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Fire January 1935 - Mechanics Institute

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Arguably the most spectacular blaze to occur in Morwell up to that time broke out on the morning of 10th January 1935 in the premises of the Mechanics' Institute, located at the south-west corner of Tarwin and George Streets.The Morwell Advertiser carried the following report of the disaster on their front page dated, Thursday January 17th 1935

Morwell Mechanics' Institute Reduced to Ashes.

One of the main buildings in the town and an old landmark, in the shape of the Morwell Mechanics' Institute, was destroyed by fire during the early hours of Thursday last.

Connected with the Institute were Public Library containing about 2,000 books, Clerk of Courts Room in which were files of Government Gazettes for many years past, statutes, legal documents etc. also Lodge Room in which were honour boards, regalia, etc., Infant Welfare Centre Apartments with equipment. In the main hall were two talkie picture machines, piano, two marble memorial tablets, furnishings and many other things.

The first indication that something unusual had occurred was the ringing of the Presbyterian Church bell shortly before 2.a.m., followed a few minutes later by the vigorous ringing of the fire bell, which disturbed townspeople from their peaceful slumbers and caused them to jump out of bed to ascertain where the fire was.

It did not take long to locate the locality of the conflagration for dense volumes of smoke were soon issuing forth whilst large tongues of flame and showers of sparks were ascending skyward. For a time it was difficult for persons any distance away to say exactly were the fire was. Many at first thought it was Green's drapery emporium, others believed it ws Jenkin's store, but it was not long before all realised that it was the Mechanics' Hall.

One of the first to notice the outbreak was Mr. Hore, who resides close to the Presbyterian Church, and he promptly rang the church bell. About the same time Mr. W. Jenkins, who was sleeping on balcony above the general store, across the street from the Mechanics' saw the reflection of a fire, and at first thought the rear portion of the store was alight. As soon as he located the fire he ran to the fire station and rang the bell. Two members of the local Brigade, who had heard the Presbyterian Church bell, reached the fire station about the same time as Mr. Jenkins. Other firemen were also promptly on the scene, and no time was lost in rushing to the scene with reel and equipment for fighting the flames.

Although no time was lost by the Brigade in getting to the fighting line, the fire had such a strong hold that it was utterly impossible to save the main hall from destruction. The flames spread very rapidly and in a twinkling the whole place was burning from one end to the other.

The firemen concentrated their efforts upon a gallant attempt to save the Clerk of Courts Room and Infant Welfare Centre Apartments. It was no easy task and considerable risk was taken by members of the Brigade in the strenous battle. The heat was intense and the smoke suffocating. Whilst considerable danger was added by burning timber and walls falling. Another source of great danger was the fact that many electric wires were connected with the building, and there appeared to be no official present to disconnect the current, the wires were "alive" and firemen and others might easily have been electrocuted, as the wires fell to the ground and lay about the roadway. Eventually First Constable Gunn, who realised the danger, took steps to "chop off" the live current. The firemen, however, worked on regardless of heat, smoke, wires and other risks and although the flames won the fight for the Clerk of Courts Room, the firemen gained a victory in the battle for the Infant Welfare Centre Apartments, which in addition to scales and other equipment (none of which was insured) contained a billiard table.

By about 3 a.m. the fight was over, the hall together with the contents being reduced to smouldering ashes.

The firemen, among whom were Capt. Rob Watson, ex capt. R. Noy, Lieut. W. Budge, Foreman W. Lobley, Firemen H. Huguenin. J. Huguenin. C. Olver, G. Campbell, R. Keith, W. Uhrhane and L. Noy, who were tired and drenched to the skin with water, were taken into Jenkins' store where they were kindly supplied with refreshing tea and given something to eat by Miss Jenkins.

The buildings and contents were insured in the Commercial Union Insurance Company for 2025 and we understand that Messrs. Verey and Cupit had a separate insurnce of 600 on the talkie plant owned by them.

Among the contents of the Institute that were destroyed were two marble tablets erected to the memory of the late Private G. Bolding and T. Tose, who lost their lives whilst serving in the South African Boer War. Also an enlarged photo of the late Hon. T. Livingstone, who represented Gippsland South in the Legislative Assembly for some years, and to whose efforts is very largely due the development of the immense brown coal deposits at Yallourn.

Practically the whole town turned out to witness the fire, the majority being in night attire.

The blaze was seen by people at Boolarra, Yinar, Yalourn and Traralgon.

The committe of the Institute are Messrs. E. Pearson (president), J. Langdon (Vice-President), A. W. Ronald, W.S. Mackenzie, J. Sinclair, J. Bolger,and P. Brittingham, and the Trustees, Messrs, A. McDonald, G.P. Evans and G. watson.

The trustees and some members met the adjuster in connection with claim for insurance on Friday last, when a highly satisfactory settlement was arrived at.

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