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Brunner mine disaster kills 65

26 March 1896

First bodies recovered from Brunner mine
First bodies recovered from Brunner mine (Christchurch City Libraries, PhotoCD 2, IMG0072)

At 9.30 a.m., an explosion tore through the Brunner mine in Westland’s Grey Valley. Two men sent underground to investigate were later found unconscious after inhaling black damp, a suffocating mixture of nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

Rescuers began bringing out bodies around 11 a.m. The noxious gases took their toll on the men in the rescue parties, many of whom collapsed and had to be carried out.

The final death toll was 65 – almost half of Brunner’s underground work force. This remains New Zealand’s deadliest industrial accident.

Fifty-three of the victims were buried in the Stillwater cemetery, 33 of them in a single grave. The funeral procession stretched for 800 metres.

The official enquiry determined that the cause was the detonation of a charge in an area of the mine where no one should have been working. However, some experienced miners claimed that firedamp – methane gas produced by coal – had accumulated because of an ineffectual ventilation system.

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Brunner mine disaster kills 65, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated