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Grey River Argus, Volume XII, Issue 1245, 26 July 1872, Page 2




[Southern Cross] The Thames people have undergone the experience of their first serious fire. The fire commenced at about one o'clock on Tuesday morning, in "Evans's Barber’s shop, situated on the west side of Pollen street, at about the middle of the long line of closely-packed buildings extending from Willoughby street and Grey street. The alarm soon spread, and was first publicly announced by the bell of the Roman Catholic church, rung to good purpose by the Rev. Father Nivard. Presently the Grahamstown fire-bell rang out an answering peal, rousing up the sleeping citizens. The building ignited being of wood, the fire soon obtained a firm hold on it, and then spread to the, houses on either cide; one of which; was the Melbourne Hotel, the other Mark's boot shop. By this time a large crowd of persons had assembled; and; and as there was no sign of this Fire Brigade, an organised attempt was made, under Mr Sub-Inspector Bullen and the constabulary, to stay the progjess of the fire, by making a gap in the line of buildings. The large block commencing with the Old Bank of New Zealand, now Miss O'Reilly's young ladies' seminary, was evidently in the greatest danger, and the house next the school was selected to be operated upon; and, by the united endeavours of the police and a band of daring young fellows, was soon levelled to the ground, and the debris carried into the middle of the street. Meantime the fire spread rapidly in the opposite direction, and soon enveloped the old Austral and Oriental T Mart, Mr Blundell's watchmaker's shop and house, Mr M'Gregor's old office, two or three private houses, and Mr Grant's painter's shop and house. It reached to within three houses (two of them belonging to Mrs Ritchie, the other Turner's old restaurant, now Garrish's Oyster saloon) of Knight's butcher's shop, which adjoined the Black Forest Butchery, which was next to the large two-storeyed building belonging to Messrs Litchfield and Osborne. To check its course, that way Knight's shop was doomed to demolition, and in less than twenty minutes was pulled down, and the fragments removed out of the line of fire. By this time the line of fire was over 200 ft. long, and embraced some 15 or 16 buildings of various sizes. The scene was terrifying, and once denoted nothing less than the ignition of the buildings on the opposite side of the street; this was when the wind changed for a few moments and blew directly from the westward, driving the flames and sparks across the street. Where was the fire brigade all this time? The services of that undoubtedly useful and energetic body were not utilised until the height of the danger had passed away. Some little time of course elapsed before the members could be mustered at Grahamstown, and then, entirely depending upon the hydrants for water, each man seized a length of hose, and, headed by the inspector, hurried to Shorland. Arrived there, a water-plug, said to exist at the corner of Willoughby and Pollen streets, near to the fire, was looked for, and found to be a dummy; and as there were no plugs between Willoughby street and Butt's Hotel, the firemen were compelled to retreat upon the fire-plug in Pollen street, opposite the Exchange Hotel, some sixty yards further off. The hose not being long enough to stretch the distance, the Bauwaeranga Highway Board fire-hose was obtained, and attempted to be attached to the other, when lo! the couplings of the two sets would not fit, and still the fire advanced. Loud were the cries raised for the fire engine, and great was the perplexity of the officers, the circumstances of the case being aggravated by the knowledge that there was plenty of water at command, and at a pressure, too, of 60lb weight to the inch, which, lacking organisation, could not be utilised. At last a stream of water was brought to play upon the flames. The effect was absolutely magical. Garrish's oyster saloon, which was absolutely in flames — one side of it nearly burnt out — was, in a few minutes, reduced to a skeleton of charred uprights and rafters. No fresh building having caught, the body of the fire had by this time sunk to a heap of glowing, flaming embers. That the earlier efforts of the firemen were rendered nugatory is entirely due to the scandalous fact of dummy fire-plugs in the main pipes. The perpetrators of this infamous cheat, and also the connivers at it, if connivers there were, should be held up to execration. A great many unfortunates have been rendered homeless by the fire. Not one of the buildings destroyed was insured, but singular to say the two which would have next fallen a prey to the flames, viz., the school-house and the Black Forest Hotel, stood covered by policies.