Quarry disaster memorial makeover for 100th

Quarry disaster memorial makeover for 100th

One hundred years ago this month, on 15 May, six men were killed in an explosion at the then Public Works quarry pit near the Ohakune Junction.

The memorial erected to mark the tragedy, near the entrance to the Ohakune Cemetery on Lakes Road, has had a makeover in time for the centenary.

The fence has been moved from in front of the memorial to behind it; a scoria path has been laid from the cemetery driveway; trees and branches have been removed or trimmed and the surrounds reshaped ready for new grass seed.

The project has been led by Ohakune resident and ex-railwayman Graeme Dixon, with work done by Downers on behalf of the Ruapehu District Council.

The plan had been to carry out earthworks to create parking next to the memorial, with steps up to the site.

However, Mr Dixon said it was decided the site was too dangerous for parking as it was right on a blind corner of the road. Also, steps to the memorial would rule out a lot of people from getting up to it.

Instead, the path was chosen which allows for easier access.

The project will also include waterblasting the memorial and painting and the memorial plaque has been cleaned so that it can now be read.

There was a call some years ago for the memorial to be moved closer to the quarry near the junction, because few people know to go to its present location.

But Mr Dixon said this would be impractical – the construction of the monument meant it would probably collapse if it was moved.

An inquest into the accidental explosion was held in Ohakune in June 1916 before the coroner and a jury of six, counsel for the Public Works, and the family of the deceased.

The six men killed were assistant engineer Henry Mellsop, 28, an old boy of Auckland Grammar; cadet Horace Larking, 2t, from Wanganui; overseer Arthur Davies, 35, from the West Coast, quarrymen Peter McGarry, 30, from Mullingar, Ireland, Jackson Torrence, 54, from Ireland; and William McKay, 38, whose sister lived at Te Aroha.

Injured in the explosion were the quarry foreman Michael Sheehy, and a quarryman named Morgan.

According to a report in the Wanganui Herald, the men were in a tunnel that had been driven into the centre of a quarry face that was 15.3m (50ft) up and 15.3m from the top.

The tunnel went 20m (66ft) into the quarry, was 1.5m (5ft) high and was 0.9m (3ft) across. An L was formed by a chamber, and it was in this chamber that 680kg (15001b) of a gelignite mixture was placed.

The report continued:

"The tunnel was like the bore of an enormous gun and the men were as shells driven by a terrible charge of dynamite and carbonite. At daybreak the body of Larking, fearfully mangled, was found about 100 yards from the tunnel mouth. The body of Torrence has not been found."

The men who were working at the time on the platform erected on the face died in the explosion.

Morgan, who was near another tunnel carrying another 680kg charge, knew no more than the men working below.

When he came down, it was reported, he said to Egerton: "Don't go up, they are all killed."

Three experts from Huntly "arrived by express" to attend the inquest and visited the tunnel.

They considered in their evidence that Torrence was "blown to fragments'' as he was the "powder monkey" and nearest the charge.

Eight volunteers from Ohakune went into the tunnel to search for the men.

They were James Egerton, Andrew McKendry, W Eyles, T Austin, P Cronin, A Gray, W Henderson and W Hawthorne.

The quarry memorial, cleaned up and now easier to get to.