Bellbird Mine 1923

09/01/1923 - Bellbird Colliery - Explosion

On 1 September 1923, twenty-one miners perished as the result of a fire in No 1 Workings at Bellbird Colliery, situated near the village of Bellbird, three miles south-west of Cessnock, in the Northern coalfield of New South Wales. The Bellbird disaster was 'unparalleled in the history of the coalfield'.

This accident claimed the lives of 21 people.

Other Information

Monument in memorial park near the site of the old Bellbird Colliery commemorates the men who lost their lives in the Bellbird Mining Disaster of 1923. 

In September 1923, explosions and fires underground killed 20 men and their horses. Another man, John Brown, the manager at Aberdare, died in the rescue attempt. Working conditions at the time were very poor. The unionised workforce had pressed for central rescue stations in the mines but their pleas were ignored. Some did not even have safety lamps.

A terrible explosion occurred at the Bellbird Colliery, one of the busiest on the Maitland coalfields, on Saturday last. The disaster occurred in No. 3 section of the mine, shortly after 2 p.m. The death toll totals 21, of whom 15 were brought to the surface by rescuers. There are still six at the bottom of the mine, but all hopes of rescue have been abandoned. A shift comprising 30 men went down at 1 o'clock, and exactly an hour later an employee saw volumes of curling thick black smoke belching forth from the fan-shaft.  He immediately rushed to the engineer'`s quarters, and in a few moments the news of the fire spread throughout the field, and it was not long before the distracted wives, children and relatives of the entombed miners had reached the tunnelmouth of the mine, and terrible scenes were witnessed as the bodies were brought out of the tunnel. The mine will have to be totally closed down for probably six months, according to local opinion, in order to allow the fires to burn themselves out. Seven hundred men will be thrown out of work. John Brown, manager of the Aberdare colliery, lost his life while carrying out rescue work. 
Western Grazier (Wilcannia, NSW)  8 September 1923.

In the Bellbird Colliery explosion that occurred on 1st of September 1923 many lives were lost as miners were choked by gas. Fifteen bodies were recovered from the site by rescue parties in the immediate aftermath of the explosion. Mr John B Brown, manager of the Aberdare Colliery, and one of those helping the rescue efforts, was choked by gas from further explosions, bringing the death toll of the disaster to twenty-one. Months after the Bellbird Colliery explosion, the body of Brown was recovered, and a funeral held on the 22 June 1924, and thousands attended.

Inquests were unable to explain the cause of the fire, but saw the criticism of many unsafe work practices including smoking in the mines, unreliable emergency phone lines and lack of hazard reporting and control. Thus a greater public awareness of mining safety and the need for emergency equipment and trained emergency officers.