The Bulli Mine Disaster of 1887 is the second worst industrial disaster in Australia’s history – killing 81 men and boys – leaving 50 widows and 150 children fatherless. A Royal Commission was conducted into the disaster, and it has only been surpassed by the Mount Kembla Mine Disaster of 1902 where 97 men and boys were killed. Pre the 1860’s, European settlers had been involved with farming and cedar getting. Coal came in the early 1860’s.
There was a James Hicks killed in the Bulli Mine Disaster of 1887, who is listed as leaving a widow and two children, one child was 4 months old and the other 7 years of age. Most would assume that he was most probably a descendent of James Hicks and Margaret Hicks (Brain Brayne Daley) of Austinmer (North Bulli), or of one of the “Austinmer” James’ brothers. However this appears not to be the case. The death registration for James Hicks indicates that his parents were Joseph and Ann Hicks – and there seem to be no Joseph and Ann Hicks in the family of the “Austinmer” James and Margaret Hicks around that time.
James Hicks, killed in the disaster, was possibly the son of Joseph (Elliott) Hicks and Ann Hicks (nee Kay) nb sometimes her name is spelled Anne or Annie. Joseph and Ann appear to have lived mainly in Orange, possibly in Millthorpe for a time, and his widowed mother lived in Penrith at the time of her death. Joseph (Elliott) Hicks was possibly born in Tiverton Devon UK in 1836, the son of Joseph or John Hicks and Agnes Elliott. James’ father Joseph is believed to have died in 1910 in Millthorpe.
Joseph Hicks married Ann Kay, in 1874 in Orange. She was the daughter of John Kay (1814-1880) and Jane Kay (Appleyard 1816-1876). Ann Hicks (Kay) appears to have died in 1930 in Penrith, where two other of her children died.
Of course it is possible that the James Hicks who died in the Bulli Mine Disaster may not have had family in NSW at all; likewise Joseph William Hicks who died in Canowindra in 1947 (see more information below). Alternatively James and Joseph William Hicks could have been born outside the marriage.
There was also another Joseph Hicks in Orange at the same time – a Joseph Solomon Hicks who was born in Cornwall and came to Australia with his parents, John and Anna Rebecca (nee Solomon), and then married Agnes Jones in Orange in 1871. It is not clear if these two Joseph Hicks living in Orange at the same time were related, or not. Undoubtedly there must have been some confusion.
There do not appear to any links between the “Orange-Devon” Hicks, nor the “Orange-Cornwall” Hicks and James Hicks of “Austinmer”. It would be expected that if the “Austinmer” James Hicks were related to the deceased James Hicks, killed in Bulli Mine Disaster, that this connection would have been made in the news media of the day; especially as the “Austinmer” James Hicks, and his son Henry Thomas Hicks, were prominent citizens in the area in 1887.
The children of the “Orange” Joseph and Ann Hicks appear to be :
- Posibly James (-1887) died in Bulli Mine Disaster (NSW BDM 9680/1887) – not born in NSW ? marriage details uncertain – despite a bizarre and controversial case of alleged bigamy in Victoria involving a woman claiming to be his widow
- Possibly Joseph William (-1947) died in Canowindra – not born in NSW ?
- John (1874 – 1875) – died in Orange
- Unnamed 1874
- Emma Jane 1876 m James E Edmonds in Orange in 1898 – died 1938 in Rockdale
- Clara A 1877 – 1878 in Orange
- Ada Grace 1879-1938 m William J Wills in Millthorpe in 1901 died in Orange
- Clara Elliott 1880-1970 m Frederick Burton in Orange in 1902 died in Blayney in 1970
- Unnamed 1884
- Eva Blanche 1887-1935 m Richard Burton in Orange in 1905 died in Blayney
- Elizabeth Ethel 1889-1973 m William Mabbutt in Orange in 1906 died in Penrith
- Herbert Horace 1891-1060 m Margaret Jordan in Hamilton in 1908 – died in Penrith
Kerrie Anne Christian, a great great great granddaughter of the “Austinmer” James Hicks, recalls an engineering visit underground to Old Bulli Mine and other south coast pits, Corrimal and Cordeaux, over the last 30 years.
“I didn’t go underground very often at all. However I was working on some equipment reliability issues for BHP’s mines between 1981 and 1999; and the mine engineers showed me right through the Old Bulli Mine in the early 1980’s, including near where the 1887 disaster had occurred. I remember a small lump of coal breaking off the side and brushing past my leg – a reminder of the risks in coal mining.
You’d wear overalls and rubber boots, and a miner’s hard hat, with a lamp on the hat, that was connected to an accumulator on your belt. The miners were really keen on stickers in those days, and the sales reps had to make sure they only supplied stickers without any aluminium to avoid explosive thermite reactions. My department at work would also provide recommendations on materials for non-sparking tools in the mines to reduce the risk of explosions.
I also went underground at Corrimal – there were initially some objections from the miners at first. It used to be considered bad luck to have a woman go underground. In fact a miner was killed there only days later.
Later on I worked on the Appin Methane Drainage Gas Turbine from 1987 to the mid 1990’s – the idea being to drain the methane out to reduce the risk of explosion and then to burn the drained methane in a gas turbine to produce electricity. This was replaced by some modular spark ignition engines at Appin and Tower, which I worked on as well.
I also went down Cordeaux mine – and the power went out for a while – so I was really glad to know that safety procedures were being strengthened all the time. Of course we had to deal with gas issues in the steel industry at Port Kembla where I worked for 38 years and also up at Port Hedland where I also did engineering visits.“
References on Bulli Mine Disaster of 1887
SMH March 28 1887 disaster coverage – http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/3465822
Burial of the victims – http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/65408058
Government Inquiry into Bulli Mine Disaster – SMH July 1887 – http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/65473354?searchTerm=&searchLimits=l-title=201
Monuments Australia http://monumentaustralia.org.au/monument_display.php?id=20590&image=0
Images of Bulli Mine Disaster (and some others) – https://www.google.com.au/search?q=bulli+mine+disaster+1887&start=20&hl=en&sa=N&tbo=u&biw=1024&bih=653&tbm=isch&source=univ&ei=ow68UJCfKcefiAfM7oCADg&ved=0CDkQsAQ4FA#hl=en&tbo=d&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=%22bulli+mine+disaster%22+1887&oq=%22bulli+mine+disaster%22+1887&gs_l=img.12..0i24.11263.13683.4.16220.127.116.11.0.0.0.218.409.0j1j1.2.0…0.0…1c.1.HijeqReKcwM&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.r_qf.&fp=b2f198d520b80d9&bpcl=39314241&biw=1024&bih=653
Michael Organ – http://www.uow.edu.au/~morgan/bulli1887.htm – http://www.uow.edu.au/~morgan/trains.htm
Illawarra News September 2012 http://illawarranews.blogspot.com.au/2012/09/jeremiah-westwood-bulli-miner-liable.html
Illawarra Coal – http://www.illawarracoal.com/bullidisaster.htm