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The Bridge Street Explosion of 1866

From the Argus (Melbourne) of 6 March 1866

"At half-past six last evening, the citizens were astonished by a terrific concussion and report, proceeding from the neighbourhood of the Exchange; and those in the vicinity saw two large stores in Bridge-street (Messrs.Mollison and Black's and Mr. Thompson's) lifted in the air, portions of the debris going up several hundred feet, and falling in a shower extending over an area of several hundred yards. Masses of stone, weighing several hundredweights, were smashed to pieces, and half a new two-storey building was blown away, as if cut sectionally. It is impossible to depict in a brief telegram the scene of ruin.

Bridge St explosion 1866

All the adjoining buildings were shaken. In Thompson's store panes of glass were shattered. The telegraph wires were destroyed, The cause of the explosion is not definitely known, but it is supposed to have arisen from the spontaneous combustion of a shipment of nitro glycerine, which, it is reported, was stored on the premises. Most, astonishing to say, not a single person was hurt.


The following is a fuller account of this great catastrophe :-

At half past six o'clock on Sunday evening the most alarming and destructive explosion ever known in this colony occurred in the midst of the business portion of the city, and which, if it had happened on any other day than Sunday must have resulted in a fearful destruction of human life, not only on account of the thoroughfares in the immediate neighbourhood being thronged on business days, but also of the large number of persons employed in the various establishments affected by the catastrophe.

The explosion occurred in the establishment of Messrs. Molison and Black, shipping agents, at the lower part of Bridge-street, near its junction with Pitt-Street. So violent was the force of the explosive matter that the entire building has disappeared, and scarcely a vestige of the store remains. The shop-fronts of the buildings in that part of Bridge-street are all blown out; and the walls of new and handsome buildings, recently erected, as well as of some other of the adjacent shops and private houses, are thrown out of the perpendicular.

The Exchange, and all the buildings at the Exchange corner in Pitt-street, are more or less injured; so also are the offices of the Sugar Company opposite, and of the Sovereign and Southern Insurance Companies. The front of Southern Insurance Companies. The front of Messrs.Greville and Co.'s offices, which are some distance higher on the opposite side of Bridge-street, and of several others still further removed from the scene of the explosion, are completely driven in. Several houses in Bridge-street are so seriously shaken that rents and fissures are visible in the front walls. The effects of it are also seen in George street, extending some distance from its junction with Bridge-street, in both directions, where most of the glass in the windows is broken. The London Chartered Bank appears to have suffered considerably. Along Pitt-street the mischief done is considerable ; several large blocks of buildings in that quarter are affected, besides a great many shops.

Amongst the more important buildings are -the Australasian Insurance Company, the magnificent new offices of the Australian Mutual Provident Society, the Oriental Bank, the United Insurance, the Australian General Insurance, the London and Lancashire, the Australian Alliance, the Universal, and the Pacific Insurance Companies' offices; the Herald and Empire printing-offices, Messrs.W. Dean and Co.'s, the well-known auctioneers ; Messrs. Hyam and Co.'s, and several piles of offices.

The cause of the explosion is not yet ascertained. It was at first supposed to have been occasioned by fire-damp in the tank stream; then by the ignition of gunpowder, but Messrs. Molison and Black assert that there were not two pounds of powder on the premises. It is now said to have been an explosion of nitro-glycerine, which has been shown by recent experiments to possess an explosive force ten times greater than that of gunpowder. This will account for the extraordinary effects produced.

Messrs. Molison and Black's account-sales book was found on Church-hill, near St. Philip's. The edges were fretted and torn in an opposite direction, and at a still greater distance, the effects are visible, portions of the debris being found as far off as the bottom of Erskine street, and some of the windows of the Mint were broken. Scarcely a shutter in the street remained in its place. The telegraph wires were torn down all round the block, and nearly all the clocks in the neighbourhood stopped. The report startled the whole city, and was heard for miles out of town.

The absence of serious accident to life or limb seems almost miraculous, notwithstanding the quietude of this neighbourhood on a Sunday evening. As far us at present known, the only casualties are one man injured in the hand, and another in the face-neither of them seriously.

Dozens of men are employed this morning in sweeping and collecting the debris. The broken glass lies about the streets and on the floors of the houses as thick as dust. It is impossible to estimate the amount of damage done. Messrs. Molison and Black estimate their loss at 20,000."
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Robert Curran
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