A press release to inspire… (Or: They Don’t Have Fires Like They Used To)

I recently came across this old newspaper article in Pioneers Victoria (a public Facebook group administered by Anne Therese Courtney) and became engrossed in the story – not so much for the subject of a major loss to the people of SANDRIDGE, but for the stunning depiction of the event recorded by a nameless journalist. (Especially in paras 2 & 3.)

I’d like to think they went on to create stories in book form somewhere back in time… and am going to try to discover who crafted this powerful account.

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SANDRIDGE – VICTORIA SUGAR WORKS FIRE. 8 June 1875
Williamstown Chronicle, Saturday 12 June 1875
The Sugar Works at Sandridge were discovered to be on fire at about half-past one o’clock on Tuesday morning last, and the destructive element obtained such a hold on the inflammable material within, that damage to the extent of between £30,000 and £40,000 was done before the fire was got under. The fire originated in a room used for storing loaf sugar, in a blue stone building of five stories. Rapidly extending through the several floors of the building the flames shot through the windows and roof, threatening the tall bluestone refining tower only a short distance away. The local and metropolitan brigades, who were promptly on the spot, directed their energies to endeavouring to save the tower, but in vain.

Every now and then, enormous tongues of fire belched out from the burning mass adjoining and shot as high as the roof of the tower, licking the tall structure and leaving small patches of flame on the windowsills and roof. The firemen did their best to extinguish these dangerous spots, but as the flames which seemed living, and possessed of an intelligent and malignant desire to embrace the tower in their fiery folds shot up time after time, climbing higher, and hugging the structure closer, they gradually began to get a hold of the building through the windows and the roof of wood and lead, until at last the defeated firemen, who were struggling gamely against the scorching heat and falling flakes, saw that the upper part of the tower was on fire and burning fiercely. The flames at the top were practically out of reach of the water, and uniting with those below, the whole place seemed sheathed in a case of leaping fire.

At this time the scene is described as very grand. The whole building apparently blazing like a colossal beacon, shed a lurid glare over the whole of Sandridge and the shipping, turning the waters of the bay and the lagoon to a blood red colour, while high overhead streamed a vast broad banner of flying sparks and of flakes of flame, now shining bright and clear, and anon obscured into the semblance of a gigantic floating wreath of smoke, bespangled with blazing stars. The spectacle, though grand to look upon, boded danger in more quarters than one, and it was greatly feared that some of the numerous wooden buildings in the town would be ignited by the falling flakes of burning material.

The efforts of the firemen and a large body of volunteers prevented the fire extending outside the Sugar Works premises, however, and were also successful in confining the raging element to the tower and adjacent bluestone building. The tall shaft remains uninsured and the buildings in which a large quantity of sugar was stored were also saved. It is roughly estimated that damages from £30,000 to £40,000 has been done, the insurance amounting to £29,500.

Photo of Victoria Sugar Works fire, 8 June 1875 – State Library Victoria.

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