Saturday, September 27, 2008

Hassall’s mistake: explosion in 1883

Last post update: 3 June 2011

Avondale in 1883 was getting used to its new name from being known as the Whau (so were some of the newspapers of the day). The railway through to West Auckland had been in place for three years. Large farms on Rosebank Peninsula and up towards the new station were either being sold or about to be sold in residential subdivisions. A year later, a new Anglican church would be built.

A carter, and possibly horse-bus driver named Hassall (also spelled Hazell by some sources) lived close to Avondale on New North Road. There, it seems he operated his service, taking passengers from Avondale to the City, and also ran a riding school. One wet winter’s day in July 1883, Mr Hassall went scouting around inside and headed up to the loft, of all places, which he hadn’t been in for some years. There he found a lump of about 6lbs of “black dusty stuff in an old biscuit tin”, as later reports described it. Thinking that it looked like some old coal, he took it downstairs to the fire and poked it onto the grate.

There was a fizzing sound suddenly -- and then an explosion which shook the house.

John Bollard was the first at the scene, possibly alerted by Hassall’s grandson who was in the room at the time but escaped with only slight injuries. Bollard sent a message through to Dr. Young at the Asylum, who sent a lotion for Mr and Mrs Hassall, both severely burned. Mr Hassall’s face was said to have been so swollen that he couldn’t see, but fortunately he hadn’t been blinded by the blast. Anglican Rev. John Haselden was passing by and dismounted upon being told by John Bollard of what had happened; the reverend stayed at the house for the next hour and a half continuously applying the lotion to the stricken couple and dressing their wounds. A few days later, it was reported that Mrs Hassall and their grandson were progressing well, but Mr Hassall was still in critical condition.

As for the lump of black stuff Mr. Hassall found in that biscuit tin? It turned out that it was actually around 6lbs of blasting powder, left up in the loft back around 1879-1880 by his son-in-law who was employed at that time on the Kaipara Railway. It was thought that when the son-in-law realised some of the blasting powder he had been using had become wet, he thought the best thing to do was take it home to the Hassall residence, and let the powder dry off in the tin up in the loft. However, he forgot all about the powder, and it remained up in the loft until that day in July 1883 when Mr Hassall curiously opened the old biscuit to see what was inside. Fortunately for Hassall, the powder was well past its full strength through age, but how well he recovered, if at all, remains uncertain. A carter named Henry Hassall lived in the district a year or two later.
 

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