Mt Kembla 1902

31/07/1902 - Mt Kembla - Explosion / Methane Explosion, Coal Dust Explosion

 At 2pm on July 31, 1902, Mt Kembla Colliery exploded, killing 96 men and boys. The blast, which was heard in nearby Wollongong, created 33 widows and took the fathers of 120 children. The disaster had an enormous impact on the Illawarra, and more specifically on the village of Mt Kembla, where the shattering effect of lives lost and families torn apart resonates to this day.

No one knew exactly what caused the explosion. However, a number of theories were raised, with some seemingly aimed at protecting the mine's reputation as a "safe, non-gassy" pit. The Royal Commission The Royal Commission into the 1902 Mt Kembla mine disaster was held between March and May of 1903 in Wollongong and Sydney. The Commission determined that gas and coal-dust were responsible for the explosion, and concluded that only the substitution of naked lights with safety lamps could have prevented the disaster.

A quote from the mine manager, William Rogers, stated that the mine was "absolutely without danger from gases", the Illawarra Mercury reported that "gas had never been known to exist in the mine before" and the Sydney Morning Herald recorded "one of the best ventilated mines in the State" However, after the explosion left 33 widows and 120 fatherless children; an enquiry returned a conclusion that Mount Kembla Mine was both gassy and dusty and that the Meurant brothers and William Nelson "came to their death … from carbon monoxide poisoning produced by an explosion of fire-damp ignited by the naked lights in use in the mine, and accelerated by a series of coal-dust explosions starting at a point in or about the number one main level back headings, and extending in a westerly direction to the small goaf, marked 11 perches on the mine plan." A royal commission concerning the disaster, held in March, April and May 1903, confirmed the gas and coal-dust theory accepted by the earlier coroner's jury.

Rather than holding any individual official of the Mount Kembla Company responsible, the Commission stated that only the substitution of safety lamps for flame lights could have saved the lives of the 96 victims. However, flame lights continued to be used well into the 1940s.

This accident claimed the lives of 96 people.

Other Information

A copy of the Royal Commission Report is available from the University of Wollongong






The NSW Royal Shipwreck Relief Humane Society awarded medals to the rescuers of the disaster. Further inforamtion about the medals and their receipients is available from the Mt Kembla Heritage Centre.