At the time, the concerns of family and friends of the miners trapped below ground would have been the same as were felt during the recent happening in the north of Thailand. Unfortunately, the end result was not as happy.
On Saturday, October 12, 1912, 170 men went down the North Mount Lyell mine but 42, many with young families, died after a fire in a pump-house 214m underground. On the day of the fire, 72 men reached the surface; the others were saved later. A Royal Commission soon after was unable to determine the case of the fire. It recorded, however, that the 10 men whose bodies were recovered from the mine had died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Efforts to rescue the men below ground led to a record crossing of Bass Strait by the steamer Loongana. Fire-fighting experts and equipment from Victorian mines were rushed to Melbourne and the ship departed at 4.30pm on October 14 for Burnie. The Melbourne Age of October 16 reported: “Notwithstanding the rough head weather, the Loongana managed to cross Bass Strait yesterday in rattling time.” She arrived at 5.45am after a crossing of 13¼ hours.
The first ship registered in the southern hemisphere to be powered by steam turbines, the triple-screw Loongana was built at Dumbarton, Scotland, and launched in 1904. Owned by the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand until December 1921, she was transferred to Tasmanian Steamers Pty Ltd, a company formed by a merger with Huddart Parker. With her red funnels and green topsides, she was an attractive ship, offered greater comforts than earlier vessels and also reduced the passage time across Bass Strait. Her top speed of more than 22knots allowed her to sail Melbourne to Launceston, wharf to wharf, in 15 hours, including a slow passage up the Tamar River. The current ferries that go to Devonport can make the crossing in nine hours. After more than 30 years of almost trouble-free service, she was sold to a Japanese ship breaker in 1936.
BY MAURIE HUTCHINSON
President, Peninsula Ship Society
T: Maurie Hutchinson 9787 5780
The Peninsula Ship Society meets at Hastings Yacht Club on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 10am. Visitors always welcome.