floor escaped with slight burns only. Dean and others, who got down by means of the ropes, were severely burned about the hair and head, but were able to walkabout. Shortly before three o'clock on Monday afternoon the tenth body was recovered. It was that of an elderly man, who wore a truss, but the remains are so charred that they could not be recognised. They were sent down to the Hospital. The following is an account given to a Daily Times reporter by two young men named Grant and Jenkinson, who occupied*^ room belonging to Mr Wilson, and fronting the street on the third story, "being that at the corner next to the Atheneeum. Next to their room was one,occupied by Fred and Roberb Wilson ; then came a room occupied by Lily, Louisa, and Sarah Wilson, and the servant Margaret McCarthy ; and next to this room, directly opposite the stairway, was Mr and Mrs Wilson's bedroom, in which their son Oliphant also slept. On the opposite side of the passage was a long room looking to ! the back, in which four servant girls, waiting for places at Mrs Wilson's registry oflice, slept. Grant was awoke by a cry of " Fire," and roused Jenkinson. They lit a candle, and found the room full of smoke. Looking out of the front window they saw the flames coming out of the Cafe" windows on the ground floor. At the same moment, two men, evidently boarders at the Cafe', came to their door, attracted by the light,and crying, " For God's sake, show us an outlet." Grant opened the door, and the room filling wi L h smoke and heat, he and_ Jenkinson made for the passage. Neither thought of their watches underneath their pillows, nor did Jenkinson remember- a purse with about L 6 in it or. the table. Grant was fortunate enough to pick up a pair of trousers, in which L 2 were ; he also, as he was going out of the door, picked up another pair of trousers, and his volunteer carbino and cutlass. Both tried to explain to the two men to follow them, and to show them the stairs. One of the men took hold of Jenkinson and held on till nearly at the top of the stairs, but then let go. As they reached the top of the stair a tongue of flame was roaring along the passage. How they reached the bottom floor neither knows, but after getting outside and having a breath of fresh air, the subject of what had become of the two men and of the children was broached. The two agreed to go \ipstairs again, and although they described the heat as something fearful, especially on the centre floor, they did get up, Grant leading. Just on the landing Grant found Louisa Wilson, whom he took in his arms. It was impossible to go any further, and another scramble downstairs succooded. Both state that when the}' turned to go back the} r despaired of reaching the bottom again. However, they did so, both getting burned on the hands and also on the face slightly, with the addition of a good deal of singeing about the hair. On the way down they met three policemen attempting to make their way upstairs, but these were unable to get beyond the first landing, where they sang out to attract the attention of those above. Grant took Louisa Wilson to the Octagon Hotel. In the meantime Lily Wilson had got out of her bed-room window, and had lain down at full length upon the parapet below the window-sill to escape a tongue of flame enniug out. Jenkinson saw her, and a blanket having been got, he called out to her to throw herself down. Sho did this, but striking an archvvay over the street door, she gave a rebound outside the blanket, and fell on the pavcm-'iit. Jenkinson picked her up and carried her to the Octagon Hotel. She was quitj sensible, and coinplnineol of her back. While Lily was at the window, somo one came out of Fred Wilson's window. He clambered along the parapet till he reached the corner, and when Jenkinson went away with Lily he was hanging to it by the hands. Neither Jenkinson nor Grant, who also was one of the four holding the blanket for Lily, saw anything of the other Wilson children, nor of Mr and Mrs Wilson, nor of Maggie M'Carthy. They did not see anything either of the four servant girls who slept in the long bedroom opposite to theirs, so that jjossibly one of the adult women lying at the Hospital may be one of these servant-girls. The young men themselves escaped with nothing but coat and trousers. As to the origin of the fire there seems to be little doubt that it broke out in a sitting-room on the second floor. Mr Waters states that immediately befoi'e retiring to bed he visited this room and although there was a fire then in the grate it had almost expired. And now a word as to the fire-escape. If this cumbrous piece of machinery is to be of any service,' ib must be kept in a place where it can be easily got at. Had it been at Mr Hudson's place in Moray place last night, there can be little doubt that some of those whose lives have been lost would have been saved ; indeed, we have the assurance of Mr Hudson's men sleeping on the premises, that they saw men and women on the roof of the building, but were powerless to assist them. The central engine-station is in such an out-of-the-way place that before the escape could be got out from there it would be practically useless. Last night the fire had been burning for half an-hour before the escape was brought upon the scene. We would suggest that it be removed to where it was formerly kept, or that in future it be stationed in the Octagon. The insurances as far as are known on Ross's building 3 are as follows ; — Union, Ll,150; Standard, Ll,ooo ; National, L 1.4.50 ; Norwich Union, L 1,300 ; Victoria, L2OO ; Hanseatic, L4OO ; New Zealand, L2OO. Total, L 5,700. Mr Waters estimates his loss at L3OO over his insurance (L 400). All those who were lodging on the premises lose everything. Mr Litollf, music teacher, was the only one so situated who was insured. Portions of the remains of another body — making the eleventh — were found at Ross's buildings on Tuesday morning. They were that of. a young man, apparently of about twenty years of age, but i the position in. which they were found, 1

viz., at the extreme north end of tho building, shows that, it is barely possible that they ci.n be those of the late Mr Wf son's eldest son. The body of the woman which was previously unidentified, has bee'i identified by Mr Pattison, of the Octagon Hotel, as that of Margaret M'Carthy servant to the Wilsons.

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Bibliographic details

DESTRUCTIVE FIRE IN THE OCTAGON, DUNEDIN., Clutha Leader, Volume VI, Issue 310, 12 September 1879

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DESTRUCTIVE FIRE IN THE OCTAGON, DUNEDIN. Clutha Leader, Volume VI, Issue 310, 12 September 1879

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