Explosion at Newcastle - 1826
A singular explosion of gun powder took place on Thursday last (19th) in the Government store house at Newcastle.
The Lord Liverpool packet was in the harbour waiting for a fair wind, when the inhabitants of Newcastle heard the report as they thought of a gun and supposed it to be a signal of distress from the packet. Numbers of persons hastily quitted their houses to ascertain the cause of the alarm which had been excited, and, to their astonishment, saw the store house enveloped in a cloud of smoke. This occurred about two o'clock in the day. Dreadful were the apprehensions excited; and nothing less was expected than that destruction had been dealt out on every side; and, that it would soon be ascertained that many lives were lost by some extraordinary accident.
All who had courage quickly gravitated to the centre of supposed danger. It was discovered that the roof of the building was blown off and shivered - the door forced from its hinges, and the stores inside distributed in all directions. As inquiry proceeded, it was ascertained, that two children had sustained injury by the explosion; and, that to one of these, the accident was owing.
One of them is a daughter of the pilot (Mary Annie Eckford); the other a black native boy, who commonly resides in the Superintendent's house. The latter, it appears, accompanied by the little girl had obtained access to the store room through a small passage leading to it from the Superintendent's bed room - the door of which, had been accidentally left open. The little boy had seen some cartridges filled, from a powder barrel, on the preceding day. Near this barrel lay some pistols. It is supposed that the boy had got hold of one of these pistols - primed it; and, on making a flash, a spark had communicated with the powder.
Fortunately there were not more than about fifteen pounds of powder; otherwise the explosion must have been ruinously dreadful. The black boy is sadly mangled - strong hopes, however are entertained his life being saved.
The girl is also much scorched; but not by any means so severely as the boy. She was saved from more severe injury by the boldness and promptitude of a prisoner of the Crown who rushed through the ruins on the instant of the occurrence of the accident, and while her dress was surrounded with flames, and she appeared in a blaze of fire, caught her in his arms and hastened to a pool of water, into which he plunged her.
It was satisfactory enough to the people of Newcastle, that this was the extend of the mischief. Had the barrel of gunpowder been better stored, half the town might have been a heap of ruins. - The Australian Saturday 21 October 1826.
Mary Annie Eckford died on 24 October 1826 and was buried in the Christ Church Burial Ground.
Location of Store at NewcastleMeehan's Map of Newcastle showing the locations of buildings in 1818.