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Fire July 1912 - Commercial Road

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Alarming Fire in Morwell

In the early hours of 31st. July 1912 a fire broke out and quickly took hold of an office and some shops at the eastern end of Commercial Road. The following news report appeared in the pages of the Morwell Advertiser dated Friday 2nd 1912.

Five shops burnt down Good work by citizens Dr McLean first on the scene

'Tis the unexpected that always happens, and will be so to the end of the chapter. That the office of the ( 'Tiser ), a butcher ( Mr. Kleine ), a saddler ( Mr. Dusting ), and a fancy repository (Miss McWhae), should all be burnt out in a space of two brief hours is a disaster so great that many people can hardly realise that such a catastrophe has occurred in our small town.

All the above businesses were situated, so to speak, under the same roof, and it only wanted one of the number to ignite for the whole lot to go in quick succession, which they did. As they were mainly constructed of wood and deal, well seasoned, they were all that could be desired for the flames to feed upon; the only exceptions were Kleine's shops, which had brick fronts, and a solid brick wall at the west end, which doubtless saved the adjoining stores of Messrs McDonald and Hone, and the fact that there was no wind.

About 2am, or a little later, Dr. McLean, who is always on the qui vive, was lying awake in his bed, and as his dwelling was only separated about a chain from the shops burnt, he saw the glare through the window, and on going outside discovered the fire, which was then only in an infantile state, and, with a little assistance and only a fair supply of water, could easily have been extinguished, but as neither was available at the opportune moment, Dr. McLean had no alternative but to see what help he might procure straight away. As he is quick in conceiving an idea, which no sooner presents itself to the mind than it is put into execution, our much esteemed disciple of Esculpaus made straight for Barry's Hotel, where he knew Mr. Barry had his bed on the balcony.

At the first call Barry was out of his bunk in a jiffy, and aroused all the hands in the hotel, when he made straight for the scene of the conflagration. In the meantime Dr McLean returned to the fire, when he found that Mr Hone, who was working in his bakehouse a few yards away, had seen the blaze, and was walking up and down the street crying out "FIRE!" Mr Hinson, in Station Street, heard him, and was quickly out.

In the short interim, Mr Fred Bruton and then Mr Dayble came on the scene, also Mr Gaw, our local post-master. In a few minutes time the boarders in Mrs Lamont's coffee palace were aroused, and one of the lady boarders, Miss Myers, a milliner at Mr J. Hall's Universal emporium, with great presence of mind, ran to the Church of England bell, and its shrill notes soon spread the alarm far and wide, and in the meantime people were turning up in all directions, and soon there was a goodly crowd present, all willing workers.

When the fire was observed it was easy to locate it at Miss McWhae's shop, and it soon spread to the buildings on either side. As nothing could be done to check its ravages those present confined their efforts to saving the goods in the buildings while it was safe to enter them. In order to do this Mr Klein's shop was broken into, and all portable articles removed as quickly as possible. By dint of great exertion all Mr Dusting's saddlery stock was got out, and some valuable papers from the office of our contemporary, but nothing was saved from Miss McWhae's, that being the first to fall prey to the devouring elements.

While it was safe to enter the buildings the volunteers never spared themselves, but did all they could to remove what came within reach. Of course, in the excitement, many things of value were overlooked that might have been taken out. This was notably the case with a cask of skins in Mr Klein's shop, valued at 11. As might be expected things removed in a hurry were damaged, more or less. Mr A. Green rendered great service in bringing his hand pump, by means of which he was able to keep up a flow of water on the two wooden tenements, owned by Mr Kleine, at the rear, and only some ten feet from the shops destroyed.

This only goes to show that with concerted help and the aid of proper appliances, how adjacent buildings can be saved where a fire breaks out. If these means had only been available at the time Dr McLean and Messrs F. Burton, Barry, Dayble, and a few others arrived on the scene, the "Advertiser" office might have been saved, but with nothing to work with all that can be done is to look on and watch the fire run its course.

The buildings destroyed were:
  • The Advertiser, building and plant
  • Miss McDonald's two wooden shops
  • Mr T. Kleine's three brick shops, known to old pioneers as Cavanah and Harris' buildings, but they were rebuilt since occupied by that firm.

Although the property destroyed was covered by insurance, still the owners will be considerable losers, in a monetary sense, to say nothing of the inconvenience and loss resulting from the stoppage of business, and the time that must elapse before they get their places going again.

Great credit is due to all those who did what they could to save property, especially Dr McLean, F. Burton, A. Green, G. Dayble, Barry, Gaw, Thos.Keegan and other prominent workers.

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