Explosion at Bulli Colliery, 1887

In one of the worst disasters in Australian mining history, 81 miners were killed in an explosion at the Bulli Colliery in the Illawarra at 2.30pm on 23 March 1887.

Heart-rending scenes here…seventy nine bodies found…

These documents provide some brief glimpses of the scale and horror of the tragedy, from the receipt of news of the disaster on the day, to the retrieval of bodies witnessed by grieving relatives, and the final list of the victims, which included a number of boys aged between 14 and 16.

The bundle from which these documents have been selected contains numerous telegrams providing updates on the disaster and subsequent recovery operations, illustrating the importance of the electric telegraph as a means of instant communication in the era before the introduction of the telephone.
A special commission was set up to investigate the explosion and concluded:
“…that the explosion was caused by marsh gas or carbonic hydrate that had accumulated at the face. That the immediate cause was probably the flame from an overcharged shot fired by a miner in the coal in No. 2 Heading. ”
This gas explosion propagated a coal dust explosion and travelled towards the fresh air at the surface. The commission was also of the opinion that the Deputy, Overman and to a lesser extent the Manager, were all guilty of contributing negligence.

Source: NRS 906 Colonial Secretary Special bundles, 1826-1982
Bulli Colliery explosion, 1887. Note to the Postmaster General 23 March 1887 advising of the disaster and requesting that extra telegraphic officers be made available. Telegram from Bulli to Sir Henry Parkes 25 March 1887
List of men whose lives were lost, and Names of wives and number of children [4/875.2]


8pm 23 March 1887
Dear Mr Roberts
I have just received
a message from Bulli stating
that an explosion has taken
place in the mine there, and
it is supposed that about
50 persons are entombed in
the Debris. Arrangements
have been made, by me,
for extra Telegraphic officers,
so that the fullest information
may be received throughout
the night
Yours truly
P B Walters
Issued form
New South Wales Electric Telegraph
Colonial and Intercolonial Lines
Office Stamp Telegram from Bulli station
Legislative Addressed to Sir Hy Parkes KCMG
Assembly Leg Assembly
March 25 87
Received at
4h 42m
Reference No
No of words
Amount Paid
Heart rending scenes here wives
mothers and children crying over
their relatives remains seventy nine
bodies found they say only
three more to come
Date 25/3/87
Time 4h 15m

Previous Home Next