Newspaper Article 1893 – Great Fire At Hastings

From the Napier DAILY TELEGRAPH,
Tuesday, February 9th, 1893.




Terrible Destruction of Property.

The Fire Fiend has a Big Innings.

Twenty-one Buildings Burned.

Estimated Damage – £30,000.


It is said that threatened men live long, and that a creaking door hangs a long time on its hinges. Prophecies have been for a long time uttered that the big block would surely go some fine night, and the Jeremiahs have now had their way. About half-past two this morning the fire-bell rang out. Many who heard it just gave a grunt and turned over, saying to themselves that it was some rubbish burning at Paki Paki or elsewhere, but they had a sensation when they came to town to-day. At about twenty-five minutes past two Mr Niblet, night watchman, was standing under Mr Smythe’s (stationer) verandah, when he fancied that he smelt smoke. He went out into the street, and, seeing flames appearing above the premises of Mr A. J. McEwan, lost no time in running to the firebell, Sergt Pickering was out at the first sound, and at once rushed to the back of the premises, where he saw that the inside of the back part of Mr McEwan’s place was burning fiercely. The Sergeant says that it was

Too Far Gone

for them to deal with, but considers that a steam fire-engine would have extinguished it at once. The Fire Brigade turned up promptly with their manual, and with it did all that men could do, and more in many cases than could be expected of them. They set to work with a will; now with one water supply, and then with another, but all to no purpose, as far as the central block – practically the township – was concerned, for it was clear that it was doomed. Mr McEwan’s premises was rapidly enveloped in flames, and immediately afterwards the adjoining shops, that of Mr Hyde (tobacconist) and Mr G. H. Roach’s handsome drapery establishment, were a prey to the flames. Mr Hyde’s assistant who usually sleeps on the premise, had a

Narrow Escape of His Life,

for he was aroused from sleep by a tongue of flame passing in front of his face, the division wall having been pierced by the fire. It was sad to see the rapid havoc made at Mr Roach’s, his fine establishment having been one of the chief ornaments of Hastings. The plate glass was the largest in the district, and it caused quite a sensation when the sheets of glass, released by the burning of the framework, fell with a thundering crash – it was like explosions of dynamite. By this time the heat had become terrific. Gradually and surely the flames seized upon each tenement as they came to them, and simply devoured everything in their onslaught, there being nothing to say nay to the fierce element. Of course, the occupants of the further buildings took the precautions to remove their property, but in many cases these had to be taken from where they had deposited time after time as the wind changed, and in some instances were burned in the places of the most fancied safety. Soon it went to the south side, until Jull’s hotel was reached. Such a mass of dry timber was an easy prey, once touched, and the result was

Startling and Terrible

to the onlooker. The hotel burned up like the inside of a smelting furnace, and in a very short space of time nothing was left of this fine hotel but the tall chimney stacks, two of which came down with a crash upon the ashes. Meanwhile, the wind had veered a little, and with this change it was manifest that the other side of the street was doomed. The Bank of New South Wales was first ignited, and from the corner store the fire caught Maxwell’s Restaurant, thence to the handsome new building of the Bank of New Zealand. Some hopes were entertained of saving the large store long known as Beck and Co.’s, it being almost entirely constructed of iron. Mr Donald McLeod mounted in the burning heat of the hotel opposite to the apex of the roof, and covered with wet blankets the most vulnerable parts but his

Valor was Thrown Away

for the outside heat was soon too much, and although offering a dogged resistance, had to succumb to the fiery fiends at play. Fortunately, the inflammable portion of the stock had been removed. To those who trust in galvanised iron it was an instructive lesson to see the sheets releasing themselves, burning with a green flame and flying about in the air like kites, by what motive power it was difficult to guess. So much for that part of the town totally destroyed, the list of which is as follows: –

South Side of the Main Street –
Jull’s Hastings Hotel
Wickett, draper
Chong Kee, grocer
Tyerman and Broad, chemists
New Zealand Clothing Factory
Hannah’s boot shop
Hyde and Co, tobacconists
A. J. McEwan, draper
G. H. Roach, draper
R. T. Smythe, stationer

North Side.
Williams and Kettle’s store
Maddison and Co., drapers and grocers
A large partially erected shop next door
Bank of New Zealand
Maxwell’s restaurant
W. Y. Dennett’s office
Bank of New South Wales
Mayo, fruiterer
Sir W. Wasteney’s office
Simpson’s shooting gallery
Robertson, watchmaker
A. B. Greene’s office

All these were simply burnt to ashes, not a stick remaining. But the escape of the block, commencing on one side with Caulton’s Pacific Hotel, and Mr A. Stuart’s tailoring establishment on the other,

Was Almost Miraculous,

and, next to the fortunate change of wind, these places were saved by the heroism and dogged perseverance of the occupants and the friends, when it was almost torture to be near either of these buildings. Some mounted on the roof with wet blankets; others saturated the fronts with buckets of water, and at this period timely aid arrived. While the Fire Brigade were heroically fighting the fire on the big block, it was remembered that Mr G. Ellis had a small manual engine. Eight volunteers offered at once, and in a brief time had fetched it from a mile distant, and commenced playing upon the buildings in question. Mr Wrigley acted as captain of the team, whose names I was in the hurry unable to learn, but will find out, for they worked like veteran firemen. On the other side the danger was the railway station, and post office, the rolling stock, and the telegraph posts, one of which was on fire, but was extinguished as quickly as possible by willing volunteers. Although all the railway officials

Worked Like Trojans

and as coolly as if they were about their ordinary duty, especial mention must go to Mr Shaw, engine-driver. Of course, the rolling stock had to be removed somehow as the shed was in great danger, and to do this required the engine. Steam was got up in about ten minutes, the stock was hooked together and, loaded with salvage, the trucks were taken down the line to a position of safety. Behind Messrs Williams and Kettle’s place is their roller flour mill, which everyone considered doomed, but the fire had become in some way exhausted, and the wind had gone down, so the mill escaped, as also did a cottage and some stables attached. Among the places in less danger, but still causing anxiety, were the new buildings erected on the railway reserve. Although fully three chains away from the raging flames the glass became

Almost Too Hot to Touch.

And for fully an hour the occupants stood by, waiting for the worst, but it passed with a change of wind. If it, too, had caught, the whole of Hastings would have been a howling wilderness to-day. Mr B. L. Knight’s store and timber yard show by scorches what a hair-breath escape they also had. That the firemen did their best with the infinitesimal means at their command has been said, but one instance which came under my notice deserves honorable mention, and that was when Mr T. Steward kept to his post with the branch on the roof of a house with the fire underneath him, in spite of the calls of his comrades to desist. During the latter portion of the struggle, when the water became scare, the sewer was utilised with great effect; indeed, I am told it would have supplied a steamer. About eight o’clock this morning, another of the tall stack chimneys of Jull’s hotel

Came Down with a Crash,

and raised a blinding dust, but although many persons were about, fortunately none were within the line of fire. The insurance companies will, of course be heavy losers, but even among the insured the fire will entail bitter loss, for naturally the companies were shy of large insurances on stock in so dangerous a block. But in a few cases there is no insurance at all, and the sufferers are now bitterly repenting their inattention to this precaution. Of course

The Moral

pointed out with many tongues of fire last night is first, a largely increased water supply, a steam fire engine, and rigid building regulations. No doubt, too, that an improved township will in time result, and that some few will benefit by the calamity; but so extensive a loss among our business men must be disastrous and cause a temporary paralysis to trade. The Mayor intends taking immediate steps for bringing down the chimneys standing dangerously all over the desert of ashes, only yesterday the heart of a fair township. But terrible as has been the calamity to Hastings, one supreme consolation remains – that through it all, there has been no loss of life or even bodily injury to anyone, that I have heard of

The Ruins.

The Napier fire engine was sent out from town at noon to-day to assist in the extinguishing of the smouldering ruins.

The Insurances.

Of course, it is difficult to get a correct list of insurances so early in the day, or even all the offices involved, but the following have been obtained :-
Imperial office – ₤2500 on Roach’s stock (partly re-insured), ₤600 on Smythe’s stock (partly re-insured), and ₤250 on Jull’s hotel.
Manchester office – ₤100 on Hannah’s, and ₤100 on Hyde’s.
New Zealand Insurance Company – ₤200 on Smythe’s (₤100 re-insured), Bank of New Zealand ₤1850 (₤1233 6s 8d re-insured), Jull’s hotel ₤1800 (₤1500 re-insured) and ₤150 on out-buildings.
Standard – ₤200 on Bowler’s furniture (Burnt in Smythe’s).
North German – ₤200 on Hyde’s stock, and ₤200 on Roach’s stock.
Victoria – ₤200 on Hannah’s, ₤250 on A. J. McEwan’s and ₤500 on Williams and Kettle’s
Norwich Union – ₤500 on Jull’s Hotel, ₤150 on Wickett’s stock, ₤500 on Williams and Kettle’s stock and building, ₤400 on Maddison and Co’s stock, ₤300 on Kelly’s three shops, ₤250 on Roach’s shop
Commercial Union – ₤700 on Roach’s stock (₤500 from the Imperial on the stock, and ₤200 from the Liverpool, London, and the Globe, on the building), ₤300 on Smythe’s stock from the Imperial, ₤616 from the New Zealand Insurance Company on the Bank of New Zealand building and contents, and ₤250 on Jull’s hotel building and contents.
Alliance – ₤250 on Wickett’s, ₤300 on Chong Kee’s, ₤500 on Roach’s, ₤75 on R. T. Smythe’s, and ₤250 on Robertson’s
National – The particulars were not obtainable, but the office is interested to the extent of ₤1000.
Standard – About ₤2000 (particulars not ascertainable).
United – ₤250 re-insurance on Jull’s from the New Zealand.
London and Lancashire – ₤30 damage to Caulton’s stock.
The South British Office – ₤4000, a large proportion of which, we learn, is reinsurance, leaving a nett sum of about ₤1400

Incidents of the Fire.

No sailor on a stormy night could scrutinize the wind more closely than did the occupiers of the buildings nearest the station. “What do you think?” was the frequent and earnest enquiry of each. “I don’t know, indeed!” was the equally anxious reply. At last came the relief “Thank God we are saved! The wind has changed!” What made it of more moment was that a large quantity of salvage had been placed in these buildings. Some idea of the danger happily escaped was that the DAILY TELEGRAPH Agency windows had to be swished frequently with water, at the risk of breaking them, to keep down the heat.

The origin of the fire will possibly remain a mystery. That it originated in the premises occupied by Mr A. J. McEwan is a fact beyond dispute. This will, however, not help the possible legal enquiry. Wednesday (yesterday) was the well-blessed and useful half-holiday, when the shops are closed at 1 p.m. Mr A. J. McEwan, the proprietor, was at Wairoa at the time, and the business was in charge of Mr James Gibson, an old and respected resident here. Mr Gibson assures me that he left the premises at half-past one p.m. yesterday, thirteen hours previous to the watchman discovering the fire, and presumably Mr Gibson was the last person to leave the premise.

The night watchman was under the impression that the fire in the first instance proceeded from the back yard, but the Sergeant of Police is positive that it was inside the building. The matter, as far as the cause of the fire is concerned, must be left to the official investigation. So far it is a mystery.

When the main issue had been decided – that is, as to whether any part of the town should be spared or not, some one noticed that the arms of a large telegraph pole were on fire. All the ladders being in use, some citizens had a game of cock-shy at it with buckets of water. A throw of twenty feet is not an easy one, but like the nearest shot at the jack-ball in bowling, some success was obtained, and our intercourse with the rest of the world maintained.

If it was a sad, it was at times, a grand spectacle, which would pale any fireworks into insignificances. The burning sheets of iron have already been spoken of. These emitted at intervals green and blue stars, which went off into space and exploded. One sheet in particular was separated from the wall by the fire, and while still a bright red gave itself a half twist and shot forth into the firmament as if projected from a cannon.

“Love’s labor is sometimes lost.” Seeing a friend’s house in danger, I threw myself, with others into the breech and cleared it of its “lares and penates.” [household goods] Alas for our zeal! The flames would not tackle the building.

As I recall once more the fierce white heat that raged within a chain of the Pacific Hotel, I cannot help thinking that the efforts which saved the hotel quite possibly save the town right down to the theatre. Although there were scores of willing helpers, mine host, Mr H. O. Caulton, was foremost among the salvors, literally bearing the burden of the night – and the heat.

From the Napier DAILY TELEGRAPH, Friday February 10, 1893.

The Napier steam fire-engine was brought back from Hastings last night by special train. Before the last ordinary train left Hastings it was apparent that there were two hours’ more work to do before all danger could be considered as over. Application was therefore made for a special train, with a request for a considerable concession on the ordinary charge. The concession was refused, the charge being ₤5. Mr Waterworth then gave orders for the engine to be brought away by the last ordinary train, at the same time informing Mr Hanny, [Hannay] Railway Commissioner, that in the event of a north-west wind springing up, the station buildings would be endangered by burning embers, and the glowing mountain of seed and grain just on the other side of the line. Mr Hannay then gave orders for a special train to be placed at the disposal of the Fire Brigade, and no charge whatever was made for the conveyance of the Fire Brigade, and no charge whatever was made for the conveyance of the engine to or from Hastings.

Mr Whitelaw, the manager of the South British Insurance Company, explained to us to-day why he could not furnish the particulars of the risks of his office in Hastings yesterday, and we are indebted to him now for the following information:-

Gross Insurance.   Re-insurance.   Remaining.
₤ s. d.   ₤ s. d.   ₤ s. d.
Hastings Hotel   250 0 0   250 0 0
Tyerman’s stock   200 0 0   100 0 0   100 0 0
Foreman’s shop   900 0 0   600 0 0   300 0 0
Roach’s shop   500 0 0   366 0 0   134 0 0
Williams and Kettle’s store and stock   750 0 0   375 0 0   375 0 0
Bank of New Zealand and contents   716 13 4   511 2 2   205 11 2
Auction room   200 0 0   120 0 0   80 0 0
3516 13 4   2072 2 2   1444 11 2


Some of the subscribers have a natural ground of complaint for not receiving their papers last night. Although in anticipation of a demand for copies, an extra parcel came, the rush for copies of the Telegraph was so unexpected that some of the subscribers had to go without. I have obtained from town all that could be procured, and distributed them this morning. If any subscriber has been missed, I will obtain him a copy of Thursday’s paper if possible.

All sorts and conditions of places could find an eligible tenant just now. For some months to come every foot of tenantable space in the township will be occupied.

After the battle comes the loot. For some time to come there will be a sub-stratum of valuable matter in the residue of the fire. A party yesterday had, after much research, collected a kit of full of stuff, coins included, and was about to return home to enjoy the fruit of his toil when a gentleman entitled to wear a suit of blue thanked him for his trouble, and took possession for the owner.

People are settling down as well as they can, as a glance at your advertising columns will show. The Bank of New Zealand has camped down at Mr Roach’s second establishment, opposite St Matthew’s school. The Bank of New South Wales have taken all their notes and cash to the shop of Mr S. T. Tong. Lucky man!

Messrs Tyerman and Broad, who have found a temporary place of business in Mr Land’s buildings opposite Caulton’s hotel, desire me to state that the South British Insurance Office handed them a cheque for their claim (which is unfortunately about ₤700 less than their loss) at 4 p.m. yesterday. Such promptitude should bring the office much new business.

Until further arrangements are made, Mr Bowler (manager for Mr R. T. Smythe) has obtained the use of the Daily Telegraph Agency office for the supply of copies to his customers. Mr Bowler will be in attendance there on the arrival of the 5 p.m. train for that purpose.

CALL attention to their splendid and large selection of
Just opened.
Birthday Cards and Booklets in great variety, latest designs; School Books at Town Prices, New Books of all Kinds, Children’s Toys, Ornaments, and Basketware, Ladies’ Bags and Purses, Stationery, Lett’s Diaries, Couchman’s Australasian Farmers Diary and Account Book, &c., &c.
Music, Musical Instruments, Pianos, and Organs. J. W. RICHARDSON, Tuner.

Printed at the DAILY TELEGRAPH OFFICE, Tennyson Street, Napier.

Original digital file



Surnames in this article –

Beck, Bowler, Broad, Foreman, Hannay, Hyde, Jull, Kelly, Kettle, Land, Maddison, Maxwell, Mayo, Niblet, Robertson, Shaw, Simpson, Tyerman, Whitelaw, Wickett, Williams

Date published

9 and 10 February 1893

Format of the original

Newspaper article


The Daily Telegraph


Published with permission of Hawke's Bay Today


  • H O Caulton
  • W Y Dennett
  • G Ellis
  • James Gibson
  • A B Greene
  • Chong Kee
  • B L Knight
  • A J McEwan
  • Donald McLeod
  • Sergeant Pickering
  • G H Roach
  • R T Smythe
  • T Steward
  • A Stuart
  • S T Tong
  • Sir W Wasteney
  • D Whytock

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