In January 1926 there was a terrible incident at the Briseis tin mine, in the northern Tasmanian town of Derby. A dump of tailings collapsed, tearing away hydraulic water pipes.
Four miners working in a ‘sump’ nearby were overwhelmed by water and soil. Two were trapped; John Bastick and James Allen. Both were married with young children. James, my great uncle, had been working as a clerk for an insurance company after serving in WWI, but was lured back to mining by the higher wages on offer.
Their horrified mates immediately rushed to help.
From a report on on the Derby mine tragedy in The Daily Telegraph;
Bastick was at first their object, as he was a foot or eight inches below Allen. Bastick folded his arms and a large pole was placed through them to lever him out, but it was to no avail., and the water from the pressure pipe flowed in among the debris and slowly covered him. Prior to it covering him Bastick said, ‘It’s all over boys’, and asked them to bid goodbye for him to his wife..
Allen was then attended to, and eight miners fastened a rope around his body, and hauled on it, with no result. Allen then said, ‘Stop boys, I am pinned by one leg.’ It was considered that he was in that position for fully twenty minutes, with the water steadily rising. Buckets for lowering the water were brought into operation without success, and the men present saw the water gradually rise and cover him, his mates holding his head up under the water rose over it. Many could not watch the scene, and turned their heads away. Both men died with the greatest courage.
It’s important to remember that many of the men were already scarred by horrors they had witnessed during the First World War. The way their workmates died would surely haunt them forever. One poor fellow who had been at Gallipoli and in the trenches of France would say that he had never seen anything so tragic.
When the site was able to be pumped out the bodies were recovered, and a coronial inquest was held. One person to give evidence was Senior Constable Taylor, who would later act with great bravery at Derby during the deadly 1929 floods.
After several days of evidence it was concluded that the tailings dump had previously been quite stable. Constable Taylor testified that he had visited the site previously and had even stood on the spot where the slip occurred. The final ruling was that no blame could be attached to the mining company. The inquest also found that everything possible had done in trying to save the victims. Highlighting the inherent dangers of mining, it was reported that in 1913 James’ wife Nellie had lost her first husband, Frank Gorey, at the Renison Bell tin mine. He had been caught in a winch. Nellie died in 1974. aged 92. According to her nephew Tony she became blind, (possibly from cataracts) until finally an operation restored her sight.
LAID TO REST
The two men were buried on the same day in the local Branxholm Cemetery, following what was described as the largest funeral cortege ever seen in Tasmania’s north-east. James Allen’s headstone also mentions his parents (my great grandparents) Osborne and Elizabeth Allen, of Penguin.
In the same cemetery was their son Leonard, who had spent many years working at the Derby mine. Leonard enlisted in the No. 4 Tunneling Co. during WWI, aged 40. He was repatriated home after contracting TB, and died in 1918.
FOR MORE ON CONSTABLE TAYLOR, CLICK HERE.